Floridian Death Metal band Hibernus Mortis have unleashed a brooding slab of darkness after a break of twenty years. I spoke to vocalist/drummer Cesar about the bands lengthy hiatus, their brand new opus ‘The Monoliths of Cursed Slumber’, dealing with negative press and living up to the local scene. Plus much more. (Marksson)
Greetings to you Cesar and thank you for answering my questions. How is life currently in Florida?
Greetings Luke! Things in Florida are alright. As far as music goes, a lot of live music venues here in South Florida have either permanently closed their doors or are in the process of closing. There are very few venues left for bands to play down here. We also just had a Hurricane a few weeks ago. While South FL wasn’t really affected by Hurricane Ian the West coast and Central Florida did sustain more devastating effects from the storm.
Florida is historically a hotbed of old school Death Metal. Was it ever in doubt that you would go down the same route? Tell me how you got into Death Metal.
Growing up in Florida, especially back in the day, was an absolute magical time. Back in ’88 or ’89 I had already been listening to metal for a couple of years. I was already into Thrash as well as lots of classic traditional Heavy Metal. I was in middle school at the time, and one of my friends at school let me borrow his copy of Death’s “Leprosy” on cassette. I was blown away by everything, the artwork, the gnarly vocals, the riffs etc…. At the time it was the most extreme thing I had ever heard. About a year later my brother purchased “Slowly We Rot” by Obituary and that was even more mind-blowing. We couldn’t believe those sounds were actually coming out of a human’s throat. That was the starting point where we were on a mission to discover the most extreme music we could find. Keep in mind this was years before the internet and before YouTube was a thing, so we had to discover this mainly through magazines like Metal Maniacs as well as word of mouth, Headbanger’s Ball wasn’t playing death metal yet either. There was also a local radio station at the time WSHE 103.5 which was a rock station. On Sunday nights they used to have a two-hour show dedicated to local music from various genres as long as they were “rock” and from South FL. This show was the very first place where I heard local bands like Malevolent Creation, Cynic, Hellwitch, Monstrosity, Demonomacy, Amboog-A-Lard, Raped Ape etc….. I had no clue there were so many killer bands down in my neck of the woods. I was already aware of the great scenes in Tampa and Orlando but for some reason South Florida never gets mentioned as much. Sorry I’m just reminiscing and rambling on at this point but to answer your question I feel extremely lucky to have been able to experience the Floridian Death Metal explosion of the late ’80s/early ’90s not only geographically but close to its inception time-wise as well.
Do you feel you have absorbed some of the local scene into your sound, or do you like to incorporate other influences? Or do you feel you strive for your own sound?
Well, yes & no. I mean there used to be a definitive Florida sound back in the day but I think a lot of that also had to do with the production that bands were getting at Morrisound in Tampa with Scott Burns and the Morris brothers. There are certain traits you pick up from your surroundings. I notice a lot of Florida bands have perfected those mid-tempo double bass passages that just make you want to move your head involuntarily. Little things like that have crept into our sound a bit but I don’t think we sound like a typical Florida band. We’ve been playing the same type of Death Metal since ’96 more or less and I don’t think I’ve really heard any other Florida bands that sound like us. Obviously we grew up here and Florida Death Metal was a huge influence, but we were also influenced by bands from Sweden, Finland, Germany, England, Brazil, New York, California etc… I think we have succeeded in throwing all our influences into a big stew and the result is a mixture of all of our favourites with some being bigger than others. I mean the obvious one we get all the time is Incantation which is totally fine because that is definitely one of our biggest influences. But there is also some Immolation, some Obituary, some Demilich, some Entombed, some Morbid Angel, some Autopsy, some Deicide, some Grave etc…. There might be some other obscure ones in there as well. While they have all influenced us and flavoured our sound to a certain degree I still believe the majority of the end result is still our own unique sound.
You released your debut album back in 2002 and to date it has one review on Metal Archives, giving it 0%. Clearly that gentleman wasn’t impressed, but what kind of reception did the debut receive elsewhere all those years ago?
Yeah, I mean I don’t expect everyone to like our music but I’m pretty sure whoever that person is just happens to either be a troll or has a personal vendetta against Florida bands. I think that person has done over 50 reviews on Metal Archives, and they have all been 0’s except for just one of the reviews. Like literally 50 reviews with a 0% score and just one with a positive score. Also more than half of the bands he reviewed are from Florida. I mean honestly at the end of the day his opinion doesn’t matter. I make the music that I enjoy with some of my best friends. All that matters is that we like it, and that those close to us appreciate what we do. If other people like it, that’s just the icing on the cake, but I’m not losing sleep because some angry troll is in a basement somewhere thinking he is offending us with his child tantrum like “reviews”. As far as the general reception from other people, it was mainly positive. It’s weird because that album was pressed in very limited quantities, and I mean extremely limited. I think in total we pressed 100 copies which was two separate presses of 50. Almost all of the copies were sold exclusively throughout Florida with very few making it out of the state or out of the country when we released it 20 years ago, but with the internet and file sharing becoming a thing, that album spread online over the years like a wildfire. We started getting emails and messages from all over the world from people that had heard the album or at least a couple songs and were interested in buying a physical copy. It was the strangest thing I had ever witnessed. Like 20 years later that album has reached a level of mythical proportions exponentially far more than when it was initially released. A few months ago somebody I think maybe from Argentina or something like that was selling an original copy on Discogs for like $260 dollars.
And then 20 years passed. Where did you guys go? Were you active in other bands or did you just get on with real life?
After we released our last album in 2002 we were still active for a bit, playing shows once in a while, as well as occasionally writing new material. Things started to slow down around 2004, we would get together to practice only when we had to rehearse for a show. That was it. Then it was a constant downward spiral of things that led to us stopping abruptly. There was a 3 song demo we recorded from around this time period but it was never released. Our old guitarist Doug (R.I.P.) started losing interest, also Ralf was a dad, so he had less time to dedicate to the band as well which I totally understood 100%, so basically we played a show in early 2005 and that was our last show with Ralf. He wanted us to continue without him but I had always told Ralf that if either of us were to leave, Hibernus Mortis would be over since we both started the band and were the principal songwriters. So basically over the course of a couple months half the band had quit. We tried playing another show with replacement band members but it just wasn’t the same, so I basically pulled the plug and called it a day. During the following years we kind of just went on with our lives and our careers but still kept in touch since we are all close friends. Eventually years later Ralf and Yasser started a killer band named Koroidia which I had also been asked to join but I decided not to since it would basically be the same line-up as Hibernus. I did engineer a couple of their albums though. As far as myself I hadn’t played drums for a couple of years at that point so I decided to fill in on gigs here and there with some friends’ bands just to keep my chops up but I never considered it as a replacement or a new venture. Hibernus Mortis has always been my main thing.
This year has seen you return as a band and with a brand new album too. What instigated your return?
Basically after we disbanded in late 2005 we were inactive for almost 6 years. In 2011 Ralf and I started talking about maybe getting the ball rolling again as far as maybe writing some more songs for a follow-up album as well as maybe doing a couple of shows. One of our good friends Roger who was also a promoter who booked shows down here was always twisting our arms to get back together. In 2012, we were at some show, and he basically cornered us and said “You guys need to get back together, what’s it gonna take? I’ll book any band you guys want and bring them down here for you guys to play the show. ” I’m pretty sure we said to bring down either Autopsy or Incantation, I forgot if there were scheduling conflicts at the time with both bands or what have you so then he was finally able to secure Disma. So basically we started practicing again, and we added our good friend Randy Piro (Orbweaver, Gigan, Hate Eternal) on 2nd guitar, and we played our first show in nearly 7 years. While it was great to finally be back on stage again the ultimate goal was to record another album. We had songs and riffs just lying around that were never used since we had broken up, so we used those as a foundation and started writing an album’s worth of songs.
How do you feel that your sound and style has progressed over the intervening years? How would you compare ‘The Monoliths of Cursed Slumber’ with your debut album?
I mean honestly I feel our style has stayed pretty consistent over the years. Obviously we have progressed in our abilities on our respective instruments, but we haven’t allowed that to change our song writing and what we were trying to achieve since day one. This band has certain key characteristics to its sound. One of our most defining traits is the tuning. We have always tuned to G standard. Nowadays it doesn’t seem that bizarre since a lot of bands tune low but back in’95/’96 it was unheard-of for any band to tune that low. Not to mention we were still doing it on standard 6 string guitars. Back then we used to have to get custom string sets from a local guitar dealer and purchase the strings individually to make our own sets and make sure we were getting the proper gauges. Another key characteristic is the fact that we don’t have any guitar solos. Don’t get me wrong, I love guitar solos but I always felt that with us we wanted to let the riffs do the talking. The riffs have always been the main attraction. In the 90’s there was fierce competition with a lot of bands in the Death Metal scene to see who was the fastest, to be the band with the “fastest” blasts etc. That was never us, we wanted to be the heaviest! As far as the new album is concerned I feel like this is the first time we truly made the album that we have always wanted to make. I handled the entire recording process from tracking, to mixing and mastering on the new album. This gave us the luxury of not only taking our time instead of being rushed due to expensive studio time ticking by but it also let us have 100% creative control of the final outcome. Starting out back in the day we would go record at different studios and engineers would always be trying to change our sound as well as telling us what we should sound like. They would always tell us to tune our guitars higher or to “NOT” have distortion on the bass guitar, or certain things along those lines. Certain engineers also didn’t understand our need to drown the recording in reverb and make it sound like we were playing in a freaking cave. We play Death Metal, we play absolutely rotten music, so we need a rotten recording. Some people just don’t get it. While I have recorded tons of bands over the past 18 years, now that we are back this is the first time I actually get to record one of our albums. But I’m pretty happy as well as the other guys with the final result and I can say without hesitation that this album has captured the true sound of Hibernus Mortis more than any other of our previous albums.
Can you tell me about the themes that run through “The Monoliths of Cursed Slumber”? The very name itself would appear to hint at your lengthy absence.
I don’t necessarily want to call it a “concept album”, but in a bizarre way it kind of is. There are several recurring themes on the album centred around the concept of “sleep” or “slumber”: both in the literal sense as well as figuratively. Sleep in the sense of momentary rest as well as spiritually and consciously. Lyrically we have never been interested in writing songs so much about gore or any occult topics. Not that I’m knocking other bands that do, but it was just never our type of thing. Our lyrics have always been centred around dark themes but always shrouded in mystery. We have always enjoyed writing semi-vague lyrics about certain topics which allow the listener to come up with their own visual representation of the lyrical theme. On a rare occasion we might write lyrics loosely based on a specific movie that inspired us but as I said earlier it’s only on rare occasions. It may or may not have happened once or twice on this album. But overall I will say The Monoliths Of Cursed Slumber does have a running theme.
You have taken over the sole vocal duties in the band, taking over from Ralf. Why the change?
Well, Ralf was our vocalist on top of his normal guitar duties for the majority of the band’s existence with the exception of our first demo. On our previous full length as well as on our first demo I did some back up vocals on certain parts but nothing really major. Ralf has always been a huge fan of my vocal style and has always wanted me to be the main vocalist. I always declined just because of the “live” factor, because playing drums while doing death metal vocals in a live setting just kind of sucks. He has always said my vocals remind him of Masse Broberg on Hypocrisy’s “Penetralia” album. This was never intentional and I never patterned my vocals after him, they just kind of come out that way even though I think they are still a bit different from his, but I do think it’s a great compliment. When we were writing songs for this new album, I was writing lyrics for some of the songs and I just recorded some quick demos at practice and went home and recorded vocals over it so I could give them to Ralf to get the vocal patterns down. Ralf liked them so much he just said “Man, I really think you should do the vocals on the album”, At first I declined like always, and then I figured maybe we should both share vocal duties and finally it just ended up with myself doing 90% of the vocals on the album. Ralf still does some belches on there as well as a couple lines here and there.
Who designed the artwork for “The Monoliths of Cursed Slumber”? It is a spectacular piece of work and leagues ahead of your older artwork. What instructions were given to the artist?
Our album cover was actually done by my brother Chris Placeres. Chris is an incredible artist as well as a devoted death metal fan himself. I’ve always said Chris was like the 5th Hibernus member. In an age where lots of bands use digital artwork or just drawings for their covers we wanted to go old-school and have a legit painting for our album cover. If I remember correctly the painting was done with acrylic paint on a 24″ x 24″ canvas. Chris also did all the photography and layout artwork for the album. He’s done logos, artwork, designs and things of that nature for dozens of bands. As far as the theme, we gave Chris a very basic idea about what we wanted. We knew we wanted to have some sort of cavern with a cathedral-like mausoleum inside it. Like a forgotten structure that’s been there for centuries. We had sketches as well as ideas back and forth. The rooted vines in the forefront that get smaller and smaller as it gets closer to the structure go with the theme of the final lyric in “Invocations Of Never” which is “As we return to nothing”. The structure is where all things return to nothing or the place of the figurative final “slumber”. The “monoliths” could be considered the vines or the actual structure itself. It’s all intertwined in a way and open to interpretation. In my opinion the final result was a perfect visual representation of our sound. Dreary, cavernous and monolithic.
You have linked up with Blood Harvest to release the new album. How did this collaboration take form? Were there other labels interested?
We are very proud to be working with Blood Harvest Records on this release. Rodrigo over at Blood Harvest has been an absolute pleasure to work with. Several years ago Rodrigo contacted us about reissuing our first full length album from 2002 “The Existing Realms Of Perpetual Sorrow”. We still weren’t sure about how we would go about the reissue as far as keeping it the same, or reissuing it with bonus tracks, or a compilation of all our early material etc…. We put that idea on the back burner for the time being since we didn’t want it to take away any momentum we had moving forward writing the new album. Once the new album was complete as far as the recording, artwork, photos etc., we contacted Rodrigo and told him we actually had a new album that we wanted to release first before anything. He was glad to hear back from us all these years later and also that we were playing again. I sent him a couple of the new songs, and he enjoyed them so much he instantly told us he wanted to release the album on all 3 formats (Vinyl LP, CD Cassette). The fact that he was willing to put it out on all three formats as well as approaching us in the first place combined with the track record of quality Death Metal releases Blood Harvest has done over the years made this an extremely easy decision to sign with them. Rodrigo was glad to be working on this release with us and explained that he still wants to reissue the first album as well which so many people have asked for over the years since it was released in very limited quantities.
I mentioned the Florida DM scene earlier, do you take much of an interest in such things? Are there any bands coming through local to you that you feel should get more attention?
Definitely! Obviously being in Florida you are constantly exposed to great bands from all over the state. I don’t go to as many shows as I used to back in the day but I still make it out once in a while and discover new bands all the time as well as seeing the few old-school bands that are still around. Florida has such a rich history with hundreds of bands, if I was to list them all I’d be typing all day, that’s why I’ll just focus on my specific region. There were three main scenes in Florida. There was the Tampa Scene, the Orlando Scene and the South Florida scene which combines Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Lots of people from other states and other countries think it’s totally ironic that we’re from Miami and that we play Death Metal, but people down here know that South Florida had a legendary scene. Obviously the biggest ones from down here were Cynic & Malevolent Creation who are still going strong. Currently in the scene we still have Hellwitch who are absolute legends as well as a ton of other cool newer/semi-new bands like Koroidia, Hexorcist, Deviant Burial, Orbweaver, Caveman Cult, Midnight Spell, Que Asko, Faethom, Charred, Ejecutador, Gnosis etc…
Are you here for the long haul this time? Will you be resting on your laurels or can we expect more from Hibernus Mortis and if so, can you divulge any details?
Absolutely. We are going to stick around as long as possible. We plan on doing an album release show locally once the new album is out as well as a couple of other Florida shows. Aside from that we might do an occasional show once in a while or a fest here and there but I don’t foresee us doing any extensive touring. I mean we would consider it if the proper opportunity presented itself but it would 100% absolutely have to make sense. Maybe if we could hop on a tour with a bigger headliner or something along those lines. As far as music is concerned our new album “The Monoliths Of Cursed Slumber” comes out November 25th. After that in the next year or two expect the reissue of The Existing Realms Of Perpetual Sorrow. Looking down the road even further there might be enough in the tank to write music for another brand-new album or even two. Let’s see. Remember earlier I talked about writing things shrouded in mystery? This could be one of those times. I’m sure there will be a bunch of other cool surprises along the way as well.
That is all I have for you. Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me. The final words are yours.
Thank you once again for the interview Luke. We really appreciate the support. Also once again I would like to thank Blood Harvest for helping spread our filth into listeners ears on a global scale. Most importantly we’d like to thank our fans who have supported us since day one and hounded us for years to get back together and make rotten music again. Finally, the wait is over!