Hibernus Mortis's Ralf Varela Talks Florida Death Metal and His Band's Legacy of Brutality

Hibernus Mortis may be South Florida's greatest death metal band of all time.

And a big part of that has to do with a long tenure as South Florida's only death metal band.

While the Sunshine State's Gulf Coast can tout a robust history of Cookie Monster deathcries and bangover-inducing head-whips, Dade County has always treated the genre like a cult phenomenon.

Broward, however, is -- literally, metaphorically, demographically, and metallically -- a little closer to Tampa Bay. And it's there, at Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room, that Hibernus Mortis's members carved out a role for themselves as the Southeastern ambassadors of Floridian death metal.

Crossfade spoke with founding member, lead vocalist, and guitarist Ralf Varela about his band's storied history and its first show since 2006 at Churchill's Pub with Disma on November 10.

See also:

-Disma Talks Death Metal, French Moshing, and Chicken Suits in the Circle Pit

Crossfade: So this is the first Hibernus Mortis show in a while.

Our last show was a fest in Tampa in 2006, but our last show in South Florida was in 2005 at the Culture Room. We opened for Suffocation. From 1997 to 2005, we were regulars at the Culture Room. Our first two gigs were at The Kitchen. But then any time a national death metal act came to South Florida, we got the call. 'Cause back then we were the only band playing death metal. We opened for a lot of bands we worshipped.

What was your relationship with the Tampa death metal contingent?

We got to play with a lot of those bands. We opened for Morbid Angel twice. We opened for Deicide twice. Deicide in 1998 was our first big show. Deicide at the Button South.

So if there were no death metal bands around, what kind of local acts did you play with?

Anger were good friends of ours.

They were an old-school hardcore thing, right?

Alex Marquez, who used to be the drummer of Solstice and Malevolent Creation, started an old-school hardcore band with Spanish lyrics. I used to go to their warehouse in Hialeah to watch them practice. After 2000, when we started playing the Culture Room, [Tampa-based black metal band] Kult ov Azazel was coming down and we were playing with them quite a bit.

Historically, there's been inter-genre tension between black metal and death metal. Did you ever run into any BM purists sneering at you?

When black metal started making its ascent in the late '90s -- the poppy black metal, Cradle of Filth, that kind of stuff -- we played with a band, I can't remember their name. They wore corpse paint and black metal spikes. They came to challenge us. It was really funny. We were getting a lot of gigs and they were just starting out.

What did they say?

They literally said that they came to "challenge us." And that, uh, death metal was weak or something.

Challenge you to what?


How did you get into death metal?

I was into thrash. Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeath. Big four stuff. Sepultura. And then all of a sudden I hear Obituary for the first time. Basically, it was life-changing. I met Caesar, our drummer, in '93. In '95, we started Hibernus. He was playing in a death metal band that i was trying to get into, called Beyond. I was jamming with another band and it wasn't great. I wanted to get to something really brutal. Little by little, me and Caesar, we started jamming. We wrote six songs and then we recruited the vocalist and the guitarist of Acrimonium. We recruited a bass player guy I knew from high school, and started playing gigs in '97.

Eventually, we wanted to go in a different direction, more of a brutal death metal. The more we tried to get brutal, we started changing things. The band evolved a little bit. We got heavier, a little more over the top. I took over the vocals. We started getting a ton of gigs.

We got to open up for Mayhem. They were on tour for Grand Declaration of War. It was like a dream come true. Mayhem, arguably one of the greatest black metal bands in history and we got to open for them. We had a great run. But as the years went on, I had kids, things got more complicated for me. And the band really needed to move into touring and stuff like that. I felt like I had to back away because I didn't want to be an anchor on the band. But me and Caesar always said, "We'll do something again!"

Disma. Presented by Speedfreek. With Hibernus Mortis, Masticator, Murder Suicide, The Glorious Death. Saturday, November 10. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $15 via Call 305-757-1807 or visit

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