Interview: Death Angel

Death Angel_press.jpg

By Mark Derricutt

To this day I still remember my introduction to Sepultura - camped out in the granny flat bedroom of long-time friend Kerry - a live version of their cover of Motörhead's Orgasmatron, and from there it continues to this day - catching up and introducing each other to new (and old) bands we'd not heard, or not even heard of yet.

While this isn't a tale of Sepultura - they are the impetus for this story, returning once again to our shores for three consecutive dates in May and bringing along for ride California based thrashlegends Death Angel; a band that for the longest time I'd only seen referred to in the past tense in magazines, that was until they reformed, and the internet made it far easier to find the more obscure releases.

Reforming for Chuck Billy's 2001 Thrash Of The Titansbenefit show saw a both a new beginning, and a new lease of life for Death Angel and I had the pleasure of talking with guitarist Rob Cavestany the other week to talk about the tour, the reformation, and the band:

Thanks for making time to have this the call to talk about the upcoming shows down here in New Zealand.

My pleasure, thanks for having me.

This is the first time you've played in New Zealand, but is it the first time any of you have actually been to New Zealand as well?

It is the first.

So are you making a bit of time to see the sights?

I hope so man, I mean - one of the real crushing blows of being able to tour and go around the world and see these amazing places is that sometimes you don't get to see anything but the venue and the airport, or the bus or something. So I don't know what kinda schedule we'll be on, but I'm sure we'll be quite wiped out from the travel. But we will definitely be making our best attempts to see something worthwhile.

You've got to at least get to Middle Earth and see some Lord of the Rings action whilst your here.

Man I really hope so. I mean we'll sacrifice any sleep that we can possibly get to see something cool, but we really won't know until we get out there I guess. It's a pretty tight schedule, unfortunately we don't really have days off - we're there to play shows and work. So we'll see what happens but I hope we're able to see it, or see something.

You're playing The Studio in Auckland on the Friday, Saturday in Wellington, and on the Sunday down in Christchurch, so that's hitting all three major parts of New Zealand - the north, middle and south. So it's very tight schedule with no real downtime in between so you'll probably be pushing it to see Middle Earth unfortunately.

How far is any of those places?

Middle Earth is kinda half way between Auckland and Wellington which is around an 8 hour drive but I suspect you may fly down, but it would be a harsh stop to see it and actually spend enough time to "actually see it", but that's touring life right?

It is, but you know - we still feel fortunate to even be able to go there at all. So we'll take what we can get, we're excited to come there - our mission is to come there and make music and have a metal night with some metal fans so that's the main thing. And if we get to see anything other than it's just a bonus for us - we're used to that you know, even though it hurts cause you know you're so close and yet so far. I've never even see the Sydney Opera House…

So you've played Australia before?

Yeah, this is going to be our third time.

Right, so just the first time making it over the ditch?

Exactly, but being that we've played in Sydney more than once and you know, there's this famous Opera House, and to just take a look and I couldn't even get over there so it's like yeah…. But we did see - of course we made the pilgrimage to Bon Scott's grave in Perth. We weren't going to miss that, and we did get to visit the Zoo, which was that… The Australia Zoo - so checked out some Kangaroos and Koalas and stuff so that was something.

So the tour with Sepultura - how did that come about? Have you played with them before or had much of a relationship with them over the years since, and prior to the reunion?

We have a really good relationship with the guys in Sepultura. They're actually one of my favourite guys in bands as far as personally and we met all the way back. We did a festival with those guys - we did the Dynamo festival in the Netherlands in I think '89 together, so I think that's when we first actually met and we've known each other for quite some time. We don't see each other that often being that they're down there in Brazil and we're over here - we run into each other on tour a lot. We play a lot of festivals together and we did a 5 week North American tour together some years back so yeah, we've spent a lot of time hanging out and catching a good vibe with these guys. And definitely I think the style of our music and our performance complements each other quite well so it makes a really nice package in one night.

The first album I heard of yours, I'd heard OF you before but it wasn't until The Art of Dying and the reunion gig that I managed to actually hear any of your music - I don't know if Death Angel really got the mainstream international exposure that it probably deserved, and I guess you'd been broken up for some time.

That's true, we were kinda hard to catch for a moment…

I was going to say, one of the things that really caught me about the album was that unlike a lot of thrash that was more minor tones I always kinda thought that The Art of Dying was very much more of a major/happier tone/feel and with Mike's very distinctive vocals it was quite a fresh sound and that really grabbed me.

That's nice to hear, I guess you know - it's kinda weird because from my perspective of The Art of Dying we were in a really strange time for creativity because we had just gotten reunited after not being a unit together for like 12 years or something at that point, so we were like kinda rediscovering each other as people, and as a band.

So had you not really kept in touch with each other in that time?

We were really fragmented, like some of us did, we somewhat did and some of us were more in touch than others, some of us jammed together for other projects and stuff but the entity of Death Angel we just like all shut the door on it completely. We just like really honestly put that in the past and were just trying to move on past that, and do our best to just not look back on that because it was just gone. Like as far as we thought it was never coming back so we just... it was a kinda awkward or slightly painful memory, because there was good times and there was bad time. And it was just… it's like trying to think about your ex-wife too much or something. You just try to move on - but it was bizarre that we ended up back together again. We never expected it and it so it was like rekindling the relationship and trying to collaborate together, so my memory and experience of it, of that whole session is like kind of fragmented because we were just throwing… we weren't really planning to write music together or anything. We were just like falling into it. It's weird but I do love the album, it was a weird way of the focus of the album as an entire piece of work, cause it's not the way I'd normally want to put an album together.

The main impetus of that reunion was the Chuck Billy (Testament) cancer benefit concert was it not?

It was. We got together to perform at that benefit show and after all the work we did to put it back together, to put a live set of music together then at that point, we were a band again. Tight enough to play live and we'd gone through all the weird "getting to know each other a minute" again and it kinda felt good. So we just kept rolling with it with no big picture plan, like we had no future plans whatsoever. We were just like "right, we'll do another show" and then finally we got approached by Nuclear Blast Records to do an album and we're like "we're not trying to do a record" but they were pretty persistent about convincing us that there was new life in the band if we just dug in and went with it. So I give a lot of credit to them for their belief in us and seeing past what we even thought we were seeing ourselves. So now we've been together for quite some time since then.

...and released quite a few albums since then, about 5 since the reunion? When you got signed for The Art of Dying, was that for a single album or did they preempt you with 4/5/6 albums...

Yeah. It was a multi-album deal, but we still weren't looking past the one album. We were still taking it as it comes so it was a strange way that that was happening, but it was kinda cool because it was more organic that way. We weren't trying to predict too much for ourselves. We were just taking it day by day, but the thing is in this kinda situation that can only go for so long because you need to make plans. You need to plan out your years in advance between all the writing and the touring and everything you're trying to do. You can't really take it as it comes because it just doesn't work that way in this industry.

So then shit started getting real and when that started happening, we had a bit of line up changes here and there for those that found it too overwhelming or they weren't really trying to get into it that deep. And now we have evolved into our quite stable and established lineup that has been making the last 3 records solid. And touring and we're now in a really great space to be honest, amazing space as a band - I'm really happy and I feel really fortunate that events unfolded the way they did, even though there was roadblocks and things but that's normal. It's bumps in the road that happens with line up changes or various things in the team as things as happening - people need to be ready to commit with the rest of us that really wanted to go at it hard.

Still I guess in the end, you could hear these elements. Going back to the original thing you were talking about in The Art of Dying, probably because there's this loose feeling of this vibe that we had at that point in time where. I guess we were happy to be back together and making a record. We had yet to get re-crushed by the industry and get all pissed off again and get all aggressive and angry as we proceeded to get in the next albums upcoming.

It seems to have reverted back to the more traditional kinda thrash, a darker feel, but still with Mike's vocals being distinctive, being a higher register, the timbre of his voice sets you guys apart from any other thrash band which is more grunty, or screamy...

That's kinda our calling card, and we'll take it because at the end of the day we do want to drive to be as original as possible and have our own identity. And our own sound in this pool of what exists in the genre, and in our natural expression it just comes out that way so we'll take it. It's kinda hard nowadays to do something original, like all the sounds have been heard. All the styles and all the various things, so if you can stand out in one way and have your own sound, and I mean this in like a good way, cause you could have your own sound which could completely whacked out of hell and no one wants to listen to it. But we love melody and we love a lot of other styles of music, so we have no choice but to sound the way that we do. Because that's what comes out when we put out the music that we're influenced by. The singers, the songwriters, it's not only thrash metal where we're getting our ingredients from. So therefore we just let it out into our music and we don't try to like put too many parameters on - that we need sound "this way" because that's what thrash sounds like. But it is a delicate balance that you're trying to strike because of course people that wanna hear this kind of music. There's a certain element of aggression and style that makes thrash what it is and you gotta kinda stay within the boundaries of some sort. Or it's just not sounding like thrash anymore, so there's this game you have to play when you're writing.

So I think we're almost out of our allocated time and I don't want to interrupt anyone else, but have you guys started working on new material? You seem to have a 3-4 gap between releases and I remember reading somewhere that you were planning on starting writing early this year and cutting back on some touring…

Yep! That has begun, so um yeah time flies, The beginning of the year… HAS COMMENCED! I'm happy to say I locked myself in my studio for the last, almost 2 weeks now because this is the plan and yes - the writing has begun and starting to pick up steam so some songs are getting written and they're sounding awesome if I dare say so myself.

Will we hear any new songs on this tour?

I don't think we're going to play any new songs that we're working on for the next album cause we haven't even played songs… from our latest album! So we have plenty to choose from from our existing catalogue that people have yet to hear, so we'll go ahead and play songs that people know so they can rock out and not get used as guinea pigs for new stuff that we're still crafting.

Is there a working title for the new record, or is it just album #7?

No working title. It's actually album #9 so we're getting close to the double digits but yeah, no working titles yet. Those usually come about after we hear the bulk of the music and we can see the entire concept as it's forming. And the things will evolve and change multiple times as will certain song titles will go from one funny working title to another funny working title to being called simply "song 5" or whatever, until everything seems to come together as a whole concept. Then everything starts revealing itself and we go with the flow of what's happening there with the bulk of the songs.

Awesome, on that note I think we'll call it morning or afternoon and I'll see you at The Studio on Friday 11th May

That's gonna be great, I look forward to seeing you there...

SEPULTURA (With specials guests Death Angel) Tour Dates

Friday 11th May – Auckland, The Studio

Saturday 12th May – Wellington, San Fran

Sunday 13th May – Christchurch, The Foundry

Tuesday 15th May - Melbourne, 170 Russell

Wednesday May 16th - Adelaide, The Gov

Friday May 18th - Brisbane, Eatons Hill Hotel

Saturday May 19th - Sydney, Metro Theatre

Sun May 20th - Perth, Capitol

Presale - Wednesday 22nd Nov 9am (local time through to onsale)
On Sale - Friday 24th Nov 9am (local time)

NZ Tickets:

Australia Tickets: