Aug. 6 2014 02:31 PM

San Diego death-metal band takes shredding seriously

From left: Ben Marotta, Dylan Marks, Gino Fontana, Chase Waggoner and Bel Dimuzio
Photo by Suzie Kaplan

At first glance, the members of San Diego death-metal band Eukaryst don’t seem like the type to take themselves too seriously. Huddled around a table at the Whistle Stop in South Park, the five musicians share anecdotes over a round of beers—an unfortunate puke incident on the sidewalk in front of a club they played recently, recollections of favorite Metallica riffs, bafflingly bad vocalist auditions—and the laughs come fast and easy.

About 15 minutes into the conversation, guitarist Chase Waggoner even pulls out a favorite from his own personal blooper reel, from the early days of the band in 2009.

“On our first couple of shows, I wanted to tease my hair out like I was in a glam-metal band,” he says, with a laugh. “I thought I was a rock star. And the next day at band practice… they had a meeting and were, like, ‘Chase, that’s not what we’re about. So, cut that shit out.’” 

Eukaryst, who are about to go on their first West Coast tour, know how to have a good time, certainly, but when it comes to the music, they take what they do very seriously. And part of that is attributable to how physically and technically demanding it is to play their style of music.

In May, the group self-released its debut album, Dreams in the Witch House, a six-song collection of dynamic and complex metal songs that nod to classic thrash and death metal bands like Slayer and Carcass but also feature their own unique touches. There’s an accessible and melodic approach on “Witch House” and an intricate network of harmonized guitar riffs on “Sinister.” They’re not above launching into a simple power-chord sequence, but it usually only happens after a few tempo shifts, a change in time signature and some well-placed six-string lightning courtesy of Waggoner and lead guitarist Bel Dimuzio.

Because of much of their material’s complexity, the band wasn’t expecting new drummer Dylan Marks to adjust so quickly after their first drummer, Daniel Eder, moved to Africa.

“I listened to [the band’s demo] for a long time, so I just showed up and was, like, ‘Let’s go through it,’” Marks says of his audition with the band in 2013. “And they’re, like, ‘OK, we appreciate the enthusiasm, but you know—.’ And I’m, like, ‘No, let’s do it!’” 

“For everyone else [who auditioned], we had to count out each part’s time signature before they could figure it out,” Waggoner adds. “He was the first one to play a song all the way through—like, ‘Whoa, that was too easy.’” 

Some of the songs on Dreams in the Witch House have been in Eukaryst’s repertoire since the beginning, and, more recently, the band’s been working on new material, which they say is much harder to play. But they’re also working hard on creating music that’s even more intricately crafted— “pretty” and “symphonic” are a couple of words that get thrown around when they’re describing their new songs.

The one area where Eukaryst haven’t been as prolific, however, is in writing shorter, simpler and, well, catchier songs. Not that death metal is known for such a thing, but you’re unlikely to hear a Eukaryst hit single.

“We keep on talking about how important [writing shorter songs] is,” says vocalist Ben Marotta, whose laid-back demeanor is dramatically different than his throat-shredding vocals. “We actually try, but it never really happens.”

Eukaryst play Aug. 8 at The Merrow

“There’s definitely some new parts where you can tell people don’t know what’s going on,” Dimuzio adds, noting that their new material—and even some of their older songs—are works in progress. “It’s awesome riffage, but the groove’s kinda not as steady as it should be.”

The members of Eukaryst have professional lives that don’t typically cross over with being in a metal band. Marks is an elementary-school music teacher, for instance, while Dimuzio works as a microbiologist. But it’s through bassist Gino Fontana’s day job as a brewer for Pizza Port that the band developed their most interesting—and delicious— merch item: Eukaryst Sinister Imperial Oatmeal Stout.

Like the band’s music, it’s dark, heavy and will knock you on your ass in no time if you’re not careful. The recipe for the beer came about after Pizza Port released a brew inspired by The Burning of Rome, and Fontana approached the head brewer about cooking up a recipe for his own band. It now travels with the band to their live shows and, as part of an event promoting the beer, even got the band’s CD in the jukebox at Toronado in North Park.

“It’s cool. It’s a way to get our name out there,” Fontana says. “It’s afforded us some rare opportunities. And we get to bring it to our shows.

“Even though it’s a strong-ass beer, people love it.” 

For the most part, though, the five guys in Eukaryst don’t show a lot of enthusiasm for talking about what pays the bills. The music is where their real passions lie, to the point that Dimuzio even says that playing guitar and writing songs is how he spends the vast majority of his time outside of work. And it’s not just because it takes a lot of practice to nail those complicated riffs.

“If you come to a Eukaryst show,” Marks says, “all of us are doing the coolest thing [we] did that day.”

Email or follow him at @1000TimesJeff