Death Metal to the pandemic: shredding the Ottawa scene
by Douglas Boyle
Comeback tours are usually reserved for the veterans of the music industry who have gone on hiatus forty years after their prime. But for local death metal musicians, the comeback tour will come on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Adam Pell, guitarist and vocalist for the Ottawa death metal band Accursed Spawn, this past year has been a chance to take a break from the cycle of writing, recording, and touring to focus on honing a new skill—to spend time rediscovering his instrument and enjoying some long overdue time on the couch.
“Even leading up to the months before the pandemic we weren’t super active and dealing with a line-up change,” says Pell.
“When we wrapped up our last show in October with Immolation last year we decided we were going to use the year of 2020 to take some time off to try and rebuild. We wanted to figure out a new direction. We realized we had probably chosen a decent year to take time off.”
Pell had intended to use this year to rediscover his creativity and work on redefining his guitar sound. After the departure of long-time guitarist Paul Kelly, he found himself in a three-piece band and would have to reconsider how he writes music to bring the same sound from record to stage.
“I was a lot more optimistic that I would be more creative this year, but admittedly, it’s tough to be inspired when you’re living the same experiences over and over again,” says Pell.
“From the artistic perspective I find I was spinning my wheels as a guitarist. So, I ended up taking a break for about a month and a half. Fortunately, by now I’ve rekindled a lot of interest and a lot more zeal but without any idea of when we will be playing again it is hard to maintain that motivation.”
Accursed Spawn released their first full-length album The Virulent Host on March 23, 2019 and aspire to continue writing and producing music. Pell believes the next project they are working on will be a smoother production now that they have more experience.
“I’ve started trying to learn how to record on my own. After we stripped everything down, we thought what else can we do to keep things in-house instead of outsourcing.”
Despite the circumstances, Pell, joined by his drummer Jay Cross and bass player Wei Lu, have been making efforts to keep their focus on the next step.
“We have had eight months to reflect, so now we are starting to get back into things,” says Pell. “We are moving to a remote thing, there’s less of a party vibe now and more of a focus to get things done.”
Despite circumstances, Accursed Spawn stuck with the theme of 2020 and learned to adapt. By omitting vocals from their practices and maintaining distance while jamming.
“You have to adapt, and you have to learn to find ways to enrich your life. With the second wave coming, people are a little more aware of how to conduct themselves. We figured out a way to adapt and that was a big part of staying motivated.”
Before the venues across Canada closed their doors to patrons and bands to comply with government health measures and prevent spreading COVID-19, Pell’s life looked quite different.
Aside from touring eastern Canada, Pell recently had the chance to compete in BANGER TV’s guitar competition called “Shredders of Metal II,” and finished as a finalist. Despite the competitive nature of the program, there was no air of tension.
“It was a great time!” says Pell.
“Guitar players tend to get this flak for having a lot of bravado, being very insecure yet outwardly arrogant—specially with the style of guitar playing that produces shredders. There is this stereotype that if you know how to shred, you probably do not know how to do much else. So, when everyone congregated and was friendly with each other, it was really uplifting for everyone involved.”
Before Pell’s time in the band, he was their original super fan. Accursed Spawn was formed in 2010 by Jay Cross, Shawn Streicher, Luke Hickey, and Andre Lahoud.
In 2011, Streicher had other ambitions outside of playing music and sought out Pell to take his place as lead guitarist. Pell joined the band immediately and around 2014 he co-produced their first EP Engineering a Sociopath, which the band no longer sells.
“The engineer just let me take the reigns and just wanted to get paid and get out of there, which I don’t blame him for,” says Pell. “We ended up producing an EP I am totally not proud of. Around 2015 we started recording Putrid which I consider to be our first real Accursed Spawn release.”
Putrid was when Pell says Accursed Spawn really started to speak to their name. They included the classichorrorand dismemberment vibes of death metal but used their new EP as a chance to speak to the insidiousness of humanity, humans being the “accursed spawn”.
“The accursed spawn is evil in man, and the evils man can do,” explains Pell.
As their lineup changed and they grew as artists, they started to grow out of the old school splatter metal sound. Including themes in their new songs like oligarchic abuses, political corruption, and humanitarian disaster.
“The future of Accursed Spawn is our main goal right now,” says Pell. “2020 has left us lots of time to recharge our batteries and moving forward I think we will be able to produce music at a faster rate and more efficiently.”
Accursed Spawn has plans to release another album in the near future. The Virulent Host is available on Bandcamp and Spotify.