Listen live to Radio Arrow Classic Rock

Holy Terror

Holy Terror was in the eighties a great thrash band who released two fantastic albums with ‘Terror And Submission’ (from 1987) and ‘Mind Wars’ (from 1988). These two records are now re-released in a very beautiful box set named ‘Total Terror’ together with the double album ‘El Revengo’ and a live-DVD. For Lords Of Metal that was enough reason to contact guitar player Mike Alvord to go through the story of Holy Terror once more.

By: Sjak | Archive under speed / thrash metal

Hi Mike, I would like to give our (especially younger) readers an overview of the unfortunately too short career of the mighty Holy Terror, so let’s start at the very beginning and get back to the moment when Kurt quit Agent Steel. Do you know why he quit this band in the first place?
He obviously had some musical disagreements with John Cyriis. Both of them are very creative and had a vision for what they wanted with the band. Kurt had a clear vision for Holy Terror and while he was in Agent Steel he tried to incorporate some of that vision at the same time that John Cyriis had his clear vision of what Agent Steel should be. At that time Kurt was also good friends with a Floyd Flanary who at that time was in the band Thrust and the moment was right for Kurt to go on his own and leave Agent Steel.

Jack Schwartz of Dark Angel and Floyd Flanary of Thrust soon joined, of which the first one was responsible for getting you in, right?
Jack and I had been friends since we were kids as he grew up five or six houses down the street from me. When we were about twelve or thirteen years old he was playing drums and I was playing guitar and we started playing Kiss and Ted Nugent songs. We never did anything serious together and I kind of went my own way and started a couple of bands with some friends of mine. Jack got hooked up with Jimmy Durkin in Dark Angel and he was in that band for some time. When he quit Dark Angel Kurt heard about it and Kurt, Floyd and Jack started rehearsing for what was later going to become Holy Terror. Kurt originally wanted Juan Garcia from Agent Steel for his band, but he wanted to stay with Agent Steel. Jack mentioned me and Kurt decided to give me a try and that’s how I got in to Holy Terror.

What was your musical background before joining Holy Terror?
It was somewhat similar to Kurt and the other guys in a sense that we all grew up listening to bands like Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple, so more of the seventies rock/metal bands. Next to that I was really into the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, which really sparked my interest with bands like Angel Witch, Saxon and Tygers Of Pan Tang. I was also a big fan of some of the local bands that were coming out of the greater LA area like Cirith Ungol and Pandemonium, while my friends were also heavily into the better punk bands. So I was kind of all over the place concerning my influences in my younger years. Kurt was a big Iron Maiden fan and he wanted to take Iron Maiden and make it thrash metal, which is really a nice way of saying what Holy Terror was.

The last one to get on board was singer Keith Deen. How did you get him in at the time?
We tried out a bunch of different singers when we were rehearsing in Jack’s place, but nothing really seemed to work. There were friends that I knew from high school, we put some ads in papers, but nothing was really materializing. Around that same time we were outgrowing the bedroom rehearsal space at Jack’s, so we started renting a place in North Hollywood and Kurt ran an ad in a local magazine called “The Recycler” and one day a guy walks in our rehearsal room not knowing anything about thrash metal or New Wave Of British Heavy metal as he was more into The Who, AC/DC and maybe some Judas Priest. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure if he would be the right fit but Kurt definitely wanted the guy and even had to convince Keith to join. Luckily for us he was able to do that because in my mind Keith is one of the most unique thrash metal vocalists ever.

The name of the band Holy Terror is in fact slang for a problem child if I’m not mistaken, but to most people it has a religious connection as well, so why did you choose for this band name?
Kurt had the concept all along and I knew Holy Terror really in the sense of a problem child. Kurt had that as well but I think he also liked the religious overtones and I think he also like the contrast between holy for representing good and terror for representing evil and its constant struggle.

In 1986 a four track demo saw the light of day. What did that demo mean for the band? Was it able to get you any first recognition in the scene back then?
At the time there was not really a big scene in the LA area yet, besides the hair metal scene that Motley Crue was in. Kurt wanted to put a demo together and shop it overseas in Europe as he had the vision that we probably would not get any traction in the US, but he realized the potential in the European scene. The demo sounded quite good, although it was pretty raw. Kurt had sent a ton of them out and within a month or so we got a letter from Mark Palmer, who was working for Music For Nations at that time, who expressed interest and said that he wanted to sign the band.

Who was responsible for the song writing in the band?
Kurt pretty much had the whole first record written, both the music and the lyrics. The band was formed officially in August of 1985 and we probably picked up Keith at the end of 1985 and in March of 1986 we recorded the demo already. I had two songs that I had written, one of them called ‘Lake Of Fire’, which didn’t make it onto the first record and ‘Tomorrow’s End’, which actually did make it onto ‘Terror And Submission’.

band image

Soon after the demo release Jack Schwatz was fired by Kurt, so what happened here?
When the letter from Mark Palmer came in, there was the beginning of a power struggle between Kurt and Jack. Kurt had everything in his mind already when he was still in Agent Steel, but Jack wanted more control so he took that letter and contacted Mark Palmer directly and asked Mark to send the contracts directly to him. That infuriated Kurt because he wanted to do this and he felt that Jack was overstepping his boundaries and that’s why Jack got kicked out of the band.

As a replacement Joe Mitchell was recruited, so how was this established and what did Joe do before joining Holy Terror?
Joe was a pretty unique guy too and just like Keith he didn’t have any experience or knowledge of thrash metal. Kurt ran an ad in ‘Music Man’ if I’m not mistaken and as a result of that Joe showed up one day and at first Kurt didn’t think that he would fit in the band but Keith really liked Joe as a drummer. As we didn’t have anybody else at that time, Kurt decided to give Joe a try and it worked out really well.

I heard that Kurt originally wanted to call the record ‘Holy Terror’, but that it was changed to ‘Terror And Submission’ on request of the record label. Is this true and what was the reason for this?
Labels want to have some creative input and they didn’t think that the name ‘Holy Terror’ for some unknown band would be a sufficient title. I don’t know all the details to it and I would have preferred the title ‘Holy Terror’, but ultimately Under One Flag requested us to pick a name of one of the songs that was on the record.

What did ‘Terror And Submission’ mean for the band?
It was a cool concept, all the songs were pretty much done and I was lucky enough to get ‘Tomorrow’s End’ on there. It’s a unique record in the sense that it covers a variety of genres in the speed and thrash metal realm. It really gave us the opportunity to put what we’ve been rehearsing on to a record and it gave us the opportunity to go on tour. It didn’t came out quite the way that we wanted it to as the engineer in the studio didn’t know anything about speed and thrash metal and as a result it didn’t get the rawness that we wanted it to have.

You were able to do some touring for that first records. What are the memories that you have from those first tours?
It was great, we toured Europe first because there were no options in the US back then. We hooked up with the manager of D.R.I., Ron Peterson, who became our manager as well and he got us on a one month long tour with his band D.R.I. and it was a magnificent experience. The biggest surprise for me was that people really cared about us and liked us. One of my fondest memories was the four shows we did in the Netherlands where the crowd was just incredible.

So you were able to get your name out with the debut album, but what did you want to achieve with it successor ‘Mind Wars’?
When we came back from the tour, we took a very short time off to finish up the song writing for the ‘Mind Wars’ album. I wrote several songs of which two were actually placed on the record, Keith had started writing lyrics for a couple of songs, so you might say it was more of a band collaboration than for the first record. It was really much more of a band album.

What are in your opinion the biggest differences and maybe also improvements when comparing ‘Mind Wars’ to the debut album?
One difference is that the material on ‘Mind Wars’ is a lot faster and also tighter than the songs on the debut album. And that was a sheer result of the touring that we did. We played thirty shows in about thirty-two days and we really started jelling as a band because of that. Our skills were much more polished because of the many hours we played together and you can clearly hear that on ‘Mind Wars’. Furthermore we didn’t have to learn Kurt’s songs, but we were learning the songs all together which made the record pretty cohesive.

How did the album do compared to the first one?
I’m not really sure in terms of sales, but I think it sold about twice as much. In terms of reviews it was a smash hit, so I really think that we were well on our way.

After this second album things started to fall apart slowly but surely, so what were the main reasons that things didn’t work out so well anymore?
It’s really sad but one of the big issues was drugs and especially Kurt got consumed with it. We stopped hanging out as much together, Kurt was kind of isolating himself from the band, there was no trust anymore in one another so tensions started to rise. Next to that there were some disappointments with the record label as it took way too long to release ‘Mind Wars’. When Kurt missed a tour because of his drug habit, the fracture really started happening as he played the majority of the solos and wrote the majority of the material. I felt a lot of pressure during that tour being the only guitar player in a two guitar band, so when we got back it took a while before Kurt and I started communicating again. All these things were the beginning of the end so to speak.

In 2007 the ‘El Revengo’ compilation album was released with lots of live bonus material. Were you in any way involved in that release?
Kurt and I hadn’t spoken since I had left the band in 1989, but we reconnected through e-mail somewhere around 2003. This guy Tom Hutchinson created a fan page of his three favorite band, one of them being Holy Terror, and this other guy Scott Lambert had contacted Tom to ask how to get a hold of the Holy Terror members and that’s how Kurt and I got re-connected. In 2005 Kurt said that he wanted to do ‘El Revengo’ and I mentioned that I still had a bunch of old VHS-recordings of the band when we toured the US. Then we decided to add those to the ‘El Revengo’ album to provide the fans with lots of material.

Now Dissonance Productions have combined the first two albums and the ‘El Revengo’ release in a beautifully packaged box set called ‘Total Terror’. What do you think about the actual end result and how do you feel about the fact that Holy Terror is still “alive” with the fans after so many years?
I’m humbled by the fact that there’s still interest and it just goes to show that Kurt knew what he was doing when he created Holy Terror. Dissonance has done an amazing job and the packaging just looks fantastic. I was also asked to write the liner notes and it’s really exciting to see that the interest in the band is still there.

In 2012 singer Keith Deen passed away after losing his battle with cancer. Were you still in touch with Keith at that time?
A little bit as I had regularly talked to him on the phone between 2007 and 2010. We actually talked about sharing some music together but it never really materialized.

In 2013 after a very long hibernation period you started the band Mindwars with two Italian guys Danny Pizzi (bass) and Roby Vitary (drums). What made you decide to start up a band again and why the collaboration with two Italian guys?
When I left Holy Terror in 1989 I played with a few friends in a couple of bands until about 1991. At that time I was working as an auto-mechanic, but I wasn’t really happy with that and I wanted to do something different, so I ended up going back to university to get a couple of degrees. I kind of started my life over again, I was done with music and I was busy with re-creating my life. The music scene also changed and thrash and speed metal took a big hit in the nineties when grunge became popular, so I just took a big break from music. At the end of 2013 I was connected with Roby Vitary from Italy through Facebook. He reminded me that we met when Holy Terror played Milan in 1989 and he had written me in the early nineties sending me tapes of his band and stuff. We started chatting on Facebook and he asked me if I still played. I told him that I still had some files of songs that I had written in 1988 and 1989 and he asked if I would send these to him. He put drums to some of these songs and it sounded just great. So he asked if I wanted to start a band again, he got the bass player Danny Pizzi in and we started recording. Because of the fact that it’s hard enough navigating schedules with three people in different continents, it was decided that I would pick up the singing duties as well. I ran the name by Kurt first, but he had no problems with us taking on the Mindwars name for the band.

What was the intention that you had with Mindwars when you started the band as you incorporate much more hard rock and even punk influences in the thrash metal of the band?
This was just a natural evolution of the song writing that I did. Three of four songs from our first album ‘The Enemy Within’ were written back then, so there’s going to be a clear connection with Holy Terror, but the rest was written much later and as a musician I’m influenced by a lot of music styles it only natural that these influences are reflected in the song material.

Both Mindwars albums ‘The Enemy Within’ (from 2014) and ‘Sworn To Secrecy’ (from 2016) are released on Punishment18 Records, so how did you get on that label?
When we had all the material ready for ‘The Enemy Within’, Roby used his existing connection with Punishment 18 Records to see whether they were interested in releasing the Mindwars material. They were gracious enough to give us a shot with both albums.

What have both albums been able to do for the band?
For me it’s more personal satisfaction, to be able to still create music. In terms of any sort of success, it’s very difficult playing in bands nowadays. There are just way too many bands and everybody can put music out just by creating digital files and throwing them out there. We have been able to play some shows together in 2014 and 2016 in the US and in 2016 in Italy. I don’t have any big aspirations for the band and I take everything as it comes. If people like it, great, but if people don’t like it that’s fine too.

So what’s the future going to look like for Mike Alvord? What are the plans that you have for the next coming period?
We actually are almost finished with the mixing of our third record. We have been signed to Dissonance Productions for this one, which is definitely a step forward for us. The record will be called ‘Do Unto Others’ and it will probably be released somewhere in early 2018. We’ll see what it does and hopefully Dissonance can put us on some festivals in Europe, but that remains to be seen.

Okay Mike, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
I’m very grateful and thankful that people still care about Holy Terror after so many years. One thing that we can all agree upon is that music unites us more than anything else.

Share this interview with your friends

More information

<< previous next >>