What can I really say? Throughout the years, as metal progressed, there are bands who have either faded away into obscurity or the pocket book of the mainstream, and there have been those who have been able to keep true to that spirit born in the dark, beer soaked venues of their roots while still exuding the energy meant for stadiums.
Death Angel has overcome many obstacles placed before them, only to emerge miraculously unscathed, and even tighter than before, with a passion which others have seemingly lost. They were there in the beginning, when the legendary haunts like Ruthie's Inn, The Stone, The Keystone, The Kabuki and others shook from thundering drums and throngs of people swimming in a sea of flailing bodies to the sublime crunch of lightning fast riffs.
It was an age when all the music which had been pushed to the fringes of popular consciousness was distilled down into a biting liquor which lifted the spirits of metal fans to the very limits of exultation; it was raw, it was fast, it was aggressive, it was epic, it was thrash.
Over the years, metal, like a young tree taking its place in an aged forest, began to branch out in so many directions that one could not see the sun through the canopy; it became gnarled, twisting in on itself, as new genres were being explored, and other genres became old and withered. That tree grew weak under its mighty weight, being gnawed at by corporate parasites and the dry rot of uninspired thinking.
In time, an acorn dropped to that forest floor and germinated into a seedling; a second wave, an understanding and appreciation for the purity of what came before. It grew and heavy metal was once again establishing new roots. So, as those who went for the image, those who sold their soul, not to rock n roll, but to the almighty dollar, were set aside and people began to turn their ear back towards the little clubs of the underground, and back to the pioneers who stood solidly on their convictions, heavy metal was reborn!
Death Angel, is one of only a few bands, who have seen it all, they have been through everything a band could go through; they were an integral part of an entire new school of thought, they had to deal with powerful labels ripping them off, they suffered an accident which few could have walked away from, they confronted the danger of being relegated to the past and only appreciated by the hardcore...yet, even with all this, it was a call from a friend in need who breathed life back into the phoenix, it was for the love of that friend and for the music itself that Death Angel stood like an old, blood drenched warrior rising to his feet from the horrifying carnage of a smoke shrouded battlefield to look out over the sea of devastation and give a grin of mighty determination.
You crave thrash? Then you've fuckin' got it!
ThrashHead: Your last album Relentless Retribution was critically acclaimed, it saw you and Rob being the driving forces behind the music and lyrics, does this formula continue with the upcoming release The Dream Calls for Blood?
Mark: Ah yeah, in a huge way, it's something we're very proud of, on how the last record came out, and the response is what we were very proud of and we wanted to continue on that path.
The thing is, with earlier Death Angel records, there were so many original members, everyone was contributing so it made some of our records, though they are classics, in some people's eyes...it was like that classic line "too many chefs", so Rob and I streamlined it down a bit more, making it more concise, on the last record and now, with this record, it's even better because it's just us doing the writing and we're much more comfortable with that and our vision is acute, but we also know the strengths of Will and Damien much more than we did before. Rob wrote the songs with their strengths in mind, it's just us against the world now.
ThrashHead: Yeah, I've gotten a taste of the new album and I gotta tell ya, for lack of better words, it's metal as fuck man.
Mark: (Hearty Laugh) Yeeeah!
ThrashHead: You got your newschool thrash bands that are coming up and they're emulating the bands from yesteryear, some of the bands from those years have lost their way, especially in the 90's and you guys are keeping it true to the faith and still showing the newschool how it's done. This stuff is really intense, hard hitting, you can't help but shake your fist.
You guys have been hardcore road warriors over the past few years, touring almost non-stop with fellow legends Testament, Anthrax, playing with Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica...what were some of the highlights of being on the road for so long?
Mark: You know, it's been a crazy past few years touring for the last record, there are so many highlights, but I would have to say that the main highlight was playing with Metallica, the 30th anniversary shows, those three, no four shows, at the Fillmore, legendary venue here in San Francisco, legendary band of course, and we were invited to play the last night and we were honored; it was something very incredible, we knew we were part of something very special. So, that's definitely a highlight. Other than that, that whole tour with Testament and Anthrax, was a highlight.
Not many people may know this, but during the whole career of Death Angel, especially at the beginning in the 80's, we never did a support tour, we always headlined, even since we've come back, most of our touring has been headlining and this one, we got the Anthrax, Testament offer, it was just a perfect environment to force ourselves down people's throats so to speak. In Europe we've done some amazing tours with Kreator and Exodus, but in North America we've always headlined. So that whole Testament/Anthrax tour helped us win over a whole new crowd of people.
ThrashHead: Yeah, I had friends who caught up to you on that tour, and they've said that you guys absolutely killed it, but with something like that, I'm not sure I would classify it as a gig just opening or supporting the other two bands, it's one of those tours where all the bands are a part of the package, people are not just going to see the headliner, but they are going to check out three legendary bands throw down; bands who were some of the best from back in the day who are still fucking awesome...Chuck and his crew are showing that they still kick some major ass and so are you.
Speaking of that tour, I was just wondering, how's Dane Wolf (tech/tour manager who was hospitalized in Denver after being attacked) doing, is he still with you guys?
Mark: Ah, he's not with us anymore as far as being with our crew, I don't think he's doing road work anymore, he did come back and toured with us a bit, he's recovered well and though it was a bit traumatic, he did recover, he came back, did a couple tours with Sepultura, he's slowed down a little bit, got married, leading a normal life. (Laughs)
ThrashHead: After these past three years, was it a relief to get back into the studio to lay some tracks down? Were you riding high on a wave of adrenaline created by Relentless Retribution's success?
Mark: Ah man, we were riding such a high that whole tour, this was probably the first time we actually wrote a record on the road, you know Rob wrote the majority of the new record while being on the road so, this record was directly inspired by the energy we were receiving, and at the tail end it was the 25th anniversary of The Ultra Violence, so that was re-released and we went right back out and did the Ultra Violence tour here in the States and Europe, so it added so much fuel to the fire when we got back into the studio. It was absolutely great...and of course when I sat down to write the lyrics I'm motivated by the aggression of Rob's riffs, so of course it pushes me to want to match that aggression level.
ThrashHead: You're just feeding off the stoke and energy of what's going on instead of just taking a vacation, losing that vibe and then returning to the studio with hopes that you can be creative; you got this pump going and just want to do more. I think a lot of people might be surprised, well maybe not so much since you guys shred, but when The Dream Calls for Blood comes out, I think they are going to be very, very happy that Death Angel is taking it to the next level of pit generating fucking rock n roll.
Mark: Yeeah! The feedback for this record has already been overwhelmingly positive, probably the best since we recorded The Ultra Violence to tell you the truth.
ThrashHead: I apologize, you may have been asked this quite a bit today, but as everyone knows, Death Angel is simply a legendary band, you guys were an integral part of the small tightly knit bay area thrash scene from the very beginning,...today is the anniversary of Cliff Burton's passing, (September 27, 1986), what are some of the things you remember when you find yourself thinking of him?
Mark: Cliff was one of the coolest people I have ever met my entire life, he was completely his own person, you could tell it by his playing and you knew it when you were around him. He was a great guy and just had this energy about him that was just great! He was in your face and honest; that's one thing I can say about Cliff, he was very, very honest. I remember the first time I saw him play was at the Keystone Berkeley, this little club here in the bay area.
ThrashHead: Yeah, another legendary venue like Ruthie's...
Mark: Yeah, yeah, I saw him play at Ruthie's, the great thing about that I remember, was when our own band was playing the stage there and we'd look out over the crowd and see Cliff headbanging to us! Also, when we supported them at the Kabuki Theatre on the Ride The Lightning tour for two shows here in San Francisco, looking off to the side and seeing Cliff headbanging to us, that's just a teenager's dream come true, that was just incredible!!
Look, this isn't me...I'll give you one story, one memory that happened with us, I walked into Ruthie's Inn one time, no, I take that back, it was the Stone, I walk into there and I was wearing my Venom Welcome to Hell shirt and Metallica had just returned from Europe where they had played some festivals and shows, played with Venom and Mercyful Fate, you know, when they left for Europe back then they left for a looong time, and I ran into him at the Stone and he came up to me and I said, "Hey Cliff" and he was like "Hey man" and all of a sudden he looks at my shirt, and he puts his fingers together and just starts poking my chest (note: I can really hear the smile on Mark's face by his tone.), you know, just poking my sternum with his fingers, and says "You guys are so much fucking better than those guys!!"
(Both laugh hard)
Mark: I was just blown away, I was like "Woooah! This is really happening?!?" (Laughs) Look, don't you quote me as saying that, I never said that we were better than Venom, I'm saying that Cliff said that from experiences he had with them...which was an honor for me to hear from him, you know? (Laughs heartily)
ThrashHead: One of the great things about Cliff, I wish I had been able to have met him, of course I was just a kid, well hell, we're probably close to the same age, just wrong place at the wrong time, but I have to tell you, I have a lot of friends who are "metal or nothing" and sometimes I gotta turn them onto Cliff's last interview and just say; "Hey you know, you gotta understand, metal is about music, that's what it comes down to." and you take someone like Cliff whose some of his last words were, and I'm paraphrasing of course, "I'm getting into a band called REM, have you heard of REM?" Now you ask any metalhead off the street nowadays and ask them, what do you think about REM?, you're gonna get them rolling their eyes and a weird look, that's all there is to it. Cliff was open minded and allowed himself to be influenced by everything, and is still a positive example to us now.
Mark: Yeah, exactly!
ThrashHead: That's awesome to have been a part of that whole scene, a part of music history, I mean a hundred years from now, when people will speak of the whole movement in the bay, that whole group of people, you and Death Angel will be a part of that, something like that must be heavy to think about...you know, I'm not just in a band anymore, but I'm a part of rock n roll history.
As some people may know, you, Rob (Cavestany) and Andy (Galeon) had worked together on a project called "Swarm" after the breakup, so you had kept in touch both personally and artistically, but the true reunion happened shortly after Thrash of the Titans in 2001 which was a benefit show for long time friend Chuck Billy (Testament, who had been diagnosed with cancer), what happened that night, what was it like to come off the stage, how exactly did the band get back together, when did you begin to seriously discuss it?
Mark: Well, we had been approached many times during those years when we were broken up, those ten or eleven years and we flatly turned it down, and I had closed the book on Death Angel through the 90's, and I didn't think I'd ever reopen it, but we continued to play music, I love music, I just still didn't want to do Death Angel and then we were approached by Chuck himself, about Thrash of Titans, we had already gotten wind of this show and why it was happening, so Chuck got a hold of Rob and Rob approached me, I was the last to say Ok, we weren't going to do it for money, we weren't going to do it for some promoter, we were going to do it to raise money for an amazing cause and an amazing man. So, we did it for the right reasons.
When we got together, after they put the event together and we arrived at the venue, we were the band with the longest hiatus, the one who hadn't played in the longest time, and when Billy Milano introduced us, the crowd went mad. I remember getting this feeling, vroom! this overwhelming rush, it was like "Wow!" you know, and we come onto the stage and launched into it, and two minutes in, TWO minutes in, I was like "I don't want this to end, I do NOT want this to end." and that was the most alluring thing of it!
I have to say, now, with every fiber of my being, that I am not letting this go again, never! I love music so much, that I have this great vehicle to release my feelings, to release this energy, it's incredible.
Shortly after that, people started to approach us, and we thought "Yeah, hell yeah we'll play again!" and it just snowballed from what was just to be a one off gig into multiple tours, we did several tours in Europe without any new product, and eventually labels were interested and then that's when we knew we had to sit down and seriously talk about this.
It's one thing to relearn early songs and play them live for people, but it's another thing to write new songs thirteen years later for a band that people hold very dear, of course no one holds it more dear than us ourselves, we respect the name. We all sat down and said we could do this, and then it was like "Yeah, I know we can" and it went from there and grew into what it is today, thank god, thank god, I will never let it go until my body doesn't let me! (Laughs)
ThrashHead: It seems you guys did the right thing, a lot of these bands have come back, they just didn't have the inspiration. So it was like the perfect thing, you came back for a cause, you came back for a friend, it was about the scene, it was about the vibes, it was about being positive, you toured, you play the old songs, you get back into the groove of it, you build up the stoke and put it into an album where you can say, "hey, we're fucking back! This is the real deal, we're not putting out some B.S. record to sell the name, we're backing it up with actions not just words."
That actually leads into a long question here; It seems that karma is now on Death Angel's side, the reason I say this is that, after Act III was released, in 1990, you had sold out shows lined up in the states and abroad, you guys were supposed to be the opening act for "Clash of The Titans" (The tour of lore which featured Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and which resulted in the fateful decision of adding Alice In Chains as opening act) and the DAY before the accident in Arizona which not only saw Andy (Galeon) almost die, but was a catalyst in the breakup of the band, you guys found yourself being unknowingly taken advantage of by a record label; does it feel now, with everything that's been going on since getting back together and releasing the Art of Dying, that by parting ways at the very beginning of what was to become a very dark decade for metal, because the 1990's sucked, in a way preserve the essence of what the band truly was and is?
Mark: Absolutely, absolutely, because, unfortunately, the circumstances were what they were, there was this sort of mystery to us, we put out three solid albums and at the peak of our career, we stopped, we broke up and it was done. We didn't swim through the muck that was the 90's for metal, you know...people kinda looked at us with this question of "what ever happened to them?", and we had this kind of cult following, and we never did anything to tarnish the name, which unfortunately happened to a lot of metal bands in the 90's, some have been fortunate enough to go back to their roots and get back the respect, but I think some of them disappointingly got too tied up in what was going on back then and kinda lost their visions, luckily for us, that never happened.
ThrashHead: Yeah, the 90's really pissed me off, because growing up in the 80's it was all about punk and metal, that's what it was, Mtv we didn't pay any heed to, we didn't listen to, we get old Maximum Rock N Roll magazines handed down to us from a friend of a friend, we'd get sixth generation demo tapes and we'd listen to them until they fell apart, and when Mtv latched onto what we were doing, they said "Let's take what these kids are listening to, let's repackage it and vomit it back out onto the public" and some of these bands, without naming names, they were lured in by that big money, they certainly paid a price for it, because even now, as they put out new albums, there's none of that....you know on those special records when you hear the first notes and your ears pop up like a dog's...
Mark: (Laughs) Yeah...
...and you say to yourself "Yeah, this is gonna be good." and the next thing you know, you're just feeling it in your bones, you're moving, even if your just sitting down in your living room, you're kicking over a coffee table or something? A lot of these bands have lost that, but you haven't, that's really amazing, it says a lot about Death Angel.
We know many young, talented musicians who show a lot of promise, some of these cats are still in high school who could certainly could use words of wisdom; with all the experience you have under your belt and as Bon sang, "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock n roll"; what are some of the things you would say to a kid readying themselves for an adventure of a lifetime?
Mark: You know, my main thing is, stick to your guns, stick to what you believe in, follow your heart, follow your instinct, you're always going to come across people who are gonna try to knock you down, whether it be "Your band sucks" or criticize you as an individual, "you suck at your instrument". The best thing is to let that bounce off of you, let that inspire you to prove them wrong, and that's it, stick to your guns man 'cause I've had so many naysayers, just me as an individual with my voice, and how many years did it take to get that respect? It took a long time, and you can't let that stuff get to you, you have to use it as fuel...absolutely!
I think, other than that, believe in yourself and what you're doing, in the vision of what you're creating...I guess I'd just add, get yourself a good lawyer!
ThrashHead: This question may seem odd, everyone has a different answer though, from fans to the musicians who create it, but what is music to you?
Mark: (Long pause) Music to me is a...gosh, for me, it's my god, it's my lifeblood, it's my gravity, it's my grounding element, it's what elates me, it's helped me through everything that I've been through in life...EVERYTHING. It's been there for me when no one else was, it's the ultimate energy on this planet to me, and it's created by humans; that's very rare, that something so beautiful is created by human beings.
ThrashHead: Any parting words for the fans in the pit?
Mark: Man, all I can say is thank you all for the years of support, The Dream Calls for Blood comes out in October; do yourselves and us a favor, pick it up, so when we come to your town to play live, we get this bonding that you'll never, ever experience again until we return; we're a live band, come share the energy with us!
Truly, thank you so much for the years of support!
DEATH ANGEL, 3 INCHES OF BLOOD, BATTLECROSS, REVOCATION, DIAMOND PLATE ON TOUR!!!