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Death Angel

Onlangs kreeg ik de nieuwe cd 'Relentless Retribution' van het Amerikaanse Death Angel voor mijn neus, en om heel eerlijk te zijn heb ik nogal wat moeite om aan de nieuwe plaat te wennen. Het is 'te metal' voor Death Angel begrippen. De band is bij mij nogal bekend geworden dankzij hun eclectische benadering waarbij metal meer als muziek gezien werd dan als een stijl: ook je U2 en James Brown liefhebberijen kunnen in je eigen muziek verwerkt worden, en dat leverde na het atoomsplijtende debuut 'The Ultra Violence' toch een aantal avontuurlijker plaatjes op als 'Frolic Through The Park' en 'Act III', terwijl de band alle stijlen meer integreerde op hun comeback album 'The Art Of Dying' en mijns inziens perfectioneerde op 'Killing Season' uit 2008. Dus ja, dat 'Relentless Retribution' wat anders uitpakte dan verwacht, was toch een beetje teleurstellend. Lords Of Metal wilde dus maar eens verhaal halen bij gitarist Rob Cavestany, maar die bleek in een bijzonder goed humeur, goedlachs en ook nog eens een nieuw licht werpend op de plaat waardoor ondergetekende redacteur de nieuwe cd in een geheel ander daglicht bekijkt. Niet dat ik nu ineens van mening verander, maar ik kan wel begrijpen waarom voor deze koers is gekozen. Ruim twintig minuten later dan afgesproken hangt Rob aan de lijn en werpt zijn licht op de duistere zaken die 'Relentless Retribution' rijk is.

Door: Wilmar | Archiveer onder speed / thrash metal

How are things going in the Death Angel camp right now?
Going really well man. Today is our First day of the 'Relentless Retribution rehearsals. Today actually ends the 'Killing Season'-cycle because we just got home from our US tour less than a couple of weeks ago. And now we are going to transfer into the new cycle of the new set with the new songs.

Am I correct if I say that the new album is out on September 3rd?

But do I understand correctly that you just ended the 'Killing Season'-tour and you are embarking on the 'Relentless Retribution'-tour?
Pretty much. We now have about a month to get re-acquainted with the songs of the new album. Because we recorded the album and after that we immediately went on tour, and since then we actually never played the new songs. As long as the album is not out, we are not playing these songs live yet. We now have to re-learn these songs, how we will arrange them for live performances. We are going to move into a new set with new songs we are going to rehearse and stuff. That will be fun.

Are you going to play a lot of songs from the new album?
Yes we are. Well it depends on what shows we are going to do. If we are headlining we play more. If we are not headlining, have a shorter setlist, we might leave some out, but we want to be able to play all of them.

You are going to South America for the first time in your career, how do you feel about that?
Veeeery excited. Very, very, very pumped for that. Definitely the first time in our career, so that's amazing. I never understood why we weren't able to play there before. But that's OK, we are finally coming now, and we have seventeen, at least a couple of weeks of shows so it's going to be amazing. All the feedback we get from our fans in South America is crazy, so we are expecting nothing but really fuckin' wild times.

I have heard that South American crowds can be very wild. But later this year you will be touring Europe with Exodus and Kreator. Now I suspect that you know Exodus a little bit, but are you also familiar with Kreator? What do you think about them?
Kreator fuckin' kicks ass man. We are not really friends with those guys, we met them a couple of times crossing paths on tour but not so much. I have spoken to Mille a couple of times before but I am looking forward on becoming good friends with those guys on this tour.

Aren't you afraid that they will fuck up your sound because Death Angel kicks more ass live than Kreator does?
[Loud laughter] Well you know, let's see what happens. Everyone has their turn on stage and you can show them what you got. I think it is going to be really exciting, because everyone will be pushing each other every night to kick more ass. You can bet that we are going to bring our fuckin' ass kicking to the table so the bar is raised for everybody.

'Relentless Retribution', it is quite a tongue breaking title I have to say…
[More loud laughter] Wait how the Japanese people are having a hard time with this one.

Oh my God… But you recorded the album under the guidance of Jason Suecoff. How was the experience of working with him?
Loved it. It was a fuckin… Interesting experience to say the least. Jason is a fuckin' amazing, talented person. The man is a genius in his own right. And at the same time he is a complete maniac. He is a fuckin' hilarious, fun and bizarre guy. That fits perfectly with us because we have a really strange sense of humor, like him, the working relationship just hit off in a wonderful way. His way of working makes you have fun all the time, really loose, you know the first days were really a kind of surprise of how we were going to work together. When I got there it was just me and Jason the first three days before the rest of the band got there. We were just firing away at each other, because he is quite a hyper person, like I am, and I sensed that first day that it was going to be a complete nightmare or it is going to be great. And after three days I figured it was going to be great, once we balanced each other out.

Jason did a lead on 'Truce' but you also had a guest performance by Rodrigo Y Gabriela on 'Claws In So Deep', and I am wondering who the hell are Rodrigo Y Gabriela?
Ah, you don't know Rodrigo Y Gabriela?

I don't know them…
Oh man, you go on YouTube and you see… Rodrigo Y Gabriela are a duo, an acoustic guitar duo, a guy and a girl, Rodrigo is the guy, Gabriela is the girl…

band imageI figured that one…
They originally come from Mexico City, and they started years ago playing in thrash metal bands. They used to be guitar players in metalbands. They are fans of metal and thrash in particular. Eventually they branched off and went acoustic but used their thrash roots in a kind of flamenco style. You can hear the metal influence underneath their acoustic playing. But their music is definitely not metal, it's more world music, very many different styles like gypsy, flamenco, jazzy, they mix all that kind of stuff. They have a couple of albums out. They actually moved to Dublin Ireland, and that's where they played on the streets until they got discovered. Now they are world class musicians. Once you see them… I can't believe you never heard of them, they are fuckin' huge now, they're huge. I mean they play biiiig fuckin' places. Everybody jumps on stage to play with them like Rob Trujillo from Metallica to Al Di Meola, all these fuckin' crazy musicians play with them. What's his name… Zack de la Rocha jumped on stage with them the other night. They're really popular. They recorded 'Orion' by Metallica, they play 'Stairway To Heaven', but they rock it out, change the arrangement, they are just fuckin' amazing man. It's not only a thrill to have become friends with them but also them playing that piece of music and having it attached to our music, to collaborate and have them on our album. Alex Skolnick of Testament plays a guest solo on their last album, so I started realizing that these guys are very much interested in metal, so I wanted to get to know them and that's how all of this came down.

How did that happen in regard to the recording sessions for your album? Did they swing by the studio, or did they record their part at their end of the world and send it to you so you could attach it to your part of the song?
That's exactly what happened: they recorded on their end of the world and send it to us. They wrote the piece when they were on tour. They had a recording engineer with them on the road. We were going back and forth with e-mail and then we got a demo of what they had recorded on the bus. That was amazing. So after that they recorded it properly in their home studio in Mexico and send us the files.

But let's go back to Death Angel…
Yeah, we were in the recording studio and Jason kept grabbing my guitar when we were in the middle of something and started jamming along to any part of any of our music. Jason is a fuckin' amazing guitar player and after a while it became clear that he had to play on one of these songs, he had great solo's we did a harmony, we just picked 'Truce' and we had a blast.

The overall impression I get from 'Relentless Retribution' is that you try to return to a more thrash metal format. Can you recognize yourself in that?
That would be true. We try to be fresh with every new album we do, we don't want it to sound like the album before that even though it still should sound like Death Angel. When we came to this album we were like 'where are we going to go from the last one?' And our last album… you know… We thought the last album was not as thrash as we can play, and since we noticed that the fans are really into the thrash, the more heavy stuff and a lot of the fans were hoping that we would do something heavier. We were glad to deliver that what a majority of the people were hoping for. So we said 'let's go in that direction'. But I must not forget to mention that we were all in a very aggressive mood because of the period of life that we're in, the things we went through between our last album and this album, those two and a half years between these albums and the things that evolved around us, we just feed off that stuff for our inspiration and influence to write. We just dug in deep and fed off the feelings of… eh…deceit, betrayal that leads to revenge, vengeance and victorious fuckin' retribution… We put that feeling into it and everything was coming out aggressive that way. So we tried to keep the vibe going that way.

I belong probably to the minority that likes your eclectic style more…
Oh that's cool!! That's funny because after this album I am doing a lot of interviews and I speak to a lot of people who are quite familiar with our material, and there is a good handful of you guys who like our style. I was always wondering that people don't like our eclectic style, so let's just leave that shit out of it so that this one will be more straight forward, so it will not have more of the wilder, stranger… exactly eclectic stuff. But you were going to say you are more a fan of the eclectic stuff we play?

Yeah I am a total fan of 'Frolic Through The Park' and 'Act III', the more daring song structures…
OK [hesitates] It is still in there, and it is still to come. We just kind of on purpose went away from that style on this album.

To give the fans of the more brutal styled Death Angel more of what they want, if I understand it correctly…
Totally. We love all styles man. I could be totally cool with doing a completely acoustic album, or I could have fun with writing more hookier, melodic stuff, straight forward rock music or we could go to the punkrock side of what we like or we could lean to the more straight forward thrash. So this time around we said to each other 'let's not mix it up too much' but, exactly, have it more brutal. We still love to do such stuff, we got 'Volcanic' on the new album, an acoustic song which I thought was breaking up the heaviness of the album and Jason and I kind of argued about that one, because if Jason had his way he would have edited the song off the album. He was like “Man, you are going soft with that one, I thought we were going to do a completely hard album all the way through”. But I went like Death Angel always has something like this, I have to do it for artistic purposes, for a signature way that we do. I forced that one on there.

I am particularly fond of that track

It is one of the moments on the album that gives you some space to breathe. You do have two new band members on the album, Will Carrol (drums) and Damien Sisson (bass). How were they involved in the songwriting process?
Well in the actual songwriting they were not really involved. I wrote all the songs musically. But they were involved in the arrangements and we were on the same page a hundred percent. They just cooperated to bring out the original vision of the song. It was really refreshing writing this album because it went so fuckin' smoothly. When I came in with a song these guys would throw down parts that would completely match whatever was there in the original blueprint of the song. In the past we used to work like that, with the original members. Writing would become frustrating and might take a really extra long time. Instead of working with the song, people wanted to interject their ideas a lot. In times that was magical, but sometimes it would turn difficult when you come up with an idea they go 'let's do this, let's try this, how about this…' That is how some of our songs have become wild in ways that worked sometimes, and completely failed in other times which lead to extra time in pre-production in fixing the songs to make it work. With Will and Damien it worked the other way around. My point is that they would listen in what direction the song was going, and support the way the song was developing. Sometimes songs start evolving, but now we finished a song in one rehearsal. The way it used to be was you go in with a song and by the end of the rehearsal the song is taken apart and has changed so much that you wouldn't recognize it no more. So it was smooth working with those guys. Their input was minimal, but it was the right input.

band image

One thing that has been bugging me is that when I listened to 'Where They Lay', the riff kind of seemed familiar. And then it struck me: it sounds like 'Seek And Destroy' by Metallica. Is that on purpose?
That is so fuckin' funny too, let me tell you this: I have heard that more than once by now and no that's not on purpose whatsoever. I still don't even hear it that way. I need to listen to 'Seek And Destroy' to hear that it is that.

It is the first part of 'Seek And Destroy', only you speed it up.
I got to fuckin' hear it. Of all things, I did not mean to do that. And if that happens… Whoops.

You can see it as a citation, a tribute…
Hah… 'Seek And Destroy' huh?

I got to hear which fuckin' part it is, because it is obviously not the [starts singing the intro to 'Seek And Destroy']

No, no, no, it's the verse, the [sings along with the verse of 'Seek And Destroy']
[Sings the first part of the verse of 'Seek And Destroy'] That part?

No, the one that comes after that
[sings] Whooo… [Starts singing the riff to 'Where They Lay'] Oh yeah? [sings some more] That thing?

That thing yeah
Oh that is kind of funny. It has kind of the same melody. That is really fuckin' funny. Oh now I see where this is going. Mark's vocal melody… It was Mark's vocal melody that… That's fuckin' funny dude. You're the one who is making me realize this [laughs maniacally].

My good deed of the day…
I was trying to be inspired by our old riffs from 'The Ultra Violence', it is like a fast and twisted part of 'Mistress Of Pain', where I was getting that [sings the suspected 'Seek And Destroy' part], there is this part in 'Mistress Of Pain' that comes before the bridge after the solo before the last chorus and that part, is kind of a piece of 'Mistress Of Pain' that I like, I tried to take that riff, mix it a bit up for this song. But then Mark heard that riff and he went like 'I have a vocal melody for that part that is reminding me of early Metallica'. [laughs] Now that I think of it. So we got inspired by early Metallica but I did not grasp that I went that close to 'Seek And Destroy'. Wow. I wonder if James will notice it. We just saw James yesterday and Mark gave him a copy of our new cd.

Well, let's see if James noticed it…
If he actually hears it, that would mean he made it to the last song.

That is one way of looking at it. About looking: your cover art by Brent Elliott White is superb.

Was he a fan of Death Angel? I mean, did you come by him like you found the producer for your last album 'Killing Season', because Danko Jones was a big fan of yours, and he worked with a producer who was a great fan of yours and that's how you ended up working with him, or did you just hire Brent for the cover art?
Brent Elliott White? For the artwork? We hired him. We had this list of artists we were looking at, and we contacted him. He is a fan of our music, but actually he is not a BIG fan, like he really knows our music. You know, he likes metal, but we weren't definitely on the top of his list. He was familiar with us and glad to work with us. But instead of choosing an existing artwork he actually created this art based on our songs. So that was really special, we never worked with an artist that way before. We just sent him all the song titles and lyrics, discussed with him the overall feeling and vibes, the concept and how the songs relate to each other and he created the artwork based on that. So that is really the vision of the songs.

The cover depicts wolves in sheep's clothing, if I am correct?
That's right.

Is that one of the concepts on the album?
Definitely. It is one of the subjects on the songs, and it ties in with the album title in that respect. When we started writing our songs we saw that they were going the same way, and out of that perspective we wrote the rest of them to match so that the whole album would tie together. 'Relentless Retribution' is saying it all. Fuckin' brutal, fuckin' revenge, triumphant fuckin' vengeance, what happens after you have been wronged, betrayed, deceived, all that kind of stuff happening by people that are close to you, people that are around you, people that you trust, so after you experienced that pain and come back and let them have it. So that is where this album is coming from.

I also get the impression that it has to do something with the music industry, with A&R managers presenting themselves as friends of the band, but actually are an instrument of the money grabbing record industry…
You are right in that direction, that is definitely one of them. All of those examples you can think of, it is all of the above. You can take each song and appoint it to one motherfucker or all of them. It's not just me or Mark, you know me and Mark wrote the words, but we are representing ourselves, our friends, our family, people around us that experience similar things. It could be about so many different things, we just focused on this one thing, it is about human nature. People can feel the lyrics and relate it to their own life. We just leave out the names so that people can say 'that is my song'. You can relate it to your ex lover, your ex best friend, your fuckin' brother, a parent, it could be a teacher, it could be anybody, your fuckin' agent, manager, record label, boss, employee, all of the above. Someone you got trouble with and the shit turned the wrong way on you.

I guess you will be turning your attention to Death Angel the coming year, but you guys are busy with so much other things like solo projects, bands, other projects. Do we have to keep an eye out for something else you are busy with?
The good news is that we are very very busy these days. With all the other projects I think it is going to be Death Angel for a little while. We are focusing on Death Angel right now, and DA is the mother ship of all of our musical experiences right now. We are not going to fuck around with projects that can take time away from the mission Death Angel is on right now. It seems to me that it will take a while before I can take time for something different, since we got a lot of plans going on for Death Angel right now. The tour is getting lined up one after the other. Our idea is to continue writing on the road, so that by the time we are done with this cycle, we can head straight back into the studio right into the next album.

Final question. Next January you are literally embarking on the 70000 tons of metal cruise. How are you preparing for that? Aren't you scared the boat will sink or something?
[Laughs]. That is pretty funny. Normally my answer should be like 'Fuck yeah I am looking forward to that, because we love to play every show', that much is true, but now you are talking to me and yeah I am afraid that the fuckin' boat will sink. I am definitely not a big fan of boats. I get fuckin' seasick pretty easily. We are supposed to be on that thing for four days. I am looking forward to playing and checking out a lot of great bands and have some fun. I just hope that I won't feel fuckin' seasick and feel shitty on that thing. Plus that I am not a big fan of being on a fuckin' ship like that for multiple days. I guess that we will have a lot of fun, the metal is fun, but the boat… uhm… not so fun.

Am I correct that there will be more musicians than fans?
You are correct. I also predict that there will be also much more men than women.

Oh my God, that's not good

And then the connection fell away. Rob called back and explained that the power went out at this end of the world and with that he lost the connection on the phone. We spoke a little more but I forgot to press 'record', so you have to believe me we closed the interview on a great note and I hope we can meet up in December for a beer. In the meantime I will give 'Relentless Retribution' some more spins to see if the album starts to grow on me, but I already told Rob that I am a big fan of the first two songs of the album, and in the meanwhile I heard some more likeable parts, but still I love the eclectic styled Death Angel over this album. But at least I understand the intention, and I have to admit that it's admirable to think of your fans of the early work as well. Bottoms up!

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