The Suncoast bike trail near Lutz is not the sort of place you'd think would inspire some of the most brutal Satanist death metal ever to come out of Florida. But if you pass a biker with an upside-down cross scar burned into his forehead, that might be what's on his mind.
"When I do my bike rides, I'm just sitting there and I'll hum out parts, and I'll have parts running through my head," said Glen Benton, lead singer of Tampa death metal legends Deicide. "The wild turkeys are running across the path, and I'm like, 'Hey, hey, Mr. Turkey!'"
It's been some 30 years since Benton and drummer Steve Asheim helped take Tampa death metal global with Deicide, which took the city's musical calling card to bloody new extremes throughout the '90s. Thanks to bands like Deicide, Obituary, Morbid Angel and New York emigrants Cannibal Corpse, the city is still widely considered ground zero for the gruesome, gutteral godless death metal movement.
Benton himself had a lot to do with that. He cut a particularly controversial figure worldwide, thanks to his outspoken support of Satanism, stage props like buckets of bloody entrails, and headlining-grabbing songs like Sacrificial Suicide, Dead by Dawn and When Satan Rules His World. That upside-down cross scar wasn't a bad calling card, either.
On Sept. 14, Deicide will release their 12th studio album, Overtures of Blasphemy. To mark the occasion, Benton called to chat about growing old in death metal and whether Satanism still shocks like it used to.
Last year you turned 50, and Deicide turned 30. Did you think when you started the band in Tampa that long ago that this could be a lifelong endeavor?
No, no. I was thinking maybe a record or two, at the most.
You don't think of death metal as an older man's game. There's just not a lot of precedence for playing music this extreme in your 50s and 60s and 70s, is there?
It isn't like playing sports or anything. It's music. It's kind of like gardening. When you've been doing it this long, man, it takes minimal upkeep to keep doing it.
What do you require to keep your voice and body in touring shape?
A lot of lettuce wraps and a lot of riding my bicycle.
You've been sober for quite a while, is that right?
Yeah. I was never a drunk or anything. I was just like everybody else in the business. You get to a point where you're so bored, you do things like drinking to keep yourself busy between soundchecks. But it was never a problem for me. I just take care of myself now. I try to live as much of a plant-based diet as possible. Carb-free living and just trying to take care of myself, keep myself out of stressful situations.
Is the plant-based diet a health thing or an ethical thing?
No, I just think you feel better. It's not that I don't eat meat, because I eat meat, I eat fish and everything else. We live in Florida. How can you not eat seafood in the state of Florida? But not right now, because of everything going on. I just got some local farmer people around me that I'm able to go to and get decent produce from, and it's a lot better, healthier way to live.
Do you cook?
Absolutely. It's one of those responsibilities put upon me at an early age. My grandmother was from Sicily, so it runs in the family.
Are you surprised that all the major Tampa death metal bands — you guys, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Morbid Angel — are still at it after all these years?
Yeah, man, it's like anything: Obviously there's a love for it, but there's also a paycheck. You gotta pay your bills. I mean, it's not a bad thing.
What's been your relationship with those bands over the years? When the scene first started to get national attention, was there more of a rivalry? Or did you see it as healthy — attention for one band is good for the others?
I think in the beginning there was a little bit of mass confusion, because there were so many of us popping up in a really short time. It was kind of like everybody was looking at each other, like, "Who the f— is jumping on the bandwagon?" It was that kind of thing. They rolled out the bandwagon, now everybody jump on it. I didn't have a problem with anybody. I still don't. I don't remember back then being anything other than not being rivalries, but who could outdo each other being brutal.
Do you get a sense there's still some sort of global interest in Tampa or Florida in the metal world? Does it still mean anything to fans in Europe and beyond?
I think so. We did a tour of South America and it was sold-out shows every night, capacity crowds. It's like that for a lot of guys. We still play to some pretty big crowds. The fact that we're from here and this is our birthplace, it still puts everybody back on the map.
When you head into a new album, do you feel like you still have to jolt people, either on the record or in concert? Do you still have to surprise and startle listeners?
To be completely honest with you, after all these years, unfortunately, you kind of get this I-don't-give-a-s— attitude about the whole process. You go with what you want, and you hope for the best. You don't put too much time and thought into it.
Do you still feel like there's a major element of entertainment or showmanship to what you do? Early on, you had props and blood and stuff. Do you still feel like you've got to be that guy on stage?
Not so much now. I think people are more into maintaining a recorded value. They want to hear it as close to the record as possible. As far as throwing guts and doing all that crap, once in a while, will I break out some stuff like that? Yeah, absolutely. It's just for fun. But I think that at this point it's more about the music for me.
Are you still personally driven to write about Satanism and Christianity? Or is it just a matter of, that's what Deicide is and always will be?
Honestly, I have tried to write about other things. I really have, man. And you know what? I actually have one song on the new album where I got there. I was like, "Hey you guys, you want to read through these lyrics, and then read the other ones?" And they were like, "Oh, wow, let's go with the other one" — the original song that I had written, which is One With Satan. I had given myself writer's block trying to go back and forth between the two. I just can't. If I fight it and try to push it in a certain direction other than where it wants to go, I just get writer's block.
Do you still identify as Satanist?
No. I've always said this: They identify me as a Satanist. I identify myself as a free thinker and a kid that was tormented just like everybody else growing up. My mother did a stint as a Sunday school teacher. My father was so-called Catholic; I don't know what he was. And my mother was Lutheran. My grandma was into the whole Latin thing — when she went to church, you couldn't understand it. There was no English spoken. I was a little kid. That knd of stuff creeped the s— out of me. I had a lot of terrifying moments as a child with that s—. Growing up, people would call me an evil bastard. They referred to me as Damien from The Omen.
It's really odd, whenever I go places. I played Chile a couple of times, and a couple of days after playing there, there was always an earthquake. When we played South America this last tour, we were trying to get out of there, and we had a hurricane coming down on us from one direction, and as soon as we got out of there, they have a huge earthquake.
It's weird seeing things like that shooting in Clearwater, that Stand Your Ground shooting. Dude, that store is directly across the street from the old Deicide house that my grandmother used to own. Directly across the street from the store, next to Coles Gun Shop. That's where Deicide started, was at that house. We used to rehearse in that garage. Here's the weird thing: The day before that shooting, I took my girl down there. I said, "Let me show you where the old house is." I was actually parked right there by that parking spot where the shooting happened, the day before it happened.
Every time I go anywhere, something really stupid happens. I used to call it the Deicide black cloud, but now I'm starting to think there might be something to it. That's kind of been my life.
There's still a great deal of power within the religious right, but it's not a time of Satanic panic. Do you feel like culturally, you guys are viewed differently than you were in the early '90s?
I'm not sure how people view us. But this is how I've always been. I'm an artist. When I say God or Christianity or Jesus, whatever you want to refer to it, I mean all your Jesuses, all your gods, all your so-called prophets, all religions. All of it. I'm not picking on one. I'm picking on all of it, okay? People can interpret it the way they want to interpret it, towards their god or whatever. Christianity, man, they defined me early on as a Satanist. They come to the shows with their picket signs. They labeled me and generalized me, so I generalize it all back. It's all a business. Just like they make money off of God, I make money off of them.
Are you politically agnostic? Do you come down on either side of the left-right divide of our time?
I just try to stay out of it, politically. I stay out of everything. I'm an artist, and I paint a painting. Okay? Every painting's different. A lot of stuff I pull from my own personal anguish and torment. I write from my soul. I write for me. I just try to put words to it that somebody may have thought of themselves at one time or another.
There's one song on the new album I wanted to ask you about. It sounds like there's some backwards chanting on Compliments of Christ. Am I hearing that right? What are you saying?
You gotta play it backwards, man.
I can't do that. I don't have a studio here.
Well, I'm sure someone on YouTube will soon enough put it up there. That's the beauty of it, man! That's the fun of this! I ain't gonna give it away. Just like Dio had some backwards messages, there's that one guy who's going to spin it backwards and be like, "This is it!"
What appeals to you about that?
It's like, subliminal. For me, it's artistic, but it creates weirdness. Because when that part kicks in, you're like, What the…? Your mind wants to comprehend every piece of it, and then I throw something at you that your mind can't comprehend.
— Jay Cridlin