Viogression was a death metal band back in the late 80’s that released a couple albums and seeing how Hammerheart Records is re-issuing them and that the band is back together, that was more than enough reason to have a chat with band member Brian DeNeffe:
Where were you born and where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you growing up?
Brian: I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Grew up in Chicago, Illinois & moved to Wisconsin in 4th grade. As a kid, I was wild.
When did you get into music and then when did you get into heavy metal music and underground metal music?
Brian: I was into music at a very young age. I got my 1st guitar when I was 3. I remember listening to Led Zeppelin on my Mickey Mouse radio & playing with my AFX slot car track. The 1st underground album I bought would be Metal Massacre 1. I can remember when I was 15 going with my mom downtown to some fabric store and asking her if I could go to mainstream music ( a local record store) to buy Metallica Ride the Lightning album. Once I got there I remember seeing Bathory “The Return” sitting there next to Metallica in the new releases bin. I was so intrigued I decided to buy both records.
So now you started off as Rape (!!!) then changed the name to Apocalypse before moving to Milwaukee, WI, changing the singer to you and changing your name to the name Viogression, which I love. Now what made you move to Milwaukee, WI?
Brian: I can’t speak of that as Jeff Jaeger was responsible for those early years decisions. I will say that Jeff liked punk and being edgy so the name Rape came from that attitude. As for moving to Milwaukee, the brothers & Leon wanted to do more than a small farm community allows and felt a need to break away. When I joined the band Apocalypse, I didn’t like the name and told them. We all came up with different ideas for a name and ultimately decided on Viogression.
Now how long was the band known as Viogression before you decided to go into the studio to record your 1st demo “Perception Blur” in 1989? How was it going into the studio for the 1st time? At the time how happy with how it turned out?
Brian: We had just changed the name and played our 1st show together at the Odd Rock Cafe with a band called Necromancy. A month later, we went to Wave Digital studios in Illinois to record our 1st demo. I remember a couple of our friends from the band Acrophet came to the studio to hang out & drink beers with us. Dave the guitarist in Acrophet said he had a copy of the new Death record Spiritual healing he put on for us all to check out. I remember in that moment instantly feeling underwhelmed by the songs we were there to record. I had always wanted to be as heavy as possible and most of the songs on the perception blur demo were already written when I joined the band. Hearing Spiritual healing for the 1st time was like an awakening, everything I hated about the demo came crashing into my mind. I told the guys I wanted to do a new demo before we had even mixed perception blur. 3 months later, we were back @ Wave digital studios in Illinois recording the Execution demo.
Now obviously death metal was in full swing in the US at the time this demo came out (I know I was going my print zine metalcore at the time-cf) so did you send the demo out to all the fanzines around at the time and even have it tape traded at the time? Were these professional done tapes or were they hand dubbed on blank tapes? Around how many copies do you think you sold/went through at the time?
Brian: It was a weird glorious time for death metal. Like I had said we had this demo (perception blur). I didn’t really care about it as it didn’t really represent the band any longer. So the focus became the Execution demo, we wanted to be as heavy as possible. A promoter had heard our demo and asked us if we would be interested in opening for Morbid Saint. He liked us so much after he saw us open for Morbid Saint that we ended up doing a bunch of shows with him like Lazz Rockit , Coroner, Atrophy etc…We were always tape trading, dubbing tapes & sending anyone and everyone anything we could. We had done all the setups for the demos and ran them off at Kinko’s. The tapes were professionally done.
Now how was the response to this debut demo? Did you get to play many shows around this time? Did Milwaukee has a huge metal scene around this time and besides the annual Milwaukee Metalfest, were there many places to play? Were there many records stores or places that stocked underground metal at the time?
Brian: Like I said once the demos came out, we started getting offers to do shows all the time. There was a great scene in Milwaukee. Rushmore records was a local record store along with Mainstream music where local/underground bands music was available.
Now the same year, you put out demo # 3 called “Devils”. Why a 3rd demo so quickly. Did you have label interest at the time and you wanted to release this out to the public? Had you up to any point sent any of your demos to any record companies in the hopes of getting signed?
Brian: Playing shows we came to a realization that the drummer we had wasn’t cutting it any longer. Jeff had started the band as Rape/Apocalypse/Viogression but after playing shows with National acts like Coroner we had to fire him from the band. So we replaced him with our bass player at the time (Bryan Jaeger’s) twin brother Barry. Jeff wasn’t even in the band Viogression for a year, but we had 2 demos with him on drums. So the Devils demo was a chance to show everyone our new drummer. Two weeks after we had finished the Devils demo we had an offer for a 5 album deal with Tombstone records, so other than a few Devils demos we sold at local shows, we never released it after that and the Devils demo became part of our 1st album Expound & Exhort.
Now did you ever get to play one of those Milwaukee Metalfest’s and if so what was that experience like?
Brian: Playing Metalfest was an awesome experience. We were all big fans of most of the bands that played them, so being a part of it was like a big party with new & old friends.
Now in 1991, you managed to get a deal with Tombstone Records. Why did you go with a label from England with many indie labels in the US having death metal bands on their roster or was this the only deal that was out there and after 3 demos you wanted to have a record out? Did they pay for the recording and if so how much did they give you? Also on your Bandcamp page it says there was a US office for this label. Did they ever have a US office cause I never heard it back in the day?
Brian: There wasn’t a US office for Tombstone. We had to license the 1st album to a label in the states. We had wanted to be on Metal Blade, but our management at the time decided to take the deal with Kraze. We actual had the deal with Tombstone in 1990 and Expound was released in 1991. We really liked the guy running Tombstone at the time Mark Grey. He was really into Viogression & supportive of the band and had a long term vision. Our budget for Expound & Exhort was $5k. We recorded at a little 16 track studio in Milwaukee named Mauer brothers with Patrick Cunningham engineering.
Now in 1991 your debut album “Expound and Exhort” was released on Tombstone. At the time it was getting many great reviews and you guys were getting a nice buzz about yourselves. Did you get that vibe yourselves at the time? How was it going into the studio to record your debut? Where was it recorded and did you feel much pressure seeing this wasn’t a demo, but an actual record you were releasing?
Brian: We were happy & into how things were sounding, so there wasn’t really pressure in the studio, other than to be as heavy as we could be. The album came out a couple of weeks into the Death “Human” tour we were on, so it was awesome to finally have people digging what we were doing.
Now how did you come up with the name Viogression and who came up with the album cover for your debut?
Brian: The name was an idea we had thrown out there and decided it sounded cool and was the one we wanted to use. We had talked to the album cover artist Dominic about some ideas we had for an album cover and he drew something up and showed us. I didn’t like something’s about it and told him to change it which he did, then he painted the Expound & Exhort cover.
Now obviously there is an Obituary influence in your music. Do you think that is fair compassion? What do you think you sounded like back then, I am speaking of your demos and debut release?
Brian: As I have said, we wanted to be as heavy as we could be, so vocally I wanted to sound as brutal as I could. Patrick from Pestilence on Consuming Impulse is brutal, gut-wrenching brutal. I love Obituary & John’s vocals. I met them many times & consider them friends, so when someone says I sound like John Tardy I take it as a compliment because he & Obituary are so brutal and such awesome people.
Now how did you manage to hook up with Death to go on tour with them? I also read on your Bandcamp page that the American office of Tombstone Records folded leaving you high and dry and unable to finish that tour. I saw you only played a handful of shows on that tour. How many shows did you manage to play and where were you when you got the news? How pissed off were you at the time? Then to add more fuel to the fire your Europe tour also got cancelled. The morale of the band must have been low as low could go.
Brian: Morbid Saint had done shows with Death and Chuck had heard of us through the grapevine. So our manager played Chuck our yet unreleased album Expound and Exhort and Chuck loved it and asked us to be the opener with Death & Pestilence. We did the entire US & Canada tour with Death around 30 shows. In the 2nd half of that tour Pestilence dropped off, so it was Death & Viogression. Kraze records did fold a couple of weeks into the tour which sucked, we had nothing in label support in that regard. At the end of the tour after the last show at Joe’s Garage in Texas, I found out that Tombstone didn’t have the $$$ necessary to bring us over for the European part of the Human tour. We were crushed by the news, but instead of wallowing in misery over the lost tour opportunity, we went to work on our 2nd album Passage.
Now the label, at least the England office must have still been around cause they released your 2nd album, which was not supposed to be released called “Passage”, which you say is unfinished, unmixed and not even mastered! How mad were you at the time for the label for doing that? Can you even listen to this album at all even today?
Brian: There is a lot to the story there. I don’t directly blame Tombstone or Communique for Passage. I blame a company that they released us to called Progressive. The passage was never finished, parts of the mix are missing and wasn’t mastered. We were assured everything would be taken care of by Progressive. That they had the masters, that they were going to finish mixing it and send us a proof then master it. The next thing we know the album was released with nothing done. We were and still are proud of the songs we wrote on Passage. It was just a shame no time was taken to present it properly.
After long after this 2nd album did the band call it quits? Was it just frustration with all the bullshit with Tombstone Records? Did you even try and go to another label at all at the time or were you still stuck with Tombstone?
Brian: After “Passage” came out I had left to join Cynic in Florida and moved down there. We disbanded awhile later and everyone went their separate ways. I spent a bit of $$$ on an attorney to get us out of our record deal with Tombstone/Communique.
So you guys got back together in 2001. What sparked this reunion? Who was in the band at this time? How was it getting back together (well 2 of you from what I read) doing Viogression material after such a long break? Did you 2 click right away?
Brian: It had been years since we had spoken to each other. There was a lot of resentment when I left to join Cynic. So when we got back together and started writing music together it wasn’t with anything in mind at first. Over time though some of the riffs just felt like Viogression riffs and we both knew it. We talked about our disappointment with the final results of our 2nd album and how we wished we could do things over. So we decided to take what we have written and make an EP out of it.
Now in early 2014, we see a new release from the band on a MCD. What songs exactly are on this and I know it is only 2 of you that play on this release. Why did it take so long for this to come out if you were writing tunes from 2001-2004? How did you get Paul Masvidal and James Murphy to play on this release?
Brian: In 2014 we released a “Pure Formality” EP. We were in no rush so we took our time writing the songs. Then we hired Erik Shultek to drum on it. Met with him a few times to flesh the songs out and began recording at Bell city sound studios. It was a self-financed release. Paul and I have been close friends most of our lives so he was happy to do it when I asked him. Bryan’s favourite guitarist is James Murphy so we reached out and asked if he would play on it as well.
Now obviously the scene had changed. Gone for the most part were print fanzines, underground metal stores and you know now had the internet with My Space being big at the time and Facebook just kinda getting its feet wet. How did you manage to get the word out about this release? Is it still for sale?
Brian: Yes, the scene is quite different now then it was. Having the internet made it easier to get the word out that we had reformed and had new material. The EP was a labour of love for the band the genre and for ourselves. We just let friends know and did our best to promote it.
Did you find some other band members and put together a steady line-up to play some live shows? If so how did they go as I imagine you had a different audience this time around? Are there still many clubs for bands to play and throughout all this did you still continue the underground metal scene?
Brian: Yes, after the EP was complete we decided to enlist new members and get back to playing live shows. We worked hard at getting ourselves ready to play live and have recently played with the band’s Massacre, Nunslaughter, Squashed bowels, Blood, Jungle Rot, Morbid Saint, Possessed etc. Most of the venues have changed but there are familiar faces & a whole new audience getting into Viogression and OSDM.
Now in 2020 the label “Horror Pain Gore Death Productions” released a compilation with all your demo songs on it. Did they approach you and had any other labels before they approach you about doing such a thing? How cool is it to see all your demos being pressed on CD and available for people to hear after all these years? Do all the other members (former) know about this release and if so what do they think and how has it been working with Mike so far?
Brian: That release is a project put together by Jeff Jaeger. He did contact everyone from the old band regarding it, myself included, but the new band has nothing to do with it what so ever.
Also this year, Hammerheart Records re-issued your debut release “Expound and Exhort” with bonus tracks. How did you find these bonus tracks for this release? I am sure with Tombstone folded, you pretty much have the rights to your releases by them, am I right? Why did you go with Hammerheart, not that it’s not a bad choice by any means? How cool is it seeing this release back out and in print after all this time? I loved listening to it and gave it a great review. Are other people enjoying it as well?
Brian: Yes, I own all the albums and rights to them. Guido & Hammerheart understands OSDM and what we wanted to do to celebrate the 30 years anniversary of the Expound & Exhort release. It’s cool to see people liking it that may not even have been born yet when it originally was released.
Are there any plans on releasing your 2nd album or you rather let sleeping dogs lie with that release? Your original copies on Tombstone, do they go for a pretty penny on sites like Ebay or by record collectors?
Brian: We’ll see what happens. There have been talks of doing a 30 year Passage re-release as well. Time will tell.
I know doing a full-scale tour is out of the question in the future with you guys being older and stuff, but after this covid shit ends, would you hope to play some shows or maybe even overseas if Hammerheart can hook you up with that? Do you have a full line-up these days ready to play out live?
Brian: I wouldn’t say a tour isn’t a possibility. There was talk of us doing a European tour with Malevolent Creation before the pandemic. We would love to hit the road and perform. Yes, the new line up is my vocals, Duane Timlin drums, Matt Holtz guitar & Jason Hellman bass.
Now do you plan on releasing any new material in 2021 or beyond or are you taking things one step at a time with promoting these 2 re-issues now?
Brian: We are just finishing mixing our 3rd album 3rd Stage of Decay. We also have another album of material we will begin recording this winter.
For someone who has not heard the band, what would you say your demo period or music sounded like and then the same for your debut release?
Brian: I would say it sounds like heavy brutal OSDM, with blast beats & demonic glass gargling vocals.
Please plug any websites you have and where people can purchase your stuff?
Brian: Check us out on Facebook for the latest happenings and check out Hammerheart Records for tapes, CDs & vinyl. Also Seasons of Mist for merchandise. There will be more coming.
Does it amaze you in some ways, here you are in 2021, talking about Viogression and that you have 2 releases out from the band?
Brian: It’s really fucking cool actually and we as a band are stoked & thankful for the support & love we’ve received from all the fans and the Death Metal underground & OSDM scene.
Horns up for doing this chat. Any last words, I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane, I know I did?
Brian: Thanks for talking with us and keep an eye out for our new record, it’s fucking brutal the way Death Metal should be.