February 21, 2013

Exclusive interview with Attacker vocalist Bobby Lucas

Bobby, ever since you got together with Mark Edwards and the rest of Overlorde and put out Return of the Snow Giant in 2004, your name has hardly been heard outside of some local venues with cover bands. Part of that is due to Overlorde being inactive for the most part since then. You’ve also had some health issues since then. How frustrating has it been to sort of be out of the picture for so long, and what is it like to be back and recording original music with an established band?
Very true—I have not performed with an original band in a live setting since 2007 with Overlorde. However, Overlorde never disbanded—we have had every intention of recording a follow-up to Return of the Snow Giant, but unfortunately due to distance issues since John Bunucci and Dave Wrenn moved, we have been unable to rehearse, and we didn't want to keep playing the same old songs. We wanted to have a new album to support before we did any more shows. In fact, I did demo two brand new songs with the band in 2007 upon my return to the group called “Worship the Steel” and “Destroy Us All”. They will be re-recorded and will appear on the next Overlorde album.  The guys all just bought something called a 'jam link', which we plan on using to write and rehearse new material online in real time. Technology is amazing now.

As far as the cover band stints, they were very good for me as they kept my vocal chops up, and I was covering my top 3 favorite bands. With Steel Messiah, we were covering Judas Priest, but eventually we renamed the band Resurrection so we could include songs from bands like UFO, Scorpions, Dio, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and even solo material from Rob Halford of Priest. My longest tenure in a cover band was my 3+ years fronting the Tri-State area's #1 Iron Maiden tribute band, Sanctuary (not to be confused with the reunited original metal band fronted by Warrell Dane).

That was a lot of fun for me since not only was I singing like Bruce Dickinson and Paul Di’Anno, I was creating props like 7 and a half foot tall 'Eddie' costumes with custom sculpted heads and arm extensions as well as backdrops and various other smaller props. For example, a light-up “Piece of Mind” Eddie head that hung from our drummer’s cage set. I am still pretty proud of what I came up with. As a matter of fact, I recently dug up a lot of photos of me creating these props and plan on creating a photo album on my Facebook page for people who are interested in checking some of that stuff out. People would absolutely flip when we had our Eddies walk out on stage! Sanctuary was always known for a great stage show. When I came onboard with my art skills, I'd like to think I helped make the band’s show even more intense.

After Sanctuary and I parted ways, I joined a Black Sabbath tribute called Covered in Black from New York. Sabbath has always been my #1 band since I was about 15 years old. Sabbath with Dio and Blue Öyster Cult in 1980-81 was my very first metal show as a teenager. It was the 'Black & Blue' tour. I'll never forget it. When the huge Godzilla head rose from the stage I was in awe as I'm a huge Godzilla fanatic! But the Sabbath tribute was great because we were an 'all eras' tribute—we covered everything from Ozzy to Dio, Ian Gillan, and even Tony Martin-era songs. Unfortunately, thanks to a few different issues such as distance, cost, and travelling a lot with a bad foot I had to bow out. Both Sanctuary and Covered in Black are still active to this day, albeit with different line-ups. I wish both bands well. I'm still good friends with most of the guys from all 3 bands.

But yes, as you mentioned, it was quite frustrating to not be involved with original bands, as that is my biggest outlet right next to art. And the health issues didn't help matters. I almost lost my left foot in 2002 thanks to a severe infection after the removal of a benign tumor called a lipoma. I'm diabetic, and we heal slower. The sutures became infected and I got an awful abscess and needed a second operation. Then again 4 years ago I came close to losing my big toe thanks to walking around in motorcycle boots on Black Friday...a callus on the bad foot completely rubbed off, which again caused a severe infection. I spent 3 and a half years in and out of Raritan Bay's medical day stay/wound care unit, as well as 6 months of hyperbaric treatments, to save the big toe. It was scary. Having a catheter implanted in my arm to receive IV antibiotics was no fun at all.  Also being unable to walk around a lot caused me to gain a lot of weight, which is bad for a diabetic in itself. But now I'm happy to say I'm doing much better, and taking care of myself as best I can. I still have to be careful with the bad foot, and actually have a small hole in that toe to this day. I have been very lucky in retrospect. I came close to losing a foot, and a toe. I was extremely fortunate to have one of THE best podiatrist/foot surgeons in New Jersey in my corner: Dr. Michael Sears. I've been his patient since 2002, and I owe him a lot. If not for him, I may have had just one foot right now.  Now that I'm doing original music again, I have even more of a reason to take care of myself. I'm back where I belong and it feels fantastic.

While you’ve only been a part of Attacker for less than a year at this point, it need not be said that you’ve been a part of the metal scene in New Jersey in some capacity for quite some time, releasing a demo with your band Morbid Sin about 25 years ago. I assume that you were aware of Attacker back then, who released their debut album, Battle at Helm’s Deep, on Metal Blade Records in 1985. Were you a fan back then? How were they received generally in the 80s, especially considering the ever-encroaching thrash metal movement in the mid to late 80s?

Yes, I absolutely was a fan of Attacker, having heard them on Metal Massacre 5 in 1985 at my friend Jerry's house. As soon as I heard “(Call On) The Attacker” I was blown away. It was like Maiden—only heavier! I was already an NWOBHM fanatic being into bands like Raven, Hawkwind, Witchfinder General, Venom, Motörhead, and Angel Witch, so I was excited about bands from the USA like Attacker, Fates warning, Hades, Lizzy Borden, Helstar, Liege Lord, and Slayer. Not to mention Germany's Accept and Canada's Exciter and Anvil, so I formed my own band, Morbid Sin, while in high school. You could say we were 'local legends'...we were also involved in some controversy when some kids had been knocking over gravestones and spray painting Morbid Sin on them. State prosecutor Alan Rockoff was out to get us—we were even interviewed in the News Tribune about all of that. We were being accused of being a 'satanic' band as many metal acts were in those days...but the subject matter was always dark and I'm a huge horror geek, so I could see why. Plus I came out onstage in what later became known as 'corpse paint'—even rising out of a coffin we had bought from a funeral parlor because it had water damage. We had wrought iron cemetery gates on legs, with custom made shrunken heads impaled on them. It was pretty sick—but all in good fun.  We gigged a lot, opening for national acts like Manowar, Celtic Frost, Vicious Rumours, and some of New Jersey's top metal acts like Hades, Non-Fiction, Prophet, and even Overlorde and Attacker!

Unfortunately, the band imploded thanks to too much partying and lack of seriousness on some members’ parts at the time. I tried to keep the band going, but ultimately didn't get close to that sound again until 1998. Myself and long-time guitarist Wade Tyler formed a band called Proud Flesh, which eventually included our Cauldron of Souls-era drummer, Brian Vincent. We had recorded a demo at Trax East under that name with a different drummer, but the style was a bit different. More doomy and less thrashy. Sin always had elements of both. Once Brian came back we had that powerful double bass drumming back, and we decided we would take on the Morbid Sin name again. We recorded our first full-length album, Sins of the Flesh, once again at Trax East with producer Eric Rachel of Skid Row and Lamb of God fame. We were supporting that album for perhaps 2 months when one fateful evening we were direct support for Fates Warning—one of my all-time favorite bands.

Also on that bill were Frostbite—Jersey guitarist Jack Frost's band. After we played, Jack approached me and we both complemented each other on a great show. Jack then asked me if I was interested in forming a band and making an album together. He was involved in a project with Overkill bassist D.D. Verni called The Bronx Casket Co., and they were signed to Massacre Records in Germany. One of the label heads had asked Jack if he had anything else going on, and Jack had wanted to go into a heavier direction than Frostbite for some time. He said I would be perfect for what he envisioned, and that my voice needed to be heard. After struggling in the club circuit for nearly 13 years at this point, I jumped at the opportunity and put Sin on hold. Basically 3 of Sin's 5 members became the band now known as Seven Witches.

We got together and literally wrote three songs in our first rehearsal together. I came up with the band’s name and logo design. The name comes from one of my favorite 70s British horror films, “Psychomania”. There is a place in the film called 'The Seven Witches', a Stonehenge-like formation that was actually made from a sect of witches who were turned to stone. Massacre flipped for the demo and flew us overseas to work with renowned producer Siggi Bemm. Brian Vincent came to Germany and drummed on the debut album, Second War in Heaven. I collaborated with Jack and actually wrote the music as well as vocals/lyrics for four complete songs, as well as the musical intro, “Rising Torches”, on that album. Hence the strong similarities to Morbid Sin's sound on that debut.

After playing guitar in the projects Speeed (with ex-Annhilator singer Aaron Randall) and Germany's Metalium, Jack began exercising more control over the band. I had less input musically on the second album City of Lost Souls, having only 2 complete songs written musically. Gone also was Brian Vincent, so the changes began. After a misunderstanding between Jack and I over my participation in a prog metal band named Exhibition (with former members of Eternity X)—who I went on to record a one-off album with called The Sign of Tomorrow on LMP Records—I left Seven Witches.

Jack and I have since let go of any bad blood and remain friends. But I would love to know why he seems to disassociate himself from the first 2 Witches albums.  I mean there aren't even any links to them on his Wikipedia page, and he never talks about them. I'm quite proud of those albums. All the fans I've spoken to say those are still their favorite Witches albums. When I met James Rivera in Chicago where Overlorde and Witches both played, he even said they were killer records, and he loved my vocals. He had been learning material from the first three albums at that point. Hearing that from a guy I'd idolized since I was 18 blew me away! A couple years later, Jack approached me to sing on a track for his first Frost solo album, Raise Your Fist to Metal—It's a killer song called “Brotherhood of Lies”, which was inspired by the French horror film, Brotherhood of the Wolf, about the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan. A great film if you’re not familiar with it. This song is the closest you'll get to the sound of those first 2 Witches records.

I'm very grateful to Jack—he gave me my start, the way I see it. If he never heard me sing that night, who knows if I'd be doing this today? It was fate. Being the original singer and co-founder of that band is a great feeling. The excellent Wade Black (ex-Crimson Glory) appeared on the third Witches album after I left, and it was very exciting for me that two of my favorite vocalists eventually appeared in the group as well—James Rivera of Helstar and Alan Tecchio of Hades! I was always a fan of Hades and Non-Fiction. And now a good mutual friend of mine and Attacker's named Anthony Cross is the band’s latest vocalist. Anthony also sang with the same Maiden tribute band for about a year and also sang with Attacker for a while! It's just a great scene now...metal is coming back in a big way. I think if we all supported each other and did shows together we could have our very own 'Seattle scene' here in Jersey—but METAL instead of 'grunge'!

It is my understanding that Mark Edwards helped connect you with Attacker after the band had lain dormant for the past few years. How exactly did it come about that your name was brought up in association with Attacker?

Mark mentioned to me one day that Attacker was most likely going to call it quits after having difficulty finding a singer with a suitable higher range...both vocalists on Attacker's previous 4 albums sang in a mid to upper register. As a fan of the band I told Mark I thought that was sad they were calling it quits because I'd have loved to have taken a shot at that vocal spot. I had met Mike Sabatini in 2005 in Germany at that year’s Keep it True festival, but didn't really know him having only been introduced briefly. Mark said he'd let Mike know about what I had said, and next thing I knew, we were in touch via Facebook.

As previously mentioned, Attacker had been idle for the last few years after trying to replace Bob Mitchell on vocals with a couple of different singers. Meanwhile, you were working with cover bands. It seems a rather serendipitous situation that one of New Jersey’s biggest heavy metal bands should stumble upon one of the better traditional metal vocalists of the 00s in their own state without any significant project ties to worry about, does it not?

You can certainly put it that way. The only thing I had been up to at that point was concentrating on artwork. I had pretty much given up on anything except a follow-up to Overlorde's Return of the Snow Giant whenever that materialized. I had finally put Morbid Sin to rest at that point after unsuccessfully trying to solidify a new lineup. We had recorded a new four song demo in 2006 called 13th Child at Sound Spa Studios in Edison, N.J. with producer/engineer Steve Deacutis. That line-up featured longtime Sin guitarist and writing partner Wade Tyler as well as Incantation drummer Jim Roe, and my cousin Joe Bruno on bass. It was perhaps the heaviest we ever were. Strong doom/thrash influences on that one. It remains unreleased to this day. A few people have it through the band—but it remains a rarity until a label puts it out. Stormspell Records put out limited editions of our first two demos as well as our ‘98 full-length. I'd like to shop that stuff again and add the 13th Child stuff to it.

What was the next step for you after Mark mentioned your name to the band? Were you asked to try out? Did they come to see you perform live? Were there any other vocalists in the conversation that you were aware of, or was it the discovery of a suitable new vocalist that was the catalyst for the band rising from dormancy?

Well, Mike Sabatini already knew what I was capable of, having seen Overlorde at Keep it True, and he also saw me perform with Covered in Black at Dingbatz one night. He knew I had a reputation as a strong vocalist. Once he heard I was interested, it took off from there. Mike gave me 5 songs to learn—2 from The Second Coming and 3 from Battle at Helm's Deep. Then I went to Jersey City to try out. I was terrible in my opinion. I was out of shape and out of practice—my breathing was affected, and I figured "oh well—I blew it!" But I was happy to have given it a try. Just jamming with Attacker would have been a cool experience for me!

Luckily, Mike knew with a little work, I could pull it off. He had faith in me. Once he told me he did indeed want me in the band, I began getting into better shape.  Now I'm able to pull off the early Attacker stuff with ease. The best part of my joining was that the guys did not want me trying to imitate anyone—just be myself but remain true to the melodies that were already written. At this point in time, I am very comfortable singing the old material. I sing it like Bobby Lucas. I will say that my voice is more naturally suited to John Leone from The Second Coming album. I love all the Attacker stuff, but that is my favorite album.

You were not in the band very long before they had you in the studio. The band released a single called “Condemned” in 2008, and you re-wrote the lyrics and the vocal lines for the song, which is now known as “Steel Vengeance”. Was anything changed musically? Is this recording the same that ended up on Giants of Canaan?

Well, that song (“Condemned”) had only been released as a very limited single at Keep it True—I believe there were only 150 made up. Mike actually came up with the idea of me taking that music and coming up with my own lyrics and melodies. He wanted to show the metal world that Attacker was back in a big way, not another false start, as had happened twice before. This was it—the real deal. We knew we would be a force to be reckoned with. So I took the music from “Condemned” and began absorbing it. I was influenced by an episode of the TV series “Stalkers”...I just couldn't get over how some of these people out there got so wound up in their significant others’ lives to the point that they would kill. You know, "if I can't have you, no one will". It disturbed me. So I tried approaching it from that point of view...obsession. I tried getting into the head of a stalker. I also attempted to create a catchier melody line and hook for the song. There's new verses, bridges, and a chorus of sorts. I think it was a damn good first song.

Musically it is exactly the same as what “Condemned” was, which makes it interesting to hear both versions now! The song was already great; Bob Mitchell gets a lot of respect from me...after all, I was a fan before I replaced him! We did re-record the entire song for the album version. It's punchier now. Vocally, I did change the way I sang the bridge part. I had a lot of this 'Ozzy' thing going on in the demo version. It's really cool, but ultimately it was too much like Ozzy! To the point that someone may have thought, "wow, what band is this that Oz is guesting with?" So Mike suggested I try it in my aggressive voice for the album version, and it worked. It's much more powerful now.

I use two different singing styles in my stuff: a clean style and a more 'dirty', aggressive sounding voice. I use the 2 styles for dramatic effect, and switch back and forth depending on the feel of the song, as well as its storyline. I like evoking strong imagery with my lyrics.  Stylistically I'm very influenced by Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, Ian Gillan, and Ozzy. Then I got heavily into John Arch and Ray Alder from Fates Warning, James Neal of Malice, James Rivera of Helstar, and David Wayne of Metal Church. I love all of their voices, so hopefully they have rubbed off on me! As far as my favorite vocalist right now, I'd have to say John Arch; the guy gives me chills. That's the way it should be. The Arch/Matheos album is ridiculous...I've been waiting for that album for about 25 years!

Many who know of your recordings, whether it be with Overlorde, Exhibition, Seven Witches, or Morbid Sin, understand your vocal prowess, but that is not your only role. You are also a lyricist, songwriter, and artist. You have your own personal outlets for expressing your creativity, but do you find more value in doing so musically than through other means? Do you also play any instruments?

Well, it's a different type of creative outlet, singing. It's a physical release. I get any pent up anger or frustration I may have out. And that's a great thing. It's also a very emotional outlet for me. Anything I sing, I try to put feeling into it. I draw on some of my own life experiences when I approach writing and performing my vocals. As far as the lyrics go, I have always been strong with creative writing since grammar school, then I began to excel at it in high school. I never got anything lower than a B grade in creative writing—most of the time I'd score in the high 90s. It was just something I loved. Being raised on horror and science fiction films certainly helped.

I'm also a passionate reader. I devour books. I'm a huge Stephen King and Dean Koontz fan, and most recently I've been getting into Jack Ketchum. I also enjoy reading Shaun Hutson, who is like England's Stephen King. Speaking of the UK, I also enjoy Graham Masterton's work. Fantasy-wise, I really enjoy Piers Anthony and the Xanth novels. I'm just a geek at heart!

My other passion is art. I draw, paint, and even dabble in sculpting. I seem to be good at all the things that don’t make money nowadays! But art is also a great outlet for me. As far as an instrument goes, yes...I play guitar. No leads though—just rhythm guitar, which works for me since I can come up with a riff here and there.

You created the album artwork concept and provided a sketch from which Jowita Kaminska-Peruzzi delivered the finished product. You also wrote nearly all of the lyrics and the vocal lines. Did you also work with the rest of the band with respect to constructing the musical arrangements?

No. Virtually all of the music on this album came from the other guys. There was a point in working on “The Hammer” where I felt it just needed a slow break. I just heard it...felt it. I got the melody line in my head and could not shake the idea. So I presented it to the guys and played what I heard for them on the guitar, and they were into it. So I'm really fortunate in that respect. It's nice as a singer to be able to pick up a guitar and say "hey, can you guys try this? I'm hearing this in my head". This band is a team, and we never just shoot ideas down. We listen to everything and we all get honest about what's happening musically. You cannot take anything to heart in the creative process. If a part in a song just isn't working, it goes.

This album pretty much just flowed. It was an amazing creative process. The songs seemed to transform themselves.  I'm hoping we start writing new material soon. I'm very inspired in this band. The guys are just tremendous musicians—awesome talents every one of them. This is a band of artists. We do this because we love it, and our hearts and souls are in it. We don't do it for money, or chicks, or to party, or any other reason besides we have it in our blood. Let's face it: our type of metal has not been a money-making juggernaut the past 15 years.  The fact that we can please people with what we do just makes it all worthwhile.

When you joined Attacker, was it already understood that the band would be getting more than just a musician, but also somebody who would make valuable contributions to, in a sense, re-establishing their identity? After all, Mike Sabatini and Pat Marinelli formed the band in 1983, but it is your conceptual ideas, visually and lyrically, that are littered throughout Giants of Canaan. I suppose that says something about how well the band’s new lineup (also with bassist Jon Hanemann) functions as a unit?

I don't really know how aware the band was of my artistic talents outside of music. I'm not even sure they realized I was also a lyricist. In the past, from what I understand, Mike Sabatini, Mike Benetatos, and Lou Ciarlo had all contributed lyrically in addition to their singers. I don't know if this was more a case of the singers not being able to come up with all the lyrics or what, but I have always been the primary lyricist and came up with all of my vocal melodies in my past endeavors—aside from Overlorde that is. With Overlorde, half of that album was already written when I came into the band. I did restructure some of the vocal lines, and gave all the old stuff my 'Lucas touch', so to speak.

But being able to be in complete control of lyrics and melodies felt extremely good again. It's just what I do. I'm a natural writer—I have been since grammar school. I used to come up with my own comic books and storylines back then. During recess, I'd have a crowd of people around my desk while we went page by page through my stories and I'd read aloud to everyone. But I'm not opposed to contributions, concepts, or song titles even at times. On this Giants of Canaan album, the song “Black Winds Calling” I had felt should have been an instrumental, and I was actually pushing for that. It just felt like that to me. I didn't have anything for it. But Jon Hanneman was the one who said "hey, can I take a crack at it?" I said sure, go for it. He wrote the lyrics and came up with the basic verse structure for my vocals. All I did was add the bridge and chorus melodies. He just heard something I didn't—which was awesome!

Jon also not only co-wrote the lyrics for “Curse the Light”, it was all his concept. He wanted me to try to get across the feelings of how much America and its ideals have changed. How sometimes he almost feels like a stranger in his own country. I can relate to that. We have so many different types of people now all struggling to get their point of view across that it can make your head feel like it's about to explode. Right wingers, leftists, libertarians, independents, socialists...we have almost lost sight of the common goal nowadays. Everyone is pushing and pulling in different directions. Do we help the poor? How many people are truly suffering and struggling? How many are just lazy and working the system? Should illegal immigrants get to stay here if they sneak in and get caught? Should religion be a part of the public school system? Should we take the word 'God' out of the American anthem? Should we erase all references to religion out of the public eye so we don't offend anyone? These were some of the things I thought about when structuring the song and putting emotion into it. I feel there are too many Americans against the very idea of what America was intended to be these days. So “Curse the Light” is a perfect example of a band collaboration.

A lot of people may not realize this, but Mike Benetatos has had the longest tenure in Attacker as a guitar duo alongside Marinelli, having been a part of the band since the reunion in 2001 and now recorded on three of the band’s five albums. Did you find their chemistry working together evident right away? It certainly shows up in a lot of the twin guitar harmonies throughout the new album.

Pat and Mikey are like peanut butter and jelly...I compare them to Tipton and Downing from Priest and Dave Murray and Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden a lot in the sense that they both have a unique individual style. Mike is more of a shredder and classical type player. He rips, and he's fast and technical.  Pat has more of a bluesy and melodic style. He's great at being melodic and adding atmosphere to the songs. Both play their parts to the hilt. And both of these guys can write killer riffage.  I've always loved twin guitar harmonies. I'm a huge Thin Lizzy fan as well as Maiden and Priest, so I love what they do. Thin Lizzy were doing the twin lead harmonies before Maiden—I don't think enough people acknowledge that fact. Steve Harris must be a big Thin Lizzy fan. So yes, Mike and Pat are integral to the sound of Attacker. I can't wait to get started on the next album!

One aspect of songwriting that has always interested me is how a song develops musically and conceptually; for example, is the music written first? Is a concept constructed first and music fit around it? Being the band’s primary lyricist for the new album, were you working around already pre-established musical frameworks for the most part when your wrote your lyrics?

It's funny, because with me it can go either way. I can already have a topic or song outline written or an idea in my head. Then when I hear new music that the guys have, I'll start coming up with melodies. At that point I'll sit down with my concept and begin writing the lyrics and fitting them into the melody. At other times I may have a melody idea in my head before the music is written, like the part I talked about from “The Hammer”...after I knew what I wanted to do vocally, I sat with my guitar and worked the chord patterns out.

A few songs in particular, I find, work quite well as a unity between music and lyric, like Giants of Canaan and especially “Glen of the Ghost”. The latter obviously stands apart from the rest of the album musically, which has me wondering if the conceptual idea came before the music in this case.

Actually with “Glen of the Ghost”, Mikey B. had the guitar parts already written. When I heard it, it was a totally Celtic vibe happening, so it just made a whole lot of sense to me to go in that direction lyrically. I was very excited when I heard that song because I knew I could get very melodic with it. Melody is very important to me, as are hooks and strong choruses. I think that shows on this album.

As an extension of the previous questions, how much, if any, of the album can claim its origins to before your tenure in the band—excepting “Steel Vengeance”, of course? Are all of the other songs ‘from scratch’, so to speak?

The only other songs that were kind of floating around riff-wise were the songs that would eventually become “Sands of Time' and “The Hammer”. I believe Lou Ciarlo had a hand in writing those riffs. But I approached them just like I would any new song—listen to it and get inspired. Sometimes I get melody ideas immediately, other times it may take a few listens. But 85% of the time it comes right away. I'm blessed with that I suppose. The other seven songs (apart from “Steel Vengeance”) were all written when I came aboard. We literally rehearsed 12 old Attacker songs, and wrote and recorded an entire new album, in less than a year. And none of it is 'filler'. I'm pretty proud of that. I think we all are. 

You have drawn from a few different sources of inspiration when putting together the lyrics for the new album, from history and pseudo-historical tales to stories of revenge and mortal fear. There is even a ‘triumph of metal’ type song with “Sands of Time” and its self-referential qualities (“Attacking on at Helm’s Deep”).

It would be natural assume that you drew on your own personal interests when penning these lyrics, so would you care to talk about how you came to arrive at these topics in particular that you ended up writing about?

You’re absolutely right. Aside from “Curse the Light” and “Black Winds Calling”, which were Jon's ideas, the remaining 8 songs were all of personal interest to me. I've been intrigued with the whole 'war In Heaven' and fallen angels theme since the Seven Witches debut. The Nephilim were a cross-breed between human and angels. Could an extraterrestrial race have interbred with us? Could the effects have been monstrous? According to the Bible, yes: this happened. There have actually been skeletons found that prove this. We are talking about skeletons that averaged between 7 and a half feet and 10 feet tall with huge elongated skulls. 18 were found in the U.S. in Wisconsin alone.

These skeletons first made into the news in the 50s, and over 200 'digs' have produced these gigantic skeletons. Even the tooth structure is unusual, supporting more molars than normal. Nephilim? Annunaki? It sure seems that when the Bible states "there were giants in the earth in those days", it was fact. I'm a sucker for anything strange since I was a kid. I'm also big into cryptozoology, which is the study of unknown animals and creatures. I'm a firm believer in Sasquatch, UFOs, and sea serpents. To think we have discovered every single living creature on this earth is a very bold statement. So is saying we are the only life in the universe. It's absurd. We have barely scratched the surface when it comes to inner space and sea life; imagine what's out in the vast reaches of space.

I also draw inspiration from horror films and literature, as well as historical figures and battles. Take “The Hammer” for instance. Not many people know who Charles “The Hammer” Martel was. Martel was a Frankish military leader who was a genius when it came to war tactics. He subjugated Bavaria and drove the pagan Saxons out of France. But my song is based upon his greatest victory—the Battle of Tours, in which he earned his nickname “The Hammer” for the way he hammered his Muslim enemies. Martel's army was outnumbered by literally thousands of Muslim troops. Yet through his genius and merciless onslaught he beat them back, uniting Europe in Christendom. Had Martel not emerged victorious in the Battle of Tours, Europe would most likely be all Muslim right now. I'm fortunate to have the knack for writing lyrics and melodies. And I have a ton of new ideas for the next Attacker album!

A few of the songs on the album have a biblical, though not evangelistic or proselytizing, theme running through them. I am speaking of “Giants of Canaan”, “Washed in Blood”, and “Trapped in Black” in particular, though others may be cited, whether intentionally or no. In “Giants of Canaan” you deal with the Nephilim, whereas “Washed in Blood”, I presume, takes on the perspective of Moses, or Jesus himself, and lastly, “Trapped in Black”, perhaps less overtly, deals with the soul:

Though I'm made of flesh and bone I know that my soul won't be left alone

Born into this life alone what place will be my spirit’s final home?
Now I hear the darkness calling
It won't leave my soul alone!

I know that religion, as with politics, is a pretty dubious topic to bring up due to the tensions that arise from people on opposite ends of the spectrum, but since it is relevant to the album, I think it is fair to discuss its usage.

Certainly, the lyrics in no way betray a proselytizing motivation, meaning that the message therein is personal. In addition, biblical stories have been turned into lyrical subject matter in heavy metal for decades. Bands like Black Sabbath and Trouble come to mind in that regard. Would you, if you don’t mind, talk about your usage of biblical themes on the new recording and how they integrate with the subject matter of your other lyrics?

Actually, “Washed in Blood” was written about Jesus Christ in his moment of doubt in Gethsemane...at this point he knew he was to die, and he is asking God the Father to "let this cup pass from me". So this song is my interpretation of Jesus' conversation with God the Father. I wanted to point out the fact that Christ was as much a human as he was God the son of man. Being human, he had his doubts. Remember: he was about to take on all the sins of mankind. Through his blood, we would all be washed clean. Ultimately, he accepted his father’s wish, and died on the cross. Imagine how heavy a burden this was on Christ!

In “Trapped in Black”, I'm drawing on ideas I got from Edgar Allan Poe's “The Premature Burial”, as well as my feelings on the everlasting soul. The human soul supposedly weighs 21 grams. There was an experiment performed in 1907 by Dr. Duncan MacDougall where he had taken six people who were terminally ill and dying and placed each one separately on a contraption that was actually a very sensitive scale. They were then closely monitored, and at the time of their passing, their bodies each weighed 21 grams less than when they were alive. I found this very freaky. I already believed in life after death, and have heard many stories of near death experiences, and I have no doubt that we all continue to exist after we leave this mortal coil.

What is the soul? Where does it go when we die? Does that depend on how we lived our lives? So this idea plus the extremely frightening idea that a person could be buried alive and wake up in a coffin six feet below the ground were my inspiration for “Trapped in Black”. I think the scariest things in the world are being buried alive, floating at sea without a boat and at the mercy of whatever lurks beneath the waves, or falling from a great height or knowing your plane is about to crash. Let me add that being abducted and knowing you’re about to be murdered rates up there too!

But as I said earlier, I have been fascinated with the Bible for a very long time. It's a subject matter I've been tapping into since the Morbid Sin days. I grew up a Roman Catholic and spent 9 years in Catholic School. I graduated in 1980, so I was at the tail end of violence in the 'Parochial' type school system. I was absolutely brutalized by the nuns in my school. Seriously—I could write a book. My nose was even broken when I was in 6th grade by the principal. My mom went through the same type of ordeals. I went to the same school; why she would send me there after beatings she suffered is still a mystery to me. It's no wonder I rebelled and went nuts once I got to high school. I began listening to hard rock at the age of 10 thanks to my cousin Al. He turned me onto Kiss, Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, etc. So in my school, we'd be able to bring vinyl in on Wednesdays. Here I am bringing in Sabbath's debut album, and getting whacked for it!

In any event, religion fascinated me. Once all the molestation allegations began coming out and I learned more about the way certain religions (Catholicism included) cherry-picked parts of the Bible they liked, and omitted others, I renounced my Catholic faith.  That does not mean I don't believe in God. There absolutely is a higher power at work in my life now. And I call Him God. Without being preachy, all I'll say is there absolutely was (and is) a Jesus. By all rights, I should either be dead or in jail right now. The fact that I am sitting here doing this interview is proof positive that there is a God. I've had a lot of tragedy in my life through the years. I was into some very dark stuff back in the day. It's no wonder that darkness followed me around. I survived drugs, a girlfriend’s suicide, my daughter Emilee's mom passing away—more than a person should have to go through.

Roughly 10 years ago my life began changing for the better—and it was only after I accepted God into my life. I'm not a 'Bible-thumper', or even a 'born again' Christian though. I just cannot conform to any religion at this time...I've struggled with this for the past decade. But I know God. He's definitely in my life. I don't think we as human beings can even begin to describe what God truly is. There is so much to consider. I'm very big on 'ancient alien' theory. People have been seeing flying objects and experiencing visitations since the beginning of time. Are they just beings like us with the ability to travel farther and faster than we can? Or are they something more? Our 'creators' so to speak? Is the earth just a giant petri dish? An experiment in genetic alterations on life that already existed here before we became thinking, feeling creatures? I have my own theories.

My mom was very upset with me when I told her I was renouncing Catholicism. I just don't believe that the 'Virgin Mary' has any power over us. I believe she was chosen to be a very important surrogate mother. I can explain easily how she became pregnant without having intercourse. She was abducted. She was impregnated with a hybrid being—part us, and part them. Jesus Christ if you will. The 'Star of Nazareth'? Hmmmm....a UFO possibly? Think about it. There are many religious frescos the world over depicting glowing objects in the sky. But who can say what they are? What I'm saying does not take away from the fact that there is a god. He's just most likely not a guy sitting up in a cloud with a long white beard. But good, evil, biblical prophecy—it's all true. We just don't have the ability to truly understand what it's all really about...until we meet our end in this physical form.

That's just my belief. But the Bible was passed onto us for a reason. And the similarities in all major religions points to what I believe to be the truth: there is only one God, and whether we call him the Holy Spirit, Allah, Jehova, or Brahman, He just wants us to acknowledge and believe in Him, and live as good a life as humanly possible. Is there a devil? Absolutely. You cannot have good without evil.  One thing I believe that I was always taught in Catholic school was that God is all around us. We can all plug into this presence if we allow ourselves to. And it will change your life for the better. Plug into dark and negative energy and that's exactly what you'll get. Sorry for being so long-winded on that question!

Aside from being a great album closer in general, I find “Glen of the Ghost” to be one of the more appealing songs on Giants of Canaan, not the least of which because I find the subject matter to be interesting and melded well into lyric.

Shrouded in mist in the eerie moonlight
Slowly I see she is coming my way
My heart skips a beat and I'm shaking with fright
For now I can see it's the lady in grey...

In the time of my youth they would all speak of her
Haunting the glen with the breeze in her hair
In long robes of gray and sometimes dressed in white
The old ones would fear her ghostly cries in the night

The concept stems from archaic Irish folk myths, particularly that of the glenafooka, of which a documentary was made examining the persistence of such beliefs and traditions in modern Ireland. What attracted you to this particular tale? Did you know beforehand that this would be the song to close the album, or was that decided later?

Oh yes—we all agreed this song would close the record. And as soon as I heard the music I knew I wanted to write a song based on Celtic mythology. I had seen Glenafooka last year on Netflix I believe. It's a really great documentary. Seeing these people talk about their legends and how dear they are to them really touched me. The legend of the banshee in particular interested me. The whole idea that you would hear a cry in the night, or catch a glimpse of a ghostly woman in white or grey crying just prior to the death of a loved one really creeped me out. I imagined myself coming to grips with the fact that I may be dying and walking to meet this woman in white in the woods, and taking her hand realizing she was there to take me 'home'. I wanted the song to have an ethereal quality to it. The intro to the song—that little sound bite at the beginning—is the perfect set-up! Our good friend and co-producer/engineer Pat “Taps” Guden came up with that. We were all like "that's it!"

We wanted to bookend the album with 2 really strong songs. “Giants of Canaan” was always intended as the album’s opener too. It's just a perfect set-up to what this new Attacker was all about. It's got power, melody, and variations in tempo and atmosphere. People are getting a first glimpse at this new machine if you will. Attacker has always been a killer band. As you know, I'm a long-time fan. But when something like a new vocalist who is also a songwriter comes into an already established band, there will be doubts among the fanbase. Will they still be as good? Is the sound going to change drastically? It's understandable. When you’re a fan of a band you expect a certain style and sound. Luckily, Attacker fits me like a glove. I had a few fans approach me in Europe saying, "you know, I was a little worried...but wow—you kicked ass up there!" or "I wasn't sure about a new singer for Attacker, but you did all the old stuff great! And the new stuff is killer!" Those are awesome compliments coming from long-time fans. 

Attacker recently played its first show in years in Clifton. I understand the venue saw one of its largest crowds in years to usher in the band’s return to the live circuit. What was the first show with the band like? How long had it been since you had the opportunity to front an original band on stage? Did it go smoothly? What was the set list like, and how was the new material received? I’m sure the crowd was quite energetic.

The show was incredible. I was very nervous, as I hadn't been onstage with an original band in 6 years. When you’re doing a live show, you have to be prepared for anything. You know, Murphy's Law—what can go wrong will go wrong. But I'm happy to say that it went great. We were lucky to have Lou Ciarlo, Attacker's original bassist and great friend, as our stage manager. He did a fantastic job. As did our soundman, who has been with Attacker for quite a while from what I understand. Our setlist consisted of mostly early material. We played a 16-song set. Only four of those songs were from Giants of Canaan since it had yet to be released. We opened the show with the intro “As They Descend” that Jon and Mikey had come up with. Then we busted into “Giants of Canaan” and right away the heads were bobbing and people were smiling and showing us the horns! I knew it was going to be all good.

We closed the night with a little surprise: our version of the Manowar classic “Hatred” from the Into Glory Ride album. Eric Adams is another favorite singer of mine. He's amazing. His screams are legendary. As you may (or may not) know, I covered “Metal Daze” on the Second War in Heaven album with Seven Witches. I'll never forget when I first discovered Manowar. I was at my local record shop in downtown Perth Amboy called Platterpuss and I saw the “Battle Hymns” album cover. Had no idea what they would sound like--I just had a feeling I'd dig it based on the album art! That's how it was back then. You didn't have the internet or Youtube to sample albums. If the album cover was cool, you took a chance. That was how I discovered Mötley Crüe. I saw the Too Fast for Love album at the same shop and took it home. I was blown away! I still absolutely love the first two Mötley Crüe albums!

You and the band just got back from Europe to play a pair of festivals. You played in Germany with Overlorde some year back, so this will not be new to you, but surely you must be excited about it all the same.

My first two times over in Germany for musical purposes were to record the first two Seven Witches albums. We did the first one in Hagen at Woodhouse Studios, and the second in Hamburg at Impuls Studios. Then as you said I played Keep it True in '05 with Overlorde. But I was very excited this time around because I was playing in Würzburg, and that is where I was born. My dad was stationed in the army there and my mom went over to be with him because she missed him so much. She was six months pregnant with me when she flew over and gave birth to me in Würzburg at the army base. We lived there as a family for a year or better after my birth. My mom and dad were renting a room in this wonderful German family’s home. I have pictures of us in the house with them.

It felt very special to be visiting the town I was born in. I never would have thought I'd get to see where I was born. Würzburg is beautiful. Germany is beautiful, period. And the people are very warm and friendly—metal fans are awesome over in Europe. This was also the first time I was in Spain. They had the most incredible metal bar there called Tyrant that you would have to see to believe. Just about every killer metal album cover is painted in murals all over the bar. Mike took pictures of us standing with a life-sized mural of KISS from Love Gun and me standing outside in front of a gigantic mural of the Motörhead pig monster logo! Both the German and Spanish promoters took very good care of us. We were treated like rock stars! We met some awesome people over in Europe.

With Giants of Canaan just coming out on February 2nd, I know it’s difficult to think about the future right now, but what is next for the band? I know the top priority when the band returned from hiatus was to get a new album under their belts before working the live circuit again, so I assume the next several months will be dedicated to some work on the road? Is Attacker all the way back as a touring and recording outlet on a consistent basis, or are there no particular plans for the immediate future? I guess what I’m mainly asking is this: are there more albums to come?

Absolutely. We are already looking forward to writing the new record. It's always best to strike while the iron is hot, and there is no shortage of inspiration in this band. We do have more shows booked as we speak; as a matter of fact, we will be doing shows with a few of my favorite metal bands: Helstar, Heretic, and Finnish metal legends Oz ! Just check out our Facebook page for dates and clubs. We plan on doing at least one show per month. I believe we have three dates with Oz—which is going to kill!

Lastly, you have worked on a number of projects outside of Attacker over the years, not all of which are buried and forgotten. Are you more or less ready to go should Overlorde go into the studio to record a new album? Have you abandoned the idea of resurrecting Morbid Sin?

I certainly will sing on another Overlorde album as soon as it's all set. As far as Morbid Sin goes, at the moment I am leaving that band on the backburner. I wouldn't resurrect Sin again unless I had at least two more original members with me. You can say I pretty much gave up on the idea of that ever happening. I do have material of my own that I wrote, which may appear on a solo album of mine some day. I write pretty doomy, Sabbathy stuff. But there are also elements of thrash and traditional in there too. If I do a solo album one day, I'll also play rhythm guitar on it as well as sing.

I met Joe Hasselvander, drummer of two of my absolute favorite bands, Raven and Pentagram. We actually talked a little about the possibility of us working together on a song or 2 one day. Who knows? That would be intense! I'm like a kid in a candy store right now—this is turning out to be a great experience for me. The Attacker guys are all very down to earth and great people. We have a blast together. Five clowns. But we’re five like-minded clowns...when it comes to business and the music, we are 110%, and that's very important. I'm back where I belong, and I want to make the most of it. A lot of people don't get a second chance. I had almost given up music altogether at one point. I'm glad I didn't.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. As a show of gratitude, the last words are yours.

Thank you for the interest Matt. This is one of the better interviews I've done—your questions were intelligent and I can tell you’re passionate about what you do. That makes for a better interview all around. In closing I'd like to thank the fans first and foremost—you are the reason we do what we do. The guys in Attacker for giving me the opportunity, and Mark Edwards for helping it become a reality, Jowita and Simone of Metal on Metal Records, and also to Lou Ciarlo, the sixth member of Attacker, and Pat “Taps” Guden for helping us create the masterpiece that is Giants of Canaan. And a big thanks to my girlfriend Betty Nitkoski for her love and support through it all, and putting up with a crazy boyfriend! I'm on Facebook if anyone wants to say hello. Thanks again—and METAL ON!

July 10, 2012

Argus - Argus (2009)

My God look not so fierce upon me, let me breathe awhile
Come not thou adders and serpents that Heaven reviles
Faustus, what weeps thou? Tis too late! Farewell!
Fool that will laugh upon Earth surely must weep in Hell!

Bringing heavy metal tastefully into the 21st Century, Argus successfully manages to sound modern and fresh while still recognizably maintaining its position within the tradition of old heavy metal on the band’s eponymous debut, Argus. Borrowing the spacious and labyrinthine song structures of the likes of early Mercyful Fate and Attacker’s Battle at Helm’s Deep, each song weaves its way through various melodic narratives before it comes in sight of the end. The process results in longer songs, but the expansive structures make the length of the songs a virtual non-issue as they pace along fluidly enough to stave off redundancy.

The leads serve an integral role, as they echo, emphasize, and introduce many of the key melodic phrases of the recording. These phrases regularly bridge the gaps between the major themes and motifs of every song, so the role of the classic vein of lead playing in heavy metal cannot be understated here. The exuberance of the dual harmonies tend to match the youthful energy of those who invoke them, and the veteran pipes of Butch Balich do well to focus that energy and enthusiasm into the at times bright and optimistic, at others dark and foreboding textures that complete the sonic vocabulary of this record.

Much of that which constitutes the band’s sound is overt. The frequent and melodious lead playing and powerful vocals are certainly not subtle, nor is the stout and clear production; neither can the slower, heavy trudging riffs be described as anything of the sort. The occasional moments of reflective fluttering, however, are made only the more potent as a result. A prime example of this is in the mid-section of “None Shall Know the Hour”, wherein the steadfastly midpaced heavy riffs and bombastic harmonies give way to a more nuanced and introspective detour. The foreboding organ intro created by John Gallo on “The Damnation of John Faustus”, and the tense melody into which it bleeds, serves as another exhibit of this quality.

As integral as is the inflective variety of the guitar playing, however, so too are the vocals, sung by none other than Butch Balich of Penance notoriety, possessing one of the more distinct voices in the heavy metal underground. The power of his voice becomes obvious instantaneously with the first hearing, a rich and pronounced voice that commands attention with its poise and conviction. While it consistently ranges in the lower-mid octave range, the pitch variation reflects an internal discipline and dedication that many singers amongst the modern crop of retro heavy metal bands tend to overlook. The example of Balich’s performance on this recording should serve as a testament to the significance that a quality performance can have on the delivery and impact that the songs themselves can have when committed to a recording in the studio.

The control and dexterity of both primary facets of the band—the harmonic guitar playing and the robust vocal delivery—take the quality of the recording beyond mere songwriting, extending into the performance aspect that is integral to every album. There are moments on this recording that necessitate a quality, powerful performance to successfully deliver into reality the world as it is envisioned by its creators. Any given passage can balance between anxiety and tranquility depending on the inflection given to the vocal line or guitar melody, a nuance that can be easily overlooked as unimportant, and in the process ruining the climax of a song. Praise must be given accordingly to the band’s musicianship and professionalism: praise that extends to the stout rhythm section as well.

The intelligence of the player goes beyond his ability to play his instrument, of course; namely, playing his instrument in concert with his surroundings in the form of both his fellow musician and the progression of the song itself. Contrast the solos in “Bending Time” and in “From Darkness Light” to understand the way that solos, for example, can vary based on the needs of the song. The solo in “Bending Time” is much more formal and ‘musical’ in an academic sense than the latter. That particular moment in “From Darkness Light”, on the other hand, has a much more sentimental bent to it, necessitating a more emotional, ‘feel’ type of solo, especially in conjunction with the heavy employment of harmonic lead playing scattered throughout the song.

The performance aspect is, however, but a small portion of the whole, the mere craft of the artistry itself. A virtuosic performance is quickly rendered meaningless if the songcraft of the material being performed is weak. The songcraft of Argus is, however, verdant, energetic, and lively, reflecting a sense of new adventure and enthusiasm that seems to come across in the music. The composition of the riffs sounds fresh and untrodden; while the style may not formally be unique or original, it sounds new and compelling in the format of the band’s songs.

There is no one clear influence that can be directly attributed to contributing to the band’s sound, though certainly, as said earlier, the manner of riff composition is certainly indebted to Mercyful Fate’s Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath with the way that each phrase leads one deeper and deeper into a maze. There is a pronounced emphasis on tempo and tempo variation, being a byproduct of the influences from classic doom metal that they harbor, although the compositions lend themselves more properly to the Judas Priest-Iron Maiden lineage than, say, Saint Vitus or Revelation. More interesting, however, is the variation in tone – in the literary sense – found in both the music and lyrics. As passages weave in and out of one another, the mood shifts along with it from light to dark, creating a strongly theatric sense of dynamics that really serves the music well. While the expression of mood is of great variety, however, the band itself maintains itself in a skeptical, observational role, as though the entire project is but character play, reflected in the sobriety of the lyrics in, for example, “None Shall Know the Hour”:

Now we climb from our graves
Return to the lives that we left behind
Our faith, lying in tatters, fallen and shattered
The lesson learned?
That none shall know the hour!

“The Effigy Is Real” is a classic instrumental piece that serves as a fitting bridge between the two darker tracks on the album, “The Damnation of John Faustus” and “The Outsider”. Each taking its inspiration from literature, they both express a musical finesse and temerity necessary for tackling the works of the likes of Christopher Marlowe and H.P. Lovecraft. The bare simplicity of the Lovecraft recitation in the middle of the latter astutely reflects the sense of loneliness and longing in the protagonist of the narrative, fittingly building up the ecstasy of relief that is felt with the character’s escape into the world, followed by the horror of his great realization, which is highlighted by a particularly skillful vocal delivery perpetrated by Balich:

Into the night air out under the moon's shining light
In search of laughter and reveling I now take flight
Onward now I fly! Onward now I fly!

Into the town from the windows the merriment flows
Seeking companionship through yonder doorway I go
All eyes turn to me...in horror all now flee

Demon, Demon - curse the night!
Mirror, Mirror - it is I!!

In essence, what Argus has done is bring back the storytelling aspect to heavy metal, and this is conveyed through both music and lyrics, as well as in the way that the two correspond to one another. Not so in the sense of a concept album, akin to King Diamond, but in the literal sense of communicating and explicating an idea or a thought from beginning to end, of which each song cited above would amply serve as a fitting example. While the compositions are dynamic and evolving, they still largely flow in a narrative structure. This allows the band to remain traditional while still maintaining their own unique identity, rather than being unidentifiable. Indeed, Argus is very much akin to the myriad classic works of the heavy metal genre. The beauty of this band is simply that they play a classic, traditional style in a new and invigorating way that avoids the pitfalls of redundancy and regurgitation. Argus certainly has the artistic palate necessary to create great and enduring works in the heavy metal genre.

April 11, 2012

Averse Sefira - Advent Parallax (2008)

The nature of Evil is so poorly understood, particularly in the context of Black Metal and its forebears. The spectators have incredibly misgiven ideas about what makes one Evil and what behavior reflects it. Evil and cruelty are two different things, though they are constantly confused. A violent man is generally not so much Evil as he is angry at whatever pain life has delivered unto him. Being Evil does not mean to be without passion or compassion, but rather to have those qualities and motivations on one’s own terms rather than having them mandated by society or the church. Evil means we are masters of our own destiny. Evil is the courage to demand absolute measures to make this world one in which we wish to live. Evil is a rejection of moralism and post-moralism, and an adaption of a mixed code of conduct that may seem outwardly inconsistent but internally coherent. Evil is to choose the dark rather than to accept the light. We can smile, laugh, and even love, and this does not invalidate our nature. We find meaning in dark places and in dark practices. If this was not true then we would not make this music. Our passions show in our art and Evil is the fuel that drives it, the prime motivator. – Wrath Sathariel Diabolus 

Advent Parallax is a work of deconstruction and recombinance, a potent effervescence out of which is birthed a new paradigm. Deriving from such death metal pioneers as Immolation, Morbid Angel, and Deicide a dynamic understanding of arrangement and structure, complexity and confrontational dissonance, Averse Sefira establishes an original and redeeming archetype for black metal that is as regressively introverted as it is visionary, an essential hallmark for not only its respective genre but for the stagnant contemporary metal form as a whole. Advent Parallax is, as alluding to the artwork provided courtesy of Jos A. Smith entitled Machine for a Journey of Indeterminate Depth, a vehicle through which is explored both the past and present realities with an eye toward the potentialities for making actual a future that is a worthy successor to the creative and inventive spirit that fueled the celebrated works of its predecessors.

Indulging in the sonorous and sweeping ambient melodies of Pure Holocaust and the narrative formal organization of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or the seminal works of Gorgoroth, Averse Sefira creates a dichotomy between chaos and harmony, allowing for the dispersal of the former in favor of the latter to provide both an avenue and a motivation for a contemplation upon the experience, in a state of emotional exhaustion that ultimately subsides only at the album’s conclusion. It is at this point that is ultimately provided the necessary room to breathe for true, substantial reflection. The work demands a period of silence upon completion to achieve its ultimate resolution. It is a resolution of unraveling the interweaving elements, the cacophony of cyclically surfacing and dissipating movements, which ebb and flow in accordance to the machinations of a greater thematic construct.

Accompanied by a healthy Necromorbus Studio production, the band sees their musical vision come alive more vibrantly than ever before, adapting certain modern production tendencies to create a powerful and crisp, yet cold sound that serves to highlight the melodic Immortal- and Burzum-esque guitar work of Sanguine Mapsama. Underscored by the suitably audible and nimble bass playing of Wrath Sathariel Diabolus and the more than competent drumming of The Carcass, each element of the music is heard with clarity and, more importantly, with purpose. Every instrument is integral at all turns, even at rest, never merely playing along unless it is in service to the song, as in “Séance in a Warrior’s Memory”. Also of note in this song is the evolution of the band’s usage of contrast in tone, in the juxtaposition between clamor and tranquility, employing silence to evoke the onset of an alteration of mood within the framework of the song, rather than as an interlude or bridging two songs together. This brief moment of serendipitous reflection acts as a calm before the storm, as the song erupts with greater malevolence and renewed intensity afterward, the  original denouement ultimately proving false.

One of the more rewarding aspects of the album is that it works toward a unison of musical and lyrical consistency. It is an essentially indivisible syncretism that is at once sincere and manipulative, both servant to the same master. At the same time genuinely embracing the aesthetic relevance of Hermetic Qabalah and various other occult, magickal, and mythological spheres, Averse Sefira simultaneously turns against itself the dogmatism attached to each branch of superstition and thereby causes its own extinction.

Contrary to some reports, Averse Sefira is not a part of the orthodox black metal genus, but is rather a non-theistic entity, utilizing mythic irony to assault false beliefs. In direct contrast to the orthodox movement, it is the desire of the band not to invert traditional beliefs, but rather to abolish them. It is the stated mission of the band for their music to express to their audience the message of weakening the stranglehold of religious occupation in its world, primarily the power that the religious right holds in America. States Wrath Sathariel Diabolus:

The ‘dirty work’ we have in mind is for people to think goD out of existence. I have grown tired of impotent band T-shirts that spout ‘blasphemous’ slogans about killing the nazarene or violating nuns, etc. In the end, such items still acknowledge the presence of the christian icons. I agree these ideas must be destroyed, but as I said, if we who oppose christianity refuse to acknowledge its existence, then it will lose some of its strength and influence. This is the idea we wish to express to our listeners.

In an effort to accomplish this, the band makes use of imagery from various areas of faith in their lyrics, in doing so allowing them to be viewed as the pure concepts that they represent. They expose these concepts as the logical absurdities that they are, portraying “god as a lost idea, at best an insane and loveless being in accordance with how man devised him”. It is only upon the serpent’s path that divinity exists, and that is the divinity within one’s self. To the ordered chaos of nature is homage paid for what it has birthed, not through divinity, but rather as a result of the chaotic randomness of the universe. It is the relationship between man and nature, and the nature of man, that has merited the most profound utterings on their latest work, from “Viral Kinesis”, or the human experience:

The Mind says, ‘I am not of the Body. When the Body ceases, I will be set free. I direct the Shell to move.’ 
The Soul says, ‘I am not of the Body. When Death comes, I shall reunite with the Void. I am the Engine of the Vessel.’ 
The Spirit says, ‘I am not of the Body. If I die, there is no longer reason to Exist. I am the fuel that fills the Form and gives it Power.’ 
The Body says, ‘It is only through Me that you are realized. I am that which makes you known. Without Me, you have no Home.’ 
The Fire says, ‘I am your Master. I govern you all as Passions. The Body melts at my touch. The Spirit burns at ignition. The Soul ashes at recession. The Mind an inferno at my stoking.’

For a band whose message may very well be frequently lost upon the casual listener through the cryptic nature of their lyrics, this is perhaps as clear a statement as any the band has made. Man is made up of the Mind, Body, Soul, and Spirit, yet each is governed by various Passions, equated with Fire, among other things a universal symbol for destruction. It is the plight of man to perpetually wage war with the Passions, physically, mentally, intellectually, and emotionally. At times it is requisite to expel one’s own Passions, cathartically alleviating one symptom or another from the human condition, both for the producer and for anybody else that wishes to engage with it. Such is the case in art, and Advent Parallax is a rejuvenating expulsion, rich in texture, sound, ideology, power, and significance. Averse Sefira is a beacon for the new age of black metal. Anoint. Alight. Align.

January 13, 2012

Necrovation - Breed Deadness Blood (2008)

Necrovation is for those who are looking to recapture (or perhaps see firsthand) a vision of the culture and legacy of the Swedish death metal scene of the late 80s and early 90s. Although they are just one of many newer names that have popped up within the past decade, however, they do manage to stand out a bit from the crowd, and not just for being one of the first to successfully release a full-length, that being Breed Deadness Blood. This is perhaps because they draw not only on the bands who actually played the music that they are more or less trying to emulate, but they also take inspiration from the bands that got their predecessors to pick up their guitars in the first place, which in a sense gives Necrovation’s sound a more genuine quality than most others. What you’ll hear is not only Merciless, Nihilist, Entombed, Carnage, Grave, and Unleashed, but also traces of Autopsy, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost, and Obituary, such as in the closing track, “Divinity Obscure.”

All of the typical aesthetic characteristics of the early Swedish death metal scene are present here; whether one objects to such imitation is another matter which will not be an issue here, as what is foremost at the moment is the strength of the material itself and the authenticity with which it is played. This seems to be an underlying current in some of the lyrics as well, paying homage to their predecessors not merely via echoing their lyrical content, but also imbuing beneath that content a second reading which is in veneration of the past. In “Dark Reverie,” for example, this seems most clear. The song title itself hints at the possibility. The band associates their brand of death metal heavily with darkness and death, unsurprisingly, so to revere the darkness or to do so in a dark manner suggests the possibility that this song could be aware of the undercurrent which speaks of the importance of the early Swedish death metal scene, while at the same time expressing disdain for the pretenders to the throne who poison the essence of their craft, twisting it into something that it was never meant to be. It is unnecessary to examine in depth the lyrics to discover the mere possibility of a double meaning to the lyrics (whether or not they are indeed there intentionally); however, one particular line resonates, and that is “rules of death apply in eclipse of life.” Not only is this line delivered with particular earnestness, but it lends itself quite easily to the aforementioned analysis. It suggests that although the Swedish scene as it was once understood is no longer present, the principles by which it was governed are still essential to the form of music that is its “twisted relic of years,” and which must be adhered to should any attempt to revive that musical legacy, which just so happens to be what the band is doing.

It is unlikely that any would contest that Necrovation does not adhere faithfully to their predecessors’ vision. One may protest that they adhere to it too loyally and say nothing of their own, but that is another matter. That Breed Deadness Blood is firmly grounded in that scene cannot be denied, whether it is through the bile with which the vocals are delivered, or the subtly punk influenced drum arrangements which especially characterized the earliest Swedish death metal bands like Nihilist, or the crushing rhythmic breakdowns which came to be an element that epitomizes the “Swedish death metal sound.” The buzzsaw-like guitar tone and low end of the bass guitar leave the listener with little breathing room and a pounding heart from the sheer power of the sound produced on this album, which was actually a bit old by the time this album finally saw the light of day (as it was recorded in August of ’06 and finally unleashed a year and a half later in February ’08). The production is somehow crisp, with everything being perfectly audible, which especially allows the harmonies and solos to shine through, yet remaining dirty and raw. If production was among the issues which delayed the release of this album, then it was certainly worth the wait, because the production really helps to bring these songs to life.

It is unnecessary to dwell precisely on the sounds of the music, given its largely derivative nature; it should suffice enough to say merely that if anyone both wants to and is willing to relive that early 90s death metal atmosphere and perhaps catch on to its predecessor (it would be unfair to call it a reincarnation), then exploring what Necrovation is doing today would be a good idea. This is a pure act of indulgence—the equivalent of one with a sweet tooth falling into a decadent ecstasy of eating some fine chocolate. For those who live this music, this is a fine chocolate which fulfills everything that one would expect it to fulfill, containing all of the desired characteristics of its given form. From the sinister and blasphemous artwork, to the buzzsaw guitar, to the dark and twisted lyrics, Breed Deadness Blood offers the death metal disciple the full package, if one chooses to partake.

December 22, 2011

In Solitude - In Solitude

Amongst a small group of resurgent classic heavy metal bands is Sweden’s In Solitude, blending the unique melodicism and occult aesthetics of Mercyful Fate with the archetypal Iron Maiden and Judas Priest metal sound to form In Solitude, their debut album. Traces of vast arrays of heavy metal bands from various scenes are surely also influences, which provide a small bit of variety to the proceedings. However, the fundamental elements here can all be traced back to Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. In “Kathedral”, for example, the blend of Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate is highly evident, from the Priest-like opening riff to the Mercyful Fate styled break midway in which the short, sharp drum hits underscore a classic upward driving riff and melodic lead playing while the vocalist theatrically wails, behind which are falsetto vocals utilized in order to achieve the same energy of the early Mercyful Fate material. While there is not much on display that can be said to be anything approximating originality, what it is, at the very least, is both very well done and faithful to the great heritage of traditional metal, capturing, for the most part, the subtlety and nuance of the aforementioned bands in such a way that makes for a listen that doesn’t feel wholly redundant.

In Solitude’s music takes on a very theatric and narrative quality in that each song is treated as a performance, almost akin to a play, in which a story is being related, and the song responds to the storyline accordingly. Not that this is a concept album by any means; perhaps a thematic album. Nonetheless, the King Diamond tendency to derive musical ideas from the lyrical, or vice versa, so that they are complimentary, is an evident trait in their sound. The varying vocal approaches incorporated into “Witches Sabbath” are a demonstration of this relationship, as the falsettos return for the chorus and a sinister, low register is employed for the demonstrative command of the bridge, “build now a circle, of fire! And drink from your cups. Hail high the baphomet!” The aforementioned break in “Kathedral” is yet another example, as is “Faceless Mistress,” where the chorus of “nothing but death can stop them tonight, in vicious delight” takes the song into a new mood as the shifting tone of the lyrics takes on an ominous, cautionary mode.

Given that they draw so heavily on Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Mercyful Fate, it is little surprise that In Solitude’s music is peppered with leads and solos and melodies used as a counterpoint to some heavy riff. The lead guitarist is an excellent soloist with a strong feel for appropriately harmonized solos that go well with the music to which it is subservient. Main passages, such as the beginning of “Temple of the Unknown,” are driven by a primary heavy riff, over which is played a corresponding melodic at a higher register which allows that main fundamental to reflect a greater variety of moods as the melody shifts above it. Major musical shifts are often intimated by some lead playing acting as a bridge from one movement to the next. They utilize the layering of varying guitar sounds very effectively, successfully capturing, at least in essence, the attention to detail in the melodic writing of Tipton/Downing, Murray/Smith, and Shermann/Denner that were so integral to the sound of these foundational institutions.

What is interesting about this band is that, while their music is very melodic, laced with Iron Maiden inspired harmonies throughout, it is also very dark, influenced obviously by Mercyful Fate, but also perhaps enlightened by extreme metal, not perhaps in sound, but in essence, as In Solitude shares members with the death metal band Invidious, formerly known as Katalysator. Indeed, the bands even share a vocalist. Nonetheless, this is pure heavy metal, though the bands’ affinity for extreme metal perhaps fuels the their interest in dark, occult subject matter, which makes Mercyful Fate’s Satanic lyrics even more appealing. Similarly to Portrait, who describe their sound as “heavy metal darkness,” this new breed of heavy metal bands tends to be more attracted to the dark, evil, occult aspects of the genre, and one wonders how much this relates to the later developments in extreme metal.

Lyrics in metal as a whole are much darker and evil than they were when Mercyful Fate first came out and their over the top theatrics were lambasted by such stalwarts as the brilliant minds who ran Kerrang! in the early 80s. In Solitude is in this context hardly extreme, and not nearly on the cutting edge of anything, but are in fact treading water in the vast ocean of those who came decades before them. For those who feel there is no place for such bands, In Solitude is certainly not going to offer any surprises. On the other hand, there are those who find value in such bands that, while not being ‘retro’ in terms of a trend mentality, are nonetheless centrally derived from what has been the foundation of this style of music for three decades; for these people, there is little to be found that can match the quality of this band. Besides, whether it’s 2008 or 1988, heavy metal of this style was still derivative; it is not as though proximity on a timeline corresponds to compositional quality, and In Solitude seems to have it down better than many bands of similar caliber who are two decades their senior.

November 15, 2011

The Gates of Slumber - Conqueror

With Conqueror, The Gates of Slumber continues to advance toward a perfect marriage between heavy metal and doom metal. Not to say that the two have ever been mutually exclusive, but in here is a clear convergence of influences from Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath to Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol, taking cues from both sides of the dividing line. Continuing in the tradition of “Angel of Death” from their previous album, Conqueror opens on a high note with a burst of energy in the form of “Trapped in the Web,” a fantasy tale of an encounter with a menacing spider from your darkest nightmares. Indeed, this album overall follows an upbeat trajectory in comparison with Suffer No Guilt, which was subject to long intervals of side tracking and jamming, complete with three songs exceeding 12 minutes, in which can be found some of the slowest traditional doom metal this side of Warning and Reverend Bizarre.

This is not completely absent from Conqueror, but it is much more constrained and controlled, as exemplified by the eponymous song. “Dark Valley Suite” is a 16 minute ode to the legendary Robert E. Howard, a writer that has quite obviously come to greatly influence The Gates of Slumber. It is divided into four segments, during one of which Karl Simon gives his best attempt at an emotive reading of a truly haunting poem written by Howard, in which he reflects on his own imminent death. Whether or not the desired effect is achieved here is up for the band to decide, but it will certainly not be appreciated by all. Others, such as myself, will find in it a certain charm that comes from the heart, which is why we listen to this style of metal to begin with. Technical prowess is secondary to heart, and what the band may lack vocally or elsewhere is made up tremendously in the conviction and honesty found in the music.

There is, however, overall a shift toward the more controlled and faster, a minor departure from the past album, and this is not necessarily an entirely good thing. I personally found the seemingly improvised jams in some of the earlier songs to be extremely effective and to epitomize what the band was all about, losing themselves in the music that they love to play. Conqueror, while excellent, is not the band’s shining achievement in my eyes. There is perhaps too much streamlining to be found within, an effort, conscious or unconscious, of making the songs more easily digestible to the average listener. A song such as “Riders of Doom” would feel a bit out of place on this album. They have done better, though that is not to diminish the quality found here.

Karl Simon’s guitar playing on this album is excellent, as it was on the albums prior. The solos especially just explode with energy and passion, much like Jerry Fogle or Mark Shelton. These are notes struck from the heart, not from the mind, and that is the playing style that works best for this form of metal, which relies so heavily on the emotive aspect of the music for its power. The driving force in such songs as “Children of Satan” and “The Machine” are undeniably powerful. The bass work of Jason McCash, as always, is excellent, never overplaying, but not merely echoing the guitar either. He is also a real presence on stage, the intensity of his play being as much a part of the song as the notes struck. He, as the rest of the band, is a true joy to experience in a live setting, animating the music on disc more than is possible in the studio. It is a boon to witness these songs come to life in a live setting, which greatly assists in appreciating the material in a more personal way, which is important for a form of music as personal as doom metal tends to be.

Personality is one of the primary elements that make The Gates of Slumber one of the best bands around today. This is not merely the personas of the musicians, but rather tangible characteristics of the music itself. The guitar playing chiefly, but also the vocals, which come off as lacking eloquence, to put it nicely; and yet the vocals are perfect for the music, and should not be any other way. Even the times in which they vary the way that the vocals are delivered, such as in the aforementioned passage in “Dark Valley Suite” and in the underrated “To Kill and be King,” it just feels appropriate. This is real music played by real people with real passion and a damn good sense of what they want to do, and that counts for more than anything else.

October 4, 2011

Jex Thoth - Jex Thoth

The music of Jex Thoth is a gateway between the past and the present, taking the sounds of the 60s and 70s into the contemporary music world, and managing to not come across as utterly derivative. Reciting tales of paganism and the occult, Jex Thoth is an immersive experience, absorbing the listener into its embrace with its invitingly warm production and aesthetically inoffensive tones. It is an album that nullifies the significance of genre boundaries, having arguably only one foot in the realm of heavy metal as envisioned by the likes of Black Sabbath and Pentagram, the other falling somewhere in the midst of the various subgenres of rock that were largely contemporary with the aforementioned. It is the progressive and acid folk oriented rock inspirations that separate this band from the vast traditional doom metal explosion currently on hand, stylistically speaking, and that ultimately make this a rewarding listen, even aesthetically, with the hazy and thin production battling against the crushing guitar tone and the rich sound of the organ. It is a refreshingly unrefined work that nonetheless reveals a power and depth no longer reached in this style of music today.

This is music that is constructed upon its impact on the emotions, and on sentimentality, generated by the sweeping shifts in mood, awakening the senses through its various expressive channels. It ranges from the dismal to the sublime, the one being instrumental to the construction of the other. It is both melancholic and energetic; all at once sifting between airy psychedelic passages, revolving around swirling melodies amidst a cornucopia of buoyant instruments: the flute and the synthesizer, the piano and the organ, and even bongos. At other instances, it is bursting with prototypically Sabbathian power chords, utilized sparingly, yet effectively. Especially in the Equinox Suite is found the dreamily quixotic aura that is the strength and grace of Jex Thoth’s music.  Blissfully ignorant of the troubles of the outside world and entirely indulgent within its own sphere of musical therapy, Jex Thoth is an idyllic utopia nonetheless filled with horrors and dangers, yet never at the sacrifice of the sensation of utter tranquility.

The most distinctive element of the band is, of course, the vocals of Jex Thoth, not unsurprising given the name of the band. She takes on an iconic role, becoming larger than the music itself, almost as the living embodiment of the spirit of the band. She is Jex Thoth, the person and the ideal, the music pulsing with the divine energies of the concepts by which the music is driven. The various images of her in occult garb, replete with dark, deep-set and glaring eyes, or as the “Warrior Woman,” perpetuate the enigmatic and mystical quality about her, as does the band’s evident wish to leave their lyrics unpublished, citing the cause as the lyrics being too personal in nature. Not to overstate the obvious symbolic gesture of the band’s frontwoman, Jex Thoth is also a highly invigorating and soulful singer, bleeding every ounce of passion into her vocal performance with a genuine sense of sincerity that resonates with every note. She is to Jex Thoth what Tania Duarte is to Reino Ermitaño, perhaps even more so. It is a struggle not to fall into typical clichés when referring to energetic and passionate frontwomen, referring to them as perhaps sirens or other similarly enchanting mythical depictions of women, and indeed this is often encouraged by the bands themselves through visual and other means. After all, a band statement regarding their change of name from Totem to Jex Thoth cited that they were “dropping all Totemic facades in favor of our greater goal...to animate the divine through our muse and avatar as she exists here and now::::: JEX THOTH!” Nonetheless, what can be said purely in plain speech is that she provides a captivating and utterly convincing demonstration that works in sync with the rest of the band flawlessly.

There is, after all, a ‘rest of the band,’ and one that deserves to be acclaimed. Grim Jim, evidently the brother of Jex Thoth (better known to their families as James and Jessica Toth), is the main protagonist behind the scenes, and shares guitar duties with newer recruit Silas Paine in addition to recording the bass and synthesizer. Paine in addition plays the flute and bouzouki, “a member of the 'long neck lute' family”, while Johnny Dee plays the various percussive instruments, leaving Zodiac to orchestrate the arrangements for keyboard and organ. In addition to simply being very solid musically, the band as a whole does a remarkable job of incorporating the aforementioned ‘non-standard’ instruments in an unobtrusive fashion, much to the benefit of what is surely their primary target audience, namely traditional doom metal fans who most likely don’t have a great measure of exposure to the outside influences that the band injects into their sound.

All that need be said of these outside influences is the project Wooden Wand, featuring the Toths and Zodiac, a band admittedly a bit out of my element, but exhibiting the primary traits of the aforementioned progressive, psychedelic, and acid folk rock genres that bleed their way into Jex Thoth’s sound, made most obvious of course by the Bobb Trimble cover of “When the Raven Calls,” a song that hardly feels out of place on the rest of the album. A special mention should also be given to the striking album cover drawn by Albert Witchfinder, formerly of Reverend Bizarre, now fronting Spiritus Mortis. It is a vivid image of the utopian and carefree atmosphere that belies the sinister undercurrent that pervades the entirety of the work. There is much more to be said for the symbology of artwork alone, but it can be left at the evident fact that it is an immaculate visual representation of the band’s music: dreamy, fanciful, mystical, spirited, innocent, and naïve, yet cognizant, dangerous, deceptive, elusive, and powerful.