Replicant are a death metal band based in New Brunswick, NJ and active since 2014. Their second album, Malignant Reality, has just been released via Transcending Obscurity. The group is led by bassist/vocalist Michael Gonçalves, who along with drummer James Applegate is also a member of the folk/black metal group Windfaerer.
Replicant‘s music has a whirling, churning energy that combines elements from multiple corners of modern heavy music in order to create a sound all their own. They offer dissonant squeals reminiscent of Gorguts; hoarse vocals that recall Asphyx/Pestilence frontman Martin van Drunen; grinding groove metal sections; and clean, quiet prog-rock interludes. What’s most impressive is that they do it all as a trio — Gonçalves, Applegate, and guitarist Peter Lloyd. (Both Lloyd and Gonçalves have been with the group since its inception; Applegate joined in 2019, replacing Matthew Thompson, who played on 2016’s Worthless Desires EP, their 2018 full-length debut Negative Life, and 2019’s Welcome to New Jersey, a split with Perth Amboy grindcore duo Bayht Lahm.)
The songs on Malignant Reality cover a broad range; the opening and closing tracks, “Caverns of Insipid Reflection” and “The Ubiquity of Time,” are also the longest on the record, at 6:22 and 8:53 respectively. They’re as proggy as you might expect, shifting from mood to mood without ever feeling like a bunch of disconnected parts stapled together in the studio. Even on shorter tracks like the aggressive “Death Curse,” a wide variety of sonic tricks are deployed, from almost jazz-fusion bass breaks to solo vocals and, in the song’s final minutes, a doomy, noisy riff worthy of Incantation. This is an impressive sophomore effort from a band that deserves to reach a wider audience.
I sent Gonçalves a few questions via email. His answers are below.
Who are you, and how did you get to where you are now? (This is a broad question, I know; answer it in any way that feels right — discuss your musical development, your overall life path, the history of Jersey death metal, or anything else.)
My personal journey with music began when I first heard “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana. Something about it affected me in a certain way that no other music had at the time, so that’s why I remember it as a genesis. Late nights spent watching MTV and Beavis & Butthead helped me discover and lay a foundation for my future tastes. It was not until a few years later when I heard Korn’s “Freak on a Leash” that everything started to make sense. The twisted combination of heaviness, hooks, and groove struck a chord with me.
In middle school I got a bass—because it looked slightly easier than a guitar—and started learning songs by Nirvana, Tool, Korn, Deftones, Iron Maiden and Metallica. When I turned fifteen, I applied those fundamentals to the electric guitar and took some stabs at learning more extreme forms of music.
Throughout my teen and college years my goal was to consume as much metal as possible, diving into and learning about different genres from brutal death metal to pagan metal. I had the opportunity to frequent concerts in the city and all over Jersey, attending as a spectator as well as playing in local bands. Eventually, in 2010 Pete Lloyd and I met as members of a now-defunct death metal band, Painted Rust. After its dissolution, we maintained our friendship and started Replicant. We set out to have fun and create our own take on dissonant death metal influenced by New Jersey acts like Ripping Corpse and Human Remains as well as bands like Gorguts, Cryptopsy, Demilich and Merauder.
How do you think becoming a trio has impacted the band’s music? Death metal usually requires at least two guitars, particularly when the music is as complex as yours.
When Replicant started jamming as a full band we started as a four-piece. Pete was on guitar, Matt [Thompson] on drums, TG on bass, and I was handling guitar and vocals. This was the Worthless Desires lineup. At our first show in early 2016, I solely performed vocals. Shortly thereafter TG left the band and instead of trying out another member I decided to play bass. Our chemistry and the desire to keep it simple is what allowed us to go in the trio direction.
It’s interesting and fun writing with that single guitar dynamic in mind. Sometimes having two guitars tempts you to write harmonies, leads, or a second guitar part to fill the space. With one guitar it can be a challenge but it also allows the riffs to breathe and be their own thing. We try to make every riff count. We let the bass beef up the guitar where needed and conversely go off and do its own thing to widen the soundscape. However, we’re definitely not hardliners on that front during the recording process. If a part sounds sicker with a second guitar we will not hesitate to add it.
There are a lot of things making up your sound—there’s dissonance and some proggy clean parts, but there are also strong groove metal elements. Walk me through the writing of a song: is it a matter of coming up with five or six parts, then stitching them together, or is there some other methodology/compositional logic at work?
Our goal is to create music that we want to hear. We’re influenced by a lot of music and that informs our approach and riff-writing process. We’re not afraid to let those influences come through. I’m always scanning albums I enjoy for ideas and things I can potentially try out on a song. For example, if it’s a rhythm or beat I enjoy I’d program drums to it and write over that, then see where the flow takes me. Usually, we write riffs and sometimes entire songs at home on our own. Other times we’ll meet and jam on certain ideas transforming them into something different, letting them take shape. Our mindset is focused on how the song will be presented in a live setting. How can we make this as sick as possible?
Your vocal style, particularly on the new record, is very hoarse but also comprehensible—it reminds me of Martin van Drunen (Pestilence, Asphyx). What made you opt for that approach rather than the ultra-guttural “broken toilet” vocals that are very popular these days?
When I approach vocals I go for what comes naturally. I admire the stylings of John Tardy (Obituary), Steeve Hurdle (Gorguts, Negativa), and Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates) so I try to achieve something within that realm. My goal is to channel my emotions through the vocals rather than pure guttural brutality. Besides, I don’t have the vocal chops to do those super brutal vocals, so I just stick with what I know.
In jazz, a drummer can change the whole sound of a band, but in metal, where the rhythms are more strictly enforced, there’s less wiggle room. How has changing drummers changed the music?
What I’ve learned from working with two different drummers in this band is that the drummer’s style informs the riffs that we write. Matt had a looser, chaotic, jammy feel so the riffs and feel on Negative Life tend to reflect that. James has a completely different approach. On Malignant Reality we explored more tough-sounding, traditionally brutal and technical parts with blasting and an extra layer of aggression. James also brings his own influences into the music and that has affected the songs tremendously. The contrast is noticeable when we play older material.
You guys have printed a ton of merch for this record: T-shirts, sweat pants, hoodies, flags… Were you planning on an extensive tour pre-pandemic, or what? How do you plan to move all that stuff?
There was no extensive tour planned. We actually signed with Transcending Obscurity Records right before the lockdown and before we even scheduled studio time to record. The label is producing all the items to accompany the album’s release. It’s one of the reasons we decided to partner with them. Tour or not, metal fans love merch! It’s flattering and cool to see so many threads with our logo on it. Eventually we’ll get back to doing shows and we’re probably going to need a bigger merch table.
You’ve got another band, Windfaerer, that also has a new album out. Does that music represent a different side of your personality? Do you have different creative goals for that band?
Windfaerer was started over a decade ago and it’s currently a project that I feel has taken a life of its own. It definitely is an outlet that I can express other ideas that I wouldn’t feel fit in Replicant. Windfaerer is more rooted in my love of folk music and epic black metal. Both are reflections of who I am as an individual and reflections of my musical journey.
The crazy thing is that both the latest Windfaerer and Replicant albums were tracked at the same time. James also plays in both bands, so we took advantage of having his drums set up and the lack of shows situation to track both albums. It was a bit overwhelming to say the least. My voice and mental state took a beating, but in the end we’re all happy with the results.