New York’s all-female old-school death metal outfit Castrator is about to release their first full-length album “Defiled in Oblivion” on July 29th. A conversation with drummer Carolina Perez about women on stage, the importance of a guitar player who knows how to shred, and on how the band deals with hate messages.
woxx: We are having this conversation the day after the US Supreme Court decided to end the constitutional right to abortion in the United States. What are your thoughts on that?
Carolina Perez: Yesterday was just enraging, so surreal. The society is going backwards, it is definitely very frustrating and unbelievable. Every female friend I talked to cried yesterday. Frustration was really the mood of many women in this country.
Do you think this could be just the beginning of a further rightward shift on personal issues including contraception and same-sex marriage?
They are already discussing these kinds of things: that gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed anymore. And birth control is very much attached to the abortion laws, so they are definitely attacking individual and self-care rights. I try not to get too involved in this kind of politics, I am a firm believer that I can decide in these matters whatever I want. But when it comes to dimensions like this, you can’t help but feel that you are trapped, especially as a woman. So it’s the time to protest and speak out.
We’ll talk a bit more about politics later on, but let me ask you some questions on your new album before that. It’s been seven years since you issued your first proper release: Why did it take you so long to come up with your first full album?
Castrator started as an international project. In the beginning our former guitar player Priscilla lived in Norway, and then our previous singer moved to the Czech Republic, right after we had started the band. We tried to make it work, but it was very difficult, because of the time difference, and also because of different opinions about the direction of the band and other stuff. We kept being delayed and tried to be patient, but there came a point where it affected the band on a level that forced us to make a decision. So we switched band members a couple of times. I even did the drum recordings for this album twice because of all the delay. We did the guitar recordings twice as well, because we tried several guitar players. Being a long-distance band, you have to trust each musician to do their best, but sometimes the best is not enough. So we had to scratch a couple of recordings.
Did you write the album collectively?
After the experience I just described, Robin Mazen (the bass player of Castrator; ed.) and I, being the original members, decided to do this album on our own. We wrote most of the songs just the two of us, and we did all the lyrics as well. After that we asked Kimberly Orellana, our new guitar player, to join the band. We gave her the tabs and the songs and she recorded them as we wanted it. We did the same with our new singer Clarissa Badini; she went into the studio and recorded what we gave her. That is how we were able to release this album, otherwise we would still be waiting for someone to write lyrics, or someone to write a riff.
I suppose that there was also a good deal of perfectionism involved besides all the problems you described – the album surely sounds like that.
That perfectionism and professionalism comes in part from Daniel Gonzalez, the guitar player for Possessed and Gruesome. He produced the whole album, and helped us a lot with the song writing, the production, and the sound. He has a couple of solos in the album, too.
With “Defiled in Oblivion” you have evolved a lot. You play technically sophisticated death metal, while the EP has a clear grindcore edge.
When we recorded the EP, we were still trying to assess what we wanted to sound like. Our core goal has always been to sound like old-school death metal, but having different members affects the sound of the music heavily. And our previous singer Mallika had that grindcore background. Also we did all those four songs of the EP together. We got together when our former guitar player Priscilla was visiting in New York, locked ourselves in the jam room and tried to write the songs, so it was a little more pushed, therefore the riffs had a different flow. I like those songs, but they were more primitive. For the album, we had a very different approach: This time, only Robin and I wrote the songs together. When you have more time to think about the riffs, you perfect them more, you tweak everything. And our new singer Clarissa definitely sounds like old-school death metal, so that changed our style a lot.
What does the album cover relate to?
When we thought about the concept for the artwork, we wanted something with the album title “Defiled in Oblivion”. We had a seedy, kind of monstrous thing in mind, but we didn’t know what it should look like exactly. So we contacted Jon Zig, whom we consider the master of darkness. We wanted a dark, non-gender deity in a dark, hellish place and he came up with this. The vision he created looks like from another dimension, almost alien, and we fucking love it!
Your first full-length album will be published by Dark Descent Records, one of the best underground metal labels around, which is quite an achievement, I’d say. How did this come about?
I agree, we couldn’t be on a better label. We actually reached out to a bunch of different labels and we had some interest from other, big labels, but their release dates would have been like late 2023, and we didn’t want to wait that long. Our friend Alex Bouks, who plays in Immolation, is also on Dark Descent with his other band Ruinous, and he highly recommended the label. At that point I didn’t know really much about Dark Descent, but when everything was mastered, we sent the album to Matt Calvert and he loved the album and they immediately said “yes”. We have put so much work in our music to arrive there, or let’s put it like this: blood, sweat, tears, and money.
How did Castrator turn out to be an all-female band and what is the idea behind it?
From the beginning we have been labeled as feminist because of our band name, “Castrator”. That’s okay, although I’m not considering myself a feminist. For us the most important thing is music. We want to put out a death metal record and we want equality for men and women. We don’t want to overpower a certain gender. The all-female idea was born when our former singer Mallika, Robin and I met at the Saint Vitus Bar. Robin was playing there with her other band and we already had shared the stage a couple of times. At one point we were like: How awesome would it be to have a band with just girls! It gets tiring just playing with dudes all the time. When you are a woman and you are always playing with guys it can get rough. In my other band I play with men and I love it. But it’s a very different energy with only women on stage, and I wanted to try that out. I fucking love seeing a sister up there on stage killing it. When I see a woman on stage holding it up, it’s awesome for me. So I wanted to bring that as a whole band, with real death metal. We started to think about names, and I came up with Castrator and we just loved it and it stayed like that. As I said, we’ve had a couple of challenges: We had a really hard time finding a good guitar player, a real shredder. It wasn’t sufficient to have a mediocre player, she had to be good. So we even thought about having a male guitar player for a while, but in the end we wanted to stay true to what our first intention was and so far we have managed. But it is really hard, because Kim is all the way in California, so we never get to jam.
Did you also draw some inspiration from Valerie Solanas and her “SCUM Manifesto” (a radical feminist manifesto published in 1967; with SCUM often being referred to as an acronym for “Society for Cutting Up Men”; ed.)?
We are in for extreme death metal, but the “SCUM Manifesto” has a VERY extreme message (laughs) – and we are in for the music. It’s important for us to have a message, but we don’t hate men. I love good men, I hate bad people and unfortunately there are really bad women and really bad men out there.
The opener of the album is dedicated to Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani woman who survived an assassination attempt in 2012. The then 15-year-old girl had campaigned for school education for the female population and spoke out publicly against the terror of the Pakistani Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack on her. What motivated you to write this song?
Of course we want to send a strong message with that song. The chorus says “End the reign of terror now!” Women have been terrorized by the Taliban for so long. If you happen to be a woman that was born on that side of the world, you’re just screwed. It’s so sad, and what Malala said and is doing is so courageous, it’s such an amazing message, that I felt it has to be echoed by all of us. The same goes for “Forsaken and Deprived” – that song is about all the Jane Does, all the women that are murdered and most of the cases are never solved.
On your EP you had a song called “Honor Killing”. Is it important for you to also specifically address the misogynistic ideology of Islamism?
Yes. Honor killings are still a brutal reality. There was this terrible headline of this guy in Iran in the news a couple of months ago, almost a kid in his twenties, who beheaded his wife that was also his cousin (the victim was the 17-year-old Mona Heydari; ed.), because they had a misunderstanding. He was walking around in the streets with her head and most likely nothing will happen to him because the regime there considers the deed an “honor killing”. I know we just play music and we are not going to change the world, but sending a message is always important. Music is about emotions, too, and if you really want to feel what you are playing, you should sing about something you care about.
I am under the impression that the songs of your first EP were more openly political, whereas the lyrics on the album are more oriented towards classical death metal lyrics. Would you agree?
The EP had two of the songs with our previous singer Mallika’s lyrics. I wrote “No Victim”, and she wrote “The Emasculator” and “Brood”. “Honor Killing” was a collaboration of all of us. “No Victim” is really close to my heart. I have always felt that being a woman you are always walking in fear, like the first sentence of the song says. There are just so many bad people out there, and if you are not trained correctly and don’t have this rage inside you to attack back, you are going to be a victim. So it’s important to have the mentality of “no victim,” where you are going to fight back. Many women are abused and we are socially trained to be submissive. Like I said, we were trying to find our sound, so the first songs had maybe a stronger message, but also it was only four songs. For a whole album you got to have a greater diversity of lyrics.
There’s this feminist black metal band called Feminazgul and they have this slogan, “I ask not to be safe from my enemies but dangerous to them”. Is this something you can relate to?
Absolutely. We have to be in an enraged mode in order not to fall into that submissiveness.
In a recent radio interview you said that you get a lot of hate because people think you are against men. That’s pretty telling, considering how many really sexist and misogynistic stuff has been going unquestioned in the metal scene for a long time. How do you explain these reactions?
It’s very sad and it’s real – we got two death threats already when we released our first song from this album. One guy threatened us to rape us with a knife, which is not something you take lightly. There are all kinds of haters out there, but I am not paying attention. It makes me laugh, because I am getting what I want: I want to make misogynists uncomfortable. I want people to know that we are not afraid, we are doing what we love and if it bothers you, then too bad.
The first song you released was “Tyrant’s Verdict”.
Yes, and it’s not even about men. People don’t even listen or read the lyrics, they just assume, because it’s women playing metal and because of the name of the band. On the other hand, people don’t question Dying Fetus, Aborted, or Deicide, all these awesome bands, because they are men.
A couple of years ago your band was labeled a feminist revenge fantasy by the “Vice” magazine. Would you agree to that description or do you see yourselves more like a feminist response to Cannibal Corpse, in a sense of: You can dish it out, now let’s see if you are also able to take it?
You got it right, that’s exactly what we want. That’s always been our intention. We want to be able to deliver something that Cannibal Corpse also delivers in a different way.
The song “Purge the Rotten (Ones)” is about Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men. Her story inspired the movie “Monster” with Charlize Theron. Is there a deeper meaning in that song or is it just the idea of a drastic female serial killer story?
That song is one hundred percent about her story. We quote her. A part of the song is what she said before she was put to death. She was definitely an interesting person. She claimed that all she did was in self-defense, but then again she said that she enjoyed it and that she would do it again. It’s a rare case of a female serial killer, because most serial killers are men, but there are a few women as well and that gives the whole thing a different perspective.
Is there any special story behind the fact that you covered Venom’s “Countess Bathory”?
Back in the days we didn’t have enough songs for a full set, because we had only five songs. So we needed an extra song and we decided to do a cover. Robin and I are huge Venom fans, and so we were like: Let’s do “Countess Bathory”; and also it is an easy song to learn. We played it live and it was awesome. Back in the days bands always used to play covers, but nowadays bands don’t do that often anymore. I think that it is important to cover classics, because a whole new generation is learning about the old bands like that.
Despite all of the negative experiences you mentioned, would you say that the metal scene in general and the death metal scene in particular have become more open towards all-female bands and feminist topics since you published your first EP seven years ago?
I’ve been finding more and more all-female death metal or black metal bands. That’s really refreshing and I hope it happens more, we really need more balance. I remember back in 2007-2011 there was a band from Italy, called Putrefied Beauty, and they were brutal, absolutely phenomenal. They were a huge inspiration for me to perform all-female death metal as well. Back then, finding a band like them was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Nowadays there’s more of a chance of seeing a female musician on stage. Rarely is the outfit all-female, but you see more of them, too, like Nervosa, Burning Witches, or Crypta. There’s a band from Colombia called Torva, they are great. They are a three-piece with a very Swedish sound to them, like Dismember. Because of the internet I found more and more bands that are all-female, and I love it, I feel like it’s becoming more accepted.
Will you be touring in Europe in the near future?
There’s talk of coming to Europe soon, it’s just hard with the album not being released yet. We talked to a few booking agents that are interested, but obviously they want to see how the album responds.
If you were offered to go on tour with either Benediction or Napalm Death, which band would you choose?
That’s a tough one – I love both. I would love to do a tour with both of them, but I am going to say Napalm Death, because I think they have a very interesting following that is not necessarily all death metal but broader, I guess because of their attitude and the message they send. I have been to many Napalm Death shows and it’s always cool to see the crowd there. I don’t want to shed a bad light on my lovely death metal community, but there are a lot of closed-minded people there.
Carolina Perez is the drummer and co-founder of the death metal band Castrator. Formed in 2013 as an international band project based in New York City, Castrator released their first four-song EP called “No Victim” in 2015; a title that sums up the band’s feminist stance. Now the quartet around Carolina Perez and Robin Mazen will release their first full album “Defiled in Oblivion” on Dark Descent Records on 29 July – delivering uncompromising old-school death metal that combines tight song writing and aggressive guitar riffs in a grooving, blasting sound.
Robin Mazen – bass guitar
Carolina Perez – drums
Kimberly Orellana – guitar
Clarissa Badini – vocals