Interview: Casey Orr of Rigor Mortis – Back from the Dead One Last Time

I recently spoke with bassist Casey Orr of Rigor Mortis about the group’s final record, Slaves to the Grave.

Jerel Johnson: Glad you could speak with me today Casey. The new record, Slaves to the Grave comes out October 7. How do you feel about that?

Casey Orr: It’s been a long couple of years, especially since Mike [Scaccia] died. It became hard to finish and let go of. But it’s all paid off and it’s the record we wanted to do and it’s the record Mike finished before he died. We know Mike was happy with the record before he died, so we fixed our parts, more so than we probably needed to because it was hard to let it go. But we are happy with it and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a weird bitter-sweet thing because it could have been the second coming of Rigor Mortis, but alas our brother’s gone and it’s not meant to be. But, we are going to do everything we can to promote the record and keep the spirit of Rigor Mortis and Mike’s legacy live.

JJ: This is the final Rigor Mortis album. Do you think this record ends the band’s career on a high note?

CO: If this is going to be the end of Rigor Mortis, then the spirit of the early days was intact when the original four of us got back together. And when Mike passed, it was no-question that Rigor Mortis is done. We’re all in other bands as well, but we’ve been playing the Rigor Mortis songs, with Mike Taylor, a good friend of ours and Mike Scaccia. We’ve played a record release party, and some fund raiser and we’re doing the Housecore Horror festival and a Dallas Halloween Horror festival. We’ve been playing for 30 years so it’s hard to think that Mike or anyone would say “don’t play them anymore” that is ridiculous. We also think how do we carry on? I mean we don’t want to look like a cover band of our own band. However at the same time, the songs are a part of us and the fans want to hear them. So if we can and things make sense and they are respectful to the legacy then we will do some things in the future. It is in the air. So it is the end of Rigor Mortis but I would hope it is not the end of the spirit of Rigor Mortis.

JJ: What was the process for recording this record?

CO: We talked to Al Jourgenson, who at one point offered up his studio in El Paso. But, you never know what will happen with that. So we went on our normal routine and we knew we would record. We had a B plan to record in town. We had a window of opportunity in October 2011 to use the studio in 2012. There was not any pressure; it was very organic working on stuff. We went into the studio and it was a comfortable environment. It was very quiet and it was a good place to be and record. The process was really smooth and it was just us in the studio and all came out really easily and we were happy with it even back down. We did not finish it then, we were pulled away to work on other things. We did not want to stop, so we had our friend Kerry Crafton finish mixing the record. We were happy we worked with Kerry on this because he’s family and with all that happened it seemed to be the case and it was and it came out great.

JJ: How much did late guitarist, Mike Scaccia contribute to this album?

CO: Well Mike, there is no doubt was the talent of the band. I would never claim to be anything close to his natural abilities. But we work really well together and we are all really great friends. So, we would all come back to this because we enjoy each other. The band was ours, it was all ours. It was very democratic. But Mike was just this great talent of a guitar player and I would put him up against anybody, even Dimebag, who was also a phenomenal guitar player. I would have loved to have seen those two guys on stage and jam with each other and try to play off each other. Mike would play on anybody’s rig and make it sound 10 times better than they could.

JJ: Do you have any fond memories from recording the record?

CO: Yes, we had a great time. There was nice weather in El Paso in the mountains. We would drink coffee, have some breakfast and talk about what we were going to do. Then would go in and get to work. In the evening we would drink and just had a really good time making this record. It was just a great time and the whole thing is a great memory. We were detached from our normal lives and focused the whole time we were there. We chilled out when we weren’t working and it was a very creative atmosphere. So the whole thing was a wonderful experience and since that was the last thing we did like that, I’m glad it was a very comfortable and organic situation.

JJ: What are your favorite songs on Slaves?

CO: They’re all good. We’ve been trying to figure out the third single to release, but I’m okay with putting out any of them, because they are all strong. I guess I like the ones I put the lyrics too, like Flesh for Flies, Rain of Ruin and Curse of the Draugr. Sometimes, when I’m under pressure is when I do my best writing. But I like every song on the record. Everyone of us really stepped up and just brought their A game and I couldn’t be happier with everyone’s performance.

JJ: What made you fund the album through an IndieGoGo campaign?

CO: Even though we’ve been around for 30 years, we don’t have managers or a record label. We just thought we can scrape up some money and buy some t-shirts. So this time we were working on the record and shopped a demo around. We got some positive response, but no one wanted to release it. When Mike died, we tried again and no one wanted to release it. We did not play around too long and I thought, I worked at a distribution place and in the Internet Age we can make it ourselves. I thought how hard can it be? Haha. We did not have any money and we thought “everyone is crowd-funding these days, so why don’t we do it?” We looked at IndieGoGo and no matter how much you bring in you get most of it. If you don’t get the goal you don’t get anything. So I said we just need to get what we need to get. It just looked like the easiest one and we ran with it. We met our goal and we went couple hundred bucks over. But we met our goal without being in debt to anyone.

JJ: Do you think that fan funded projects are the future of the music industry?

CO: The music industry is so decimated at this point. There is no money to throw around to bands. The labels don’t have as much stuff to do as much as they used to. You can make anything now, you don’t need a label. You can be your own online store. It’s possible now, it certainly was not possible when Rigor Mortis started out. But if you’re willing to do the work, it is the best way to do it. Unless the music industry decides to put more money into more bands and do bugger things, than now, it’s the only way for bands to go.

JJ: Has the metal scene shrunk in recent years or have you seen a resurgence in underground music?

CO: It’s hard to say. I really don’t pay that much attention to everything anymore. There are so many bands. I like the old school bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy, but I don’t pick up the magazines very much. But, I have seen a lot of younger bands that are very thrash influenced, more so than they have been in 15 or 20 years. So I like that. I like seeing kids playing real music again and not trying to out-weirdo each other metal wise.

JJ: How do you feel about playing at Halloween Housecore?

CO: It’s going to be killer. They gave us the best slots possible. Wizard of Gore is playing two slots before Voivod Friday night and Warbeast is playing two slots before Danzig/Samhain on Sunday night. It’s crazy. One of our early shows as Rigor Mortis was opening for Samhain. Three or four songs into the set, the cops came and shut down the show. Danzig, to his credit, he went down to the van parked by the door and handed the band’s merchandise to fans as they were exiting the building.

JJ: Do you have any last words to say to the Rigor Mortis fans?

CO: I definitely want to thank everyone that has supported us through the years. If you’re just finding out about us now and digging it, it’s an amazing thing that having something that is old and dormant for as long as it has, and still makes waves. It’s a great feeling, very few bands can come back thirty years in their career and people are like “holy shit! Where the hell did that come from?” and we’re like “aww shucks, that’s what we do.” I especially want to thank everyone that donated to the IndieGoGo campaign. We clearly could not have done it without them and it’s an amazing feeling to know that people will go out of their way to donate their hard earned money. It is something we won’t forget. In fact we included everyone’s name on the CD and on the vinyl. So to everyone who donated, your names on the record!

JJ: Casey, thank you for your time, and thank you for the timeless music you helped make in Rigor Mortis.

CO: Thanks man, cheers.

CD Review: “Slaves to the Grave” by Rigor Mortis

There are some bands in the metal genre that have attained cult status. Old school Texas thrash outfit Rigor Mortis is one of those bands. Although the group only released two proper albums in their 30 year history, the band’s 1988 self-titled debut album is a thrash gem. Twenty-six years later, the band has released its final record Slaves to the Grave. It is a tribute to late guitarist Mike Scaccia, who recorded the guitar tracks before his death in December of 2012. It is also a proper send off for an underrated but heavily respected band. The band released the record themselves and raised the money through IndieGoGo.

The album opener “Poltergeist” has the signature manic, crossover sound that Rigor Mortis is known for. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt sounds just like he did 25 years ago, with his fast lyrical recitation and gravelly voice. Mike Scaccia’s guitar work is incendiary with a razor sharp riffs and plays a beautiful, yet haunting guitar lead as the song ends. The thrash attack continues on “Rain of Ruin.” Again, Scaccia gives his all on this track with a fiery guitar solo and neck snapping riffage. Drummer Harden Harrison breaks out a d-beat, showing the band’s hardcore roots. The relentless “Flesh for Flies” rages like a swarm of killer bees. The take no prisoners mentality is abound on this track and the riffs engulf the track like a category five hurricane. The Iron Maidenesque “The Infected” is a maze of technical musicianship. The speed picks up on “Blood Bath,” easily one of the fastest tracks on the record and one of the longest at 6 1/2 minutes. The song twists and turns like a crimson river before culminating with another soulful guitar solo. The eerie, gloomy atmosphere of the instrumental dirge “Sacramentum Gladiatorum” is another high point, with its foreboding guitar passages. The final track “Ludus Magnus” pays homage to the Great Gladitorial Training School. What better way to end a record than to go out like a warrior? The militaristic drumming drives the track as Corbitt describes the training and rigors of Rome’s mightiest fighters. The track is triumphant and excellently concludes the final chapter of Rigor Mortis.

Slaves to the Grave shows a band at its finest and final hour. Mike Scaccia’s amazing guitar work is captured in all its glory. The band plays at its finest and its most technical, always having fun and never sounding forced. This is metal the way it is meant to be played. Thank you Bruce, Casey, Harden and Mike for all you’ve done in the metal genre. Rest in peace, Mike, you are truly a gladiator.

Rigor Mortis can be followed on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rigormortis25.