Alvino Salcedo, the bassist/vocalist of Denver death metal trio, Of Feather and Bone, pulls no punches about his vitriol towards Christianity and Catholicism. As a man of Aztec descent, his ancestors and culture were decimated by "White Saviors" who slaughtered people and destroyed history in the name of Christ. As a man of color in the modern world, he continues to watch the oppression and hypocrisies fueled by these religions that have already wiped out so many diverse groups of people across the world. History, observations, and disgust largely comprise the words he writes for his band.
Salcedo's lyrics lay over one of the year's heaviest and most dynamic displays of death metal this year. Of Feather and Bone's Sulfuric Disintegration marks a vicious leap forward from the trio's last album, Bestial Hymns of Perversion. Their newest album showcases six tracks that tackle religious fanaticism, colonialism, and conquest at the expense of indigenous cultures and their practices—mainly practices of suicide and self-sacrifice—among other ideas.
"'Noctemnania' is a very fun one for me," Salcedo states. "It's about having night terrors, something I have gone through when I was a kid. It's one of those things you can't explain when you're sleeping. You know you're sleeping, but it's tormenting you and you're like, 'Fuck, just wake up…' and you can't. It's a mania. It's an extreme mental state where you know you're asleep and you know what's happening isn't real."
Salcedo continues, "'Entropic Self Immolation' is just a burst of quick energy that you don't understand yet it's always forming. That finally leads you to just say, 'I can't do this anymore. I'm going to kill myself.' It's a wave of emotion—negative or positive—that hits you from outside sources and you finally can't take it anymore. Obviously 'Regurgitated Communion' and 'Baptized in Boiling Phlegm' are the Christian ones."
"Those are the ones where I like to take their imagery and make a mockery of it," Salcedo explains. "I like to mock mainly Catholics because I'm from a Catholic background. I was baptized First Communion, confirmed, the whole nine yards. I went through all of this shit and with that, I love to poke at their imagery, their ceremonies, the things they do."
Elsewhere, Salcedo describes, "'Sulfuric Sodomy' is the idea of those inner demons, whether they're real or something deep inside that is, for lack of better words in this scenario, raping your thoughts. It's something that you can't stop, it's forceful, it's violent, and it's something that sits inside of you. You can't stop it no matter how hard you try. Sulfur has a smell that is so distinct. You know exactly what it is, and you know when those thoughts or feelings are coming, it's like a haunting."
These themes alongside Salcedo, Dave Grant (guitar/vocals), and Preston Weippert's (drums) continued growth as musicians highlight a multi-dimensional death metal band that covers a breadth of ideas, including facets of death not often discussed in their genre, like suicide. Ultimately, Sulfuric Disintegration marks a powerful, new benchmark for the trio and a high point for death metal as a whole as the year winds down.
Metal Injection caught up with Salcedo ahead of Sulfuric Disintegration's release. Salcedo, an avid boxer and all-around exercise junkie, sat down with us after a workout to discuss the motifs and processes behind the music as well as how people can effectively learn their histories and combat the continued eradication of indigenous cultures across the world.
These six tracks that comprise Sulfuric Disintegration are, by far, the heaviest songs you three have written as a band. Going into this recording process, what were some of the big goals or ideas that you, Dave, and Preston wanted to capture?
ALVINO SALCEDO: So, we actually had written a full record before this. Last year, we had this whole record done and we wanted to get it to this point where we're like, "Oh, let's just push it out because everyone else is pushing one out."
When it came back to looking at those songs, we realized how unhappy we were and that maybe we were just trying to fulfill what other people wanted because of the whole "Old School Death Metal" thing and the revival going on in the U.S.
We wrote these songs in such a hurry. I think we had maybe lost sight and tried to build other people's expectations rather than our own. We trashed everything and started fresh. That's when writing for these six songs happened. Basically, what it came down to was, "Who cares? Let's write what we want to write. What do we want to listen to? How do we want to approach this?"
We tried to make this a little more mid-tempo because with the last record a lot of people said it's just too heavy and it's too chaotic and there's no dynamic to grasp on to. So, when we wrote these songs that came to mind a little bit more. But, overall, as they started formulating we realized this is what we do—this is who we are. It just has to be fast, unapologetic, and it can't let off. If it's too black metal and it's not old school death metal enough or it's not Morbid Angel enough or it's too much war metal, whatever—let's just write what we do.
In the end, when you break it down, it's still totally us. I think that evolution is necessary to make sure we didn't stay stagnant for ourselves and for other people. They don't want to hear the same record over again.
Absolutely. That raises an interesting point. Do you three ever go to your previous music–sans the scratched album–as a reference point or any sort of framework? Are there points where you say, "OK, we did this, we should try something like this again," or "This worked then, but it's not what we're going for here now," or is this a completely clean slate?
SALCEDO: There are definitely times where we wrote something and Dave said, "That sounds familiar is that someone else's song?"
Someone will say, "Yeah, that's your old riff."
Dave says, "Oh shit, that's my old riff. Well fuck it, let's keep it. It sounds cool and it works with this."
When we got stuck at certain parts, we looked at what we did on the last record that got us out of a blast beat into something a little more mid-tempo. Then, we use that as a springboard and it would evolve into what it was on its own.
It's easy to be harshly critical of the things you've done before, but, we look back on Bestial Hymns [of Perversion] and say it was a good record. We're really proud of that record. We worked hard on that fucking record.
When it comes down to it, why not reference something that we've done—that we've written—rather than open the Encyclopedia Metallum? We didn't want to rewrite things and have them be too similar to those structures, but we also took inspiration from it.
Did you have any personal goals set for yourself whether it was on bass or with vocals that you wanted to try out or work on for this new record?
SALCEDO: Preparedness. I wanted to be way more prepared. For Bestial Hymns [of Perversion], we were changing things up to the wire. Basically, we practiced the night before we recorded, and I was still learning parts. In the studio, it was kind of difficult because I was not up to speed. I had a lot to do on top of getting my vocals ready.
For this record, I practiced day in and day out. Every morning. I'd wake up early and practice. At night, when I got home from work, I'd sit down, and I'd run the songs. I made sure I was spot on bass-wise and also was trying to find my own path and say, "Dave's going to do these crazy high note riffs. I need to find a way to hold the bass down with Preston and stay lower so that it doesn't sound one dimensional."
We wanted to hear the low end and we wanted to hear the guitar shine. So, I really honed that in. I would look at Dave's riffs and say, "Alright, what can I do instead to simplify it so it doesn't sound like I'm mashing bass strings, but also play something that complements the guitars.”
Also, “How am I going to do my vocals differently?”
There are some things that we did on the last record vocally that we didn't like. I'm one to take constructive criticism and they said, "You hold your vocals out too long; it seems very one dimensional, and they all sound the same."
This time I said, "Well, fuck it. I'm just going to go in and throw some weird off-times. I'm going to raise my vocals, I'm going to do some black metal shit, and I'm going to go back to my old, classic, low gutturals."
As we were recording it, we were all kind of hesitant. In the end, when we heard it back, I loved it. I think this was what it was supposed to be like. I like the dynamic shift in these songs. It doesn't sound so monotonous when I'm listening to them.
On "Noctemnania"—it's just a weird fucking song that was kind of an experiment for us. We're not really good at writing doomy parts. This was our chance to just do it, lean into it, and try it. It was going to be dizzying and I was going to make my vocals incredibly choppy throughout it. I love that song. I think it came out super cool and we wouldn't have known if we didn't try. So, I think that's the different approach we took on this record for sure, at least personally.
Yeah, I noticed that for sure. I was going to bring up "Noctemnania" and a couple of other moments. This very much comes through. This experimental, new approach to how you guys are layering Dave's riffs over yours and Preston's low end and how you and Dave are kind of using your vocals; I noticed it almost immediately listening to this record. It has a little bit more sonic breadth to it.
SALCEDO: Exactly. I would agree 100% with that. It's definitely what it is. It's more like a sonic approach that we had been against doing, but—since the last record, and playing that live, and touring on it—it was just one of those things festering inside and it had to come out. As I said, we kind of second-guessed it while writing, but it's the theme of "Who cares?"
Outside of "Noctemnania," are there other moments on the record that are personal standouts to you?
SALCEDO: Preston does a lot of one-footed blast beats, which was super sick. He had been practicing and messing with it at practice with some of the older songs. So, this time there were certain parts where he was going to have to do one-footed blast beats and he nailed them—they sound so cool.
Same thing with Dave. Dave had some really cool black metal things. He's been listening to tons of Mercyful Fate and wanted to make some of their more rock and roll riffs faster. When he started achieving that, it sounded amazing. It's not too black metal, but it is there.
In "Consecrated and Consumed," we kind of pause out and it's just the guitars and then we [Salcedo and Weippert] come in with a little bit of a roll into a blast and Dave does a growl/scream thing—it just feels super black metal and I love it. It felt right.
Vocally, the same thing. There are parts where I would usually just be really syncopated with the guitar parts or the drums because I'm playing at the same time—just kind of matching what I play. This time, I said, "Fuck it. I'm just going to go off the rails and do something completely different."
The beginning of "Baptized in Boiling Phlegm," is such a weird vocal pattern for me. Even playing it live right now at practice, I'm thinking, "Oh shit, I got to be good at this because if we play a show next month, I will not be ready to play it."
Those parts that pushed us to be better musicians, better at writing, and better at our parts are the parts that shine out for me.
I think that's huge though. With how you three approached this new record, in conjunction with completely scrapping an entire album just because you thought it sucked, it speaks to a collective vision of the band and where you want to take this death metal that you guys are making.
SALCEDO: Exactly. We put our own pressure on ourselves constantly. We set some kind of unrealistic, unprecedented bar for ourselves, and there was no pressure. This is actually the most time we've taken and spent on writing ever. This had a more meticulous approach.
You posted on social media a while back about how there's a subtle nod to The Cure in the album title. How far back does your love of The Cure go?
SALCEDO: (laughs) Oh man, super far back. I've always been a fan. And I think when it was coming down to the lyrical theme of the record—I think most people say, "The Aztec Underworld, you write about the Aztec stuff."
Technically, I only wrote one song about that, and that was "Pious Abnormality" and "Resounding from the Depths" was kind of dragged into it because they were on the same demo. Those got re-recorded and put on Bestial Hymns [of Perversion].
We had talked and I told Dave and Preston that I'm not taking that approach again. There are plenty of bands out there right now that kind of focus on that whole motif and they're so good at it. Volahn, Blue Hummingbird on the Left, there are tons of bands that do that, and they all do it great.
I always need some sort of inspiration to sit down and write. I think one pertinent theme that always is prevalent in everything is death. I mean, obviously, it's death metal. Yet, something which is still taboo is to talk about is suicide.
Everyone in their life has seen it or knows about it. It's not something that's completely void from everybody. You either know someone who's done it, or you've seen a famous person, or your favorite musician do it, or maybe it's come close to you. It's something that exists in our society and exists in our humanity and most people just want to ignore it or not talk about it. Some people never find closure when it's someone close to them.
The Cure itself for the album title was absolutely unintentional. I had written a song and I just had written those words. When we were trying to pick out what to name the album, "Sulfuric Sodomy" was actually a song title for a song we had written before and played on our European tour with Tomb Mold and Ritual Necromancy. We scrapped that song and kept some of its parts and those parts are bastardized throughout the album now.
I said, "What if we just call the whole Sulfuric Sodomy?"
Dave said, "What if we call it Sulfuric Disintegration? I would love to call the song Sulfuric Sodomy [Disintegration of Christ]."
It just came together that way. I was sitting here wondering what I am going to write about. I was looking through my records and my tapes and I saw The Cure and said, "Man, that's one depressed bastard."
Obviously, not everything he wrote was depressing. I was looking not just to other death metal bands or other black metal bands. At that time, I was really listening to a lot of hip hop and that's when Gravediggaz came on. They have that song, "1-800 Suicide."
It's such a cool song. All four verses are them taking the role of influencing people around them to kill themselves, and they have their own takes on it. They're very tongue-in-cheek with it, but it's a brilliant way to approach a song. Taking their own verses and using their own ideas of suicide—there it is. That's kind of the idea I'm going to go for. What leads people to want to end their life? Is it the curiosity of what's next? Is it depression and anxiety? Is it religious fanaticism?
I always take a jab at religious fanaticism. That's where the Aztec mythology was originally set to be. People ask, "What's your fascination with mythology?"
It's not so much that it's the indigenous standpoint, it is seeing every indigenous culture being wiped out due to religious tyranny. That's always been the take I've always had. How do we exist in this world when religion is so prevalent and when it has guided most of our history and its destruction?
So, something like suicide becomes taboo. Most cultures kind of took it as a great honor. It was a great honor for someone to kill themselves and offer themselves to whatever their deities may be. Yet, in our culture, since we're so rooted in Christianity and Catholicism, we say, "Whoa, don't touch that. Don't ever get near that idea. That's just wrong."
Yet, is it wrong or is it just something that has added more oppression to the way we live our lives? Some people see no other option. To cycle back, The Cure was one of those bands that let us focus on depression and suicide, because those guys really leaned into it, too.
So, it's kind of like an impetus to this train of thought that you had. Taking it—this depression and suicide taboo that we often experience—then really confronting it and then framing it in your own ways that you've done in the past through some Aztec mythology and other things of that nature.
SALCEDO: Yeah, and it all stems from the same theme always: how much I fucking hate Christianity. People say, "Are you an atheist? Are you agnostic?"
I am an atheist, but I also do recognize the presence of Christianity in this world, so I can't sit here on my own pedestal and say, "There is no God, so I don't have to pay attention to this."
No, I have to live in this world where this God is oppressing so many people constantly, whether it's a woman's right to choose, whether it's people's right to live their own lives, and believe in whatever they want to believe in. That means indigenous people, because, as you said, that has an effect on my life personally. Whatever it is, it has become such a deep hatred for that fucking religion and for the people who are fanatics of it.
Also, it's Christianity because it's not race-related. Anybody and everybody can be Christian, anybody and everybody can be Catholic. We're not going to touch base on other religions because those are race-related. It's their heritage and it's culturally related to those people in those regions they're from. Christianity is so broad, that's why I have no problem going, “Nah, fuck them."
I've had a hard time explaining that to someone before. I've been asked, “Why is anti-Christian sentiment alright, but the anti-Muslim sentiment is not?”
I've always had a hard time encapsulating what you said there. It is so broad and it's pervaded so many aspects of our worldwide culture that it doesn't have a race component, it doesn't have some of these other things that other cultures and religions are rooted in.
SALCEDO: These people have a history rooted in it. Christianity was just spread through expansion and conquering. These people weren't born Christian, most of them were forced into it and then it went through their generations.
Being Mexican, everyone says, "Oh, you have to be Catholic."
Hell no. Just because I'm Mexican doesn't mean I'm automatically Catholic. That negates the ancestral past of the people where I come from. So that's where it always took root from—bringing Aztec [Mythology]—because I can speak on behalf of it.
I can't speak on behalf of ancient Celtic or ancient Druid or Australian indigenous people. I can't take from their standpoint because I don't come from that standpoint. Yet, I think they've all experienced the same as everyone else in Mesoamerica did or Asia and everywhere around the world. They've all experienced the same tyranny, the conquering of their people and their cultures, and then the erasing of it—which is the biggest crime.
That's what I was hoping to dive into a little bit as well because that is such a big thing, right? Much of pre-Columbus and Pre-Hernán Cortez history of the Aztec, Huichol, and other people of Mexico is now often misinterpreted due to a lack of comprehensive knowledge—on purpose—or it's kind of perverted to fit these "white savior" or "noble savagery" narratives that have emerged over the centuries.
What have you learned in your years about Mexican indigenous cultures that have been wrongly portrayed in modern society?
SALCEDO: The main one is the Virgin Mary and Jesus. If you go to Mexico City and you go to the main central part, there's a massive cathedral laying on top of pyramid ruins. It was a great pyramid. If you go there, you can still see the base of the pyramid and some other parts of it, but they built a gigantic fucking church on top of it.
This is a church that's over the pyramid of Tenochtitlan, right?
Yeah. I have more of a connection to it because that's my heritage and where I come from. My mom was a staunch Catholic, but she also instilled in me the heritage of the ancestry of where we come from. So, it's kind of like a duality problem. Which one am I? Am I Spanish or am I indigenous?
I just take that standpoint because it hits closer to home. With that misconception and when you take that standpoint of being anti-Christian or anti-Catholic and being Mexican, a lot of people say, "You're a demon. Who are you?"
I'm just someone who has decided to say, "I don't want to believe in that history anymore nor do I want to believe that being the sole history when there's a lot of other histories around."
With that being said, a lot of younger people don't understand their history or their heritage, whether you're from North America, South America, Asia, or Europe. It doesn't matter where you're from. I think a lot of our ancestry has been erased because of what this grip and weight of oppression has caused.
Circling back a little bit, you mentioned that in Bestial Hymns [of Perversion], there's only like one or two moments that you kind of talked about Mictlān and the Aztec underworld. Now, it's more of an approach to depression and suicide and kind of framing it in that light.
What sort of ideas or examples do you use in Sulfuric Disintegration to kind of convey these messages of depression or suicide?
SALCEDO: Madness. Visions of torment and visions of madness. I actually use those lyrics directly throughout the album and that idea of fanaticism—whether it's based in religion or one's own depression—and the things that go on in everyone's brain.
Society instills the pressure to have a good job, the pressure to make money, the pressure to exist in a certain framework that we have put ourselves in. All of us have a point of, "Why do I feel hopeless? Why do I feel helpless? Why do I feel like I can't do anything right?"
That oppression can come from an outside source—religion—or societal norms are set on us, or maybe it's something deep inside of you that can't be explained. That madness that lives in all of us, that duality of good and bad, that duality of is this right or is this wrong?
It hit me. I realized we think it's wrong and we think it's bad is because we've been told through religious doctrines in our lives that bled into social norms. With suicide, we think, "This is wrong. Anybody who does it must have been sad, must have been tormented. Their poor soul, they are gone, and they killed themselves."
As I said, there's a lot of cultures that saw that as glory. They saw that as being a heroic move you can do for yourself. That's why I used this as a framework to write these lyrics. It’s to make anybody who is religious for any reason—if they picked up the record, poke at them, and say, "You think this is wrong? I'm here to throw this in your face and show you that maybe it isn't wrong."
This is a topic and a theme that is very dark for most humans. Most people don't find closure with it and have a hard time grasping it, whether it's about themselves or someone close in their life. We're seeing an epidemic of young musicians and young artists doing it. It's something that exists in our world and being a death metal band, we are here to glorify death. We're here to embrace it. Stay death, right?
Yeah, exactly. That's a really good way to describe it, because death metal does talk a lot about death, but you don't hear too often about the death of oneself at their own hand.
SALCEDO: Exactly. Whether it's a surgical disaster or a ghoul rising from a catacomb, ripping your face off, and pulling you down to hell—there's a lot of that going on.
Then there's the idea of saying, "I'm going to do this myself because there are a lot of different reasons why I can do it myself. I don't need a ghoulish apparition to come from Hell to pull me down.”
It just needs to be something that lives inside of every one of us. It's scary because you never know who's really going to listen to those voices sometimes.
That ghoul doesn’t always come from the depths of hell. It can come from within. Did you find yourself grappling with any depressive ideas or things that you've been dealing with in writing these lyrics for the record?
SALCEDO: I always try to disassociate myself from it. I'm not going to put myself in the spotlight. There are depression and anxiety in life with the pressure to succeed. Being in a band, my future is very uncertain, especially nowadays. But, you have this dream that you follow regardless, and that can add a lot of pressure, especially as we age.
We're not 22-year-olds anymore, we're goddamn adults. We're in our mid-thirties and we're still hopping in a van with our smelly feet eating Del Taco at one in the morning and playing shows.
I've come close to death with my mom dying. Being a part of that, seeing that happen, and finding closure with that, and then finding a healthy outlet. Being physically active has really been a healthy outlet if I'm having a bad day.
I understand some people can't do that though and that's what we're touching on. People who have those voices in their heads that torment them, and they don't know where to go with that. Some people steer towards the end and some people live with it for their whole lives without wondering truly why it's happening. That's almost the true curse. I've said it before, but death is the easy way out. You do that and it's over. The people who have to live fifty years longer with that, just eating at them daily, that's the true torment.
Yeah. Oftentimes people don't seek or can’t seek appropriate care or find safe avenues for their feelings, but luckily you have one with working out and boxing.
You've mentioned a couple of times now this duality of your childhood. Born and baptized Catholic and then learning about indigenous Mexican cultures. What was home like? How did you come to step away from Catholicism and embrace some more of the indigenous cultures from Mexico? How did your parents, your family, your background, change your view of Catholicism, and instill this pride in your ancestry?
SALCEDO: 100% the death of my mother. Her whole side of the family is loose Catholics. My godfather is a deacon in the Catholic Church here in Denver and almost everyone goes to church constantly. They're not Bible thumpers or a bunch of Midwestern weirdos with guns and shit, but they're strong Catholics.
When you die, you are to be buried because being buried assures your ticket into heaven. My mom was like, "Nope, whatever happens, cremate me and spread my ashes."
So, when that happened, the family said, "When is the burial?"
I said, “We're not burying, we're cremating her."
They said, "Well, you’ve got to bury some of the ashes."
I said, "Well, we're not doing that either."
After that happened, the family got torn apart. Even now—it was 11, 12 years later—I still don't talk to my mom's side of the family anymore.
I became an adult when my mom died. I said, "Oh, shit, I've got to take care of myself and my dad now. I got to take care of our house."
My dad can speak English, but he doesn't read or write English. He was a day laborer his whole life and retired. He never went to the bank. He doesn't know what a credit card is. He doesn't know how to use the ATM. He barely can use his iPhone, even though he pleaded to have one, which is insane. (laughs)
Regardless, I think that's what pushed me the furthest away at that moment. My mom had always had that heritage. She said, "You should learn about this as a part of your ancestry. This is part of where you come from, this part of your history."
She always made that present in my life, whether it was like artwork in the house or books. She was a social activist and had these ideas of, "You need to see these parts of the world and you need to experience these things."
I think after she died, it really just pushed me further into it. As I was going through college and growing up in my mid-20s—you buy a book and you start reading about it and go, "Damn, this is cool. This is awesome."
As I kept getting older, I traveled to Mexico by myself and went to go see the pyramids. I went to go see what this history is, go see the museums in Mexico City, and see what this is firsthand. I think everyone should delve deep into finding out the ancestry of themselves and find out that the world is far older than Christianity, it's far older and far more complex than the Bible.
I found that and it sparked huge interest and passion in wanting to learn about it—being obsessed with the imagery and the ideas of it. It’s the mythology of the underworld or human sacrifice or Tzompantli—the skull racks—things like that.
There are beautiful things. Their God is the sun. The sun brings life. It brings the harvest, food, and water. It brings life to things. All of those things tie together and you kind of say, "Man, we are just part of a natural world rather than a religious world."
Not everything needs to be fanatical. In turn, that ripped my family apart, and I think that was the moment I realized if this is what it is going to do to people, then I don't need it.
You made the comment about this being a more natural world than a religious world. I think that—and you've mentioned this quite a bit, too—if more people had a grasp on the idea that various cultures come from various parts of the world, and there are all of these various explanations that people have to explain these phenomena of the world. It would be a little bit more beautiful and a little bit more interesting.
SALCEDO: The homogeny of making all of us believe the same thing is absurd. It's absurd to make everyone think that this is the story, let alone a random white guy in the Middle East, who was turning one fish into ten thousand fish.
In addition to questioning these ideas and where a lot of the stuff that we just accept as commonplace comes from, what do people need to do to either push back or refute a lot of these pervasive Christian ideals or the effects they have on modern society.
SALCEDO: It's learning history. I think it's important if you do feel a connection to your ancestry, then learn about it. Learn what they believed in, but then also learn why they're not here anymore. Learn who exists in that world still who practices those things, whether they're rituals, religious ceremonies, or whatever they may be. Find them, seek them out, and learn about them. You'll start quickly seeing why they don't exist anymore and why people call it, say, paganism, why people call it taboo, and why people will refute it.
It's because we live in a society that was formed by a bunch of white Christian men. They created everything that's around us. It's become so commonplace for all of us that we've just kind of fallen into, "Well, that's just the way things are."
When you break down those barriers, you say, "No, that's not the way things have been. They have just been that way for a few hundred years. What about the past five thousand or six thousand years? Where did that history come from? “
Hopefully, people will see that and know we're not an Aztec band. We're just a band that loves death. We love gory shit and we love gooey shit.
At the end of the day, personally, I hate Christianity and I'm going to poke at it as long as I fucking can—just be the devil they don't like. That devil can have a red pointy hat and little horns and tail, or it could be someone with feathers all over them and face paint holding a spear made of obsidian. The devil is whatever they don't like, and I'm here to give them every angle of I that I can.