I listen to and write about metal a lot. I still never get bored with its multitude of interpretations and iterations across the vast array of subgenres that range from beautiful to downright disgusting. Today, I get to write about a band that manages to take both of those aforementioned aesthetics of disgusting beauty and twist and warp them into something quite unlike their peers: Long Island, New York’s Afterbirth. Perhaps you’ve been a fan of the band since their inception in the early 1990s, or maybe their acclaimed album Four Dimensional Flesh from 2020 is where you came online with the band. Regardless if you’ve been a fan for decades or if you haven’t heard a single riff from this band yet, it’s a great pleasure of mine to bring them into our WFA fold and hopefully get them even more exposure. I reached out to guitarist Cody Drasser to get an inside look at the band’s history, stylistic shifts, and the new record.
When discussing a band that has a history like Afterbirth, it’s always interesting to get an inside look at how things came together, how the band evolved over time, and how the perseverance of musical ideas helped the band overcome obstacles and forge new relationships. When it came to the band’s initial inception back in 1993, the guitar drove the band’s sound; it took a while for the rhythm section to come on board, but as is often the case with life, things can happen in unexpected ways.
‘I initially met vocalist Matt Duncan through my sister, who he was hoping to get with, but me and Matt hit it off so well due to our mutual appreciation of all things death metal, that he and my sister were never even a thing. Anyway, we both wanted to start a band at that time but were unsure of the exact style or direction. I played guitar, he played some guitar and had an amazing vocal talent for the genre.
The two of us started jamming together without a bassist or a drummer, just throwing riffs out at each other, annoying the neighbors, and having a fun time. We searched high and low for a drummer, had a couple of auditions, and spoke to a bunch of people, but nothing took. I honestly think that the types of songs and the style of death metal we were laying out for the potential drummers was different and kind of ‘out there’ at the time, so we were not able to get any drummer on board for some time.
Eventually, Matt began to date a girl who ‘knew a guy at work’ that played drums. That guy ended up being Keith Harris, our current drummer. We jammed with Keith and knew right away we could work with him, and he wanted to give our ideas a try. Keith didn’t know of any death metal at that point, he was more of a classic rock/metal guy, but he was open-minded about it all. And, as you can see, he’s ended up working out quite well for us since he’s been our one and only drummer this entire time!
We also shuffled through a couple of bass players until we ended up asking Dave, who’s been my best friend since elementary school, to step in. As with Keith, Dave has been the bass player of Afterbirth since the band’s inception. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone else filling these roles. We’ve all become so intertwined, musically speaking, and I feel we have not only a deep history, but a true chemistry between us that has taken us to some wild places.‘
After a couple of demos in 1993 and 1994, the band decided to part ways after some internal struggles that often come during the fiery days of youth and passion and it was the band’s drummer Keith Harris that declared that the band should officially be on hold. While it may not have been initially intended as a hiatus, that is what it ended up being thanks in no small way to Pathos Productions.
‘In 2013, after me moving around some and trying to find my way through life, the owner of Pathos Productions reached out to me about reissuing our two demos and some live tracks on a compilation. At the time, I thought it a strange request as I had surely not been thinking about the band at all for a while (I was at the time a yoga teacher living in Austin, Texas, so being in a death metal band was not at all a part of my hopes and dreams). But I thought the reissue idea was cool. So, I decided the right thing to do would be to at least reach out to the band members and ask their thoughts and at least get their permission to do it. It had all been a group effort when we were together, and I thought that it should also have the entire group’s seal of approval to put out the compilation.
After eventually getting a hold of all the guys, (remember, I hadn’t spoken to Matt or Keith since we split up, almost 20 years at that point), we got to thinking that it would be cool to jam together again. It wasn’t decided to reform or anything, but just to get into a room together once more and see what, if anything, was left to accomplish. There was a LOT left to accomplish. Once we practiced a couple of times, songs just started flowing and things started moving. It felt natural again to be in the same shared space with each other. Not only had our chemistry remained intact, but it seemed even stronger and more robust, filled with all manner of musical possibilities, possibilities that hadn’t been there before. We had all grown up and became better musicians. Well, the other guys had, I had only slightly become a better guitar player, but not by much!
We all made a tremendous decision to get Afterbirth back together. A big deal in some ways, and an even bigger deal in others. For instance, me and Keith lived in various parts of the country and had to create a lot of upheaval in our lives to get back to NY to practice regularly and have it feel like a real band again. Dave was involved with a lot of different bands, including Helmet, so his commitment was also tested to a degree since he had to juggle a lot more now. Same with Matt, he had been jamming with a bunch of different people and had to make the commitment for Afterbirth to be a part of his life again. We all did, and it was as much a joyful, exciting time as it was a stressful and mysterious time.’
As an aside, to me, this is the sort of thing that tells me as a writer and listener that there is something special about a band and set of musicians. To have such a clean break, two decades away from each other to just be able to come back together and realize that there is a lot of creative energy left in the tank and plenty left unsaid can speak volumes about a band’s potential. It also speaks volumes about the passion that these players have for their music, as it took quite a bit to get the band back together, including travel and even making the transition from the original line-up to attempting to launch the band as an instrumental act:
‘Things were good for a short while, we jammed a lot and hung out together outside of those sessions, but old and new tensions developed again within the band before long. After a couple of incidents between us, some red flags that things weren’t exactly peachy keen, and some general warning signs, it was decided that the band would either need to split up (again, ugh), or part ways with Matt. It was a difficult decision, and quite acrimonious. Not a pleasant experience for anyone. But, personally speaking for the rest of the band, we had put a lot into the reformation, and I wasn’t about to drop it so easily again.
After things had settled down, we worked as an instrumental death metal band for some unremembered span of time. Keith and I even played some shows as a two piece while Dave was out with Helmet! During that time, we recorded the music for our debut album “The Time Traveler’s Dilemma” without a vocalist at Full Force Studios with Joe Cincotta. I spent some time contacting labels and sending that album out as a demo or sorts, looking to see what the world might think of instrumental death metal. While it proved an interesting listen for all who heard it, the bottom-line was that the labels I approached didn’t want to put it out as there was uncertainty about the prospective market for just such a thing. This went on for a while until it was decided as a band that we should get back in the vocalist game if we wanted to make any sort of name for ourselves once again. After all, it was the vocals of Matt that had such a major impact on our underground status.‘
Understanding how the band was changing at the time, it’s now a little clearer how Afterbirth became the band that they are now. Expanding their musical ideas and writing without a vocalist more than likely allowed the band to move into some unexpected spaces with their music. Composing songs without a vocalist gave the music new wrinkles and explored new spaces, no doubt, but the pull for the vocalist was ever so strong, and that is a totally understandable place to be. After all, death metal is a genre that lives by the growl, and without it would be tough to elbow your way into the scene and be seen as anything more than a novelty.
During this time a metal vocalist in the Long Island area by the name of Will Smith was gaining some traction in the metal scene with bands like Artificial Brain and Buckshot Facelift, and it wasn’t long before a connection was made:
‘Will and I had some communication with each other over the years when we reformed in 2013, so there was already a connection between him and the band. We approached him with the proposal to audition for the band if he was interested and it was apparent that not only was the interest there but once we got together in the rehearsal space the chemistry and connection were palpably obvious. It’s been a very wild and creative ride ever since then as you can tell!‘
If you’re aware of the toolset that Smith brings to his vocals then you know that it’s one of the most unique in all of extreme music. Ranging from yells and growls to inaudible gurgles, his style is instantly recognizable and brings a whole new dimension to any band that he is in. His work on The Time Traveler’s Dilemma shows that versatility as well as how the band was beginning to evolve with their new vocalist while still being both intriguing and insanely heavy. The marriage of their widened perspective and versatile vocalist is a match made in the deepest darkest depths of space. When I asked Cody about how the shift in the sound occurred from their early, more straightforward brutal death metal days to the progressive sounds that we hear from them now, he pointed to one riff and a set of open minds:
‘I don’t think it was anything particular, but it was apparent even when we reformed in 2013 that there were some new musical ideas brewing beneath the more obvious brutal surface structures. Certain ideas, musically and aesthetically, that were not there when we were originally together in the early ’90s began to make themselves more generally known. I believe it started with a riff that appears in the song “Eternal Return” off The Time Traveler’s Dilemma. I presented it to the band as something a little different, but one that I wanted to try it out nonetheless. The rest of the band was open to it, and it sounded quite interesting. After that, it seemed as if we censored ourselves less and less as the writing process went on. There were very few things that were off the table completely. Of course, we want to do this while honoring our brutal roots by continuing to intertwine these latest ideas with the old ways. We’re all happy with the way things have been going and I am personally incredibly glad that we decided to open ourselves up a bit more in those first few jam sessions as it has proved to be a very fruitful way of doing things, leading to more innovation with our creative process all around.’
The fully-formed Afterbirth released their debut, and while it was indeed a bit of a splash onto the scene, the sophomore album Four Dimensional Flesh is where a lot of the new eyes and ears found them. The eye-catching cover art and cosmic heaviness of the album made for quite the combination, and it has left quite the impression on me and many others that love this unique sound that the band has captured. This is also the first time where Afterbirth was able to write a record knowing who their vocalist was, and it led to a whole new playbook for the band. I asked Cody about the process of writing with Will Smith as a vocalist and as expected there was no doubt that it opens up a lot of doors:
‘Will was involved and hands-on from the get-go as soon as we all decided to work together. He has a unique perspective that he brings to the band’s musical ideas, and together, I think it has all synergistically invigorated us in ways that were not possible before he had teamed up with the rest of us. The doors that his vision has opened for us are limitless, we can do whatever we want as a band. It is very liberating to be in this position and to work with him has been a true gift.‘
Given that it has been a few years since Afterbirth’s last album, the question of what is next for the band has been on my mind for a while, and thankfully that question was answered last year when it was announced that they had signed on with Willowtip to release a new LP. When it comes to metal labels, I believe this to be quite a good spot for Afterbirth, as they embrace the metal that loves to dance in the margins. At this point, it’s uncertain as to when this new album will see the light of day, but we do have some hints about what’s to come:
‘We’ll be recording once more with Colin Marston at his Menegroth Studio in Queens, NY. We’re all extremely excited about this once again. It was booked many months ago when we felt the end was in sight with our newer material. We have high hopes for this one.” It was also indicated that there will be a bit of a stylistic shift for the cover art on the new album and I personally can’t wait to see how things shape up for that!‘
David Case – Bass
Keith Harris – Drums
Cody Drasser – Guitars
Will Smith – Vocals
While touring is a difficult thing for any band at this time, especially DIY metal bands, the prospect of touring for the new album is a little bit daunting. If you’re in the Long Island area, though, be sure to head to Amityville Music Hall on March 3, 2023 to see Afterbirth play with Mortician, Thaetas, and Bowel Erosion!
Afterbirth are a band that have encountered all sorts of hurdles, changes, and difficulties to get to where they are today, but that hasn’t daunted their creative spirit in the slightest, and frankly, that is one of the most respectable things that one can say about a band. Brutal death metal is a tough place to carve out a notch for yourself, but in the years since their reformation, there has been a resurgence of interest in what they do and that’s all thanks to the passion they have for their process and music. Their unique take on metal of this ilk makes them one of the most interesting bands to put out this kind of music in a long time. Be sure to follow the band on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest news, teasers, and more. And you can find their music and vast array of merch on their Bandcamp page!