Castrator is an all-woman death metal band founded in 2013 by bassist Robin Mazen and drummer Carolina Perez. The band’s most recent album is the long-awaited full-length slab Defiled in Oblivion (Dark Descent Records), coming seven years after its No Victim debut EP. With a new lineup featuring guitarist Kimberly Orellana and vocalist Clarissa Badini, Defiled in Oblivion uses classic death metal brutality to explore injustices against women, historical atrocities, and other dark veins and includes a cover of Venom’s "Countess Bathory." The Brooklyn Rail caught up with Mazen and Perez after they disembarked from the 70000 Tons of Metal floating festival.
Andrey Henkin (Rail): How did you meet?
Carolina Perez: We met at Saint Vitus in 2012. Robin went there to play with Derkéta and I was playing with my local band, Hypoxia, and we got to share the stage and then afterwards, because they were all women and they had a male drummer, I approached Robin and said, “If you guys ever need a female drummer, let me know,” which was kind of shitty of me. She’s like, “We’re good but if you want to start a band that would be awesome.”
Rail: And so when you came together—and I'm not trying to apply the political stuff too heavily—but did you bond with that?
Perez: Not really. We were like, how awesome would it be if it's just all women on stage, how powerful would that be! Just how refreshing would that be! We really didn't talk about politics at all.
Rail: But that did come out organically; on the EP, you have “Honor Killing,” “The Emasculator”… What I've always liked about a band like Slayer was that Jeff Hanneman would write about things that were real. It's very easy to open up a medical dictionary and just start singing about surgery procedures but I think it's more powerful to have something that's relevant to the world.
Perez: We were writing from our point of view. “The Emasculator” and “Honor Killing” are both extreme lyrics, but we are an extreme band.
Robin Mazen: And honestly, men write about that, the same topics like honor killing and stuff.
Perez: And then at that time it was really an issue. And our previous lineup, we connected more on that level.
Mazen: To go back to the beginning when we started the band, we didn’t even want to use our names or photos, because we wanted to be taken seriously. We just wanted people to focus on the music and not, you know, “Oh, it's a girl.”
Rail: What do you think about somebody who just likes the music and doesn't really care about the lyrics?
Perez: If someone connects with it, good, if not, then, you know, moving along. We got a lot of negative criticism too. Everyone's entitled to their opinion.
Rail: What kind of criticism?
Perez: Oh, my gosh! Like they want to kill us [laughs]. Like we shouldn't exist, you know.
Rail: Not exist because…?
Perez: Because the name of our band is Castrator.
Mazen: People get very offended.
Rail: I think Cattle Decapitation is maybe a little bit more offensive.
Perez: What about Dying Fetus or Coathanger Abortion? It's death metal. It's supposed to be bloody and funny.
Mazen: Obviously, you know, death metal, especially for decades, was male-dominated. Now there's obviously more women involved but it was always looked at as male-dominated, like other genres of music are not.
Perez: And you always had to prove yourself somehow. It's not enough that you like doing what you do, you somehow have to be better in a lot of ways, otherwise you're not accepted.
Rail: When you play at these festivals, you're on early. Do you find that people are listening? Because usually with early bands the crowd is a little thin because people are there to see the headliner. Do you find that people are giving you a chance?
Perez: Absolutely. Yeah. People are curious, for sure. People want to see something new, something refreshing. People are tired of the same thing. So like the tour that we just did, every show we opened was packed from the beginning.
Rail: I want to ask you about the song “Voices of Evirato.” Now, again, maybe I'm being heavy-handed but when I started to read the lyrics all I could think about was female genital mutilation and how that's a major issue in the world. Was that something that you were thinking about or completely not?
Perez: We always thought about that. That's just something very unfortunate and it's just a sadistic tradition, but we also wanted to point the light to kids and men, and that was actually something that happened that was very brutal.
Mazen: Well, the idea of it, you know, Carolina always wanted to write about it, and it's a cool thing in history. I like a lot of history and it's a sadistic part of history that nobody talks about, and it's an interesting topic. A lot of people aren't aware, beautiful music was actually created out of that pain, and it was a prestigious thing but it was still a lot of suffering. It's just an interesting topic, because it has also to do with music.
Rail: When you went from doing the EP to doing the full-length album, did you feel there is more cohesion?
Perez: I feel like the album is literally a timeline of seven years of the process of the band. Some songs are rawer because they're in the beginning. “Sinister Mind” was a very early song that we wrote as a band but we didn't want to put it on the EP; it’s eleven years old. And then “Tyrant's Verdict,” the lyrics for that song were written after, with the new lineup.
Mazen: We just kind of evolved. Our thought processes didn't change, but we changed musically, and the way we put it together changed.
Perez: We definitely sat down and talked about what made sense and what didn’t, like the song order, the intros, and all that.
Mazen: With this album there was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears because so many things changed, like music, the riffs, and the production. Everything constantly changed, even the vocals changed. We had stuff recorded and it was just gone, like twice, three times. We finally got a product that we love and we're proud of. For me, especially, it's more about us being happy with it than other people. If other people love it, awesome! But I'm finally happy with it and I'm sure Carolina is finally happy with it.
Rail: Albums are tough, because you can have a concert, and that's out in the air, and you know that there’s a next one coming. But the album is like your high school yearbook picture. It's there forever.
Perez: The concerts are like dessert. You already had your meal. You worked so hard to put something out and you finally got to play this material. So it's definitely where our hearts are, just putting something good out so we can go play.
Rail: I want to ask you about the cover of “Countess Bathory.”
Mazen: I really love Venom a lot so I pushed for that. I was like, “This is gonna be a great cover,” and Carolina loves Venom too.
Perez: It actually happened because back in 2015 we were playing a festival in Texas and we didn't have enough material for a set list, because we only had this EP. And we're like, “We need a cover,” and we said Venom and we did it and it sounded awesome and we're like, “We have to do this on an album.”
Rail: Would you do others?
Perez: Absolutely. It's part of us. You know how back in the eighties every band used to have a cover on their album; it was just, like, part of being a metal band. I don't know why that stopped.
Rail: Bringing in a new singer, a new guitar player, did you make it clear that they are not just being hired but you want them to be fully part of the entity?
Mazen: The band started out as four and then, once we started evolving, then it was three, so it was always three and easier to vote on decisions. And, after all of that, it's basically Carolina’s and my band. With [singer] Clarissa [Badini] and [guitarist] Kim [Orellana], we tell them, feel free to speak your mind, be open to everything and if you want to participate with anything you're more than welcome, but the final decision usually does come down to me and Carolina at this point. I feel like we're definitely scarred from past situations. And you know, with any band, we want everything to be fair but there always has to be somebody that's more in charge, especially if you don't have any type of management or anything that’s the main focus of decision-making, because if there's too many cooks in the kitchen, it can be kind of problematic.
Perez: There should always be a leader, not, you know, a tyrant, but someone who has the overall idea of what it should be.
Rail: On your Facebook page you have merchandise, and you guys just had underwear made.
Perez: It had to happen.
Rail: I want to ask you about that and, also, Robin, your sort of parallel career selling merch for other bands.
Mazen: Yeah, I do that, and I always did. I did merch for Cannibal Corpse for years and I did underwear, you know, “Eaten Back To Life,” Exodus's “Pleasures of the Flesh” ones, and they're just funny and cool. Why not Castrator ones?
Perez: And it says, "Watch Your Balls," which makes it even better. It's marketing.
Rail: Do you have any sense of the demographic of your audience? The audience for death metal, and metal in general, is still pretty male-centric.
Perez: The demographic for Castrator is very mixed. I can't really say if it's male or female, trans or nonbinary people. It's just everybody, a big community of metalheads that just want something new and like good old school death metal. I'm in charge of managing the Instagram and I try to pay attention to all those things. I see that it's very mixed. There's not one demographic in particular. There are young people, older people, from all over the world. It's amazing. I do all the shipping and it's amazing to see all these places that I’ve never been to wanting to have a piece of our little work and music.
Mazen: I know I got excited about a fan from Greenland… that one made me a bit obsessed.
Perez: And last night there was a comment on our latest post, the fan asking us to go play in Alaska, you know, it's just surreal. Australia. It's just everywhere.
Rail: Metal is universal.