This story was originally published in 2014.
When Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered onstage while performing with his band Damageplan at the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio, it left a massive hole in the heart of heavy metal. Dime was not only a trailblazing shredder with a knack for infectious, grooving riffs and lightning-struck solos, but he was also one of the biggest and most exuberant personalities in the scene. An early champion of Pantera, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford would come to befriend Dime, collaborate with him and, after his death, mourn and remember him. Here, the Metal God pays tribute to the late, great guitar hero.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST MEET DIMEBAG DARRELL?
ROB HALFORD Priest was in Canada rehearsing for the Painkiller tour. I was doing an interview from the hotel room and I turned the telly on to [Canadian music-video channel] Much Music. The sound was turned off, and I saw this guy and he's got a British Steel T-shirt on. So I quickly finished the interview, and I turned the volume up and he's just talking about his band, Pantera, and Cowboys From Hell. And just watching him and listening to him on the television, you just felt like, This is a great guy. Firstly, I saw a clip of the band. I was like, My God, this guitar player is fucking phenomenal, besides the rest of the band. And then just hearing him talk I thought, I really would like to meet this guy. So I called up Much Music and I said, "Was that Darrell? Is he still there?" It wasn't Dimebag in those days, it was Diamond Darrell. They said, "Yeah, he still is." And he was like, "Oh my God, I can't believe it, I'm wearing a Priest shirt." And I said, "Yeah, I've just seen you on the Much Music." He said, "Oh man, I'd love to see you. We got a show tonight at the club in Toronto." I'm pretty much sure that it was Pantera and Stryper.
So I went down there, and we had a great time together, and we just talked about metal, this, that and the other. I think jammed "Metal Gods" with them. It's a bit blurry — it should be more significant than this, but this is 1991. I was clean and sober then, but you know how things get jumbled up in your brain. So that was the start of that. And I told [Judas Priest guitarists] Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing specifically after that: "I've seen this band. They're absolutely fucking amazing and they are going to be huge. They are going to be huge!" And I said, "We should try to get him on the tour." So, to cut a long story short, we brought them with us on the Priest Painkiller tour of Europe and nobody had a clue who they were. They had no distribution as far as I understood in Europe. So they went out blind, in front of Germans and French and whatever. I used to watch every show, and the first reaction fans gave them was, Who the hell is this? And it was like, Oh my fucking God, what's going on in front of my eyes? They would just win an audience over in 30, 40 minutes. From playing fresh, new music that nobody had heard before. The communication was instant with that band. So, there it was. So, by the time we'd done the European tour, and they went back to the states, Cowboys was shooting up the charts. And that was it, they were off and running. They were just launched into the stratosphere on that first release.
YOU MENTIONED DIME'S BRITISH STEEL SHIRT. HE USED TO WEAR A RAZORBLADE NECKLACE IN HONOR OF YOUR ALBUM, TOO. DID HE EVER TELL YOU ABOUT THAT?
Yeah, and he had it tattooed on his leg, as well. He loved that record. It meant everything to him. It was one that he said was very inspiring to him as a guitar player and as a musician in general. That's great, isn't it?
SHORTLY AFTER YOU TOURED WITH PANTERA, YOU WORKED WITH DIME ON THE SONG "LIGHT COMES OUT OF BLACK," FOR THE BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SOUNDTRACK. HOW DID THAT COME TOGETHER?
I was away from Priest. Sony were working on the soundtrack. They wanted Sony artists and asked me to write a song. I hadn't written as a solo writer for years and years and years. But it's one of those things where you don't know what you can do until you put your nose to the grindstone. So I wrote "Light Comes Out of Black," and I was stuck. And I got Dime's number, and I called him up and I said, "Here's the deal." And he goes, "Let's do it. Just get in the plane and come down to Dallas." So, that's what I did the next day, went to the studio, laid the track down in a very short space of time. Phil [Anselmo] wandered by, said "Oh, how's it going, 'Metal God'?" So, I told him and he said, "You got a spot for me?" I said, "Pfft, here's the mic." So Phil joins me on the back end of the song. And it turned out really good. It's amazing to think that that's a Pantera song really. It is Pantera with me on lead vocals, and Phil obviously doing the outro sections. But it's a Pantera song really.
DID YOU PLAY GUITAR ON A DEMO AND SEND IT TO HIM ORIGINALLY?
Yeah, I put my very primitive ... I just don't have the mental capacity to do what guitar players do.
WHAT WAS EXCEPTIONAL ABOUT WORKING WITH DIME?
His interpretation of the song. His phrasing, the feel was unique. Let's face it. You look at rock & roll. You've got Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, you've got Eddie Van Halen. I'm just going through a list off the top of my head — you obviously got Dimebag. Obviously, Glenn [Tipton, Priest guitarist], [Iron Maiden's] Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, all of these significant lead heavy-metal, hard-rock guitar players. And Dimebag ... I'm mentioning them now because they're very influential. All of those guitar players have been very influential to not only music but specifically to other guitar players around the world. And there's no doubt that Dimebag's impression was just monumental. If you took Dimebag out of the equation, metal would sound totally different right now. Without a doubt it would, definitely.
WHAT WAS THE LAST TIME YOU TALKED TO DIME?
I'm pretty certain it was Aladdin in Las Vegas on the Halford Resurrection tour with Iron Maiden. It might have happened maybe once, twice after that.
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU HEARD DIME HAD DIED?
I was in my house in Phoenix. I think somebody texted me or somebody called me, and my legs went from underneath me. I just hit the deck. This can't be real. I put the TV on, and it was actually on CNN. I just sat there in disbelief. And then I bawled like a baby, like you should do. I just cried my eyes out. And you just don't know what to do. You're full of confusion, you're full of anger, you want to fucking smash things to pieces. You want to play the music. You want to call Phil. All of these things are going on in your head. And obviously, Pat [Lachman] was singing for Damageplan at the time. I wanted to call Pat. Do you call? Do you not call? What the fuck's going on? Just a bazillion things are going around your head at the same time. But it was just terrible. It's just seems inconceivable. I don't think, now, that's never happened to anybody else, has it? I mean, we lost people through self-induced things, like booze and drugs. We've lost people like Ronnie [James Dio] with the kinds of illnesses. But to be fucking brutally murdered is just insane. Absolutely insane. John Lennon is the only other person, isn't it? They're both in good company, as far as what they mean and how they've lived on in our lives. How Dimebag will always live on. That's the only bit of solace you've got. It's that the work that they made will live forever. That's the blessing.
If anyone knows metal festivals, it's Dethklok's Nathan Explosion. The dude has played some of the biggest metallurgic gatherings ever, often leaving his band's fanatical and reckless fans literally dead in the group's wake. Considering his depth of experience and knowledge in regards to the dangers of concert-going, we asked Explosion if he would be kind enough to put together his list of festival survival tips, and he agreed to do so — mostly because, as he told us, "our Dethklok manager Charles asked me to write this because he thought it would help my 'I hate the fans' image, even though I think it's totally cool to hate your fans. I mean, I don't want to start pandering like Lady Gaga ..."
1. Do not wear deodorant
That's for fancy Wall Street pussies. This is a metal show. You should smell bad. And if you smell bad enough then the crowd will separate when you walk through so you can get beers easier.
2. Bring extra shoes
Shoes have a strange way of flying off your feet when you get knocked on your ass in the mosh pit. You don't want to walk home in broken glass with no shoes, right? Wait. Scratch that. It's way cooler to walk in broken glass with no shoes. Don't bring any shoes.
3. Don't let your epileptic seizure ruin anyone's good time
If you're going to have an epileptic seizure because of the flashing lights, loud music, etc., please excuse yourself and have it privately in the bushes. It tends to bum people out.
4. Be nice to the ladies
There are only four of them here. You'll blow your chances if you act like a dick wad, and the odds are stacked against you as it is.
5. The sun is hot
Here's a great way to cool down: Take off your shirt and coat yourself in butter. I'm telling you here. It's a really good idea.
To protect our environment, please vomit in trashcans and not the recycling bins. Unless you've eaten recyclable things like plastic or broken glass — then go ahead and honk into the recycling bins.
Hope this helps. Enjoy yourself, and do please go die.
This story was originally published in October 2011.
A burst of thunder, three drumbeats and lightning-strike guitars — the opening riff to Slayer's "Raining Blood," from 1986's Reign in Blood, is undeniably one of the most monumental moment in metal history. So monumental, in fact, that its influence has resounded far beyond extreme music: Artists as diverse as pop-punks Reggie and the Full Effect and Dirty South rapper Lil Jon have used the riff (not to mention about eight million hardcore bands), and the song has been covered by everyone from piano-playing singer/songwriter Tori Amos to YouTube-star kid sisters jamming out on Rocksmith. We talked to Slayer's Jeff Hanneman, the classic cut's main songwriter, about his and the band's definitive song, its origins, evolution and lasting legacy.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT WRITING THE MAIN RIFF TO "RAINING BLOOD"?
JEFF HANNEMAN I just remember when I came up with it, I thought, This is pretty good. I instantly grabbed my little mini-recorder or whatever I had at that time and recorded it so I wouldn't forget it. I had no idea that the fans would react to it as much as they do. Still, to this day, when we play that song, they go nuts. It's just unbelievable. At concerts, you know the drum buildup before we start playing that riff? It's almost like an eerie calm going on in the audience. But once it starts, when we start playing that riff, they fucking go crazy. I think its success is that it's so simplistic. It just sticks in your head. It embeds itself in your brain, and you sing it in your head all day and the only cure is to play the song again. Kids go nuts for that song. Like I said, I knew it had something that was really eerie about it or whatever, but I didn't know it was going to be as big as it was. In fact, I played it for Kerry [King, Slayer's other guitarist] on my little 8-track, and Kerry was like, "So." And I'm like, [laughing] "Dude, c'mon this is cool!"
WHAT DID THE OTHER GUYS THINK OF IT?
Fuckin' Dave [Lombardo, then–Slayer drummer] loved it. Tom [Araya, vocals, bass] loved it. Kerry was the only one that was like, "Huh, what?" Of course, he loves it now.
DO YOU REMEMBER HOW IT SOUNDED IN DEMO FORM?
I came up with the riff and I had some stuff to go after it. Not what is actually on the song now, but I did the whole buildup. The whole "bomp bomp bomp" and the eerie guitar sounds, and I put it down on my little 8-track with my drum machine. And I thought it sounded great.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT WRITING THE SONG?
I pretty much started the lyrics and I hit a roadblock and I think Kerry finished them up. Then I came back and did the ending part. The whole "Raining Blood." That part. But it pretty much came together easy. It's a short song.
WHAT WERE YOUR MUSICAL INFLUENCES AROUND THAT TIME?
I think pretty much punk. I think those were still my big punk days. Wasted Youth, T.S.O.L., Minor Threat.
HOW DID YOUR PRODUCER, RICK RUBIN, REACT TO IT?
I think on that song he just said, "It's done. It's perfect." That's pretty much how Rubin works. It's either, "Oh, this sucks." Or "It's perfect." [Laughs] Then he'll throw in his two cents. Our big thing is we'll either listen to him or if we think it's dumb, it's dumb, and we won't do it. But his big contribution to that album was the sound. That was the first time we ever sounded that in-your-face. The past records were all a lot of reverb, too much reverb. We didn't know exactly what we wanted. But looking back it's like I don't know why we even put up with that much reverb. But we were kids. And Rubin just said, "Fuck the reverb," and said, "Let's just put it straight." Like it would be, I guess, live or whatever. After that we were like, "Yeah, let's keep it this way."
HAVE YOU EVER GOTTEN SICK OF PLAYING "RAINING BLOOD"?
Not really, because it's a great song. It's short and the kids go nuts. Every night when we play it, once the kids go off like they do, it gives you goosebumps. You go off. It's still fun to play.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HOW IT HAS BEEN EMBRACED IN THE SPORTS WORLD?
Yeah. I finally heard it, God, they played it in a hockey arena. I couldn't believe that. I love hockey, and I go to a lot of the games. And I was like, Why don't they ever play Slayer? And then they finally played "Raining Blood," and I was like, "Yes!"
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF TORI AMOS' COVER OF "RAINING BLOOD"?
I would have to say her version was the most original. Is this our song? It's like, why would you even do that song? Something about the rag? I don't know. She just asked if it was OK, and we said, OK, knock yourself out. And that was the end of it. The only cool thing about it is, I guess, because she did that song, we were playing over in Europe and we were really late and we were going on before her. We were super late and she just said, "No problem." We got there late, our flight was late or whatever, and she said, "No problem. Play your whole set." Like, Wow. I thought she was gonna be a bitch.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HOW SOME PEOPLE USE THAT RIFF AS THEIR RINGTONE?
[Laughs] Yeah. That's pretty cool. I actually would think that would be goofy, but that is pretty cool.
DID THE SUCCESS OF THAT SONG INTIMIDATE YOU AS A BAND IN ANY WAY WHEN YOU WERE WRITING YOUR NEXT ALBUM, SOUTH OF HEAVEN?
It was just like, we're not going to be able to top that whole album. We're not going to be able to beat that. That's why we did South of Heaven and Seasons, we just kind of mellowed out a little bit. Not mellow, but slowed down. Maybe this new album [World Painted Blood] will be… I don't think anything can beat Reign in Blood. [Laughs] Who am I kidding?
Below, see Anthrax, Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown honor Slayer's Jeff Hanneman in 2013 by closing their rendition of Pantera's "This Love" with the iconic opening of "Raining Blood":
This story was originally published in the May 2004.
There are few frontmen in metal as iconic as Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. But while this means that even your parents might know that Dickinson is an avid reader who likes to fence and fly airplanes, there's a lot about this man that remains a mystery. Like, for instance, his favorite book, his favorite beast, or his favorite science fiction movie.
1. FAVORITE OFFSTAGE REFRESHMENT: Beer
"I'm a big fan of independent local breweries. My favorite beer is brewed about 500 yards from my house, Fuller's Extra Special Bitter. It's not something you want to drink a lot of — a couple of pints will make you quite happy. More than that and you're doing damage."
2. FAVORITE BEAST: Tigers
"They're beautiful, they're elegant, they're intelligent, and they're really wonderful predators. They're the great white sharks of the land."
3. FAVORITE BOOKS HE NEVER WROTE A SONG ABOUT: The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein
"We just thought it's such a huge book that it would be silly to write a song about it. It's almost as daft as imagining you could make a movie out of it. Though, of course, someone did that rather well."
4. FAVORITE FENCING FOIL
"You tend to customize your own equipment when you start fencing competitively, so I prefer a medium-to-firm stiffness blade with a Hungarian handle and a German point."
5. FAVORITE AIRPLANE
"If it flies, I'm interested. For jet airplanes I would pick the English Electric Lightning, the SR71 Blackbird, the Concorde, of course, and the Comet, which was the world's first jet airliner. In terms of piston-engine airplanes, I would pick the De Haviland Mosquito, which was a twin-engined light bomber, and the Lancaster Bomber, which bombed Germany flat in the second World War."
6. FAVORITE AIRLINE: Astraeus or British Airways
"I actually fly for Astraeus — I'm flying a load of people tomorrow morning. But if I'm a passenger, I tend to choose British Airways, because I know a few pilots there, and I know the airplanes are well-maintained."
7. FAVORITE SCI-FI MOVIES: Forbidden Planet (1956), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Quartermass and the Pit (1967)
"They're quite deep movies, all three. The human element and the plot are strong in all of them, though the science element in all of them is pretty cool, too. They're all fairly predictive of possible futures."
8. FAVORITE IRON MAIDEN-INFLUENCED BAND: Dream Theater
"I just think they write some pretty cool tunes and are a very good live band. They do their own thing without sounding like Iron Maiden."
9. FAVORITE NON–IRON MAIDEN–INFLUENCED BAND: Deep Purple circa 1971
"They were just awesome. From their instrumental virtuosity and soloing to their offstage antics and craziness, they were the most amazing rock band on the planet."
10. FAVORITE LUXURY CAR: Bentley Continental GT
"It' a monster, basically. It goes like shit on a shovel. But I'm never likely to buy one. It's a waste of fucking money."
When a band drops a record just about the only people that really care about production credits are audiophiles and technical nerds. But when that producer is Arthur Rizk — whose recent works includes such rippers as Power Trip's Nightmare Logic, Code Orange's Forever, Pissed Jeans' Why Love Now, Inquisition's Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith, Trapped Under Ice's Heatwave and Prurient's Frozen Niagara Falls — it might be worth your time to pay attention. Rizk is one of the hottest producers in metal right now, and he's only getting hotter, having just wrapped a stint with the Cavalera brothers for their highly anticipated new album, Psychosis.
What's more, Rizk's involvement with music is not limited to sitting behind the soundboard. 2016 saw the release of a debut LP by his long-in-process brainchild Sumerlands, which modernizes Jake E. Lee–era Ozzy-inspired classic heavy metal. Rizk also plays a crucial role in another classic-sounding heavy-metal band, Eternal Champion, as well as a pair of notable hardcore bands, War Hungry and Cold World. And he's been known to play guitar in any number of other projects including — but not limited to — Power Trip and Stone Dagger, and make noise as part of the Hospital Records stable. When it comes to music, especially that of the extreme ilk, Rizk does it all, and remarkably well.
With all of this in mind, we asked Arthur Rizk about his background, his involvement in a slew of upcoming releases and the genesis of a few key alliances with bands like Inquisition, Cold World and Prurient.
YOU GREW UP IN PENNSYLVANIA — WHEN, AND HOW, DID YOU FIRST GET TURNED ON TO EXTREME METAL?
ARTHUR RIZK I'm from Easton, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour-and-a-half north of Philadelphia. I've been playing music since I was 13 — that's when I started playing guitar. And I started playing in local bands and ended up getting into noise when I was 19. There was this great place in Allentown that used to have insane noise shows from artists from all over the world. Crazy, extreme shit. The first time I saw Prurient was in a warehouse in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Basically, I was really into all metal, but when I found out about noise, it was something that seemed even more extreme than black metal. I was obsessed with it. That's kind of where I amateurishly started recording, doing noise projects. I wanted to be able to do everything on my own and streamline the process by myself, so I started recording at my community college probably about 2006 or 2007.
I didn't really know what the fuck I was doing, but I took one class and everything else I just figured out. To this day, I'm buying tons of books on the recording process before everything was done in Abelton or ProTools or whatever. I'm still learning all the techniques even though I went to college for it for a little while.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH WAR HUNGRY AND THE BLOOMING HARDCORE SCENE IN WILKES-BARRE?
My good buddy Alex Metz got me into the band War Hungry, inviting me to scab. We were just friends from being from the same place and moving to Philly. I thought hardcore was so fucking boring — just power chords or whatever. It took me until I started playing shows with them and becoming friends with Nick Woj from Cold World, Alex Metz's roommate at the time, that I got into it.
Nick and I started hanging out because he thought I was such a freak. He loved that somebody was weirder than him. He played me Leeway's album Desperate Measures and that blew my fucking mind. I could not believe it, and it totally made me understand hardcore. It made me want to kill people and I totally understood hardcore all of a sudden. So crossover was my bridge into hardcore.
HOW DID YOU GET HOOKED UP WITH IRON AGE — THROUGH THE POWER TRIP GUYS?
So with Iron Age stuff, I was playing with them at that time, touring with them and they had just done basically what was their last tour. They had these demos that Wade [Allison, guitar] recorded and he brought them to my house. I mixed them and added some shit. We did some experimentation, too, like adding the snare drum through a full stack of Marshall amps. It just sounded crazy. The whole Saga Demos thing is a good example of early experimentation. I didn't really know what I was doing, but it ended up sounding cool. Wade paid me for it with a Number 5 meal from Taco Bell. [Laughs]
IN ADDITION TO THE POWER TRIP AND CODE ORANGE RECORDS, YOU HAD A HAND IN THE NEW TRAPPED UNDER ICE ALBUM, AS WELL ...
I didn't even really listen to old Trapped Under Ice before I recorded Heatwave. I had almost no frame of reference. They sent me some tracks and I jammed them really quick, but I had no frame of reference. I just wanted to ... whatever they wanted to do. Just go for it. And make sure everything sounds cool to me in the meantime. I think that they wanted to have someone who was going to try everything that they wanted to try. I was just kind of throwing out crazy ideas and filtering out bad ones, more or less. And throwing out some bad ones too. [Laughs]
YOU STARTED RECORDING IN 2006, AND — BY YOUR OWN ADMISSION — HAVE BEEN EXPERIMENTING EVER SINCE. WHY DO YOU THINK A VET LIKE PRURIENT PICKED YOU AS PRODUCER?
We toured together and I did sound for Cold Cave in 2011 for a couple months. I think [Prurient main man Dominic Fernow] knew that somehow I knew what I was doing, at least a little bit. He was probably going on a hunch and putting all his trust in me. A couple years later, he saw that I had done the Inquisition record and I think that he was really psyched that I did something instead of just making easy, steady money on the road. Plus the fact that I had a decent understanding of both noise and metal, and also higher-end recording.
FROM PRURIENT, VATICAN SHADOW AND SUMERLANDS TO PISSED JEANS, POWER TRIP AND TRAPPED UNDER ICE — YOUR RESUME PRETTY MUCH HITS EVERYTHING FROM TECHNO TO NOISE TO HARDCORE AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR CORE COMPETENCY AS FAR AS STYLES OF MUSIC?
There's a multitude of reasons why I function this way. The first, I'd say when it comes to producing music, is that I want to be needed on a record. I want there to be a use for me because I'm not traditional — I like to be involved in different ways whether it's just as simple as realizing what the band wants on the record or what they want the record to sound like or figuring out a way to get them there. That's the first thing, and genre isn't a thing. I just want to be able to help. I'll take a stab at anything just to be able to make something and help someone out. So that's first and foremost.
The second thing is, I think that I've just always been into heavy metal and playing guitar, so guitar music is a big thing for me. And I know noise isn't guitar music, but it is sometimes. Even that Prurient record, which is a lot of synth stuff, we still put 12-string acoustics on it and all kinds of guitar stuff. Guitar is something that I obsessed over my whole teenage life, so I just love working with guitar bands. I don't care about aesthetic. It could be like indie rock — I just want to know that there are some cool guitar riffs.
HOW DID YOU CONNECT WITH THE CAVALERA BROTHERS?
I was friends with Igor before I was friends with Max. Igor is involved with his project Mixhell, which is techno-type stuff, so he and his wife they play in Soulwax with this insane band where there's three drummers and two people doing synths. He's part of a different underground. Igor knew about my work with Vatican Shadow. I ended up connecting with Max later when I drum tech'd for Igor for, like, a week during some Cavalera Conspiracy dates.
Max and I initially connected by listening to the NWOBHM band Satan — he was just like, "I didn't know you knew Satan. This is one of my favorite records." So we connected over that and then I played Max some of the stuff that I've worked on like the Code Orange record, the new Power Trip, etc. I guess after I left they discussed me joining on as a producer.
When I was learning how to produce, I studied Chaos A.D. and Beneath the Remains by Sepultura. I studied Arise. I couldn't believe the shit they were doing on those records — the intros with reverse vocals that kick in, the synths. I took all that and made that my own. And I told Max while I was recording, "I should be paying you for all these ideas I've taken from you over the years." He was just psyched to be doing stuff — to be exploring those things again. We sat down and listened to old Sepultura, Judas Priest and tons of Eighties shit, tons of death metal. We would talk about what we like about everything and that gives me such a broader range to work with.
And they really do know like everything that's going on in the underground. Most of the time they try to get younger bands that they like to tour with them. Max is literally just jamming new shit constantly, trying to find new stuff. I was just showing him Canadian war metal, Blasphemy and all of that.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH INQUISITION?
I just was a fan and I did sound for them in New York City once. They never had good sound any time I saw them in years previous, so I asked to get in touch with them. I just showed up and did a killer job, and afterwards I introduced myself to [Inquisition frontman] Dagon and was like, "Hey man, if you guys ever want to come to my studio, hit me up." We stayed in touch and bonded over classic heavy metal. That seems to be the revolving theme in my stories, bonding with people over Eighties guitar amps and classic heavy metal.
WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO SUMERLANDS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT PROJECT'S ORIGINS?
Sumerlands is the band that I've wanted to do since I was a 13-year-old playing guitar, but I never had the songwriting abilities to do it until much later.
I ended up playing drums in Hour of 13 for a month or something, doing a music video but not even playing a show together and then the band broke up. Me and Phil Swanson became friends on the set because he somehow knew about War Hungry, Iron Age and Cold World. He knew about Trapped Under Ice, too. I guess he was just into hardcore. Obviously, he didn't go to shows, but he knows everything about metal and hardcore. He just knows everything.
So he knew about War Hungry and really liked that record, so I thought about asking him to sing a part on the next War Hungry record and then was like, "I'm just actually going to see if he wants to write some songs." Hour of 13 had broken up, and we were still in touch so I asked him to sing over some songs and he agreed. I wrote the first three song demo on Bandcamp in like a month or something — just banged them out. Pretty much exactly how you hear them on the record, he did them the first time. He's just like insane like that.
I THINK WE'RE IN AN INTERESTING PLACE NOW WITH METAL. FIVE YEARS AGO, A FESTIVAL DEVOTED TO CLASSIC HEAVY-METAL SOUNDS, LIKE DEFENDERS OF THE OLD, WOULDN'T HAVE WORKED AS WELL.
No. Definitely not. It's cool. If there is a market for us to play to more than 30 people, that's awesome. It was crazy to play at Defenders of the Old in front of hundreds of people. It was just crazy to see that many people in the U.S. into this music ... but I think most of those people were European anyway. Classic heavy metal in the U.S. still doesn't really exist. You can only play in a handful of cities. And a lot of kids from hardcore are getting into it. We see people in Cro-Mags shirts at all the shows, mainly because of Jason [Tarpey] from Iron Age/Eternal Champion. But we do see people at our shows from all walks of life moshing to Eternal Champion, which was a pretty crazy thing to see.
YOU HAVE NEWER, CLASSIC-SOUNDING BANDS — STONE DAGGER, ETERNAL CHAMPION AND SUMERLANDS — THAT ARE POPULATED BY GUYS THAT CAME FROM ESTABLISHED HARDCORE BANDS ...
Yeah. Even Phil [Swanson] was in hardcore bands before he was in any metal bands. All of us, every single person involved in all those bands were playing hardcore before metal.
I can't speak for the other guys, but heavy metal would always have been my first choice. I have to say that being in a hardcore band was like putting me through writing school. Me and Kevin [Mook], who played in War Hungry, we wrote our record and we would throw ideas off each other, getting into awkward arguments over parts. I think that working with him taught me how to scale back. So, if it wasn't for hardcore, I don't think I would have ever refined my songwriting at all.
I think that I would still do a War Hungry record or a Cold World record in a heartbeat because they're fun and I love that kind of music, too. So it's not like I'm picking one or the other. It's more that I'm so psyched and grateful to have been given an opportunity for people to hear my heavy metal shit and respond to it. Like you said earlier, 5 or 6 years ago, had I tried to make that move it probably wouldn't have gone over as well. There's just more people getting into it.
WHEN YOU'RE TOES UP AND SIX-FEET UNDER, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE KNOWN AS: MUSICIAN, PRODUCER, ENGINEER?
Today I would probably say that I feel like I've been more useful as a producer because I've been able to do something with other people's music. I can make my own music and it'll appeal to a small niche audience, but when I did the Power Trip record, that has probably gotten a lot of people into old-school thrash that normally wouldn't be. And that's cool. I feel like I'm able to change the path.
It might just be the weirdest mash-up in the history of weird mash-ups. Even typing the words out is surreal, but here goes: Zeal & Ardor combine black metal with black spiritual music from the era of American slavery. The band is the brainchild of Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux, who posed this question as the conceptual basis for the project: What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?
If it sounds like something that started as a dare, that's because it did. About three years ago, Gagneux posted to a 4chan message board asking which two genres of music he should try to splice together. The challenge? To write a song in 30 minutes combining said genres. When some racist meatball suggested fusing black metal with "n*gger music," Gagneux — who is black — let the hate slide but took the hater up on his suggestion. And he didn't stop at just one song. The resulting album, Devil Is Fine, has since become both a critical darling and a lightning rod for controversy.
Not that Gagneux is sweating it. Zeal & Ardor recently played to a packed house at Holland's Roadburn Festival when the power cut out during their set. "But 800 people started singing 'Devil Is Fine,'" Gagneux tells Revolver. "It was one of the most beautiful moments of the tour. I'll remember that for the rest of my life."
REVOLVER Zeal & Ardor started after you solicited suggestions on a 4chan message board for splicing disparate genres together. What was the appeal of that approach?
MANUEL GAGNEUX Something about not having an influence on what you're gonna do next is super exciting to me. I kinda like challenges … Also, the very idea of creating something new that sounds good was exciting.
So at that point, you didn't have a specific direction in mind…
No, no. I was actually just killing time, and I thought that would be a good way to do it. [Laughs] It was not exactly a master plan type of thing.
And then someone on the message board suggested you combine black metal with what they called "nigger music." So you can kind of credit the idea behind Zeal & Ardor to a racist…
I guess so, yeah.
How do you feel about that?
Indifferent. To be upset at that point and say, "Oh, you've hurt my feelings!" would pretty much be playing into their hands. The ultimate fuck-you is actually making something good out of such a silly suggestion. [Laughs] So I feel fine about it, I guess.
You turned a negative into a positive.
Yeah! It's a hippie thing to do, isn't it?
Absolutely. Do you consider yourself a hippie?
No, no. I don't consider myself a negative person, but I would never go as far as to say I'm a hippie. [Laughs]
In describing Zeal & Ardor's music you've said, "Imagine if American slaves embraced Satan instead of Christianity." What got you thinking along those lines?
Well, two things: Firstly, the black metal aspect of it and how the Norwegian people reacted to the Christianity imposed upon them. Secondly, it struck me as odd that American slaves adopted the beliefs of their oppressors and masters in their very personal music. If they sung the spirituals truly for themselves, it's hard to believe that they incorporated Christianity into it. So [embracing Satan] seemed like an interesting form of rebellion, at least in my head.
Were you interested in Satanism prior to starting Zeal & Ardor?
Yeah, just from being a metalhead and an edgy teen. [Laughs] I'm just a fan of counterculture in general, so having a counterculture within religion was really, really interesting to me. So I got deeply involved in reading all these odd books, like the Lesser Key Of Solomon and The Book of Abramelin.
Do you consider yourself a Satanist?
I subscribe to some aspects of modern LaVeyan Satanism, but there's silly stuff in there like "No mercy for the weak," that I can't really get with. So, no — I don't think I would. I'm a determinist, I guess. I'm not a spiritual person at all. I like the idea of being in touch with the impulses that you suppress in yourself, but I don't believe in the horned figure or anything.
To what extent are you personally invested in your lyrics versus just playing a character?
Well… I think music is a kind of theater, isn't it? I'd say I play a character. I'm not an angry person who yells at other people to burn other people, so to say that I extend myself into my lyrics would be a stretch. [Laughs] I'm a happy camper. To me, music is catharsis. I get to live out weird thoughts and emotions that I have — and as a result of living them out, I get to be all happy and balanced and chipper. [Laughs]
The song "Devil Is Fine" has an obvious spiritual quality. Do you consider it to be religious in any sense?
It's kind of a hodgepodge. It's got the classic "Let's invoke Satan" thing, but if you look at Satan in the modern sense — as your innermost longings and impulses—the devil is the thing that you actually want to pursue. There's also the dual baptisms of Christianity. The first is by water, and the second is by flame — which God will perform upon you when you're dead. That's the "we'll go home to the flames" part. So there's a little something for everyone. [Laughs]
What would you like listeners to get out of Zeal & Ardor?
I'd prefer not to be able to choose. I'm shit at predicting how people will react to something, so for me to choose what they get out of it would probably be a horrible decision. [Laughs] Music is inherently personal. If you interpret one of the songs in a way that I didn't intend, who am I to say that it's wrong? By that point, it's not my song anymore. It belongs to the listener.
So it's yours while you're working on it, but it belongs to everyone else after it's out in the world?
Yeah. I can sign that document. [Laughs]
Critical response to the album has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Was that a surprise to you?
It has been a surprise. I didn't really expect anything like this to happen. I thought I'd put it up on Bandcamp and it would become just another weird, obscure thing that would mold away in the annals of the Internet. The fact that people actually listened to it already exceeded my expectations, so reading reviews by people who actually like it is bizarre.
You've also got black-metal purists who don't really like the fact that you're incorporating elements of other music into the genre — and then there are some folks who maybe feel that appropriating black spiritual music from the era of American slavery is in poor taste. Do either of those criticisms bother you?
No, but I have an issue with the idea of cultural appropriation because it's inherently regressive. If I were to abstain from incorporating elements that aren't from my ethnicity, I wouldn't be able to use the circle of fifths or black metal or anything that has been discovered in the classical formation of music because it's not strictly my ethnicity. For music or art in general to evolve, I think we have to free up anything and everything. Nothing should be holy.
It occurred to me that if a white guy were making this music, he'd be crucified.
I don't think he necessarily should be, though. I think it boils down to intent. If you're going to wear a Native American headdress and dance around going "woo-woo," that's cultural appropriation in a bad sense because you're mocking it. If you're actually trying to make art out of it, I think it's a commendable thing because you're incorporating something different and you're creating something new. And I don't think that act is bound by ethnicity. I can see how this would be received differently if I were white, but I'm not happy about it. I think that's sad.
You're coming over to the States in August for a handful of shows. Devil Is Fine is only 25 minutes long, so what are you playing for the rest of your set?
We have nine new songs, so there's a lot of new material that I think is kinda better [than the record]. But yeah, I couldn't stand behind a 25-minute set or playing some half-ass covers. The only fair thing is to deliver something that we feel is good.
Nine new songs — that sounds like the makings of a new album …
Well, theoretically. The next record shouldn't be 25 minutes and it should be produced in a way that people can wholeheartedly enjoy. [Laughs] But it'll be a while before something new appears.
Last but not least, do people ever ask you if you're deliberately trying to be provocative?
No, but I think that's a fair question. [Laughs] But really, I'm not. I'm just trying to do something cohesive. It's well researched. I'm not trying to just bang out something vaguely satanic or edgy. I just want to make good music. If it happens to be provocative, so be it.
In 1989, John McEntee was a treasured member of New Jersey thrash team Revenant and left that band to pursue a new project called Incantation. Three years and a few short releases later we had Onward to Golgotha, a certified death metal classic of the finest order, a true yardstick for the genre that has aged gracefully during it's quarter century on Earth. The LP was released on a then-fledgling little label called Relapse Records, and was the first of eleven LPs across their career with the middle period finding a home at Listenable Records.
Now in 2017, Incantation has returned to Relapse for Profane Nexus, the band's latest work and the focus of several full US tours with Marduk. Unlike years previous, Incantation has gone from a band focused on recording to a band in full touring mode, but that has not come without some controversy. Incantation came under fire for their involvement with vocalist Craig Pillard, who performed on the classic Golgotha. Though Pillard had not performed with the band in more than two decades, his association and participation with Nationalist / Socialist focused bands was the topic of much conversation in relation to Incantation's political affiliation.
With Incantation approaching thirty years on earth, we asked founding member John McEntee to discuss the band's origins, their return to Relapse, touring and those Nazi sympathizer allegations. His answers are below.
REVOLVER So let's start with Incantation 1989. So you're starting this band, what were your goals and ideas? To just be the most evil band you could?
JOHN MCENTEE I played in band called Revenant before that, which was quite popular in the world wide underground at the time and they were about to get signed to Nuclear Blast Records. I was a huge part of the band– people used to call me "Revenant Man" because I was always the guy that was passing out Revenant flyers. So the main guy in the band was kind of changing the style a little bit and wanted to be more refined and a little more technical, more commercial I guess. I was still young then, 19 years old, and I still had the rage in me where I wanted to just have the rough edges and be dirty and aggressive and brutal. It was a difficult decision to leave Revenant, the album wasn't going to be representing me properly. So once I got together with Paul Ledney, our first drummer, we're just going to what we wanted to do musically and not give a shit about anything. No false aspirations as far as how this was gonna go. Basically, we were going to do what we want to do, everybody could fuck off, and if nobody liked it, that's fine. It was basically making the decision of do you want to play music for yourself or to make people happy? So it actually worked to our advantage, but we really had no expectations. We would be happy to one day have a 7 inch EP or something.
Once we got the offer from Relapse originally it was a dream come true really, but also surprising and rewarding at the same time. When you're doing it for yourself, it gives you a special connection with your fans as opposed to doing something for commercial success. Let's face it, a lot of bands out there want to be popular or they follow trends. We were anti all of that stuff. It was a punk rock attitude where it was like "Fuck you, we're doing it our way and if you don't like it piss off."
I'd venture to say that's the hallmark of any good creative endeavor. I mean let's be real though, it must have been a tough decision.
Yeah, oh absolutely. All my friends thought I was insane. I actually lost a lot of my friends for a while because they just thought I was losing my mind or something, working so hard to build up this band. Part of the reason why they got signed was because of me, so I was writing some of the songs and pushing the band a lot along with Henry the main guy in the band. Henry and I put so much work into it and then I just decided to leave
So lets talk about your landmark release Onward to Golgotha. What were some of the records that you looked up to in the making of that LP?
My biggest influence at that time was that I wanted to push the style forward, a big record for that was Possessed's Seven Churches. It's definitely more of a thrash album but it has elements that would become death metal. So when I heard that, that really like did something to me where I was just like "Fuck." I remember picking it up the first time and not even knowing what the fuck to think. I like that. I felt like I had to listen to it more to understand and it just pulled me in. Once I got into it, it just was like a magical feeling. I was really into early Necrophagia and bands like Destruction and Kreator were all big influences on me. There were so many– Sarcófago was a big influence on us too. We really liked that old South American style, even the really early Sepultura stuff was really a big influence. We always said that the riff itself isn't important, it's the feeling you get when you hear the riff.
After being a part of metal for more than thirty years, is it part of your influence now? Do you sit at home and listen to Jazz and light incense at this point?
[Laughs] Yeah I listen to metal a lot, still. Mostly some of the early heavy metal stuff that I grew up with like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath… I pretty much like Black Sabbath from every era. And then Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker–I listen to all of that stuff. It's crazy because I can go from listening to that to The Beatles or Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix, who are big influences. I love listening to Paradise Lost's first album Lost Paradise, Entombed's Left Hand Path but also Asphyx, Immolation and others. Really, anything I listen to that just kicks my ass. Like I just saw Yngwie Malmsteen play on this tour and I love almost all his stuff.
So obviously you've come full circle now starting with Relapse, coming back to them for the third record with . How did you arrive at Relapse and all of that?
It was basically on a whim. We were doing a 25th year anniversary release and I just said for the heck of it "would you guys have any interest in us if we were out of our contract." I think it was Eli over there who immediately said like "Yeah I think so" I mean he was totally, totally excited– I think they never even thought we would even consider going back to them because we did have a really difficult break up when we left. Now, Relapse is a totally different label than they were when they started. When they first started, the band and the label was going through growing pains–we didn't know how to run a band really and they didn't know how to run a label. Both sides fucked up or made stupid decisions and it just didn't work out properly. Now it's better because we both have a realistic idea and better idea how things are running. And obviously Relapse has done an amazing job you know with the label and stuff like that.
It's been years since you guys have been this active–actually going for it with full U.S. tours. Before this you guys were a bit more of a "precision strike" band. What is it like being back on the road in such a heavy capacity?
Well, I love being on the road. I mean the last full U.S. tour we did was the Marduk tour in February this year and we had a blast. The Marduk guys were amazing– really great guys to tour with and the overall vibe it was just great. There's something about being on the road and playing every day. We don't want to wear out our welcome but we're doing a tour coming up with Marduk again in mostly different markets than we did last time. I'm just really excited about that. Those guys are really nice guys and we just got along really well. I love touring. I would tour all the time if we were able to, you know.
Marduk caught some flak for some work they've done that references the Nazis in the context of WWII. In that same breath, you've recently caught fire over your association with your former singer Craig Pillard and his Nazi-related project Der Sturmer. What are your thoughts on that?
[laughs] Well, first of all it's kind of ridiculous because he is our former singer. I can't have control over what any of my former members do or what they're into. That was probably about 2 years after he left the band when he got into some of his controversial stuff. I mean it's so just ridiculous because this Nazi stuff never even slightly came up when we were in a band. So it's just totally insane. For many years, I barely even talked to Craig so to have any affiliation with whatever he's doing, regardless of what it is… Yeah, we have a connection because he played in Incantation and he did an amazing job while he was in the band, but that's really as far as our relationship goes.
The thing with that… I think that it's really ignorant because they're not really getting proper information and trying to go for low hanging fruit. If they really wanted to do the right thing in pushing their agenda I think they need to find the right way to do it where they're not going to get too much push back. The way they're doing it is almost fueling more problems. If they really feel that us and Marduk are racist, they should know for sure before making those accusations. But to try to say that the people coming to a show are being Nazi sympathizers is just absolutely insane. I mean especially in Austin [where protestors showed up]– 80% of the crowd is probably Mexican or Latino. And the way they're dealing with things is actually causing more push back in the opposite direction than they would if they didn't do anything at all. Now there's people that are just pissed off at them. They're gonna do antagonizing stuff to them– I have seen Mexican people giving them the "Hail Hitler" sign at the show and they were doing it to piss them off, not because they're racist.
They're going about it is just wrong. I mean especially stopping shows– you're not gonna make more fans by stopping shows. They stopped the show in Oakland, California– I think they made some threats and the show didn't go on. All that did was really piss off a lot of people, and it totally doesn't help anything. Drunken metal heads want to go to a show and have a good time, you know?
The thing that really drives me up a wall is that we are metalheads– we're supposed to be rebellious and on the edge– we're supposed to be kind of assholes to some extent. That's the only reason why I got into metal. I don't feel like I need to prove to people anything really. I shouldn't have to. We play all around the world to different people of all different nationalities and the thing that we have in common is that we all like metal. We're really appreciative of that. I would say the same for Marduk. They play all around the world for people, and if they were really racist they'd only be playing in Europe and certain places where there's white people. So it's just absurd.
That's what kills me. We need to work together to build our scene, not work apart. And the thing is that people go to our shows… we don't have a litmus test. They could be Nazis or they could be ANTIFA or whatever– just go and enjoy the show. The show is our getaway from everything. It's not a test to be one thing or the other– it has no relevance to our show whatsoever [laughs]. We don't do anything that's political in anyway. We have no interest in it. If you're religious you'll get a little offended but I mean everyone is allowed at our shows. Whatever they believe is none of our business.
Who the fuck is Michael Alago?
Director Drew Stone (All Ages and The New York Hardcore Chronicles) sets out to answer that exact question in his new documentary Who the Fuck Is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago. The film details the fascinating life and career of the New York City native who signed Metallica — from his Brooklyn roots and time booking acts at East Village rock club The Ritz to his brilliant A&R work for Elektra and Geffen (where he signed artists as varied as White Zombie and Tracy Chapman), as well as his later years dealing with illness and leaving the record industry. It's a very New York story: one of wild nights, rock stars and legendary moments.
With the documentary due in select theaters July 21st and via video-on-demand July 25th, we caught up with Stone and Alago to chat about the latter's influential life behind the scenes and how he helped change the course of heavy music history.
Lars Ulrich and Alago. Photograph courtesy of Michael Alago.
Drew, how did you first hear of Michael?
DREW STONE As a teenager in the late Seventies/early Eighties, I would go out and, whether I was backstage at a club or at Madison Square Garden, I kept seeing this guy over and over again who was a little bit out of place in such a heavy and hard rock genre. Eventually I heard, "That's the guy that signed Metallica." Later on, our paths crossed when I was managing a band called Subzero who toured Europe with the reunited Misfits in 1996. I went out on that European tour and Michael was out there.
MICHAEL ALAGO And the reason that I was out there was because I just signed them to Geffen Records and they made a record called American Psycho.
STONE So I went out on the tour and I got to know Michael a bit, and eventually back in New York, we would bump into each other every now and then. When I finished the Boston hardcore documentary All Ages, Michael came to the premiere and I was really surprised to see him. When that film was over, I was thinking about what's next and I ran into him backstage at a Cro-Mags show and I walked out of there going, "You know, this guy's got a great story." And we got together after that.
Michael, what was your "aha!" moment where you decided that you wanted to work in music?
ALAGO I'm 14 years old and I live in Brooklyn. I watch Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Don Cornelius' Soul Train and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. I stand up in front of the TV all the time thinking, Wow, there are such wildly diverse artists on all of those shows ... I wanna do that! I don't know what "that" was because I didn't play an instrument, but I wanted to be part of it. Fast forward, I'm 19 years old, I walk in the East Village, I go past a place on 11th Street that was going to be opening as The Ritz. I meet this man named Jerry Brant and he's the music director there. He was like, "Kid, what are you doing here? We're not open. It's daytime." And I'm like, "I want a job." He laughed, and we started talking about all types of music from the Great American Songbook to pop music to hard rock. He thought that was very interesting that I had that kind of diverse taste and he said, "I'm gonna give you a job. You're gonna open my mail. You're gonna answer my phone, and you're gonna get my lunch." And I thought, I've arrived. It was so exciting. My first job was at a nightclub that was about to open. We had everybody there in those early days from Prince to the return of Tina Turner to Black Flag and the Misfits.
John Lydon and Alago. Photograph courtesy of Michael Alago.
The film touches on your bookings over the years at The Ritz, going into particular detail about an infamous performance by John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols band PiL, where a riot broke out. What do you think is the coolest booking that you did during your time there? Would it be that PiL booking?
ALAGO Well, I love PiL and it wasn't supposed to go that way. I guess that was cool into itself, but you know in the three years that I was at The Ritz, every night we had bands. It was extraordinary to see five nights of Tina Turner when you hadn't seen her in years. That was extraordinary. And then in the early days we booked Prince there and that was extraordinary.
STONE What about U2?
ALAGO U2 was a Sunday night, and tickets weren't selling so well. Boy on Island Records hadn't come out yet, so my default was to go to WLIR in Long Island and give the DJs 10 pairs of tickets for giveaway. By the end of the day, with the free tickets, it was a sold-out event. And that was extraordinary to see a band like that right before the first album came out. You can't buy a thing called charisma, and Bono had that onstage. It was this raw, incredible energy and something to witness because they were fabulous from that day obviously forward.
So obviously you're proud of all of these. But what about a near miss? A fish that got away that you tried to sign but did not?
ALAGO I listened to demos and I met with lawyers, managers and artists every day Monday through Friday for 24 years. At one point I wanted to sign the Cro-Mags. I would go see the Cro-Mags every and anywhere that I could. But you know, I felt it unfair to sign them, even though Elektra Records is really a cool label, but it was a major label that was part of Time Warner. It would have been unfair because I would have been the only one championing them. There was nothing else like that on Elektra, so it was something that I told the guys in the end, "I love you. I will verbally support you, but it's just not gonna be the right match." At that point in the early Eighties they needed to be on whatever independent label they wound up on, which I think was Profile.
At some point I was going to see Slayer a lot, but I had just signed Metallica. A funny story is I was also going to see Megadeth, which, you know, we never spoke about because of Metallica. And one day I brought in Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good! to Bob Krasnow, our chairman. He thought that was the greatest title of a record he ever heard, nevermind that he couldn't care less about heavy metal. "These people have a sense of humor — when are they coming to the office?" I said, "Well, this is a little tricky because Dave [Mustaine] was in Metallica. He has his own band." I went to see the guys a bunch of times and at one point Mustaine said to me, "You know, Michael, we really have a rapport here but it would be unfair because I don't wanna live under Metallica's shadow." And that's kind of what would have happened. So everything works out for a reason. They wound up on Capitol and the next record that they made was my most favorite record, Peace Sells… But Who's Buying?
Slayer, I don't remember how that one got away, but I wound up just being so busy with the records I was making that you just can't have everything in your life.
Cliff Burton. Photograph courtesy of Michael Alago.
Obviously, signing Metallica to Elektra was a big deal, and James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted all appear in this film and are extremely supportive. Do you have any funny stories about Cliff Burton that you want to share from those days?
ALAGO Well, Cliff Burton was a sweetheart. Extraordinary musician. Lovely person. The day after they played Roseland, the summer of 1984, I barreled into their dressing room and bolted the door. They were like, Oh, this is what an A&R person looks like at a major label? I was hugging them and kissing them and they were like, "OK, ok." Anyway they came to the office the very next day at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, where Elektra was, and they came into the conference room and I was kidding with Cliff about his elephant bell bottoms — you know, those wide bell bottoms.
Yeah, they were really big in old photos.
ALAGO [Laughs] Oh my god, because they were almost out of fashion but perfect on him. I would tease him about that. That day he wanted to know what cassettes he could have and I said, "Do you want the Doors?" "Yes." "MC5?" "Yes." "Iggy?" "Yes." He said, "But I know that you have this label Nonesuch and they do all this esoteric music," and basically it was a lot of field recordings. The crickets were chirping, the wind was blowing, but that's what Cliff wanted. He also asked me for Simon & Garfunkel and I said, "They're on CBS, but I will gladly get it for you." Cliff and I drank a lot of beer together, laughed a lot and talked about the Misfits. When I signed them in 1984 to when he passed in September of '86, Metallica were working, in the studio or on the road, so unfortunately I didn't have too many encounters with him. But the ones that I did were very, very precious because he was just an incredible spirit.
Nina Simone was infamous for being difficult, but you two had quite a bond.
ALAGO Well, since you brought her up ... She was very difficult. She was very troubled. Any medications that she took were with a bottle of wine, and you know that the outcome after that is never what is intended. But she was the most extraordinary artist in the whole world. We were friends the last 12 years of her life. I made one album with her called A Single Woman, with a 50-piece orchestra. We modeled it after Frank Sinatra's A Man Alone and Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin. She always said, "No." I always said, "Try it out." And in the end we always met in the middle. She was extraordinary. No one could sing a Bob Dylan song or George Harrison song or Beatles song like her. You would think, Man, did she write these songs? Because she knew how to get to the heart of the matter of a song.
Alago and Nina Simone. Photograph courtesy of Michael Alago.
When was the last time you saw her?
ALAGO The last time I saw her was in London, July of 1999. I brought a dozen white roses and a bottle of champagne to her room. She was getting her hair cornrowed, and it was taking hours. She got sick and tired of everyone and she said, "Get out." Then she turned to me and said, "Would you like to take a bubble bath?" And I said, "Together?" And she says, "Yes, Michael. Why not?" I said, "Um, OK, why not, but I'm keeping on my boxer shorts." [Laughs] So we were acting like teenagers. We filled up the bubble bath, got the champagne glasses and we just hung out. And that's the last time I saw her. But what a high to end on.
In 2003, I was going to my dad's grave and something [inside me] said, "Call Nina." It was Saturday, April 20th. I called and said, "Hi," and she said, "Oh, sugar lips, how come you never married me?" I said, "Oh, honey, I don't know but I love you so much and I will be there tomorrow." She was in the south of France and I said I would travel directly to her. She said, "Well, that would be nice." And that was it. The next morning it was on CNN, "Nina Simone dead at 70." It was one of the worst days of my life. I adored her. I loved her so much. Even when she was difficult, I didn't care because I just thought the world of her.
You know, I don't think I ever had problems with artists. I think a lot of the artists that I worked with were always very focused and very clear about what they wanted to say and I think that's why I responded to people that I signed. In 25 years I maybe signed two things a year because there's a lot of good stuff out there, but good ain't great. Elektra and Geffen were major labels but acted like a boutique label. We were very specific about our signings — I was, anyway. Rob Zombie, Nina Simone, Metallica, did I say John Lydon? John Lydon, one of my near and dear friends of 36 years, never had a bad word with him.
Alago and Kurt Hammett. Photograph courtesy of Michael Alago.
The world is in a little bit better place now in terms of how gay people are treated, but I would imagine it was probably really tough for you in the Eighties being in a hypermasculine culture like punk and metal. Did you ever encounter any issues with homophobia?
ALAGO So I'm a person who has never seen a closet in their life. [Laughs] I was always out. People knew that. I made no bones about it. If I saw a handsome guy, I'd walk right up to him. I didn't care if they were straight or gay. You know, really, I have never ever had a problem with being gay in regards to dealing with Flotsam [and Jetsam], Metallica, Metal Church, Dokken, George Lynch, any of these people. Because someone in another interview said to me the other day, "Well, how did your sexuality come into play with some of these artists? Did you like them beyond the call of signings?" And I was a little mortified for one second about the question, but then I thought my sexuality had nothing to do with the music ...
I'm not talking about these bands necessarily. I'm talking about you're backstage, you're hanging out with Metallica, maybe there's a bunch of wannabe tough guys there who would be like, "Who's this dude?"
ALAGO Oh! Well, I took care of all those people. I'd be drinking and I would disarm them with a hug and a handshake and I think after that people are just going like, "Oh, OK, everything's OK, yeah yeah." You know, it's always about disarming people. I pretty much never had problems with people in my whole life hardly, unless I was really drunk. [Laughs]
Those things happened few and far between. I do vaguely remember a night being in one of the dressing rooms at The Ritz. I wanted to sign the Red Hot Chili Peppers, pre-EMI. So I'm in the dressing room, their friends are in the dressing room, the Cro-Mags are in the dressing room, and everybody had almost this tough-guy sensibility. I don't remember anyone else being gay in that room, but like I say, you disarm people with charm. And I'm a charming guy. [Laughs] It's almost like, how could anybody not respond to that? Unless you're a real asshole. And thank god I don't come across them too often. Even back in the day.
Drew, let's be fair. There are a lot of A&R guys who have great stories. What do you think makes Michael so unique?
STONE Well, I think there are a lot of elements, one of which is that it's a New York story. I'm a New York guy and I gravitate to that. But it's also the circumstances and things in his life that he had to overcome to really kind of get to where he is. I think the common theme here, and Phil Anselmo mentions it in the film, is it doesn't matter what your sexual preference is. It doesn't matter if you have drug issues or if you were touched as a kid or whatever. Music is the great equalizer and what brings people together. And that's really, you know, what it's about in a big way. Michael comes from a challenging background and later with his drug issues and health issues, he managed to get past all that. So it was a great story — one of perseverance and a love for music. It's very unique that a gay man in hard rock and heavy metal really changed the face of modern music. I mean, by signing Metallica, it basically opened the door for everybody else. They were the first. They changed pop music.
In 2006, U.K.'s Warning released Watching from a Distance — a melodic doom album that caused a stir among underground circles. Despite the record's widespread influence on bands like Pallbearer, Warning called it quits in 2009 and founding guitarist/singer Patrick Walker went on to create music as 40 Watt Sun.
In the decade since the album's release, Warning's legend has grown considerably. In the past year, Warning have reunited for only a handful of appearances overseas. But U.S. audiences are in for a treat: the band has just announced a nine-show run through the States — during which they'll be playing Watching from a Distance in its entirety.
With the dates around the corner (see full list below), we asked Walker about his return to the stage with Warning and the legacy of Watching from a Distance.
Why Warning and why now?
PATRICK WALKER Well, it's my old band and apparently many people want to hear those songs live. I'd had some offers and requests come and go over the past years but it had to be an appropriate and convenient time; my priority the past three years was the last 40 Watt Sun album. I put my life into writing, recording and eventually releasing that record. I finally was able to put that behind me, and I figured this year I can take the time to put together a lineup and play these shows.
What do you think was so special about the Watching from a Distance LP that has resonated so strongly with fans?
I don't know. It seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I think the record was rather atypical and divergent. When I started the band in the mid-90s, I took my cue from John Brenner and Revelation which was this beautiful, introspective heavy music with a focus on songwriting. There were next to no bands playing like that and I guess that's still the case.
The Warning gigs have been in the works for some time now. What are you most excited about with respect to playing these songs on the road?
Really, I'm just looking forward to traveling with my friends and meeting fans that never had the opportunity to see the band.
What's next for Warning after these dates?
Nothing — this is it. It's just these concerts. It's now or never, folks.
WARNING on TOUR
10/15 Seattle Highline^
10/17 Portland Tonic Lounge^
10/18 San Francisco DNA Lounge^
10/20 Phoenix Club Red^#
10/22 Austin Barracuda#
10/26 Chicago Reggies#
10/28 New York Le Poisson Rouge#
10/29 Baltimore Days Of Darkness
10/31 Boston ONCE Ballroom
By the time guitarist Domenic Romeo joined long-running hardcore band Integrity in 2015, it wasn't a surprise that founding vocalist / mainman Dwid Hellion would choose the A389 Recordings honcho to help with their next album. But that definitely was in neither's mind when they first became acquainted. Romeo and Hellion's first interactions occurred back in the mid '90s via some emerging, futuristic "mail without a stamp" technology. Romeo was so stoked about Integrity that he tracked down Hellion's e-mail, and began pestering the musician with questions.
"Dom would write to me and ask me questions and I wasn't sure how to take it," Hellion recalls. "I wasn't so interested in talking to some kid who wanted to discuss my records, but eventually he wore me down."
Romeo's persistence ultimately paid off, and their talks lead to a lasting friendship, collaboration across A389 and their collective recorded output, and a partnership that would last decades, culminating in Dom's addition to Integrity.
So how exactly did Domenic Romeo transition from Integrity fanboy to becoming an integral part of the legendary band? Below, Dom details his musical growth and discusses his contributions to Integrity's new LP Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume, which is out this Friday, July 14, via Relapse Records.
REVOLVER How did you meet Dwid Hellion?
DOMENIC ROMEO When I was in my late teens, I used to ride my bike across town to my buddy's house because he had the internet. Victory Records had this Real Audio player that would let you preview the band's songs, and I remember not really being impressed with any of the bands except like Bloodlet and a few others. But when I heard Integrity, I was floored — It was like nothing I had ever heard before. The song "Systems Overload" was in there and it had these huge riffs and the singer sounded like he swallowed glass. It was the hardest thing I had ever heard.
So me and my friends would save our money from the week, and head to the city on the weekend and blow our paychecks on buying records. I remember seeing Systems Overload at that time, getting it back home and being blown away. We just thought "there are solos on everything" — sort of like if your house is infested with roaches, you just keep finding solos. [Laughs] It was awesome, some of the coolest shit I had ever heard.
It totally changed my life. At the time, I was in this band called Day of Mourning and it totally shaped what I wanted to do with that band. I was a kid that was into horror movies and metal, not gym shorts and youth crew, so Integrity just spoke to me. I was too weird for the metal scene and too weird for the hardcore scene. Integrity was the voice. Even now, that's Integrity's key demographic.
Anyway, [1996's] Humanity Is the Devil came out and I looked through the liner notes and there was an email address in there. I remember sending an email, which I didn't even know how to use at the time, just knew it was like a "letter without mailing it." I would bike to my friend's house, 30 minute ride each way, just to email him everyday. I was just punishing him, question after question, punishing him with questions about the band. I was from Canada, so I didn't know about the band pre-Systems Overload material because those records weren't as widely distributed. So when I did find out about the earlier stuff and traded videos and tapes with others, I just absolutely punished him. He was a complete dick to me for a little while [Laughs] but I think he realized that I wasn't just trying to punish him, but that I was really excited. We hit it off eventually and he sang on a Day of Mourning record. Then from there, our friendship went on. He would go on to do a lot of stuff for A389, recorded and design-related.
It's funny because the way that you speak about Integrity is similar to the way that Phish fans or Grateful Dead fans are. Trading all of the videos and tapes, just incessant on owning everything.
Absolutely. It's a really special thing. It's been a part of my life for decades now whether that is doing their records or doing shows or just plain punishing Dwid.
From what I understand, you did a brief stint with Integrity in the early '00s?
So they came through on the To Die For tour and one of their guitar players quit, so I offered to play. I learned all the songs and bought a plane ticket to move to Cleveland. Unfortunately, my father was really ill at the time and it was getting really bad, so I had to leave the band. It broke my heart, but family first.
Eventually Pulling Teeth came around, and it was my main outlet. He was a big help with that and with A389 Records in general, with visuals, merch, layouts and guest vocals … he pops up on several LPs in some shape or form.
In 2007 you also played with him, correct? At an A389 Anniversary Bash.
Yes, we called it the Blackest Curse. Basically, it was my birthday and I asked Dwid to play the bash with a backing band. He said sure, but we couldn't call it Integrity. It was basically when Dwid was between different eras of the band. Pulling Teeth ended up being the backing band, which is kind of funny because it's a pretty similar lineup years later.
We've talked everyday for decades, so when the opening came again, I offered to play. Eventually I told him that if he wanted to do this, I'd love to write a record. By the time it happened, I hadn't been playing guitar in years because I had kids. I got together with Joshy [Brettell] from Ilsa, after playing a short stint with them live, and eventually write riffs to send to Dwid. He liked them and we ended up with 20+ songs that eventually was pruned down to make the album.
So let's step back a little, because you also ran A389 Recordings, which is responsible for several Integrity releases. How did it feel going from being that nerd on the bike to being the bossman of sorts?
It was such a huge accomplishment for me. Such a milestone. Before that A389 dabbled in this and that, and I'm proud of all my releases, but that was so important to me. Such an iconic record, A389-23, the Walpurgisnacht EP. From there it was just easy to do — we're pretty efficient when we work together.
During your time with A389, what record do you think you are most proud of releasing? Something that you didn't have any say in as a musician.
That's a tough one. So many great ones. Well I think there are two ways to look at it. I'm so proud to have released bands like Full of Hell, Young and In the Way, Nothing, Xibalba, Noisem, Iron Reagan, so many great young bands. These bands have gone on to do some incredible things, but it all started with A389. That said, I'm also really proud to do a record by Eyehategod. What a true "what the fuck" moment.
What is your favorite Integrity record? Why?
Seasons in the Size of Days, hands down. It's just perfect. It has a colder tone. The production is better. Integrity always had that perfect fusion of metal and hardcore, but Seasons leans more toward metal. This really nailed in a darkness, with the artwork and photography and everything. It's a mood. When I put that record on, I feel like I'm in some dark basement, in a castle or something.
So going from fan to collaborator with Dwid, when the time came did you have any trepidation about joining the band?
I was a little nervous because it's big shoes to fill, plus I hadn't been playing in a few years. I figured that the worst-case scenario was I could try and write some songs and nothing would come of it. No big deal. The ideas just came though, and things started producing themselves in layers and fast. The entire record felt like a stream of consciousness, almost like it wrote itself. It's pretty weird.
We all have our records that we go back to constantly. Do you feel like you go back to Integrity less now that you are part of the band?
You would think that, it's just a weird thing … it's still my favorite band. All of the Integrity albums are still on my iPod. It's fun for me, still. Integrity is such a massive and varying body of work that has had so many people contributing bits to it, that it's just like a quilt. I'm honored to add my little part to the quilt. The story just keeps going. It's awesome.
Going into the new Integrity LP, it had been six years-plus since you had actually recorded an LP, Funerary by Pulling Teeth. In that time you had kids, were hyper-focused on the label, and went through a lot of changes. Did you have your guitar by your side that entire time?
No. And I just really didn't have time to play, so I sort of stopped playing for a while. But my second kid really liked to hear me play, so that kind of got me back into playing. Then once I decided that I would play with Integrity in 2015, I sort of focused and started to get back into it.
Old Integrity influence is all over this new LP, yet there are other influences that rear their head — everything from Iron Maiden to Randy Uchida to Pulling Teeth, obviously. What was in rotation in the months leading up to this record?
When it comes to how I approached this record, I didn't want to rewrite the past, but I also wanted to honor it. The thing with Relapse is we knew we were going to reach another audience, so I wanted them to know the band's history while moving forward at the same time.
As far as what I was listening to in the time leading up to the record … honestly, I tried not to listen to anything. I didn't want to pollute it. I listened to a lot of weird Armando Sciascia and Alessandro Alessandroni, as well as a lot of jazz. I needed music that was going to clear my head out and leave it a blank slate, nothing that would latch on. Sort of like a purge. I got in the zone from that.
It's funny you mention Iron Maiden, because that was the first concert I ever went to. They are one of my all-time favorites. Integrity is my favorite though, since I first heard them. I think that some of the guitar parts on Seasons and some of Humanity, I'm more in sync with that on Howling.
I will disagree with you on the fact that ambient music is a purge. I do think that if there are a few things that ambient music is very good for — slow-burn pacing and dynamics. Lots of crescendos and drama.
Absolutely. It's cinematic, and you really have to invest the time to reap the reward. I dabble in every genre of music, as far as being a listener. There is something of merit to everything. For a while when I was doing the A389 distro, I would have all these noise records and would have a hard time describing them. Then one weekend I got really into noise music and realized the rewards of those records are the fact that the more you listen, the different layers of things you hear. That's pretty much what we did with the Integrity record too in that repeat listening reaps rewards.
Did you have any other goals for the record in approach or aesthetic?
I think one goal that we had came from Dwid's and my love for Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, particularly how when you listen to Led Zeppelin IV, there isn't a single other song on that record that sounds anywhere near "Black Dog." Every song sounded different, but it still sounded like Zeppelin on every song. That was the angle we kind of decided on, every song should be different but every song should sound like Integrity. I just wanted to try different things and still keep it in the Integrity world.
So once you went back into writing again, do you think that writing riffs was easier for you because of that time away?
Yeah. I think that time caused them to subconsciously build up in my head. Every band I've ever been in, I've thought of a riff while walking down the street and have recorded it into a tape recorder or my phone. So I feel like I ignored that part of my brain for years and then once I tapped back in, it all kind of started spewing out again.
The funny thing is my entire career I've always said to myself, "God, I hope this riff doesn't sound too much like Integrity." Now I don't have to worry about that.