January 27th, 2012 | Published in Featured
They’ve been thrashing almost as long as Anthrax and Slayer. Their demo tape was produced by Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett when then were only teens. Their drummer still wasn’t old enough to drive a car when Enigma Records signed them in 1987. They packed clubs like The Stone and Ruthie’s every other night, building as large a following as their colleagues / rivals in Exodus and Legacy.
They are Death Angel, the Filipino-American quintet who heated up the San Francisco Bay’s burgeoning metal scene back when Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers were just afterschool cartoons and Kesha, Adele, and Justin Bieber weren’t even born. Led by super-shredder Rob Cavestany, the band turned heads and tortured eardrums with aggressive, memorable releases like The Ultra-Violence and Frolic Through the Park. The band seemed poised for breakthrough in 1990, when they rolled out Act III. Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies, and several other hardcore groups had successfully navigated an ocean of hair metal and—with help from MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and heavy rotation on underground radio—widened their audiences. Unfortunately, the waters of commercial success were muddied by personnel problems and an untimely bus crash. Their drummer injured and their label impatient, Death Angel were on the ropes.
Eager for something new, singer Mark Osedueda moved to New York City and took some college classes. Cavestany and the others forged ahead under the moniker The Organization, issuing two acclaimed records on Unsafe-Unsane / Metal Blade and scoring coveted opening slots at metal fests—but it could said Death Angel ceased to exist in any form between 1995-2000.
The classic lineup reconvened in 2001 at a benefit concert for Testament vocalist Chuck Billy, who’d been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Osegueda, Cavestany, and the other participants enjoyed Thrash of the Titans so much that Death Angel was effectively reborn. They celebrated by playing a pair of sold-out shows at Slim’s in San Francisco, with guitarist Ted Aguilar stepping in for Gus Pepa to augment Cavestany’s chugging riffs and wailing leads. The Art of Dying captured a reinvigorated band, who then enlisted Grammy Award-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Danzig) to guide them through sessions on Killing Season. Last years’s Relentless Retribution teamed Death Angel with another ace producer—Jason Suecof (Trivium, Whitechapel, August Burns Red)—whose work with the band was so well-regarded that old pals Anthrax tapped the perennial metal underdogs as openers for their ongoing 2011-12 tour.
The Cleveland Sound’s Pete Roche caught up with Osegueda when Death Angel rolled into town for a pre-Holiday blowout to discuss the past, present, and future of Concord, California’s hardest-hitting band. Mark might be one of the nicest guys in metal, his warm demeanor belying his waist-length dreadlocks and feral singing voice. Soft-spoken but energetic, Osegueda invited TCS for an after-dinner chat on the Death Angel tour bus, where the singer and his compatriots were readying themselves for the stage.
THE CLEVELAND SOUND: Welcome back to town! So how did you guys hook up with Anthrax and Testament?
MARK OSEGUEDA: Their booking agent contacted ours, which is good, because they’d put in a request for us. To check our availability. And once we got contacted, we jumped on the opportunity—that’s for sure. We said we’ll do whatever we need to do to make it happen. Because it’s definitely the strongest U.S. tour we’ve ever been part of.
TCS: I know you guys had a run for like then years, then broke up, then rebounded with a couple new members. Wasn’t it [Testament singer] Chuck Billy’s benefit that brought you back together?
MO: Yep, right. Thrash of the Titans brought us back together for Billy, who had germ seminoma. That event restarted things for us big-time.
TCS: The last record, Relentless Retribution, came out over a year ago…
MO: Just over a year, yeah.
TCS: I noticed several lyrical themes, while listening. You wrote all the lyrics, right, and Rob did the music?
MO: Right. I do all lyrics, and Rob does most—if not all—the music.
TCS: Not unexpectedly, the songs have a lot of anger—but they also project a lot of strength and positivity. There’s a sense of balance.
MO: The thing is…yeah, there’s a kind of venom on this one [laughs]. There was a lot of tension going into the writing for this. There was a lot of pressure on us, because prior to this record we still had four of five of the original Death Angel members still with the band. And since the last record, when we started touring for that particular album, little by little it became apparent some of us couldn’t handle the rigors of touring anymore. Some…they had children and just couldn’t carry on like before. That was the main reason. Dennis Pepa and Andrew Galleon. The bassist and drummer. So they left between the last record and this one, and Rob and I sat down to see, “Are we really gonna carry this on?” Because we had to find two new members, and would it even be worth it? And for me, I didn’t hesitate. I was, “Yeah!” A no-brainer. So Rob saw where I was coming from after a while, and he made it happen. But during all that, it was odd to see peoples’ true colors come out. Friends and families that supported us—but also the opposite. You just start seeing sides of people you never thought existed before. People extremely close to you. So yeah, a lot of the lyrics on this record were directed towards those people!
TCS: I won’t even ask names or get personal about it!
MO: [Laughs] Yeah. It happens. But it’s a healthy way to deal with stuff like that.
TCS: It’s cathartic. And yes, for some people, you just pursue music because there’s that inner drive, a compulsion. Even though you know going in that you won’t come out a mega-millionaire or a household name, you have to do it.
MO: Yep, it’s that passion. And now we’ve got Will Carroll on drums and Damien Sisson on bass.
TCS: You also have a couple guest players on the album. There’s Jason Suecof…
MO: He’s the producer. He also produced Trivium and a couple others. He’s an incredible guitar player. He did a solo spot on “Charred Walls of the Damned.”
TCS: Then there’s Rodrigo y Gabriela, who do that outlandish nylon-string guitar introduction for “Claws in So Deep.” That flamenco bit, right? How does Death Angel pull that off live? Or don’t you?
MO: We don’t—mostly because the song is already eight minutes long! Plus, when you do a full-on electric show, things like acoustic intros and outros tend to fall by the wayside. You want to keep the momentum.
TCS: But the inclusion of different styles of music on record definitely shows an open-mindedness, a global awareness most other heavy bands don’t have.
MO: Sure. We’re always careful to do that, to include things like that.
TCS: Metal’s on the upswing again, what with the Big 4 (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax) on tour together. Were they to expand that list of four bands to say, ten, then guys like Testament and Death Angel would likely be included as today’s heavy-hitters. What’s it like coming back into the game during a metal renaissance?
MO: Absolutely incredible. Metal never really died in Europe, and in the States it’s kind of catching on again. We’re playing to bigger audiences than we ever had before, younger audiences.
TCS: Judas Priest played Cleveland recently, and despite their huge reputation they only filled maybe half the arena. The economy’s been tough on people, and what with the NBA lockout the employees at venues like that are feeling the pain. But the folks who attended the show loved every minute of it. Thin Lizzy and Black Label Society were there, and it was a great show. We’re always enthusiastic about rock in Cleveland.
MO: Yeah, man. And it’s good to be here again. Maybe a few people who didn’t catch us years ago will learn what Death Angel is about. Because like I said, we’re playing to larger, younger crowds than back then.
TCS: So, what does Death Angel do for fun on the road? How do you kill the down time between tour stops?
MO: We try to get as much sleep as possible [laughs]! We try to check out local attractions if time allows. But often the time between arrival, sound check, and performance is so limited…all you can do is exercise, warm up, play. Then we shower and watch the rest of the show with everybody else.
TCS: Is there any time for writing while you travel? Can fans expect another Death Angel record in the near future?
MO: There’s still a lot of touring left to do. We’re looking at maybe September; that’s when we’ll hit the studio again. So yeah, we’re writing bits and pieces here and there with that in mind. So we’d be looking at recording in Fall 2012, and a new album maybe around March 2013.
Death Angel are still road-tripping with Anthrax, with stops scheduled in Columbus and Cincinnati on February 3rd and 4th (www.ticketmaster.com) . They’ll play the festival circuit in Europe this summer, unleashing their sonic assault in Austria, Poland, Croatia, France, and the Czech Republic.