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Whilst researching early Death/Doom bands, Comrade Aleks came across Portugal's still-active Extreme Unction. Bassist Koja tells him the band's story.

Interview with Extreme Unction.
"I found Extreme Unction during my research of Death/Doom's roots. Originally born under the name Guilhotina in Lisbon, 1987 and tagged as a Death/Doom band, that seemed to be a discovery. But when I started to dig deeper, and listened to their debut 'In Limine Mortis' (1995) it turned out to be a bit different. Back in the '90s Extreme Unction started to blend both Death/Doom and melodic Death Metal influences together, and after many years of silence they returned with second album 'The Last Sacrament' in 2015. Koja Mutilator is here to help me tell the story of this band properly."

Extreme Unction: Sérgio Marcelino (guitars), Marco Marouco (guitars), Gonçalo Martins (vocals), Koja Mutilator (bass) and Pedro Almeida (drums). (Photo: Pedro Almeida).

Koja, pre-Extreme Unction band Guilhotina was started in 1987, what kind of music did you play back then? What are your memories of this period?

At that time we started playing a kind of punk. We are just beginning our baby steps, later, in 88/89, as our technique evolved, we were more into the trash metal scene. Eventually, as we changed our name to Extreme Unction, we became a death metal band. Those were fabulous years, difficult, but we still miss them nonetheless. We were living the pre-historical era of metal: the recording studios, rehearsal rooms, music shops, someone we could learn playing our instruments with… seldom to be found. Still, we were kids, full of dreams and willpower. We were self-taught and learnt from and with whoever and whatever means we could get. We were students and when we weren't at school, we got together to make a whole lot of noise.

What made you change the band's name to Extreme Unction in 1990? What were your main influences?

We changed the name mostly due to the fact that we were increasingly moving towards the death metal scene and we no longer wrote our lyrics in Portuguese. Nihilist/Entombed, Napalm Death, Carcass, Death, Pestilence, Obituary, Sepultura were bands that deeply influenced us. That, together with the Swedish style that was becoming popular by the end of the 80s, spiced with a touch of doom and grind was the final outcome.

You recorded your first demos pretty fast: 'Insane Procreation' and 'In Sadness' were done in 1992 and 1993 respectively. How active was the band? How often did you play live?

Yes, the recordings came up quite soon. But the songs were under the name of Guilhotina, so we thought it made perfect sense to change the band's name to something related to what was influencing us at that time. When Duarte "Mantus" (later, a Moonspell and Filii Nigrantium Infernalium guitarist) joined us and Paradise Lost released Lost Paradise, enlightening our already tormented souls (LOL), doom metal was a more obvious inspiration, adding melodic tunes to the brutality that characterizes death/grind bands. Despite not having a complete line-up, since we were lacking a second guitarist and a drummer, we played frequently, borrowing musicians from other bands, asking friends for help to play as guest musicians whenever we had an upcoming date. At that time, it all worked out, everybody wanted to play live, there was time, and most significant of all, there was a strong will. Neither the logistics nor the technical conditions matched what was needed, but everything seemed truer; unforgettable live shows we're proud to have been part of took place. Thus, we had our share in the history of Portuguese heavy metal scene.

Extreme Unction's next appearance was the split album 'Mortuary Vol.1' (1993) alongside Moonspell and far less successful local bands. Did it help you with promotion?

Honestly, I can't remember how the chance of being part of that compilation came up; Duarte/Mantus dealt with all the red tape. At the time I hadn't realised how important that compilation would be for Extreme Unction. Thormentor was one of the most important bands in the Portuguese scene, with a highly technical and progressive death metal; Moonspell, with strong Gothic Metal touches to their Black Metal inspiration, had a high quality recording and production, quite above average of what was being done at the time, even though they were just beginning their work; Extreme Unction, Silent Scream and Bowelrot were less-known bands. Nowadays Mortuary Vol.1 is a collector's must-have, mostly thanks to Moonspell and Thormentor's contributions. They were, indeed, two innovative bands which, in their very own peculiar way, revolutionized both death and black metal. I can only recall having played live with the first ones.

Extreme Unction - 'The Weakness In My Shelter' (1995):

How long did you spend composing material for debut album 'In Limine Mortis'? What was on your mind back then?

By the end of 94, early 95, a few changes took place: Duarte leaves the band, joining Moonspell, and Marco becomes our guitarist. Later on that very same year, Bruno and Sérgio join the band and, for the first time, we have a stable line-up: Pedro (vocals); Marco (lead guitar); Sérgio (rhythm guitar); Koja (bass guitar); Bruno (drums). From this stage onwards, we started working harder, we rehearsed three time a week and the songs just came up. Together with the new members came new musical influences: old school heavy metal inspiration, like Iron Maiden's, was added to our doom/death characteristic sound. To tell the truth, I believe this enriched our sound quality. We might not have been a breath of fresh air or highly original, but we built our very own musical identity. All those combined influences worked really well and the outcome was both solid and appealing. We managed to merge melodic sounds, brutality and the groove of traditional heavy metal. I think all it took for a future full of dreams was there.

What kind of result did you aim to achieve in the studio? How much time did you spend working on these songs?

All the songs were written in the rehearsal room, the riffs and melodies came up and with everybody's contributions the composing flowed naturally. Those were, most likely, the most productive years of our band. In a few months we had enough songs for an album, after that came the preparation rehearsals for the recording as we already had Monasterium Records funding the launch of our first album. In six months, we were ready to record and were sent to the north of Portugal, where we were to work at the Rec'N'Roll studios with the Barros brothers, two living legends in the Portuguese heavy metal scene. Those were state-of-the-art and extremely professional studios and the outcome was highly rewarding, thus becoming part of the Lusitanian heavy metal history.

(Photo: Pedro Almeida).

Did this release change the situation around the band? Did you get some recognition with it?

Yes, when the cd was released the impact was huge, countless invitations to play live came up. We began a round the country tour. We rehearsed during the week and spent the weekends on the road. The following months were hectic. The band won a new status, became renowned and echoed not only in the Portuguese scene but also abroad. We might not have had the right awareness of the impact of our band at that time. There were no social networks, no internet, no Youtube, etc… Nowadays everything is easier and faster. We can, now, have a more accurate perception of what the band achieved at a worldwide level, back in the days.

Where was the photo from 'In Limine Mortis' artwork shot? How much local Portuguese influence was in your music and lyrics?

Our band photo and some others, used to promote the album, are part of a photo shooting session we made in an abandoned and derelict palace, which still exists, close to the city where we used to live.

Besides the musicians' photos, all the artwork is part of a collection of snapshots taken in different parts of our country, mostly in the northern part. Both our history and culture are extremely rich, Portugal is filled with historical sites and monuments to testify to our centennial heritage. This very same Lusitanian and Celtic legacy deeply influenced both our lyrics and our musical identity.

What happened after the release of 'In Limine Mortis'? You recorded demo 'Cursed' in 1999, and the next demo 'Cold Breeze Of Winter' wasn't until 2008. What's happened?

The stage immediately after the release of In Limine mortis, was the best one for the band. We had a lot of gigs, interviews, photo shootings, news reports…. It was a wonderful year. It seemed we had all it would take for a bright musical future. Unfortunately, it never happened; as we become older, responsibilities are added to our routine, more work and ever growing demands. Not all musicians are able to cope with these and or ready for the next step. After the dazzle stage, came the line-up changes and the band was never again able to find the stability it had had until that moment. These changes led to the making of Cursed, a demo with next to non-existing death/doom influences; it didn't quite sound as the same band. With no stable line-up, the band break-up was inevitable, and so it did for almost a decade.

In 2008, an attempt to relaunch the band is made, through former members together with new ones. Some songs were written and, as a result, the Cold Breeze of Winter is recorded. We expected this demo to be a kick-off song, signaling the band's return with its older inspirations together with the new wave of Gotemburg death metal (In Flames, Dark Tranquility) and the Finnish Insomnium. Once again I believed, and still do, it had all the potential required to succeed, considering that melodic death metal was in full growth, but, yet again, the future of the band was betrayed by the line-up lack of stability. In the end, it was nothing more than a failed attempt.

Extreme Unction - 'Twilight' (Promo, 1999):

How did you spend the years between 'Cold Breeze Of Winter' and 'The Last Sacrament'? Did you play live or was the band put on hold?

The band, again, hibernated. Despite a few attempts, it proved unable to rise, until, at last, in 2015, former members (Pedro – vocals; Marco and Sérgio – guitars; Koja – bass) got together with a new drummer, Pedro Tosher. It all started more like a getaway from routine, we started playing and, all of a sudden, songs just started flowing and gaining life. Quickly and surprisingly we had enough material for a new album. Nowadays, we easily have access to technology that allows us to record with a certain quality level. Being connected to the music and heavy metal scene for so many years gave us a whole lot of experience and provided us with good quality material to record, produce and masteries an album on our own. The whole artwork for the CD was entirely designed and done by us, since Tosher has specialized training and works in photography and audiovisual media. Having the final product in our hands made it easier to approach labels and, fortunately, Luís Lamelas (Chaosphere Recordings) decided to invest in a special CD edition. And, thus, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of In Limine Mortis, with the release of a new record.

What was your goal when you were working on 'The Last Sacrament'? Did you want to develop In Limine Mortis' sound or did you have some other ideas on your mind?

When we got together to play, we had no agenda, whatsoever, in our minds. We just took the instruments and started playing, out of sheer fun and amusement. When these elements are together, magic begins its work and the outcome had to be some melodic noise. As the line-up was pretty much the same as the one of In Limine Mortis, the influences for the new compositions were similar, almost like a follow-up. It was like providing a dignified end to the band, and we committed our efforts to achieve that goal. We didn't intend a return in all its fullness; we were aware that the market was highly competitive and full of very good bands so had no juvenile illusions.

In spite of all this, we had a gig to celebrate the launching of our album, but with Gonçalo, the singer who recorded Cold Breeze of Winter in 2008, replacing Pedro in the vocals. There was some talk among us as to whether we should really resurrect the project. Unfortunately, when Marco moved to a distant part of the country that possibility dimmed, once again. Of course, we never know when the wheel of fortune takes another turn and everything changes.

What was people's reaction to Extreme Unction's return? What kind of feedback did you receive for your album?

We have to admit to have been a little surprised by the positive and welcoming reactions we had. We thought some might consider this to be a silly attempt of some old musicians to return and do kind of the same thing they had done 20 years earlier. Actually, it was quite the opposite. People liked the album and thought we had managed to create a very good balance between our old musical identity and a modernized production. At the end of the day, we had copied ourselves but in a constructive way. The songs sound old but more adult and definitely improved by the recording quality. Proof of that was the fact that the album almost sold out in between 2-3 months.

How would you sum up Extreme Unction's message? Could you summarise the band's spirit and lyrics?

Our lyrics approach several topics, from a more philosophical and religious trend, to the tragical romance, and both the dark side of nature and human nature. There are also some lyrics on Portuguese History and Culture. In these almost 3 decades we have always kept the same spirit and message, even if with different musical outcomes; the inevitable result of the input of each and every band member.

Extreme Unction - 'Banned Heritage' (Official, 2015):

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Interviewed on 2020-04-20 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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