Awaken the Beast – Exclusive Interview with Overtoun

Overtoun (Left to right): Matías Bahamondes (guitars), Yoav Ruiz-Feingold (vocals), Agustín Lobo (drums).

Chilean death metal torchbearers, Overtoun, are a band with the potential to spearhead their own domestic scene and the ability to go international. Now armed with their sophomore album, the metal underground should brace itself for a pulsating blast of hybrid death-thrash infused with flashes of Chilean folk music. This is a trio that seeks to go back to the roots of death metal while invigorating it with outside influences.

Even more impressive is how Overtoun secured the services of Metallica’s legendary sound engineer, Flemming Rasmussen, to master their latest record. This Darkness Feels Alive reminds you that death metal is more than just blast beats and 250bpm rhythms. The lyrical themes deal with racial discrimination, police brutality, and the collective soma that’s taking hold of our societies in the face of political violence and terrorism. Yet underneath it all is the plight of the isolated individual – the person who looks on at the opulence and decadence of their contemporaries with self-loathing and a new understanding of self-respect. Words are as important as riffs to Overtoun. This is a cerebral band with a lot to say and the capacity to listen to the logic of events.

We spoke to guitarist, Matías Bahamondes, and vocalist/lyricist, Yoav Ruiz-Feingold, about the aims and hopes for their latest album.

Above: Overtoun are determined to spearhead a new wave of death metal in their homeland of Chile.

Let’s begin with your latest album, This Darkness Feels Alive. What a record! We said in our review that ‘This is an album that aims as high as Death’s Symbolic and almost reaches the impossible standards set by Chuck Schuldiner.’ How accurate are we with the Death observation?

Matías: Hi friends from Scream Blast Repeat! I hope you are doing great. This is Matias and Yoav from Overtoun. We’re extremely glad to be here with you! We are so happy that you guys enjoyed our new album. It means a lot to us.

Thanks a lot for that Death comparison! It is extremely cool to be at the level of someone as great as Chuck. Although some members of Overtoun are more into Death than others, they played a big part of our teenage years for drummer Agustin and me (it wasn’t too long ago considering we are 22-23 years old today). We used to listen to a lot of their albums, and Agustin is very influenced by drummers Gene Hoglan and Sean Reinert. Last year we did a video covering ‘Zero Tolerance’, and it reached out to Bobby Koeble who liked our performance a lot! I would have loved to see Death on a live show, but, unfortunately, Chuck passed away. He might not be here, but his music is still with us.

You also secured the services of the legendary Metallica sound engineer, Flemming Rasmussen, to master your record. How did this happen?

Matías: It was a huge blessing to have Flemming Rasmussen on this record. It’s no secret that we’re fans of early Metallica, and we wanted to achieve a vintage sound in the mix and master. We worked a lot with our producer, Pancho Arenas, who also mixed the album, and we always had in mind to blend the 80’s thrash metal sound with modern recording techniques. I think that Flemming came immediately to our minds since he worked with Evile, Morbid Angel, Rainbow and many others, so he was naturally the engineer chosen to do the job. I tried to reach him out through his studio contact phone and email, and, somehow, I found the email of his assistant. I sent them the material and then Flemming responded that he would be happy to do the mastering personally. After that, we sent him the final mixes, he approved them and sent two mastering versions. We stayed with the second one since it was more transparent and dynamic!

We know that your home country of Chile has an abundance of extreme metal bands in the underground. No doubt, Overtoun have ambitions to spearhead this scene. What plans do you have to take your music beyond the borders of Chile in the future?

Matías: Of course! We’d be fascinated to keep spreading our music around the world. Unfortunately, now due to the pandemic we cannot go on the road to play live, but we are extremely anxious to fulfil our postponed dates in the US and Brazil. We enjoy playing music whether there are one or two hundred people in the audience, so we always want to go and share our art with everyone. We’ve been getting great reviews for This Darkness Feels Alive overseas, so we surely want to play the record everywhere.

How important was the rise to fame of Sepultura in the 1990s for metal artists starting out in Latin America?

Matías: It was very important to have a band that waved the flag of Latin America around the global music scene. There were a few Chilean bands like Pentagram or Criminal, who I’ve read had a close contact with Max and Igor Cavalera, but that rise to fame of Sepultura didn’t really take more extreme Latin metal bands to the metal mainstream. In my opinion, it was more of a singular and special thing that happened for them in that time, but most of the legendary underground bands that are still playing today did not make it as big as Sepultura.

Above: Matías Bahamondes is the principal songwriter and riff lord for Overtoun.

This Darkness Feels Alive is a ferocious album, but you prefer to use groove and thrash metal ‘skank’ beats to electrify the listener. Why do you think we are seeing more bands return to the thrash roots of death metal these days?

Matías: At least in our own vision of things, we are a little bit bored of the modern school of metal. We want to bring back the roots and visceral stuff about the music. When I was at college taking lessons from Joe Stump (who is featured on this album in the song, ‘Underneath’) he said that “Metal music is derived from rock, so it has to preserve the raw elements from the style”. I think that the raw element is sometimes taken out of modern metal, so it loses a little bit of soul. We try to honour the music we love and grew up with by using that musical language.

The listener will be surprised to find some experimental songs on your latest album. How would you describe the instrumental song, ‘Araucaria’, for those who haven’t heard it?

Matías: ‘Araucaria’ is a song that responds to our deepest Chilean musical influences – Quilapayun, Inti Illimani, Victor Jara, Violeta Parra, and many traditional folklore artists, who brought back old music that was played in the countryside and that was sometimes lost. ‘Araucaria’ is a transition between the title track and ‘Made Manifest’, where we wanted to show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel of mental health issues, suicide and depression. It connects very well to the appearance of Awka Mondaka who sang in the indigenous Mapudungun language in the last song of the album, truly connecting to the roots of our country. We wanted to share this kind of music to a different audience, so they are exposed to Chilean folklore music.

‘Alone’ is similar in mood to Pantera’s ‘Floods’. The clean guitar passages are dark and demoralising yet also aggressive when the guitars step on the distortion. How much of an influence did Pantera have on this song?

Matías: Well, actually, Pantera is a big influence for us; we used to play their songs a lot when we were starting out as a band. Nevertheless, the true influence for this song was the Chilean group Los Tres, taking a lot of language from them in the way they arrange the harmony and rhythm, which blends Chilean folklore sounds with rock elements. I was genuinely impressed by the way Yoav developed his singing and writing in this song. It’s really deep and conveys perfectly the feeling of solitude and loneliness. We fought a lot to get this song right, and we are happy for how it turned out.

Let’s move on to the lyrical themes of This Darkness Feels Alive. The song, ‘Awaken the Beast’, is about a person who experiences racial discrimination in society. How much of this is based on your personal experience as a citizen of Chile?

Yoav: Every lyric I wrote on this record comes from a place of personal trauma and real experiences I lived. That song in particular references some specific events I’ve had as a multi-ethnic Mexican-American living in the USA and some time in Canada, though I would hope disenfranchised people could relate from whatever background. Discrimination knows no nationality or strata, so I tried to write with that goal in mind while being honest and vulnerable.

Above: Lyricist and vocalist, Yoav Ruiz-Feingold . His lyrics are as integral to the band as their slamming death-thrash music.

‘Humanity’ is another poignant song that talks from the perspective of somebody who has given up all material considerations of wealth and status and abandoned the idea of a secure life. You talk about feeling dead in a living body. What inspired the lyrics for this song?

Yoav: So that song was cool in that I wrote a large part while I was having an episode while in an environment depicted in the lyrics and had the idea to capture these unhealthy thoughts in the moment. I was able to get some good use out of such negative thoughts, so I feel it was therapeutic! I also thought it would be cool to allude to some of the lyrics I wrote on the first album, specifically the track that shares its name with the band, which I felt was somewhat a blueprint of what I wanted to explore on this record conceptually.

‘Toxin’ talks about white police violence against black people and the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a white supremacist in 2019. “There’s too many tragedies to mourn/ What can I do but shut myself in?/ I’m not absolved/ There’s too much hate/ This toxin must evaporate.” Help us understand this song. Why does the narrator take these tragic events so personally?

Yoav: I open the song with these events in particular because they were occurring at the time that I wrote lyrics for this song and were the basis for what I wanted to address. I did this on the first record as well, writing about events that directly impacted myself or my community. I’m an incredibly sensitive person, and my anger at these injustices consumes me so much it becomes devastating. It so often feels that people just don’t fucking care, and there is woefully little I can do to fix these issues or provide solidarity to others affected. I often find to protect my wellbeing that, I, myself, have to turn away, and I hate that about myself. The events of the past few years illustrate how cyclical and exhausting it is, feeling powerless to enact any real change and how quick people are conditioned to move on. It’s some truly depressing stuff.

We said in our review of This Darkness Feels Alive that metal bands in Chile ‘have more to rage against and a darker recent history hanging over their heads despite living in one of the most advanced nations in South America.’ What are your thoughts on this observation?

Matías: To be honest, Chile is very far from being the most advanced nation in South America. It might be the most neo-liberal nation there is, but there is a huge amount of inequality and poverty present in our society. Actually, according to the global Gini Index that measures inequality, Chile is the most unequal country in OECD. Right now, we are living a truly important moment in our history since we are in a process of changing our constitution, using a Constitutional Convention that was elected democratically. Our previous and current constitution was established by Pinochet’s dictatorship, and we are changing it now because people took to the streets and screamed to modify the way we live in our country. That’s where our rage comes from – a country that is unequal, with a poor education and health system, a democracy broken by the military.

Final question: How do you plan to evolve as a metal band on your next album in terms of sound and direction?

Matías: We are still young to evolve and keep developing our style in the near future. We have lots of things to improve and new things we’re learning that we can use to serve the music. Lately, we’ve been talking about taking the next album to a more extreme sound, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers since every idea is still quite fresh and new. One thing I’m sure about is that the production quality will be as great as this second album and even better. We have some nice concepts in mind we will experiment with!

*** Overtoun self-released This Darkness Feels Alive on 23 July 2021. You can read the original SBR review here.