2009. február 27., péntek

Sentinel Beast - Barry Fischel

During the mid '80s the thrash metal scene reached its peak and became oversaturated later on. A lot of bands appeared and disappeared very quickly without becoming the acknowledgement what they would have deserved. One of them was Sentinel Beast who released their one and only record "Depths of Death" in 1986. The story of the band tells guitarist Barry Fischel.

So Barry, how and did you discover metal music and at which point did you start showing interest in music and metal in particular?
I was 11 years old and saw The Rose (Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). There's a scene where Kris' character is being helicoptered in to an outdoor music festival. The band was playing a 'bluesy rock number' and the crowd was going crazy. It was the energy of that scene that let me know I wanted to be involved in music. It was my first year in high school when Scott Awes' (who became Sentinel Beast's drummer) interest in IRON MAIDEN led me to metal.
Was it clear from the start you wanted to be a guitarist? How did you pick up that instrument?
Around the same time that I saw The Rose, my sister had gotten a nylon string classical guitar from my Grandmother. She wasn't interested in it, so I started 'investigating it'. The very first time I picked it up I wrote my own song using nothing but the open strings.
What were some of your influences as a young guitarist?
When I was about 13 years old, I went to see Jimmy Messina (without Kenny Loggins) and he became one of my first influences. The influences grew from there and include Cat Stevens, The Eagles and then Jimmy Page. As I got older I started getting more into the 'metal' heroes such as Yngwie Malmsteen.
SENTINEL BEAST was founded in 1984 by singer Debbie Gunn, bassist Mike Spencer and drummer Scott Awes, but was SENTINEL BEAST your very first act or did you have prior musical experiences? I mean, did you play in several local bands? By the way, did you know them earlier?
Actually, Scott Awes and I were the founding members (we had formed many together during our high school years). I had just gotten out of high school (Scott was a senior) and we decided we wanted to start a HEAVY band in the vein of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden (up to this point we were doing more blues based rock). I met Mike Spencer at a party; he had just moved to Sacramento, CA (from Phoenix, AZ). We started out playing some cover tunes, everything from Motley Crue to Iron Maiden. Scott and I liked Mike's playing and brought him into our band (this may be different from Debbie's version, but it's how it happened). Scott, Mike and I had been playing for a while when Mike tells us that Debbie Gunn (his girlfriend at the time) is a vocalist. We had Debbie came down, and we all really liked her. It was at
THAT POINT that Sentinel Beast was formed. One of the first songs we ever wrote together was ‘Mourir’, which ended up being on the ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’ album.
During this time, the axes were played by Greg Williams and Jerry Frasier, later to be replaced by you and Mark Koyasako. How did you get in the picture exactly? What about Mark’s musical background?
After playing with Scott, Mike and Debbie for a few months (we even did a couple of shows as SENTINEL BEAST, I have pictures available), I left to attend GIT. I had already made plans to do this before the group was formed. It was AFTER I LEFT that Greg Williams and Jerry Frazier were brought into the picture. Mark Koyasako came in much later when Greg Williams left the band, right before we started recording our album. At that time we were in our early twenties and Mark was already in his thirties but had already made a name for himself and was quite an accomplished player.
Did the band audition other guitarists as well or were you the band’s choice off the cuff?
As I mentioned, I was a founding member, and when I left for GIT they did auditions and picked Greg and Jerry. That lineup recorded the ‘KILL THE WITCH’ demo. When I returned from GIT for a visit (after 6 months) Jerry decided to leave and Mike asks me to rejoin the group. I had refused, saying that I was going back to GIT to finish. On the 8 hour drive back I listened to the ‘KILL THE WITCH’ demo MANY times. So, I DID return to L.A, but NOT to finish classes at GIT. I got my guitars and my Marshall and I headed back to Sacramento.
Who came up with the name SENTINEL BEAST and why did you choose that name?
Debbie Gunn was heavily into Greek mythology and a lot of her lyrics dealt with that subject matter (‘Sentinel Beast’, ‘Beyond The Walls’). The SENTINEL BEAST in mythology is 'Cerberus', which is a three headed dog that guards the gates of Hell. if that isn't metal - what is??
What was Sacramento scene like at this point? What were the bands that started popping up besides SENTINEL BEAST and REDRUM?
As for metal that I recall, Sentinel Beast and Redrum were the main bands. Some others came and went. Tesla (at that time called City Kid) was making the scene also. We were a bit heavier than them (starting to touch on thrash) and they were actually doing a lot of cover gigs.
Were you close to REDRUM?
We did know them pretty well, and we would play together on many occasions. In fact Vonni and I are still friends and in contact to this day.
Because you were close to the Bay Area scene, what were your views on that highly talented and influential scene, which included bands such as EXODUS, POSSESSED, DEATH ANGEL etc.?
In our opinion Exodus' 'Bonded By Blood' set the mark for what thrash was to become. We played a lot of shows with them in the Bay Area as well as in Sacramento.
Tell us please about your rehearsals. How often did you rehearse? Were you jamming mostly on covers or did you start writing originals?
Scott Awes’ mother gave us (Scott and I) use of the 'family room' when we started playing together at the beginning of high school. That space was then used for 5 years before Sentinel Beast ever formed and was then used for the entire span of Sentinel Beast as Sentinel Beast. We'd rehearse 3-4 days a week (and we were loud, but nobody complained!!). Once we were OFFICIALLY Sentinel Beast, our focus was writing originals. The only cover we still did was 'Phantom of The Opera' by Iron Maiden (which made it to the ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’ album).
Your first demo was 'KILL THE WITCH' (July 1984) featuring 'Tonite', 'Full Treatment' and 'Kill The Witch'. What do you remember about the recording of the demo, which was probably your first recording experience?
Well, I don't remember too much about it since it was recorded while I was away at GIT. However, the recording was good enough to make me leave school to rejoin the band. The songs ‘Tonite’ and ‘Full Treatment’ made it on to the CD reissue of ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’.
Did you shop the demo around to get label interest? Did the demo spread your name in the underground scene?
No, we didn't do too much with the demo at that time. The demo did help spread our name around but only within the California area.
Your second demo ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’ was released in July of 1985, featuring ‘Depths Of
Death’, ‘Sacred Line’, ‘Fight For Your Life’, ‘Hell Affair’ and ‘Beyond The Walls’. How would you characterize this demo compared to the first one?

I think the ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’ demo was the first thing to show our direction leaning towards thrash. Jerry Frazier wrote the main part of the song ‘Depths Of Death’ which was the only real THRASH tune on the demo. You can hear these songs on my www.myspace.com/SentinelBeastNYC site.
The third demo was released in November 1985, featuring the Iron Maiden cover ‘Phantom Of The Opera’, ‘Sentinel Beast’, ‘Dogs Of War’ and ‘The Phoenix’. Was this demo recorded for Metal Blade?
The third demo was actually only TWO songs, ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ and ‘Sentinel Beast’. The two songs were in fact recorded for Brian Slagle of Metal Blade. He had heard the ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’ demo and wanted to use 'Fight for Your Life' for the Metal Massacre VII album. We recorded the third demo, sent it to him and he decided to switch his choice to the song ‘Sentinel Beast’.
Would you say that’s what convinced the label to sign you?
Yes. Once Brian heard the third demo and included us on the Metal Massacre album, he said he wanted to sign the band.
Was there any other label interest in the band?
We can't really say because we were fortunate enough to meet Brian and he offered us a deal, so we didn’t have to search around elsewhere.
Did you cover ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ because Paul D’Anno was Debbie’s main influence?
We ALL liked Iron Maiden. Steve Harris was one of Mike Spencer's biggest influences. It seemed a perfect choice so we could ALL 'pay our respect' to Iron Maiden. We put our own spin on it by speeding it up 'just a little'.
As far as the track ‘Sentinel Beast’ it was recorded twice, with Greg Williams on the first version and Mark Koyasako on the second one. Were there differences between the two versions? Why did you record the song twice?
In my opinion, the version with Greg Williams is the better of the two and represents Sentinel Beast 'at its finest' (that’s the version that is on the myspace page). The 2nd version, which was actually the album version was 'rushed and less dynamic'. Everyone in the band except for Mark probably felt the same way. It wasn't that Greg was better than Mark, but without Greg some of the 'chemistry' of the group was missing. After Greg left we did the second version because that was the version that was going on the record, and we wanted to use the band line-up at that time, which included Mark.
Were you famliar with the music of SLAYER and OMEN? How did you get in touch with Kerry and Kenny?
Vonni of Redrum was friends with Kerry King of Slayer. Kerry King came to see the band one night and the next morning he calls Brian Slagle from Vonni's kitchen and says "you gotta sign these guys". Brian Slagle was already familiar with us since we were in discussions with him about being included on the Metal Massacre album. Kenny Powell and Omen had already done a couple of albums for Metal Blade. While recording our album, we became friends with them during the sessions. Debbie Gunn and Mike Spencer (who were boyfriend and girlfriend) were not getting along so well as a couple and Debbie started becoming "friendly" with one of the guys from Omen. We started doing shows with them and they'd even come to some of our rehearsals.
You landed on several compilations, such as ‘Metal Massacre VII’ (featuring ‘Sentinel Beast’) or ‘The Eastern Front’ featuring the live version of ‘Dogs Of War’). What do you think about these records? Which bands were on these records in addition to SENTINEL BEAST?
As for Metal Massacre the most well known bands were Detente and Flotsam and Jetsam. The other bands on the album were; Heretic, Krank, Mad Man, Commander, Juggernaut, Cryptic Slaughter, Have Mercy, Titanic and Lost Horizon. As for The Eastern Front, I don't recall that one as much. In fact we didn't even know that the album was being made until after the recording was done. I'm sure a Google search could let you know what groups were on it.
Did these albums make for a good opportunity for the band to make a name for itself worldwide? Did these compilations help to draw more fan attention to the band?
ABSOLUTELY! Brian Slagel had worldwide distribution; Canada, South America and throughout Europe. Heck, I got letters from Israel! Brian used to 'brag' that he could sell 10,000 albums of any band he signed IMMEDIATELY. Apparently the 'buyers' had put a lot of trust in Brian Slagle because many times they'd be buying releases from unknown, just signed bands.
„The Eastern Front” was recorded at the legendary Ruthie’s Inn. How did the recording sessions go? What about that gig?
There was no fuss or even a real recording session. It was a 'board mix' from the PA that was being used for the show. They recorded ALL the bands that night. We played Ruthie's so many times that it seemed like a 'regular Ruthie's gig’ -- especially since Mike and Debbie were the only ones that knew that the show was being recorded. It wasn't until a month or so later that they told us that the show was recorded and would be a compilation album.
Was Ruthie’s Inn the best club in San Francisco at that time?
I would say yes. Every town had their BIG metal club (NY at the time had L’Amours) that always drew a good crowd regardless of who was playing there. You just knew if you went there, you'd hear some great metal.
„Dogs Of War” was also on ‘The Best Of Metal Blade’ sampler. Is that such a special song for you or do you have other favorite tracks from your SENTINEL BEAST time?
It wasn't that DOGS was such a special song. I would probably say it was one of our most 'thrashy and catchy songs'. Similar to ‘Evil Is The Night’, ‘Dogs Of War’ was written by Greg Williams. My FAVORITE material was actually the material we wrote AFTER the release of the album. In fact I liked it so much, it stayed with me for 20 YEARS, and the songs are what make up the debut CD of my new project FISCHEL'S BEAST (www.myspace.com/fischelsbeast ) more on this later.
Would you say that these compilations were very important for introducing young, talented bands to the fans?
Yes, for sure. If you look at the Metal Massacre albums 1-6 - there were many bands that went on to become some of the biggest metal bands of all time; Metallica, Overkill, Armored Saint, Slayer, Lizzy Borden, Metal Church, Posessed, Hirax and Fate's Warning just to name a few!
In 1986 you entered the studio to cut your debut album „Depths of Death”. What can you say abouth the recording sessions? Were you prepared to record the album?
It was about nine months to a year after Greg Williams left that we went in to do the album. I had mentioned earlier that after Greg left (and Mark K joined) that some of the bands 'chemistry' seemed to be lacking. It was a trying experience. We drove ourselves and all our gear from Sacramento to Hollywood (an 8 hour drive). We had 2 weeks to record and mix the entire album we had to do most of the recording during off hours; a lot of late nights, and MANY, MANY early morning sessions. We didn't ask WHY we had to work like this, Brian Slagel said we had to do it and we did. To make matters worse
Mike and Debbie (who I mentioned earlier were a 'couple' at the time) were fighting quite a bit. All of the songs were recorded faster than their usual tempos and as a result I think a lot of the bands best dynamics were not fully captured on the album I would say the recording was OK at best, not showing what we were really capable of. We were prepared, but I think the difference is we ended up with a 'good' album, not a GREAT album.
As for the tracks ‘Sentinel Beast’, ‘Dogs Of War’, ‘Depths Of Death’ and the Iron Maiden cover ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ which were known from the demos, did you re-record these tunes?
The songs 'Sentinel Beast', 'Dogs of War' and 'Depths of Death' WERE in fact re-recorded. In all three cases, I think that the demo versions are better PERFORMANCE wise. That's why those are the ones I posted the Sentinel Beast NYC site ( www.myspace.com/sentinelbeastnyc ). Phantom was NEVER done on a demo, but was a 'favorite' from being played at live shows. The album was the first and only time that we recorded it, and it's one of the songs from the album I'd say I'm the most happy with.
When did you write the other tracks? Were they brand new?
The other tracks were 'Mourir', 'Corpse', 'Evil Is The Night', 'Revenge' and ‘The Keeper’. All but 'Evil Is The Night' and 'Revenge' were written by Mike Spencer YEARS before the group was even together. When he wrote these songs, THRASH had not even made the scene yet, and when we played them we thought we were just playing 'metal. Jerry Frazier wrote 'Depths of Death' and 'Evil is The Night', Greg Williams wrote 'Dogs of War' and I wrote 'Revenge' with Mike. The only THRASH song Mike Spencer wrote for this album was the song 'Sentinel Beast'. We found it funny that we were making a name for ourselves as a THRASH band. LATER, Mike did write some GREAT THASH material, songs that would have been part of our second album; songs like ‘Commencement / Forbidden Territories’ and ‘The Phoenix’ were the pinnacle of Mike's thrash writing. I would from time to time listen to rehearsal tapes of these songs and get 'goosebumps' (METAL goosebumps!) These songs are part of the material that makes up the Fischel's Beast CD mentioned above.
How about the song composing as a whole?
I would say at the time, Mike Spencer wanted to be IN CHARGE and wanted to be the 'only' songwriter. This is why so many of the songs from the first album were from his 'catalog' of material. That was his plan, to use his material for the first album, then we'd all write material for the second album together. The composing as a whole did work well. Mike would come to each of us individually to show us the songs. Then when we all had our parts, we'd bring it to Scott Awes and he always knew the PERFECT thing to play that worked for the song. Scott was a real natural. It made everything we did work!
Do you agree with that „Depths of Death” provides an interesting dose of old speed metal from the mid-eighties?
Yes. There is definitely a lot of that on there. We always felt that 'Depths Of Death’, 'Dogs Of War’, ‘Evil Is The Night’ and 'Sentinel Beast' WERE speed metal tunes, but many people wanted to call them THRASH. The bottom line is they liked the songs, and that's what really mattered, regardless of what they wanted to label them as.
Being one of the few bands in the genre with a female vocalist, was your sound a little more original and distinctive than the average band?
The tonal quality of Debbie's voice definitely gave us a unique sound. She also always wrote catchy and hooky melodies. Greg Williams also had a distinct writing style that was part of the early sound. If you listen to the DEMOS, I feel that some of the songs that never made the album was some of our best material. One of my favorites was 'Beyond The Walls' (it's on the aforementioned Sentinel Beast NYC site). That line up, and the ‘Depths Of Death’ DEMO is what I actually wish the first album was.
Would you say that Sentinel Beast’s musical style is something in the vein of the old Nasty Savage, complete with a dark sound where a husky voice fits very well?
I suppose I could hear a 'similarity' in the styles. As I mentioned at the beginning, we didn't think of ourselves as a THRASH band. I feel that Nasty Savage was 'similar' in that they were playing metal, but that HINT of thrash was making itself known. I agree about the husky voice fitting well over the dark sound of the band.
The songs are quite old-fashioned, in a good way, with the track ‘Sentinel Beast’ being one of the best examples of the band’s dynamic style. There’s something inevitably dated in the music of Depths Of Death’ and the result has some genuine appeal of its own. How do you see it?
Yes. The track 'Sentinel Beast' was a good example of our dynamic style. I think that style is best shown on our more EPIC songs, many of which didn't make it to the first album; songs like Commencement / Forbidden Territories and Fate of Kings. This is why I felt the need to record these songs and include them on the Fischel's Beast CD. We tried to capture as much of the original dynamics as possible when recording them. As far as 'Depths of Death' sounding 'dated', I'm not sure I agree. Of course, if you listen to it TODAY, yeah, it sounds like 80's speed / thrash metal, which TODAY would be dated. BUT, back in the 80's, that was 'the sound'.
Sentinel Beast and Détente are like paternal twins, with both groups crying in the same crib, born two months apart in 1986. The parents to both bands is Metal Blade Records, and both are female fronted quintets with a kindred thrash racket. You also share the unfortunate fact that neither band went anywhere. What do you think about that?
I liked Detente VERY MUCH, and see the similarities but I also see the things that made us different. I'd consider them more THRASH / SPEED METAL then we were. I found Debbie's lyrics and melodies to be a lot more hooky and catchy then Dawn Crosby's. That was Debbie biggest strength.
If we talk about this comparison, what’s your opinion about Dawn Crosby’s (R. I. P.) abrasive vox that could rub steel paneling raw faster than Debbie Gunn’s? Is ‘Depths Of Death’ just a catchier song than ‘Recognize No Authority’?
Yes. I think that Dawn's 'abrasive voice' may have kept the album from going further. I liked her voice, but there was only so much of it I could take. Debbie was not only 'less abrasive', but as mentioned above, I feel that Debbie was really strong at coming up with great hooks and melodies. I feel the songs 'One Man's Cry' and 'Where Am I' are the best examples of this. HOWEVER, they never made it to the album, but you can hear them, guess where?? That’s right, on the Fischel's Beast CD. We got her approval to use these songs, and even invited her to be part of it. She was unable to do because she was focusing on her NEW version of Sentinel Beast. So, we made our singer Anthony Cross (yes - a male singer) step up to the task of capturing Debbie's parts, and we were pleased with the result. It's a shame that Dawn Crosby's life ended so tragically. It would have been interesting to see what direction she would have taken, and where she would be now.
The power and the energy of this band can only be found back in the 80s, is that correct?
No. I think myspace is full of bands with power and energy. I think the tough thing was for a genre to be CREATED, once it's created it's then possible for others to play it as well. The internet has made so much more music accessible to people all over the world. It doesn't mean that everything out there is GOOD, but I've stumbled across many GREAT bands while 'surfing around'.
How do you view, that everything was perfect for the structures of the songs, the melodies, the solos and the vocals? The most violent parts are never forgotten to give priority to the melodies and vice versa, and that all mixes together perfectly?
That was the chemistry of Sentinel Beast! Again, we worked very hard and rehearsed a lot, but we also worked to make things sound good AS A BAND. It was never 'hey I'm gonna play this really cool guitar lick here!'
The various guitars duets and the hidden melodies of the rhythmic riffage, so often over open chords, is perfect for those who are searching for a perfect blend of heaviness and a sense of songwriting, would you agree?
As I mentioned, a lot of the material for the album came from Mike Spencer's 'back catalog' of material much of which wasn't really 'thrash'. It was heavy, yes, but not thrash. A lot of our influences were melodic bands but even when we started to incorporate those thrash feelings, we never lost our sense of melody and harmony, and we made sure we made use of the fact that we had two guitar players.
‘Evil Is The Night’ could easily beat most of the material that came out in that period. The tempo is fast and the drumming is relentless, especially if we talk about the bass drum. What do you think about it?
That was one of my favorite songs on the album, and it's not just because I play the solo on it! It's another good example of a SUPER FAST / THRASH rhythm with Debbie singing very melodically over it, and singing something catchy too! The song actually started out quite a bit slower when we wrote it, but it just kept creeping up until it reached the tempo we recorded it at. We never played it any faster than that (not sure that we'd be able to!).
The dark atmospheres we can find on the album as a whole is something great and the song ‘Sentinel Beast’ is a great example of this. The song sums up everything on this album: dark passages, speed restarts, vicious vocals and awesome guitars solos.
I’d have to agree with both of those statements. I think 'Sentinel Beast' is the song on the album that best gets all the elements that you mention. HOWEVER, the song ‘Commencement / Forbidden Territories’ which never made it to the album (because it was written for the second album) has all those elements as well, but, taken to the next level 'Phantom of The Opera' had a lot of those elements as well, which is probably why we liked it so much and why it worked so well as a cover tune for us. Our second album would have been filled with many EPIC tunes with lots of those elements. It was some of our strongest material, which is probably why it stayed with me for 20 years until I FINALLY got to form Fischel's Beast and get this music out.
From the fairly dramatic start of the opening title track to the hectic Euro-fluency bringing ‘The Keeper’ to a close, it’s clear the true force majeure of the record is the spine of lead guitarists Mark Koyasako and you, bassist Mike Spencer, and stickman Scott Awes…
Scott Awes had played drums in his school bands as far back as elementary school and kept doing so all through his high school years. He played in the jazz band taking part in competitions and even travelled to Europe for one (which I think they won). Through that entire time he was also studying privately, so by the time he joined the band, he was a MUSICIAN not just a drummer! On to Mike Spencer; he was one of those 'quiet ones'. He spent a lot of his teen years in his bedroom studying and learning his craft. He was very much influenced by Steve Harris of Iron Maiden and the music of Judas Priest. By the time Sentinel Beast had formed he had already become quite an accomplished bassist. His playing had all the drive and power of Steve Harris, but he still had his own style. Mike was also writing material, and was the main writer for much of the early Sentinel Beast material. Mark Koyasako came into the group after it was already established. We were already signed to do the album when he joined. Wwhile I would say that Mark was quite a good guitarist, he was never really a creative part of the group, he didn't contribute to the writing nor did he have the desire to. You didn't ask about Greg Williams, but I feel I want to mention him here. Had he not left the group, Mark wouldn't have been part of it. Greg was a great player and in fact he wrote some of the material on the album 'Dog's of War'. To hear an example of some of his other writing you can visit the Sentinel Beast NYC myspace page ( www.myspace.com/sentinelbeastnyc ). I recommend the song 'Beyond The Walls'. After he left the group he went to school and got a Masters Degree in music and is currently teaching at a University in Sacramento, CA. He traded his 'electric' guitar for a nylon guitar and is still playing and composing. To hear some of his newest work visit his myspace site (he can be found in the Sentinel Beast NYC 'Top Friends').
Did Debbie’s reasonably rabid vox throw its fists up to exemplify the fiery thrash quality within these tunes?
I think Debbie had so much heart and feel and the songs definitely would NOT have been the same without her voice. I kept myself aware of what she was doing after the group split up because I felt that of all of the members of the group, she was the one I felt would somehow make to the 'TOP'. There are videos on YouTube of her with Znowhite and she sounds phenomenal. Any fan of Debbie Gunn that hasn't seen these should check them out. I'm looking forward to hear what she's going to be releasing with her NEW Sentinel Beast line-up.
Would you say that „Depths of Death” became an influential record? Do you consider it a thrash record?
At the time I never felt that it was 'influential', I don't think anyone did. I think the internet helped make the music more accessible to people that would have never heard it otherwise and then 'people' started saying it was influential, and maybe at that time it was starting to influence people, but at the time of it’s release we just thought we put out a good record. While the album is referred to as 'thrash' I felt it was a lot more melodic than a lot of the stuff other thrash bands were doing. I myself always thought of it as more of a 'speed metal' album.
The period was an excellent time the genre and perhaps it was a mistake to put out this album in a damned year full of thrash metal releases. How do you feel about this?
We really had no control of what was going on from the BUSINESS side of things. We were approached by Brian Slagle to do an album, and we did it. We were just happy to be releasing an album on Metal Blade Records.
Unfortunately, you never received the attention you deserved from the audience…
I don't know that I'd totally agree with that statement. Anytime the group played we were always received well and the fans always responded favorably. True, we never got to tour as a headline group, which was disappointing considering how committed everyone was to the group, but we did get to play some major shows opening for some major acts such as King Diamond, Exodus, Megadeth and Slayer. Not only did the fans like us - but we earned the respect of the groups we were playing with, and that meant a lot to us.
In your opinion, is this one of the most overlooked albums ever and one of the greatest examples of underground thrash metal for U.S.A.?
I would again say that I felt that 'DEPTHS OF DEATH’ was a GOOD ALBUM, but at the time there were a lot of groups putting out a lot of GOOD albums, and some putting out GREAT albums. The internet has actually given the record a bit of a resurgence and new people are finding the music that never knew of the group before. Again, the thing I was most disappointed by was the fact that the group never got to release a second album. I felt the material that we had for that album was stronger than the material on the 'DEPTHS OF DEATH’ album. We had grown a lot as a band and the material reflected the bands maturity. That's the main reason the first order of business for FISCHEL'S BEAST was to record that material. It wasn't easy, but I found players that I thought could really capture the sound and feel of the music and they were able to help me realize the completion of this project. I'm real pleased with the results (of course for more info on this and to hear clips visit www.myspace.com/fischelsbeast )
As far as the year 1986, in my opinion it was the best period in metal history. A lot of great thrash records were released such as ‘Master Of Puppets’ (METALLICA), ‘Darkness Descends’ (DARK ANGEL), ‘Reign In Blood’ (SLAYER), ‘Doomsday For The Deceiver’ (FLOTSAM & JETSAM), ‘Pleasure To Kill’ (KREATOR), and ‘Infernal Overkill’ (DESTRUCTION), etc. How do you remember this period?
Wow! Thanks for including us in such great company. Being a metal guitarist I was a fan of almost all of these groups and albums. Destruction was a favorite of everyone in the group, especially Debbie (she was the one that turned us on to them). We were on the same label as Flotsam and Jetsam and we would often go see them, but to be honest I never knew why they were as popular as they were. I feel you left out the BEST band, EXODUS. In MY opinion EXODUS and TESTAMENT were my favorite bands from that time, and I still feel strongly about both groups today.
In your opinion, what were the reasons for the popularity of thrash metal back then? Would you say that thrash metal was at its peak during that times?
At that time, 'hair metal' was still big, so for people that wanted something HEAVIER and DARKER 'thrash' was the way to go. On the west coast and in middle America, crystal meth was the 'drug of choice' and for some reason, people that were into meth were into thrash and rumor has it that 'meth' is still associated with genre. In fact I recall hearing that Ricky, the original guitarist from EXODUS, was 'asked to leave' due to his 'substance (crystal meth) abuse' problems. I would say that probably was the heyday of thrash. When we were playing at the time, we'd be doing large venues and small arenas. The bands that are still doing it now often need to play 'clubs'.
On a lot of shows and gigs supporting ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’ you shared the stage with likes EXODUS, SLAYER, KING DIAMOND, MEGADETH, MOTÖRHEAD and EXCITER. Can you tell us some details about these shows?
There were a couple of shows in particular that I remember really well. In fact there was one show that included Slayer, King Diamond and Megadeth, as well as us. King Diamond was the headliner, there was about 4,000-5,000 people there, and at some points we could see at least 4 separate mosh pits going! There were many shows we did that weren't in 'clubs' or theatres per se. They'd find a large 'space' (maybe an old airplane hangar or something) bring in a stage, bring in sound, bring in lights, and bring in the bands... and the thrashers would come! There was also a show that Brian Slagle attended, We played ‘Commencement / Forbidden Territories’ for the first time, so Brian go to hear some of the new material and it went over very well! It’s surprising I can remember anything at all about that shows since so many of us were on crystal meth that night! An interesting thing was that Flotsam and Jetsam was at that show as well. What we didn't know at the time is that they were coming to the show to check out Mike Spencer as a possible member for THEIR band.
Have you ever gigged in Europe or did you concentrate only on the US market?
The original Sentinel Beast never made it to Europe. It wasn't that we wouldn't have wanted to, but the opportunity to do so never happened. However, Debbie Gunn and her NEW Sentinel Beast line-up played 'Keep It True' and other festivals in Europe this past summer (summer of 2008).
Shortly after, the band broke up, because Mike Spencer joined FLOTSAM & JETSAM, what happened with him? Why did he decide to leave SENTINEL BEAST?
Sentinel Beast did not break up because Mike Spencer left (more on this below). While the offer to play with Flotsam & Jetsam was appealing, since they seemed to be moving on to that next level, I felt that Sentinel Beast was a much stronger band then they were. In fact F&J did a version of Forbidden Territories when Mike joined. I don't think it was ever released, but I heard it and was not impressed. During a recent email conversation I had with Mike he stated that one of his main reasons for leaving the group was that he didn't approve of the drug habits of many in the group.
Would you say that Mike’s departure led to the demise of the band? Did you try to find a new bassist?
No, it didn't lead to our demise. At the time, I for one wasn't really upset that he left because it gave OTHERS (myself being one of them!) the chance to write material, something that never really happened when Mike was in the group. We did many bass auditions, we even had one guy that drove from Louisiana (who Debbie wanted because she had a 'thing' for him) but he didn't play at the level we needed, so we passed on him. We finally DID find a bassist - Manny (can't recall his last name).
He learned all the material, was getting his gear together and, we were writing, We did some shows that went over well, and he was accepted, which was a big goal to accomplish since people regarded Mike highly. We recorded a 2 song demo with him, to show Brian the new sound of Sentinel Beast without Mike Spencer. The 2 songs we did were 'Where Am I' and 'One Man's Cry' because we needed to do material that Mike had no part in writing. It was actually something that I did that probably 'started the end' for the group. The whole band was at a pool party at my father’s house, and he asked the group if they wanted to watch a video of the 'spiritual leader' that my father and his wife were devotees of at the time - 'Guru Mayi'. Everyone in the group was intrigued and gathered ‘round to watch this 'very spritual' Indian woman give a talk on ‘the nature of the Universe’. Mark was very interested by it, Manny thought she was 'from outer space', and Scott, with a hostile attitude said "don't ever make me watch something like that again!!" I think Debbie fell asleep while watching.
I however was totally blown away by it. I found out that she was going to be in Oakland, CA for three weeks, and I went 6 days a week, for 3 weeks, every day (an hour and a half drive each way) to hear her speak. She was leaving California to spend the rest of the summer at her East Coast Ashram in The Catskill Mountains in New York. I decide I wanted to go. The only way I could afford to do so was to sell my 'metal gear', so I did it. I sold my electric guitars and my beloved Marshalls! I did buy a Guild acoustic guitar though. I was hoping to be the next Cat Stevens! Scott and Debbie were hurt by my decision to leave and became 'less friendly' to me when I announced my plans. But my heart wasn't in it anymore, and I felt I needed to go. Before I left, I DID find a replacement, and while I can't give details on what happened, from what I know the group did do a few shows but had totally disbanded in about six months.
Mike replaced Jason Newstead upon Jason’s departure to METALLICA. How do you view METALLICA’s career as a whole?
Who's better than Metallica? From the start, they LOOKED like a band, and they could PLAY too! They didn't make it 'just by chance’. While many people don't like some of his opinions, I am a big fan of Lars' playing. I highly recommend their 'Some Kind of Monster' video to anyone that hasn't seen it. They had a lot of guts to let people see that (especially Lars, since he's such a dick in it!). It's great to see them nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I'll be surprised if they don't get in.
During that time, they were the kings of thrash metal, but nowadays they are nothing…
I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. I think they still write from the same place they always wrote, they've just been many places, and some of those places may not be as intense as their early days, but I don't think they ever lost their INTEGRITY. I think 'Some Kind of Monster' was a good album. I haven't heard the new release yet.
In 1987 you recorded a two track demo featuring ‘Where Am I’ and ‘Viking Song’ what can you tell us about these tunes? Was this demo the swan song of SENTINEL BEAST?
First, I must correct you on the title of one of the songs. While it does have a 'Viking' theme, the second song on the demo was called 'One Man's Cry'. That demo was the demo we did for Brian Slagle to let him hear the new material we had written after Mike left the band. We were playing them live, they were going over well, and we were excited about them. At the time we recorded the demo I was already starting to think about following Guru Mayi (mentioned earlier) and I decided to leave shortly after the demo was done, even though Brian Slagle had liked the material and wanted us to do the second album. So yes, that demo was the 'swan song' of Sentinel Beast.
What was the band’s line up at that point?
The line up was; myself and Mark Koyasako on guitars, Scott Awes on drums, Debbie Gunn on vocals and Manny (damn - still can't remember his last name!) on bass, and our 'unofficial' member at the time was Crystal Meth!
Did Metal Blade ask to hear the new material before agreeing to do a second album? Did you have enough material for a new album or were you in the middle of song composing?
As I just mentioned the 'Where Am I' demo was done to let Metal Blade hear the writing we were doing after Mike Spencer left the group. We had only six songs 'done' at that time. They were all strong and we were still in the process of writing more material. I would say the material was 'progressive' speed metal. I liked the material so much, I ended up recording it 20 years later (more on this soon).
Debbie then joined Chicago based outfit ZNOWHITE, but what happened with Mark Koyasako, you and Scott Awes? Did you later play in other outfits or did you stop playing music?
Years later I heard that Mark had become a MAILMAN. My mother told me that when she was trying to give me 'career advice'! I somehow couldn't see myself wearing those shorts and delivering mail! Scott had always worked for his stepfather who owned and ran a staging and lighting company in Sacramento. I heard that he got married, had a kid and bought a house - on the same street where he was born and rasied. He built himself a 'practice room', put his kit in there, but I heard he hadn't used it for seven years! I've heard he's playing again but I'm not sure if he's anywhere near his old playing level. He had actually tried out for Debbie's new line-up of Sentinel Beast, but she passed on him. It's really a shame that he didn't 'keep it up'. He was a great drummer and could have inspired many young drummers to think outside the box.
As for myself, when I left the group (to follow Guru Mayi) all I had was an acoustic guitar, so I recorded some 'acoustic rock' metal tunes. Upon my return to California I did get an electric guitar and did some 'home recording', but then 'things happened'. I ended up in Holland and eventually in New York. There was a period of about seven years that I had 'no gear'. When I decided I needed to start playing again the first thing I put together was a blues project. Eric Mauriello (my bassist in Fischel's Beast) was actually the bassist in that project. He heard some of the old Sentinel Beast material one day before our blues rehearsal and asked, “why we weren't playing that kind of material instead of blues covers?” I had to think of an answer for him, and found I had trouble doing so. I did love metal, and I did want to be playing metal again, but I think I was scared. I listened to the Sentinel Beast stuff and I wasn't sure if I could still play like that. It ended up being the kick in the ass that I needed. I pushed myself, and started taking it real serious again and practicing like I had 'back in the day'. It took a while but I started feeling that I COULD play the old material again.
Did you remain in touch with each other at all?
At first no, because there were some hard feelings about me leaving the group and then we all drifted apart. I missed Scott the most because we had been friends for so many years. At that point I wasn't sure if we were really friends or if we had just 'bonded' over our many musical projects together over the years. At around the 10 year mark we all did get in touch with each other (I forget how it happened) and talked about getting together to play… just to see how things felt. We were planning to all rehearse the material on our own before getting together. Scott was lining up a place for us to play, fully equipped with all the best gear. Two or three days before I was scheduled to fly out to California I called Mike to touch base with him. I’d spoken to him several times before I bought my plane ticket. He assured me he was still into it and everything was still 'a go'. Mike informed me he had a meeting with a preacher (he had become a Born Again Christian a couple of years after he left Flotsam & Jetsam and was very active in his church) and he came to the understanding that metal music sends the 'wrong message' and the preacher suggested that Mike shouldn't take part in the rehearsals. That's what MIKE says happened. I think that he waited until the last minute to start reviewing the material and he realized he wasn't going to be able to play the material (ironically he was the one worried that Scott wouldn't be able to cut it). What really happened, we'll never know.
10 years after that, Debbie calls Mike, Scott and Greg Williams and asks them to be part of the new line-up of Sentinel Beast that she is putting together. All decline except Scott, who auditions, but doesn't get the gig. I wasn't called for that. Debbie says it's because I live in New York. She ended up hooking with a local guitarist, Vincent Vidavici who helped her form the new band. He found the players, set up and ran the rehearsals and helped Debbie get back into shape vocally and really helped get the project off the ground. How did she show her thanks for all his hard work? By booting him out of the band and replacing him with an 18 year old! It was because of a stupid argument, not anything to do with his musicianship. I think it was a mistake because Vincent is a great musician and is a really talented writer as well. Vincent went on to form his band, 'Yigael's Wall'. I highly suggest people check them out www.YigaelsWal.com.
Can you tell us more about your musical projects after SENTINEL BEAST?
As I just mentioned, when I first got back into playing after a seven year hiatus, I started out playing blues covers. With a little 'inspiration' I was lured back into the metal music I had always loved. I started writing some new material, but as I listened to the material that would have been Sentinel Beast's second album I couldn't help thinking of how it still bothered me (almost 20 years later) that we never got to record that material. We started 'fooling around' with a couple of the tunes, and I really liked how it was sounding. I decided that the first thing I wanted to do was to get these songs recorded. That started the process. It wasn't easy, and it did take a few years but I wanted to make sure I did it RIGHT! But, I'm really happy to say that those songs will now see the light of day!! The debut CD for FISCHEL'S BEAST is called ‘COMMENCEMENT’ and it basically is what would have been the second Sentinel Beast album. The CD is complete and the actual product should be arriving any day. I feel a sense of relief in FINALLY accomplishing this goal, and I'm very proud of how it came out. I think people will really like it. You can get more info on the CD and the group at www.myspace.com/FischelsBeast.
I'll take this opportunity to again mention that we have a 'special guest' guitarist on the CD. Mr Chris Caffery from Savatage / Trans-Siberian Orchestra plays solos on two of the songs. It was such a pleasure to meet him and have the chance to work with him! Chris is also an artist /writer outside of his 'bands' and has just released HIS OWN new CD 'House of Insanity' - BUY IT!! ( for more on Chris check out www.ChrisCaffery.com ).
Did you follow the development of the metal scene closely after SENTINEL BEAST’s break up?
No, not really. I listened to the bands I was into at that period for a while, but 'things happened' and I ended up falling out of music totally for a while.
How did you view the scene of the 90’s? Do you think that it changed radically compared to the 80’s and that it became oversaturated?
Music is always changing and there are always new genres popping up. I remember a couple of years after the Thrash revolution Grunge became the new scene. Then Korn came onto the scene and the hardcore scene changed and there were many new sounds happening. I think things are oversaturated NOW. There are so many bands that sound alike and it seems there are more than enough 'cookie monsters' than we need, and I'm not a big fan of that sound. I do like much of the BLACK METAL sound that has started coming on to the scene. I'd like to hear some more things that fuse that with speed metal.
How do you view that trends can come and go, but traditional metal will always be, and will never die?
Trends will always come and go, that is nature and evolution, but I think the sound of an electric guitar, a wah pedal and a Marshall amplifier is timeless. I think that's a sound that will never die.
Evil Legend Record has re-released ‘DEPTHS OF DEATH’ with bonus tracks. How did that happen? Would you say that there were still a demand for the band from the fans?
Evil Legend is a subsidiary of Metal Blade. They contacted Mike Spencer about the re-release because he was the one that still had the master recordings of the material. The bonus tracks were ‘Tonite’ and ‘The Full Treatment’. Those songs were from the demo they did after I left for GIT. The songs are really good. I recommend that any Sentinel Beast fan that has not heard these songs check them out. You'll really enjoy them. Even though I was not part of those two songs I enjoy them myself, and in fact those songs were part of the reason I left GIT and returned to California. Thanks to the internet, I think there are still some Sentinel Beast fans, and there must still be some industry interest because when word got out that Debbie had put a new line-up of Sentinel Beast together, she was asked to play some European Metal Festivals.
Were you deeply involved into the making of the record at all?
As for the actual 'making of the record', once the recording process started Bill Metoyer was in charge. Everyone in the band was 'enthusiastic', but Bill handled everything when it came to recording and mixing.
Do ‘new’ thrash fans know SENTINEL BEAST? What does the band say for the present, say 19-20 years old fans?
While I'm sure there are younger fans discovering the band, I think that for the most the people that are Sentinel Beast fans now, are people that were fans THEN.
Are you still enthusiastic now, like you were 20-22 years ago?
Having to make a living can really put a damper on a person’s one's enthusiasm. It was easier to be enthusiastic about music when you don't have to work to make a living (like 20 years ago), but I push a little harder, and I guess it's working because I was able to get this CD done.
Debbie regrouped SENTINEL BEAST two years ago. They recently performed at the ‘Keep It True’ Festival. Why didn’t the original members take part in it? What about Mike Spencer, Scott Awes and Mark Koyasako?
As I mentioned earlier, Debbie did ask the original members to take part, and all but Scott refused the opportunity.
What do Greg Williams and Jerry Frasier do these days? Are they still in the metal scene?
As I mentioned earlier, Greg Williams went on to get his Masters Degree in music and is now teaching in California. Greg's playing can be heard on the song clips on the Sentinel Beast NYC page. Jerry Frazier now makes his living as a photographer. If you wanted to hear Jerry Frazier, he is one of the guitarists on the 2 bonus tracks on the re-release of 'DEPTHS OF DEATH” mentioned earlier (Greg is the other guitarist). Both of them have posted their thoughts and comments on their Sentinel Beast days on the Sentinel Beast NYC site ( www.myspace.com/SentinelBeastNYC ).
How can you sum up the story, on the career of SENTINEL BEAST? The best and the worst memories?
I think we covered a lot of ground in the questions leading up to this one but to sum up... some of the best memories - were the drugs, and some of the worst memories were the drugs. It's sad, but it ultimately seems to be what led to the bands demise. So kids... DON'T DO DRUGS!
Would you say that SENTINEL BEAST reached a cult status in the underground metal scene? Are you still proud of the “DEPTHS OF DEATH’ record, or could it have been better?
I think we had a good following, especially in California and especially in the Sacramento area, but I don't know that I'd say we reached 'cult status'. There was no internet back then so it wasn't as easy for bands to reach as many people as they can today. Debbie's new line-up did their first show in Sacramento and the NEXT DAY I was able to see clips from it on YouTube. That just wasn't possible back then.
I think every musician always thinks that things they've done can be better. As for 'DEPTHS OF DEATH’ I still say that it was a 'really good record' but I think some of the best material Sentinel Beast ever recorded was the 'Depths of Death' DEMO and I think the best material we ever wrote was the material that would have been the second album (which is why that's the material that I recorded for the first Fischel's Beast CD).
So Barry, thanks a lot for the interview. Any closing words for our readers?
I'd just like to say thank you for doing such an in depth interview, and for giving me a chance to let people know what's going on. For Sentinel Beast fans (both old and new) there will be lots of new material to check out. Debbie is releasing the old demos as well as working on new material. Some of her NEW material, is actually OLD Sentinel Beast material. In fact she's recording her version of two of the songs that Fischel's Beast just recorded ('The Phoenix' and 'Forbidden Territories').
The band and I are getting ready to make a video for 'The Phoenix' and we're working on new material and hope to be recording the new Fischel's Beast CD early next year. We’re also looking forward to getting out and doing some shows too. Gee - I guess I am still enthusiastic about metal!!

2009. február 25., szerda

Exhorder with Kyle Thomas

I never forget the moment, when I saw the cover of Exhorder's Slaughter in the vatican record for the first time. It was so impressive, shocking and cool! It became my favourite album cover for sure. Then I listened to the material and I was blown away by that intense, vicious, raw, technical thrash metal music. In my opinion Exhorder made a name for themselves on an underground level, but they could have been bigger! Undoubtely, Slaughter... is one of the best thrash metal records of all time. Kyle Thomas speaks about the band and about his career.

So Kyle, how and when did you metal discover back then and what were the records what you worshipped so much? What were some of the bands that you truly enjoyed immensely?
My brother and I were exposed to Led Zeppelin at an early age, but KISS and Queen were the first bands that we were ever given albums from. From there it was Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple and the like. For me „Rock and Roll Over” and „Love Gun” by KISS were what really started it, with the first Black Sabbath dooming me forever.
How did you end up being a musician from listener?
I was really into sports as a kid, but turned to music around 9 years old. After doing both for a few years, my grades went to garbage so my parents made me chose. I chose music and I have no doubt that it was the right decision for me.
What were your influences to become metal musician? How did you become singer at all?
I started out on trumpet and then bass, so singing really never was my choice. It wasn't until I jammed with some guys whose singer was so bad that I grabbed the microphone and since then nobody wanted me to play bass anymore. Ian Gillan, Dio, Rob Halford, and Geoff Tate were so awesome to me. When I started with thrash it was Mike Dean from COC and Roger Miret from Agnostic Front as well as Tom Araya and James Hetfield that helped me become who I am as Exhorder's singer.
As I as know, you sang in the school choir, is that correct?
Yes. For two years in high school then one year in college. I did Beethoven's 9th with the New Orleans Symphony once.
Would you say, that you have a wide range of vocals? I mean, you can scream, growl, sing etc…
I guess I do. I'm not the greatest, but I know I'm gifted.
You are/were from Louisiana, what about the scene of Louisiana at this point? How did you feel seeing a quite of numerous acts popping up in your area, such as Acid Bath, Nuclear Crucifixion, Incubus etc. trying to make name themselves?
A lot of them got their start opening for us. A lot of them also returned the favor when I put Floodgate together. Now, I don't know. I don't get out much being a father so it wouldn't be fair for me to judge the newer bands.
Would you say, that bands, such as Wayward Youth, Toxin, Shellshock, Shit Dogs, Acid Bath etc. paved the way for the New Orleans scene and put the city on the map of the US metal movement?
They were all a big part of it. I'm wondering how you know of some of those bands! The hardcore scene was big and very united in the 80's. We gravitated towards it since the metal scene was still for the most part lingering in hair metal styles. The hardcore shows fit us more for sure.
What were the clubs and venues, that opened their doors for metal?
Well, we started out doing a few shows at clubs, but mostly in the early days we rented halls and opened them for all ages. There was the VFW Hall on Franklin Ave. that had some legendary shows with the local and national acts. Our best period had to be at Storyville Jazz Hall in the French Quarter, though. We were pulling anywhere between 400- 700 people every time we played. It was insane.
Was a really great underground buzz in New Orleans?
That's all it was until we got signed. Now it seems everyone has a record deal but then it was very rare. The funny thing is that the crowds were much bigger then.
What about your musical past? In which groups did you play before you were being involved in Exhorder?
Jimmy Bower and I met in 1984 I think and had a band called Armageddon, which I played bass in. I sang a little but not much. Then we joined a band called Raid doing mostly Metallica covers. I got kicked out for having short hair and he got kicked out for being a fat guy. The other two guys went on to do nothing with music. Go figure.
Do you still remember how and when was Exhorder formed exactly? What was the really first line up of the band?
It was the summer of 1986, and I was 16. I heard they were looking for a singer, so I went to their band practice. We did „Deliver us to Evil” by Exodus and no one has ever been Exhorder's singer since.
What about the musical background of the other members?
It was wide. Blues, jazz, fusion, punk, classic rock, etc.
You were the youngest guy in the band, weren’t you?
Yeah, the other guys were anywhere from two to nine years older.
What about your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you jamming on covers?
We started with covers and originals. We still do covers for fun.
Your first demo was „Get rude” (1986), do you still remember how was it recorded which was probably your first experience?
It was analog eight track for a few hundred dollars. It was a cheap recording, but the attitude is still tough to beat.
This is the first of the two demos Exhorder released in the 80's that Phil Anselmo, apparently, spread like the plague throughout Texas and whilst Anselmo and co. were buffing up their codpieces and teasing their locks, Exhorder were making the first steps towards their breathtaking thrash intensity on „Slaughter In The Vatican” and „The Law”, is that correct?
I guess you could say that.
Was Phil a big Exhorder fan?
Still is, from what I hear.
All the tracks on here are well executed and show a good example of your infancy the trademark scratchy production is pretty prevalent and the guitar tone is nowhere near the realms of trouser soiling brutality on „Slaughter In The Vatican” but from the demo its clear to see you were a promising unit, how do you see it?
We didn't know what we were about to start with that session, but a lot of people have said that as basic as it is it really struck a nerve with them. Again, attitude is everything.
How much did you promote the demo? Did you shop it around to attract label interests? Was it also spread through the tapetrading/fanzine network as well?
Tape trading was huge for us. We sold it at shows and got it reviewed in fanzines and magazines, but we never really shopped for labels on the „Get Rude” demo.
Your second demo was „Slaughter in the vatican” (1988), would you say, that the tracks on here are a big step from the scratchy beginnings of the „Get Rude” demo and the jaw dropping riffwork is beginning to make it mark, although the guitar tone wouldnt be prevalent until Scott Burns godly intervention?
I'd have to say that the „Slaughter…” demo is the best recording we had overall. Not in a complete album kind of way, but overall sound and attitude. It was a better representation of who we were live for sure. The „Slaughter…” album just sounds like another death metal album to me, and we weren't death metal. I don't hate it, but the demo was better to me.
At which point were you signed by Roadrunner and were there still other labels interests in the band?
We signed a deal with Mean Machine Records, but they went out of business before the album was released. Roadrunner bought the contract, so that's how we got with them. I don't remember too much else.
You entered the Morrisound studios to record the debut album „Slaughter of the vatican”, does it mean that you simply re-recorded all of the tracks of the second demo or…? How did the recording sessions go at all?
It was a new session from the demo. It was a nightmare. Everything got re-recorded at least once it seemed. By the time it was done it had virtually none of the original session.
How did you end up recording the material in the Morrisound?
Roadrunner suggested it, and we agreed. That's pretty much it.
Given the Morrisound Studios treatment with Scott Burns at the helm, EXHORDER turn out a brutally executed album, were you happy with his work at the end? Did the material sound closer to what you wanted to achieve with Exhorder?
Actually, no. Scott did a great job and it sounds good enough, it's just not what we hoped it would be.
One of the most extreme bands in the Thrash Metal-Sector undoubtedly have been the very controversial guys of Exhorder, from the swamps of Louisiana you guys tried to mosh up the Metal-world and with „Slaughter In The Vatican” you absolutely succeeded in this endeavour, because the cover shows the chief of the Vatican being led to his own execution on the gallows, do you agree with that?
Yeah, that would qualify as controversial. We were young, angry men. I have mellowed with age for sure.
Laced with ferocity, „Slaughter In The Vatican” is 8 blistering tracks of molten fury and on this album one find some of the heaviest and finest Thrash riffing ever, is that correct?
I guess that would be for the listener to decide, but I suppose you're right.
„Slaughter in the vatican” is a full blown desecration on everything from religion to assholes, and 17 years later, is still thirsty and this must be among the heaviest albums of all time, with lyrics full of nihilistic rage against society and religion, it is everything good thrash should be– heavy, fast, uncompromising and vicious, how do you see it?
Today that album is still gaining new fans. Young kids are writing to me saying that it has changed their life.
Exhorder manages to arrange their riffs in an intelligent matter, providing the listener with the most violent experience, is that correct?
Almost too intelligently. We may have been able to get two or three more albums out of the songs we had because there were so many parts!
Aggression and a genuinely nasty edge also helped set Exhorder aside from much of the pack, „Homicide”, „Exhorder”, „Desecrator” and „The Tragic Period” all demonstrate this amply - the assault is nearly nonstop as they pummel one with riff after riff after riff and frenzed yet precise drumming, and the slower parts feel heavier when they drop because of it, what are your views on it?
It was always a little bit of something for everyone with our songs. There was always just as much of a punk crowd as there was a metal crowd at our shows. The pits were violent, but there was little fighting. It was a good release for everyone.
The tune „Legions of Death” lurches with menacing intent out of the listener’s speakers, and this is perhaps the only really slow tune on the album, a nice Black Sabbath-y dirge that offsets the rest of it very well, do you agree with that?
„Legions of Death” was one of our first songs, but today it is still one of my favorites. It is well written and is a true "song structure". It has some of the heaviest riffing I've ever heard.
How do you view, that Exhorder do no compromises on this album, pure Thrash Metal, rough, brutal, aggressive, the musical grenades bear titles like „Death In Vain”, „Homicide”, „Exhorder” or „The Tragic Period”, which is a lead-poisoning turned sound and also „Legions Of Death” and „Anal Lust” bring no breather to the listener, quite the contrary, the neck-muscles get a marathon-match and with the controversial title-track and with that highlight as closer, Exhorder end these 40 minutes of pure thrashing?
The whole idea was to hit hard and give very little time for anyone to get a chance to pick their teeth up off of the floor.
Do you think, that lyrically, this album is over the top, the lyrics are absolutely violent, and against mostly anything, lines like „Fuck your god, no regard for religion” certainly set a clear tone for the album?
There is so much that I said and did back then that I wouldn't dream of doing or saying today. Call me old, or call me mature, but I was an angry young man back then. Really, just a kid. I was 16- 17 years old when we wrote most of that stuff. Don't get me wrong, I will still perform the songs, but if we write newer ones they will still be aggressive, but not nearly as vulgar or blasphemous. I'm in a way different place in life now.
There is much hate towards religion („Slaughter In The Vatican”, „Homicide”), and love towards violent acts („Anal Lust”, „Desecrator”)…
I always compare what we did to horror movies. It was horror music. I never ever hurt anyone like that or wanted babies dead or anything. It just challenges people to think of these horrid things. Some can handle it, and some simply cannot.
Is it correct, that each song has their edgy lyrics coupled with equally fierce riffing and pummelling drums?
My vocals were very percussive in that band. I probably followed Chris's drumming far more than I followed Vinnie's riffs.
Everyone knows in order to have a good thrash album there must always have to be a good vocalist and you are one of the finest representatives of the genre, you are one of the most bizarre vocalist and you one of the most pissed off voices in thrash, extremely effective, what’s your opinion?
Wow, thanks! I appreciate that. The funny thing is I never wanted to be a singer. I played bass but when I finally did sing one day no one wanted me to play bass anymore. It is a gift, but sometimes it feels like a curse.
The bassparts were played by Jay and Vinnie, why and when did Andy Villafara quit the band? Didn’t you start searching a new bassist?
Andy is a strange situation. Super talented guy and one of the nicest people you ever met, but just not really a guy that could totally fit in I guess. His Mom made him quit. That explains everything.
With „Slaughter in the vatican”, Exhorder delivered quality thrash album, right?
It has been voted into high positions on some all time lists that I've seen. I guess that's for the listener to decide, not me.
Do you think, that the guitars tone are crunchy, really heavy and devastating? Is the whole album heavy, fast, uncompromising and vicious?
Again, I'm not that thrilled with the way the album came out. We may even re- record a few songs to deliver them as they should have been. I don't hate the album, but it could have been better and just wasn't right to me.
What do you think about, that the album exhibits how Exhorder matured as songwriters since their demo days?
I wouldn't say anything we did was very mature. I think our songwriting was very complicated and extreme, but the newer stuff that we'll be working on soon will most likely be more mature. We're going to focus on better arrangements and songs that don't have 27 parts in them.
The cover alone brought Exhorder tons of attention and problems, although the CD had been sold without any „Explicit Lyrics”-stickers or such crap, is that correct?
We asked for trouble and we got it. That was actually the tame version of the cover. We actually had Pope John Paul II hanging from our logo with the Vatican burning in the background as children cried and prayed at his feet. Roadrunner said no way, and I'm not too in love with the final cover. It doesn't suck, but the artist misspelled his own name on the painting and some of it looks cheesy to me. I'm not in love with it.
Why didn’t make up on the record older tracks, such as „Ripping flesh” or „Bestial noise/Wake the dead”?
„Ripping Flesh” just seemed to never make the cut. It's a bad ass song, but it just always got passed on. „Wake the Dead” is actually „Incontinence” on „The Law”.
Was the period a bit messy for thrash metal because there was the explosion of death metal and grind, and the classic, main and famous thrash metal bands were becoming always more and more melodic but Exhorder didn’t care about this?
It has been said that we arrived too late, and that we arrived too early. We were definitely caught in between some times that may have better suited us. However, we could have gotten more done if we'd worked harder.
What were the shows, tours to support the record? How did those shows go?
We made a big mistake back then. We mostly just played the big cities around here. New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, etc. The bands from here after us like Acid Bath played all of the small towns too and made a lot of money as well as building a stronger reputation as a live band. However, those that did see us still say today that they witnessed something special. We didn't do a proper US tour until The Law.
In 1992 you recorded your second album „The law”, what about the recording sessions?
Again, disastrous. We weren't ready at all. I think we probably drank way too much back then. That's all we gave a shit about. Neither album is 100% satisfactory to us.
This time you had a new bassist Franky Sparcello, what about his musical background and how did he get in the picture exactly? Was he the first choice of the band or…?
We had worked with a few other guys before Frank came in, including Kirk Windstein of Crowbar and Down. Kirk was busy building Crowbar and also wasn't thrilled about how tricky some of the riffing was, even though we all agreed it would have been a good fit personally. The other guy could play the stuff easier, but we couldn't get him to commit his time. Frank had been around in a few bands and could play the stuff. It just made sense.
Did he also write some song for the record or were all of the tunes written yet when he joined the band?
As far as I know he didn't really write anything. I only wrote one riff that the band ever used, so I couldn't say for sure, but it's primarily Vinnie that writes. Jay has contributed some, and in the early days Andy and our first guitarist David Main also wrote.
Following up an amazing debut album is no easy task for any band, because debuts generally contain songs that the band has been perfecting for years up until their first album is recorded, do you agree with that?
Yeah, and Vinnie went through a writer's block phase I think before „The Law”. By the time he got back into being inspired we were under pressure from the label to follow up „Slaughter…”. Plus we partied and fucked off a lot. It was our fault completely.
Where the first album was unbridled aggression vented in all directions, „The Law” keeps organised religion squarely in the crosshairs, is that correct?
I was pretty ticked at religion at that time. I was the classic angry young man. I was obsessed with it and losing loved ones. I was very angry with God, but mostly with godly people.
Do you agree with, that the band still showed some extreme attitude in their music, but not much of its earlier appeal can be found on „The Law” anymore?
No, I disagree. There's something for everyone on „The Law” as well, just less thrash and we were more groove/ funk influenced by this time. I promise you that if we ever get this third album written you will see a lot less of that and more of the early sound. Was „The Law” different fo us? Yes. Was it not Exhorder? No way. It is an album that many of our fans prefer to „Slaughter in the Vatican” I can promise you.
Exhorder were kind of Spinal Tap–like when it came to bass players; to that end, guitarists Vinnie LaBella and Jay Ceravolo played all the bass on the first album, and all but one track on the second and your new bass player, Franky Sparcello played an amazing slap bass backing track to „Unborn Again”, which was all he had time for after joining the band in the middle of recording, what do you think about it?
Frank was in the band already. I think Vinnie and Jay just preferred to do it their way. I was at the bar drinking when they were tracking, so I'm not positive. I don't know if Frank was still learning or just not prepared. Who knows? You'd have to ask them.
Would you say, that at the time, there was a big trend toward so–called „funk metal”, but he and the band as a whole didn’t follow the trend?
God, what a horrible thing to be. Back then we were so into funk- and I still love true funk like Parliament and Earth Wind & Fire and such- but the metal bands that grabbed it and ran white all over it is truly fogettable in retrospect. We were definitely into adding some of it to our sound, but thank God we never went all the way. I would have regretted that.
Far from being a plain bass track, slapped instead of picked, Franky Sparcello runs up and down the fretboard with incredible dexterity, augmenting Chris Nail’s jazz thrash drumming, right?
I think he actually played it differently from how it was written to be played. That was something that Vinnie and Andy had worked out in Europe before, and if I remember correctly Vinnie was ticked that Frank was doing it differently. I think there was always someone mad at someone else back then. We were always fighting about something.
As far as the music, there’s the fast-and-midpaced alternating riffage of „I Am the Cross”, and the absolute crusher of an opener in „Soul Search Me”, the crazy dynamics of „The Law” with its psychedelic outro contrasting with its occasionally-loud drums, what’s your opinion?
Definitely. There was a lot of psychedelic influence going around back then, so it makes sense. One thing we will do differently without disturbing the writing style of Exhorder is write better stuctured songs when we complete album number three. „I am the Cross” has like 27 parts in it. That's insane. We were crazy to do that to ourselves.
Would you say, that there are a number of highlights on this album, even for a band as impressive as this and this is a straight up thrash monster of an album, throw in your really fast vocal delivery, which was hinted at on „Slaughter of the Vatican” („Desecrator”), but only comes in full circle on stuff like „Unborn Again”?
Indeed there were highlights that still linger. Many bands have re- recorded „Cadence of the Dirge”, and one of my favorite live songs to play is „The Truth”, because of the drop at the end that treally gets the crowd going. „The Law” is another stomper. Gets people moving.
Whose idea was „Unforgiven” to put on the record? Was it a re-recorded version of the old song or…?
Yeah, and I changed some lyrics and they changed the riffs alittle in some parts. I regret changing the lyrics. Today I sing them like I did on the first demo. I do a lot more of the old style now than what some of it evolved into later. I'm trying to purify my delivery ad am always stressing to the others that we don't play the songs too fast. The entire first album was recorded way too fast. The songs lose their feel that way.
There’s some slower stuff, like the final song „Cadence of the Dirge” (which isn’t quite as slow as it is a groove monsterbeast), or the cover of „Into the Void” that song was heavy in ’71, it was heavy in ’92, that song just rules, and you make it rule as much as the original, do you agree with that?
Well, in one of the guitar magazines back then Tony Iommi stated that Exhorder's „Into the Void” was his favorite remake of a Black Sabbath song up to that time, which thrilled us to no end. I was just excited to hear one of my heroes acknowledge me. I can die at peace now.
Did on „The Law”, the band’s sound become a lot more groove oriented?
I don't see too much difference. „The Truth” and „Unforgiven” are fast as hell. If „Slaughter in the Vatican” had been done the way the demo had been recorded you would have heard more groove on that one. When the parts are played too fast they lose a little feeling.
Are the songs a good bland of fastest parts with some down tempo and groove mid paced parts?
I would say so. Some of those songs are my favorite to play live.
How did you feel about, that Roadrunner’s advertising exhort the masses into buying the album using the, „if you like Pantera...” by-line?
It was totally cheesy and done without our approval. They have done that for years to many bands. They tried to pass off Floodgate as „the new Down” and „the new COC”. I fought very hard against that. It just says that you don't believe in carving a new path.
Exhorder have often been compared with Pantera, did it disturb you? Can be the two bands compared with each other at all?
I used to really hate it when people asked about it, but now I just accept that I'll never be able to stop it. The two bands sound similar. They do not sound exactly alike. We deserve our place in metal history without being handcuffed to them and they deserve the same. End of story.
What about the touring aspect in support of the record?
We toured with Entombed that year, and Ripping Corpse and Dead Horse as well. We got kicked off of that tour. Never threaten the other band's management or shit in the dressing room. You will be sent home.
You performed at the Milwaukee Festival as well, what do you recall of that particular show? Was it in the support of „The Law” album?
Yes, it was. It was truly the biggest and best show I can remember Exhorder playing. There were a ton of now legendary bands there that day, and it seemed to me that when we took the stage it got the crowd going to another level. They were into the bands before us, but somehow we whipped them up into a massive frenzy. It was energetic.
Roadrunner released the performance as „Live death”, what do you think about this record?
I think it harnesses a little more of the feeling of our show than we captured on the albums. It is true live, and there are flaws, but that's how a live album is supposed to be, right?
At some juncture you included bassist Marcel Trenchard, was he only a session musician? I mean, did he help you out only in live situation?
Marcel has never been in Exhorder. I have no idea how that rumor got started. We've never even jammed with him as a band. Maybe there was talk at one time of him auditioning for the bass spot, but he never was in Exhorder in any way.
Do you agree with, that Exhorder are one of those bands that, even if they put out some good albums, never reach the popularity they deserved?
Ummm...yes. I think we had some bad luck but I also believe that we didn't work hard enough. It's never too late, I suppose.
While lost in the flood of Floridan Death Metal and the emerging Seattle Grunge explosion, Exhorder really missed the recognition they deserved at the time, and self–destructed after the recording of „The Law”, how did it happen? Did you part ways from each other on a friendly term at the end?
For me it was ugly. I couldn't get away from those people fast enough. The tension was horrible, everyone was digging into each other and styles were way off. It was time for me to start what became Floodgate anyway. I needed to return to my roots and develop as a singer and a songwriter. Some say Exhorder was too early, and some say we were too late.
What did the members do after Exhorder’s demise and what about them these days?
Except for Jay doing Fall From Grace, the others really have stayed out of the business of recording music. Chris opened his own chain of music stores, Vinnie likes his privacy, and Jay is like me just working to pay the bills. Frank's hoping to get out of prison in July I think.
Do you think, that Exhorder’s influence and importance has been recognised since, the name of the band is still big and it’s in people’s minds?
Some of the most important and successful metal bands ever love Exhorder. Joey Jordison of Slipknot and I wrote a song together a few years ago and he told me that we are one of his favorite bands. I understand Corey Taylor loves us too. I know some of the Lamb of God guys and some of them were listening to us. As mentioned earler, Phil Anselmo loves Exhorder. I have toured a lot with Alabama Thunderpussy and the Death Metal Allstars, and everywhere I go there are important musicians that swear their love for Exhorder. That is flattering and inspiring to me.
During the end of the ’90s you were involved in Trouble as well, how did you get in the picture exactly? Can you tell us more about this period?
Ron Holzner and I knew each other a bit and he took a liking to Floodgate. Helped us out a lot. He's a great friend for sure. There was a show in Chicago called Expo of the Extreme that had bands and pornstars, like a big convention. It was pretty interesting to say the least. Trouble had agreed to reunite without Eric Wagner and do songs with several singers, and I was invited. Somewhere along the line everyone else dropped out and I ended up doing the whole set. It was one of my favorite moments in my musical life. We ended up doing a few more shows and talked of recording until they decided to reunite with Eric. As a fan I'm glad they did.
These days they are working with former Warrior Soul frontman Kory Clarke. Have you ever seen them live with him?
No, I've never really heard Warrior Soul before either that I can think of. He must be some kind of good if they asked him to join the band.
For 4-5 years you did some Exhorder gigs, how did they go and what about the line up? Can you give us an insight considering the setlist?
I'm not sure what you mean. If you mean 4-5 years ago, it was the lineup from „The Law”. We did the same stuff we did back then. Almost every song off of „Slaughter…”, and everything from „The Law” except for „Soul Search Me”. For some reason that song has never been played live. I am not really sure why, but I wish we would since it is the album opener.
Metal Mind Productions re-released both album on one disc, did it help you to attract more fans atention to the band?
Actually, they released them separately and remastered them. Roadrunner were the ones that slapped them on one disc with no remastering. I'm glad Metal Mind did that- they also did it for Floodgate. These albums deserve to be in print.
These days Exhorder is officially back in business and some excerpts of an official statement courtesy of Vinne LaBella: „After tossing this around for quite some time we actually just decided to do this less than a week ago so at this time we have no real direction on what we want to do as far as shows, tours, albums etc. As of right now the first step is to get a new bass player and get back to rehearsing. This will probably be a slow process and you've waited a long time already but your patience will be rewarded and as you already know we never disappoint”, what’s the line up exactly? Was it easy to get together again?
It has been almost a year and we're not much further along. It is coming, though. Vinnie's moving back here from Texas and we'll get to work soon. It won't be until then that we figure out the bass player situation.
Do you write some new material at this point or…?
Vinnie has told me that he's writing a lot these days. That's where it starts. Then he and Chris get together and I get involved after the songs take shape.
Didn’t you think about to go on a real tour or to record a brandnew album?
If we all close our eyes, make a wish and cross our fingers it might happen. We are crossing one bridge at a time now, so just give it some time. We've all waited this long, right?
What are your future plans? How much time do you have concentrating on Exhorder considering your bands, such as Alabama Thunderpussy, Pitts Vs. Preps etc.?
Alabama Thunderpussy is no longer active. I would still do shows and record with them, but Erik Larson made a public statement that the band would be no more. Pitts vs. Preps does not take up a lot of my time unless we're writing, and since we just finished recording an album it will be a while before I need to write anything again. I'm ready to get Exhorder in business, but it's not the only thing on my list. I have several other things like Death Metal All Stars and I could always do more Floodgate.
Kyle, thanks a lot for the interview, anything to add, that I forgot to mention?
Thanks for giving me the interview, and thanks for your patience in getting it finished. Thanks to all that have supported me and my bandmates, and hopefully you will have more Exhorder news really soon. Keep bugging us and we'll finally do something.

2009. február 20., péntek

Carl Canedy speaks about two metal classics: Feel the fire (Over Kill) and Beyond the gates (Possessed)

Over Kill's "Feel the Fire" and Possessed's "Beyond the Gates" are definitely classic metal masterpieces. The producer of both records was The Rods drummer Mr. Carl Canedy. He speaks about his experiences and the recording sessions considering these albums.


So Carl, do you still remember how did you end up becoming the producer of the „Feel the fire” album? I mean, did the guys ask you to work them or did the label suggest them your services?
Jonny Z had asked me if I’d work the guys. I’m not sure if they were even into my doing the album.
You previously worked with Anthrax on their „Fistful of metal” album, does it mean that it was your second work?
No, I had been co-producing the Rods albums and some other demos etc. for several groups.
So, thrash metal wasn’t an unknown surface for you, was it?
I certainly learned quickly from the Anthrax exposure. What I loved about that band was that Charlie Benante and Scott Ian were so open to new music. I think they and Billy Hilfiger (a great guitarist and guy) exposed me to my first rap music. The hardcore shit, not the fluffy crap.
Were you familiar with Over Kill’s previous materials by the way?
Only briefly so the new material was my main exposure to the band.
How did the recording sessions go with the album?
They were quite interesting. They were into partying a bit and so we had a little rub about taking it more seriously. I really thought they were a great band. I’m not sure they broke as big as they should have.
Did the band have a decent budget to record the album?
Then I didn’t think so but now I would say yes. I believe it was only $10,000.00 but the studio was $60 an hour so it went fast.
How long did the recording sessions take?
If I remember correctly about two weeks or so.
Did the band work alone or did you give them some advices considering the recording sessions? I mean did they trust you right from the start?
I certainly gave some advice, whether it was taken in the way it was intended I’m not sure. I know there was some infighting between the members at the time. Unfortunately, sometimes, and certainly these days I would say it isn’t or shouldn’t be, it is an on the job learning experience. The recording shows you your strengths but also shows your weaknesses. I used to try to quietly bring people musicians along. Hoping they’d learn from their first experience and be stronger for the next. Some musicians resented that approach and would blame me for things that I wasn’t responsible for nor had control over. I know that one night the guys got drunk with the engineer and he brought them back to the studio to do vocals without my knowledge. Of course I did find out was quite unhappy with the band and the engineer for a day. The vocals weren’t even close to usable but I’m sure they had fun at the time.
Were they prepared to record the album?
They had some killer songs and were really pretty kick ass musicians from the moment they stepped through the door. I was always blown away by how they were as a band.
Did they have a factual idea, how the record should to sound? I mean, were they fully aware of what kind of sound they wanted to have?
Yes, as I recall they knew what they wanted things to sound like.They worked hard as we did we to get a great sound. I think they all had an idea of how they wanted their album to sound.
Do you agree with, that from start to finish, this album is a relentless assault of memorable thrash riffs, crazy pentatonic shredding, double bass drum beats, and a rather impressive set of rough yells and banshee screeches?
I’d say that’s a totally accurate description.
Both the band and the record shows such an aggressive and raw sence of hunger that this band instantly devolopped a cult like following right from the get-go, correct?
I agree! The one thing that , despite budget restraints, that I worked hard for was to get the bands energy captured. I tried hard to make sure that the band was tight and had all the energy and power of a live show.
Is the songwriting very solid, and all the songs are quite memorable and varied?
I think answered this already but yes, they were really strong and pretty much ready to go. I have cassettes of pre-production. I should transfer them to CD and send them to the band.
Do you think, that „Rotten to the Core” is a true thrash anthem and a crowd-favourite to this day?
The title alone says it all. How could it not be.
Which songs did you like by the way?
I don’t think there was one I didn’t like.
Did the guys put all of their songs they had written ont he record?
Yes, but I’d have to check my pre-production tapes to be sure, but I believe all the tracks recorded were on the album.
In your opinion, is this an important album in thrash history? Is it an influential record for bands that started later on?
As I’d stated earlier in this interview. I think Overkill didn’t get the recognition they deserved, or should I say, at the level they I feel they deserved. Rat Skates brought them to the Thrash scene early on and they were true pioneers. They also seemed to have no clue about this but were just doing the music they felt and loved.
1985 was a great year for thrash metal with records, such as „Feel the fire”, „Hell awaits”, „The return”, „Bonded by blood”, „Seven churches” or „Infernal overkill” to name a few, would you say, that it was the birth of the extreme underground scene?
Honestly, I’m not the to comment on this. I can say that when I was producing these bands people would say that music is horrible. I’d this music is going to be huge. They’d laugh at me. My one friend laughed out loud when I told him that Anthrax would one day have gold albums. He actually laughed in my face and said, ”you’re out of your fucking mind”.
Did you always keep an eye on what’s going on in the underground?
I’m into music so whatever comes across my plate I listen to. If I hear of something interesting I’ll seek it out. I just produced Dealer In Wares. You can check it out on my Myspace page or theirs. The singer is an 18 year old who is so steeped in music that I had to record her. Check out her voice. I also produced a very young death metal band, Plague Of Ruin. They’re 15 and 16. Really good band.
Did you get on well with the Over Kill guys? Did the behave friendly?
I liked the guys. As I’d said they had some internal issues. I’m not sure they totally trusted me and perhaps that’s because the engineer may have been trying to undermine me but overall I got along with them. Personally I really liked all of them. I still speak to Rat pretty regularly. Great guy! We’ve stayed friends. Talk about someone who didn’t get their just recognition.
Was this the record that put Over Kill on the map of the thrash scene and made a name for them?
Again, not for me to say but I would say it was a great launch for them.


While the producer of Possessed’s debut „Seven churches” was Randy Burns and it was done at the Praire Sun Studios on „Beyond the gates” the band worked with you, how did you get in the picture exactly being the producer of the record?
Steve Sinclair was looking for a new producer.
They worked at the Paire Sun again, correct?
Yes, a really nice studio. Very cool people. I also got to hang out with Dickie Peterson from Blue Cheer, a personal hero of mine. My friend Andrew „Duck” MacDonald has been their guitarist for years now. They’re all such great guys. It was fun to hang out on breaks with Dickie and Paul. Talk about living legends.
Were you aware of that Possessed recorded „Seven churches” during the Easter holiday, because all of them still went to school?
We did the same thing with „Beyond the Gates”. Recorded on Easter break.
Do you consider „Seven churches” as the milestone of death and black metal? Is it the essential death/black record?
I’m not trying to cope out here but I’m not the guy to ask but I would have to say that it seems that „Seven Churches” is the bible to some people.
Were you a fan of the band? Did you know their demos, rehearsals or „Seven churches”?
I knew the album.
What about the recording sessions? Did they have more time to record the material than „Seven churches”?
No, I don’t believe we had any more time.
Was the material written and complete when they entered the studio or did they still write some tunes for the record in the studio? Were they prepared to cut the material?
We had about a week of pre-production where we fine tuned the songs. Debbie Abono was their manager at the time. They rehearsed at her house. Debbie was the glue for that band. She was the nicest person and the best manager a young band could have. Very cool lady.
As for the pre-production they were an amazing band. I’ve never worked with a band that would float the way they did. The tempos would breathe but they would be tight the entire time. I didn’t recognize how cool and amazing that was at the time.
In your opinion, did Debbie Abono help a lot Possessed developing their career or could they have been more „popular” and successful?
Debbie was just entering the business as a manager but I believe she did very well for them. She wasn’t ripping them off and took care of them as people. I know the deals she seemed to get for them were quite good for the time.
Did she also agree working the band with you?
I’m not sure she requested me but once I was there we got along very well and remained friends long after the albums completion.
„Seven Churches” kicked so much ass that Possessed would have trouble topping it, what do you think about it?
I have taken some hits regarding this album. Let me first say that Randy Burns is a great producer and without doubt he should have produced all of their albums. He GOT them! I didn’t record them all at once the way I feel they should have been recorded. I spent extra time on a drum sound that was marginally better if that. I tried really hard and loved the guys and the music but the guitars could have been heavier sounding.
Was „Seven churches” an evil, dark, furious sounding record with hellish, dark atmosphere?
Of course, it was truly frighteningly heavy.
Would you say, that the band didn’t want to repeat the first record?
I never once heard a word about the first album from them.
Did they seem to be under pressure during the recording sessions? Was their goal to satisfy the fan’s needs or did they want to go on their own?
I never once heard anything about fans or doing anything other than what they believed in as a band. They seemed to have a ball recording and I saw little or no stress.
By the way, did the label ask to hear new material? Did the guys record some preproduction tapes or demos?
I don’t recall the label requesting early mixes. The whole thing happened so fast that by the time we would do rough mixes the final mixes were done. I remember Steve Sinclair liking the album. He seemed positively comment on the vocals being more up front and was happy with his choice of me as producer. Unfortunately not everyone felt the same way.
Did all of their new songs make up on the record?
Yes, I believe every song made the album.
Is the sound clearer than in the past with less hellish atmospheres that branded their debut or the record has a poor production, that robbed the songs of some of their energy?
I’ve taken and have to take the hit. I didn’t capture the band as well as I should have. I was trying to get the vocals more out front as well which I think lost some of the mystery in the band’s music.
Was the musical genius of Mike Torrao’s and Jeff Becerra’s songwriting shown throughout the album, especially on cuts like „The Heretic”, „Beyond the Gates”, and „No Will To Live”?
I believe it was. They were crazy songwriters. The band was like nothing else I’d worked with.
Did these tracks become the highlights of the album along with „March to die” and „Tribulation”?
I thought their riffs were amazing and all the songs were killer.
Did the album take a different direction from their debut, „Seven Churches” or would you say, that unlike „Seven Churches”, „Beyond The Gates” took a step down and had a more technical feeling?
Again, I’m taking the hit and saying that I took things in a different direction and missed it. I’m not sure if it’s more technical in feel but I think some of that dark, mystery was gone. I think Randy was the guy who got the band that sound. He understood their music in a way that I didn’t get. Not that I didn’t love the music but he went for the dark, mysterious and yet really fucking heavy sound. „Seven Churches” is a classic „Beyond the Gates” is a great album which suffered from a slightly lackluster production.
Was Possessed the most evil and brutal band that you worked with?
Most evil, for sure. Not the most brutal but one of the most brutal.
Is it true, that Jeff Becerra said back then, that „Beyond the Gates” was going to be more commercial record?
I’ve just recently spoken to Jeff and apologized for missing it on the record. He was extremely kind to me and said that he was happy with the record. Very nice of him to let me off the hook. I don’t recall him saying anything along those lines. The pre-production rehearsals were fucking amazing. They were the most interesting band I’ve ever worked with on a level of playing in such a tuned in way to each other. They played as a band not as individuals.
On their previous album, it had been banned from all major record stores because of the upside down cross., „Beyond the Gates” was more commercial in order for the band’s dream of becoming famous would come true, how do you explain this?
I don’t think nor do I know of any plan to become commercial. If they were they never told me about it. I know that Combat really made an effort on the cover. The album cover is really pretty cool.
Was it easy to get on well with the band?
Very easy, they were really nice people.
It was the most successful release of Combat, wasn’t it?
I’m not sure of that but I know it did quite well.
Was Combat's idea releasing „Beyond the gates” on Halloween day?
I believe it was their marketing idea to do that. Maybe that's what cursed the album or at least my name associated with it.
The year 1986 was an highlight in the history of the extreme metal (thrash/speed, black etc.) scene, since a lot of influential materials were released besides „Beyond the gates”, such as „Reign in blood”, „Darkness descends”, „Eternal devastation”, „Pleasure to kill”, „Master of puppets”, „Doomsday for the deceiver” and the list goes on, what do you recall of that period?
I recall that I loved much of it and hated some. I also recognized that it was a, „changing of the guard” in terms of Metal. That metal would never be the same. That Thrash was changing everything. It reminded me of what had happened to Jazz. How Mclaughlin and Tony Williams, Chick Corea etc. had amped up the speed and intensity to a point that couldn’t be denied. The same had happened to metal. The musicianship was getting better and better and the tempos were crazily fast and songs were getting more interesting with no limts in terms of structure and lyrical content. It was now fucking wide open territory for anyone with the balls to step up the plate.
How do you like or judge the works of known producers, such as Neil Kernon, Randy Burns, Harris Johns, Tomas Skogsberg, Colin Richardson or Scott Burns? Did all of them succees in making a name for themselves?
I only know Randy Burns through a telephone call. He was very nice and I respect his work tremedously. As for the other producers I’ve never met them but respect them all. I’m happy for anyone who is successful in the music business. It’s a business that eats its own, so if you can survive it’s quite an accomplishment.
Who are your favourite producers?
There are so many that I hate to mention names. I would hate to leave out someone important and offend anyone.
Are you in touch with the aforementioned persons? Do you consider them as your friends?
I’m really not in touch with them nor do I know them personally.
Were there bands that they wanted to work you with, but you didn’t accept the job?
I in a way wish I had worked with her. The Great Kat was someone I passed on. She wasn’t happy about it as I recall and told me I’d regret it. I’m not sure I regret it but I think we could have made a great album together. She was so over the top in our preliminary conversations that I just didn’t think it would work. Perhaps had we met in person things might have been different. Very talented musician.
How much did the circumstances and the technologies of the recording sessions change or develop compared to the ’80s?
Well, I can only say that for me as a drummer things changes dramatically. Thanks to my dear friend Shomouik Avigal for being the genius he is and having the belief in me I’ve set up my home studio and now record my drums at home. It’s the most incredible freedom I’ve experienced. Also, with the technology I plug my guitar into the computer with amp modeling and do demos I would have killed to have had as Masters. Even though I owned a full on commerical studio for many years there is nothing like this type of freedom. I’m really only limited by my talent or lackthereof and time. Otherwise I have the tools and freedom to record whatever and whenever.
Carl, thanks a lot for the interview, anything to add, that I forgot to mention?
I guess I would have to thank you and all the Rods fans who ’ve shown their support this past year or two. We’re all humbled by the number of fans who’ve reached out to us with kind words about the band. I’ve always loved meeting fans but now more than ever I’m in contact with them via email and it’s really cool to meet them in person after emailing and getting to know them a bit. So as far as I’m concerned if I’m at a show and anyone would like to say hi please don’t hesitate to do so. Just tell security to get the fuck out of the way because Carl said to make sure to say hi!