Leaders Of The Atomic Cult: An Introduction To Morbid Eclipse

By Andrew Bansal

Hailing from Orange County, California, Morbid Eclipse is a space-themed extreme metal force that emerged earlier this year. Playing their first show in August and few since then, the band has already captured the imagination of those in Southern California that truly support the local and underground. With a blend of face-melting musical elements and visuals based on science fiction themes, Morbid Eclipse have the potential to reach out to a much larger audience and induct large sections of earth’s population into their self-created ‘atomic cult’. A few days ago, I sat down with vocalist/guitarist Zach Friedberg, guitarist Andy Hicks and drummer Chris Vega at the In ‘N Out burger joint in Hollywood to talk all things Morbid Eclipse. Enjoy the highly insightful and entertaining conversation below.

First of all, from what I understand, you guys played your first show earlier this year and you’re only a few shows into your career as Morbid Eclipse. How much of preparation and thought did that take?

Zach Friedberg: The concept of Morbid Eclipse started actually a few years ago, just with a couple of personal demo recordings. But really, Morbid Eclipse is a band that formed almost exactly a year ago. We put together the current lineup, excluding the bass player, started practicing some songs and putting together new ones, developing the concept. We got the bass player in and recorded our first live demo in May. Then that was when we were ready to start doing shows. We did our first show at the end of August and since then it’s been moving pretty quickly.

So it’s a very calculated thing for you guys, and not just something that came up all of a sudden.

Andy Hicks: It was very intentional. Zach and I have known each other for a really long time. We’ve played in other bands. We were trying to start a band together and had another project going. It was different than this one and we were auditioning bass players and singers, and it was just a disaster. So we decided that one of us would sing in this band, and then Zach sent me these demos that he had done. I was like, ‘Alright, we can just do this!’ It was really cool. Once we had decided that we were going to do the Morbid Eclipse project, instead of starting to play shows as soon as possible, we said let’s just sit down and get everything right, get the right drummer and bass player and hash out all the concepts. And then we do it from day one, it will basically be the way we want it to be.

You’ve put out two demos so far, ‘Atomic Cult’ and ‘The Bomb Shelter Session’, and one of those is a live demo.

ZF: Yes, the live demo is ‘The Bomb Shelter Session’. That’s really the beginning of Morbid Eclipse in its present form.

I’ve seen you guys once and you definitely put on a show, with a lot of visual antics involved aside from the music. That itself is as important as the music, and makes you stand out from the others.

ZF: Absolutely. It’s a tremendously important component of Morbid Eclipse, and it’s something that we think is lacking from a lot of bands. We always ask ourselves when we go to shows which is what we’ve been doing ever since we were kids, what makes some bands stand out over others? It may not be a big theatrical event, but there’s something that they bring, a sort of charisma to the show. What’s the point of playing music if you’re not going to do something that sets you apart from your actual recordings? So, one of the ways we’ve done that is, we bring in a big theatrical element to it. Even within just three months of shows, we’ve added new components at every single show and it just gets bigger and bigger.

Right, but it doesn’t take away from the music, which is equally crucial. That’s what happens with some bands. People focus so much on the visual aspect that the music is forgotten a little bit.

AH: We don’t want any of the visuals in the performances that we do to take away from our music or stand out above the music. The music has to be first. These things are a little extra bonus to make it a whole show instead of just four friends on stage playing together. It seems to be working so far.

ZF: And you know, you can’t rely on just the visuals. The bulk of the show is the music. You might have something happen and some antics between the songs, you might have some actors involved, but if the one to four minutes of you playing the song, if that doesn’t keep people then you’ve lost them. You can’t just fall back on what’s going to happen in between the songs. If people aren’t engaged by the music they’re going to turn away and go to the bar to get a drink.

AH: The antics are just like the cherry on top. If the music is there and you throw this on, then the audience really gravitates towards it as something different and cool. What we do is, some of the antics actually bleed off into the audience as the stage performers would come off the stage. We’ve found that if we can do it right, it connects the audience to the show. It’s the bridge between them standing on the floor and us on stage. There’s now this connection between the guy on stage, who’s now in the audience and will end up on stage again.

ZF: Yeah, it’s sort of like breaking the fourth wall in theatre. If you look at the camera or take a step off the stage, things like that. It’s something Andy would do as he has the wireless unit for his guitar, and I started doing the same thing. So, if there’s a moment where we can get off the stage, we do it and just cruise around.

AH: It’s a fun little moment where if you see an audience member really getting into it, I’m like, I’m going to rock out with this guy. He doesn’t expect it, and he feels like he’s part of the show. It’s cool.

And you guys have these uniforms, the studded jackets that you’re wearing right now and it’s the same thing you wear on stage. I think that’s awesome because even when you’re here in a restaurant or anywhere outside the show, people can be like, “That’s Morbid Eclipse!” It’s pretty old-school in that sense. How did that come about?

ZF: Basically we knew that we had to pull off the type of concept we wanted which is bigger than just the music itself. But let’s be real, people that go to the show the first time, in this type of music it may be difficult to hear what the lyrics are, so it’s one more element that creates a cohesive sort of picture. And really it comes down to branding. We have these images, and we wanted something iconic that people would recognize everywhere. It doesn’t look the same as what people ordinarily wear, either in actual bands or just casual metal fans. People that go to the shows now, the studded vest has become very popular, so we wanted something that didn’t look like a fan’s jacket. It looks like something that was almost deliberately manufactured.

AH: It’s a uniform that’s based on the idea of what a vintage metal jacket was, but it’s not lots of patches all over it and just thrown together. It looks like it was issued to us by an organization, but still has an aesthetic to it.

ZF: That’s what it is. They are the standard issue for the Atomic Cult’s musical enterprise.

Talking of that, you also have the atomic logo which is on the back of this jacket. It represents the band in many ways. Who made that?

ZF: Yeah actually, behind the scenes I put together the imagery for that. It’s not even Morbid Eclipse, it’s the atomic cult, which is a much bigger concept than the band. But it’s something that people can identify the band with. The band serves a greater purpose which is representing the atomic cult.

And the two demons that you’ve put out so far …

ZF: Technically, yes, although I suppose may be I should let them be buried in obscurity (laughs). But yeah, I recorded two demos previously to ‘The Bomb Shelter Session’. One was ‘Depths Of Space’, and that was originally released under the band name The Mule. And then following that, we released ‘Atomic Cult’ and that one was as Morbid Eclipse. Those were recorded but never really distributed. I handed them out to a couple of people, but the band’s concept was shelved until I realized that it was the project that we were going to focus on. So there are three demos, but I’m going to say you’re not going to have much luck finding the first two (laughs).

From what I read, there are two demos under the Morbid Eclipse name and ‘Atomic Cult’ is based on a lot of the space themes and ‘The Bomb Shelter Session’ is a little different in that sense. Lyrically it’s similar but more of a broader thing, isn’t it?

ZF: Yeah, ‘Atomic Cult’ was much more limited and also a product of just being fewer songs. But with ‘The Bomb Shelter Session’ we were able to expand into broader concepts and themes involving science and science fiction. I think one common theme is the terrifying nature of existence and how small we are, and how frightening space really is once you get out there. There’s a million ways you can die by misadventure when you’re traveling from planet to planet.

I read an article a few days ago which was based along those lines.

ZF: I think I know what you’re talking about. Wasn’t it one of those articles with pictures showing how insignificant we are, not only in time but in space by its sheer scheme of things? Yeah, I saw that. Whenever somebody puts it into a graphical representation of how small we are, I have to read it and look at it because it just blows me away. Only a few people I think take the time to grasp how small we actually are.

It’s scarier than any horror movie.

AH: It’s real, it’s happening all the time. Living in this universe is a very dangerous prospect and it’s amazing that it’s all coalescing into this existence that we have. So, as a celebration of what this is, we talk about how many ways you can die in outer space (laughs).

ZF: It’s also another way to just encourage people to be interested in this stuff, embrace these ideas, look beyond yourself and beyond the planet, because that’s where our future is. That’s where mankind belongs. We just continue to fight with each other here over land or religion.

AH: There’s so many times when Zach and I would be hanging out and we’d be reading some article about a new discovery that’s been made about physics or quantum mechanics, and we’re blown away that this isn’t front page news everywhere and not everyone is talking about this. People would much rather talk about Kim Kardashian’s ass. I mean, it’s nice and it has its own gravitational pull which we are interested in (laughs). But if somebody listens to us and looks up one of the topics we’re talking about, that’s already a victory. It’s interesting to us.

Exactly. But as you were saying earlier, you go out to see other bands as well to see what they are doing. So, what bands have inspired you the most in that sense, whether it be musically or any other aspects?

ZF: Some bands that have really floored me with their performances, I have to say I’ve always been a big fan of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, and the way that King Diamond can just throw out these concepts and do things on stage. It’s almost like you can see how somebody can laugh at it and say, ‘This is so cheesy, I cannot accept it.’ But he’s managed to actually get such a following of people who say, ‘No, this is amazing.’ To have a grandmother come out in a wheelchair on stage, sing about grandma and bring out a tea set, these concepts at one point are very silly but at another point they’re taken very seriously and they’re great. I’m also a big Ghost fan, both Andy and I are. We just like how when they emerged, it was just pure theatrics, high concept right from the start. They knew exactly what they wanted to do and there’s a reason they took over. It wasn’t just really great music but they also had this really powerful driving image. Another band that’s really blowing us away is Ghoul. They’re putting on these antics and it’s just a lot of fun on stage. And a band that I’ve been a huge fan of that’s never had too many antics is Exhumed. I’ve been going to Exhumed shows since I was 15, they’ve always blown me away and I think their current lineup and stage show is the strongest they’ve had. They really just take powerful music and they throw in a little bit of quirky stuff here and there, and it gives you a show.

AH: We saw them a few months ago and Mammoth Grinder opened for them. They were really exciting as well. I loved how Mammoth Grinder made me just want to run through a wall. There was so much energy, and no stage antics either, but they completely controlled the audience. So, they’re influential to me in that aspect. I want to put on a show that gets people excited like that.

ZF: You have to tie in that element of having a show, giving people more than just the music, but also not forgetting that the music is why people are there. Mammoth Grinder is a perfect example of a band that does no frills, but I couldn’t turn away for the whole 30 minutes they were playing. I was just sucked in.

AH: We played a show last night and there were some three-piece bands with no frills either, but it didn’t capture you. Mammoth Grinder is able to do it in a way where it’s just three guys playing music and you’re still completely drawn to it and fixated on what they’re doing.

Chris Vega: I’d say Ghoul, and Cannabis Corpse. They’re like what we’re doing, but with weed (laughs). Another really good band is Toxic Holocaust. I’m a big fan of them. The first time we practiced, Zach asked me what bands I’m into, and the first name I said was Toxic Holocaust. And he told me that he made the logo for Toxic Holocaust!

That’s an interesting fact. I didn’t know that.

ZF: Yeah, that’s where I peaked. It was my finest moment in metal (laughs).

So, we talked about those demo releases and obviously those are much different from your live show in every sense. Do they capture the band’s on-stage energy, specially the live demo?

ZF: I think it stands more as a recording. I don’t think it fully captures our power. The songs are good and we do know that plenty of people who haven’t seen us live are hooked on those recordings. But we definitely want to do another live recording that actually pulls in the theatrics as well, so people can get more of that power. And actually I got that idea from watching old James Brown videos and interviews (laughs). That guy was an amazing performer. When he recorded ‘Live At The Apollo’, the whole goal from that album was to bring people the show that they don’t know because they didn’t get to see it. It’s a full live album with all of his antics, the backup people and other performers, and it really came across on that recording. So we definitely want to do that more. Another band that actually does that with their recordings is Nunslaughter. They have stuff in between the sets that really ties their show together. Most of their recordings are just live recordings, and you can hear their banter in between all the songs. I think that in itself becomes really powerful and makes them stand out above most of their peers.

I like those kinds of recordings, because sometimes bands put together live albums or DVDs with pieces from different shows. I don’t like that, because that’s like listening to an album. I want the stuff in between songs too.

AH: Oh yeah, that’s definitely something in the pipeline and on the way. ‘The Bomb Shelter Session’ was really just an experiment for the band. Everything was thought out six months to a year in advance before we were doing anything, and recording our first show was to see what would happen. We learned so much from that one recording that we wouldn’t have learned if we didn’t do it.

ZF: The other important thing with that was, since we were recording everything live, we wanted to make sure that we at least had decent recordings since we were going to be pressing it and giving it out to people. So, we didn’t go all-out with our first show the way we do now, because we wanted to make sure that we were actually playing the right chords and stuff (laughs). That’s why I actually have another guitar player, so that it’s a little bit more forgiving.

We were talking earlier about bands that inspire you with their show, and one band that came to my mind is Raven. You saw them and opened for them recently at the Biko House in Santa Barbara, and they must be mentioned.

ZF: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ve been a fan of Raven for at least a decade or so, and I never thought I would actually end up playing with them. I saw them for the first time about a year ago when they were playing with Diamond Head at Malone’s in Santa Ana, and that bill had about 20 bands on it and a lot of them were really good bands, but I wasn’t floored by any of the performances until I got to Raven. It’s because they just had pure energy. They were non-stop, head-banging, running around, they worked in non-album type elements between songs like medleys and stuff that get crowd response and interaction. They did that bit with the sword fighting with the guitars. It’s just an amazing level of energy and I think most younger bands should look up to these guys, watch their shows and say, “Oh, that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s how you rock people.”

AH: What I loved about that show we did with them in Santa Barbara was, we were watching live performances of Raven on the computer where they were playing in front of thousands of people and putting on this big show with tons of energy. And then all of a sudden we are in a small garage, playing with them and it was the same exact show! I was thinking, in the right area of the world you would have a thousand people outside this garage fighting to get inside to see them, and we were lucky enough to be able to just stand in this intimate room with 50 people and watch them play this incredible show.

They were thinking along those same lines too, because when they got there they were kind of pissed off, but I think they enjoyed playing the show after all.

AH: Yeah, I guess they didn’t really know what to expect, and neither did I. We’re still in the very very early stages of our career, so anything with 50 people is exciting to us. I don’t know if that’s what they were expecting but it was such a great show and such a great crowd that I think that anybody would have enjoyed playing for them.

And finally, with everything that you’re doing, what’s your ultimate aim with Morbid Eclipse? Expanding the atomic cult as far as it would go?

ZF: We want to get as many inductees in the atomic cult as possible. We want to spread the word of Morbid Eclipse as far as we possibly can. We want it to be such that every person on the planet that sees the atomic cult symbol, they know who it is and what Morbid Eclipse is. I basically see it as, there are enough bands that play extreme metal who’ve gotten big and well-known, and we want to take this as big and far as possible. I think if you could find one person that’s into your music, you can find millions of people.

AH: We want to get to the point where we can just do this and it’s what our life would be. It would be the best thing in the world, just for the four of us and all the other actors involved to be able to do just this and bring it to as many people as possible.

Morbid Eclipse links: facebook | bandcamp

Upcoming shows:
12/19 – San Diego CA – Brick By Brick