Heart of Steel: Interviews

Interview With Rob Urbinati
By Luxi Lahtinen

Rob - Joe - Scott - Gus

First off, Canada has always been known for its great and innovative metal scene for many years. Those damn Canadians have been ruling the world with such bands as Voivod, Anvil, Exciter, Annihilator, Slaughter, Obliveon, Infernäl Mäjesty, Overthrow, Gorguts, etc.  to name a few. This has been the case for over two decades and they will most probably keep on doing so ´til the end of the world. One of the most remarkable and exciting Canadian underground Speed/Thrash metal bands for me out has always been Toronto´s own thrashers Sacrifice whose FORWARD TO TERMINATION album has gained its well-deserved place on my personal ´Top 10 Thrash Metal Albums of All Time´ list as a timeless classic.

I got in touch with the band´s guitarist/vocalist Rob Urbinati a while ago and suggested we do an interview for Metal-Rules.com, kind of for the band´s good & old times´ sake and he was into the idea right away.

But what do the famous Finnish NHL hockey players like Janne Niinimaa, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selänne and so on, have to do with this particular interview with Rob?! Makes you wonder at least a bit, doesn´t it? Then dear fellow sisters and brothers of fine underground Speed/Thrash Metal, keep on reading if you want to kill all your curiosity concerning even this very matter in question as well.

Rob Urbinati from the mighty Sacrifice spoke out and answered politely to my curiosity-filled questions about almost everything of the band´s past times to his later efforts...

Rob Urbinati - Nov. 1985As it´s a known fact -  Sacrifice formed in Toronto in 1985 with you on vocals and guitar, Joe Rico on guitar, Scott Watts on bass and Gus Pynn on drums. Back in those days, some of your major influences were bands such as Black Sabbath, Metallica, Thin Lizzy and Slayer...but especially Slayer. Would you tell us how it was to start a metal band in Canada at that time? To me it seemed like the underground metal scene really started blooming over there in Canada during 1985-1990 with bands like Armoros, Voivod, Slaughter, Infernäl Mäjesty, Anvil, Razor, Exciter, Annihilator, Lethal Presence, Death Militia, Overthrow, etc. coming to my mind first. How do you think you fit into the pile with all those Canadian metal bands back in the day?

There wasn't really any underground metal in Toronto then, we had Anvil, Exciter, and some lesser known bands. I remember it being difficult to get shows because the music was so new and extreme, we were only about 16-17 years old. It definitely was exciting for us here in Toronto, we drew good crowds right from the beginning. Eventually, we started doing local shows with Slaughter and Razor which were insane and other bands started playing heavier as well. Toronto had a strong metal scene back then, really all of Canada did. How did we fit in? Sacrifice, Razor, Slaughter and Voivod were the first wave and there were a lot of good bands that came after like Armoros and Dark Legion that unfortunately never got signed.



Talking about some Canadian more extreme metal bands back in the day...how well did you know some guys from some other bands? Obviously you did know some of them - and my guess is that Ron Sumners from Slaughter was one of the guys who became a friend with? How was he as a person anyway?

We were friends with pretty much every band, we all went to the same shows, etc. Slaughter were really great friends though. Ron was more the quiet one in Slaughter, although he could be just as silly as Terry and Dave sometimes. Terry especially was demented!

How did you guys meet up each other anyway? Besides your musical interests for playing intense and aggressive Speed/Thrash Metal, you obviously had something else in common between each of you, correct?

Joe Rico lived down the street from me, so we knew each other...but honestly our love of underground metal was what brought us all together. Our different personalities fit, we were really just kids growing up wanting to play fast metal, but we became like brothers.



Can you still remember your first ever rehearsals with other band members under the Sacrifice -moniker; how was it anyway? Did you have a comfortable rehearsal place of your very own back in the day?

Our first rehearsals were at Scott Watts house. Thinking back, his neighbors must have wanted us dead. We were writing the TORMENT IN FIRE material in 1984...in 1984 that was about as extreme as it got. It was comfortable, but eventually we rented a room.



Some of your 1st songs you recorded with Sacrifice were called "Sacrifice", "Turn in Your Grave" and "Burned at the Stake" that all ended up being on your debut album titled TORMENT IN FIRE that was released on a local label Fringe Product Inc. in 1985. How did the guys in that particular label get a hold of your songs anyway? Did you guys record some demos in your early days and circulated them around by yourself, hoping to land a record deal with some ideal label?

We hung out a lot at a record store here called "Record Peddler", which was the only place that sold underground stuff in Toronto. We became friends with Brian Taylor that worked there and he financed our first demo. To make back his money, he sold cassettes of it at the store, and eventually led to us getting a deal with Fringe/Diabolic Force for TORMENT IN FIRE.



What kind of budget did you have when you recorded TORMENT IN FIRE? You recorded it at Future Sound studio and Brian Taylor produced it. What kind of experience was it for you to get it recorded there knowing how young guys all of you were at that time? I guess you did have an ´extra dose of excitement´ lurking behind your backs all the time while you were spending your time inside the studio and trying to figure out whether you could succeed with your debut album both song - and sound-wise…

I think the recording cost a total of $500! It was very exciting, being so young. We had been practicing the songs for a long time and it only took 2 days to record and mix. Sound wise, I guess it could have been better, but fans of that album I know would rather leave the raw sound untouched.



How much do you give credit for Slayer to have this rather ´slayeresque´ sound on TORMENT IN FIRE? I honestly believe when SHOW NO MERCY came out in 1983 and you got to hear it yourself for the very 1st time, then you knew how Sacrifice was going to sound like, right?! You wanted to sound like them, sort of?

I loved Venom and I thought no band could ever top BLACK METAL. When I first heard SHOW NO MERCY, the speed blew me away. All I knew was that I wanted to play songs that fast.



If you got a chance to re-record that album all over again, what kind of things would you change or make better on that album?

Nothing. There are so many fans of that one that I would just leave it be. A lot of Death Metal vocalists tell me how much that album influenced them and that flatters the shit out of me. I would maybe be into rerecording a song or two though.



How much did you tour for TORMENT IN FIRE anyway? Did you do any extensive tours with some other bands in order to promote your debut album to people all around the world - or were you mainly destined to do some gigs in your home country Canada only in 1985-86?

We didn't tour too hard then, not many bands did because the music was so new, and extreme sounding. We did play quite a bit here in Toronto, a few U.S. dates and a great festival in Montreal called "No Speed Limit" with Voivod, Possessed, D.R.I., Agnostic Front and Aggression.



What kind of memories do you still have left about touring in the middle of the eighties? I guess metal fans probably were a bit more devoted and loyal to their bands than nowadays - and I´m also pretty sure you had a very loyal and growing fan base locally there in Toronto who were really into Sacrifice and came to see you guys on gigs every time you played in your home city…

It was much different then. Fans were so loyal, it wasn't about money then at all, bands were loyal too. No one was a rock star and if you were, you weren't part of our scene. All we cared about was playing our music for as many people as possible and if we got enough money for food, beer and gas that was great.



What were the best venues in Toronto to play gigs in those days? What gigs were your favorites and why indeed?

Larry's Hideaway was the best place on Earth, and luckily it was in Toronto. Whether I go to heaven or hell when I die, I hope it's like Larry's. We opened for Exodus there on their "Bonded by Blood" tour which is amazing when I think back. Opening for Slayer on their "Reign in Blood" tour at the Concert Hall in Toronto was memorable, our local fans went insane for us that night.



Did you have any kind of a booking agency at that time - or did you always have to book your gigs yourself? And if you had to book your gigs yourself, how did you get you touch with club owners in the first place, telling them that you had one album out and this type of metal was getting really popular and trendy amongst the kids back then, etc.? Was it easy to convince the club owners and get gigs for Sacrifice that way?

At first, it was a bit hard to get gigs, but we built a scene quite fast here and it was no problem to book shows after a while. There was no booking agent in the early days, but people would always suggest us to open for bigger acts coming to town.



In 1987 Sacrifice´s highly anticipated 2nd album titled FORWARD TO TERMINATION saw the light of day and overall it was very well received amongst the metal loving community. What kind of memories do you have about that album anyway as far as all the response, the songs, etc. toward it are all concerned?

Writing that one, we knew that the songs were coming together just the way we wanted. We demoed a few songs, and sent it out a bit... Brian Taylor our producer would play it on his radio show and the response was overwhelming. I just remember us being very excited about recording and releasing this album. This was our first time in a "real" studio, with more than a couple of days to record...this one cost about $6000 to record I believe, we had professional pictures done for the record, it just felt like we were moving on to becoming a bigger band.



From TORMENT IN FIRE to FORWARD TO TERMINATION you had progressed immensely. Your song arrangements reached a new more complex level. This follow-up was much more mature and definitely more enjoyable musically than your debut album. It also brought out your skills to write lengthy, epic songs - and "Flames of Armageddon" was one of those epics. I guess FORWARD TO TERMINATION was much more challenging album both song and lyric-wise for you, correct? As a matter of speaking, what made you change your sound so drastically from TORMENT IN FIRE  to FORWARD TO TERMINATION? Did you kind of get fed up with all those comparisons to Slayer back in the day?

We did want to distinguish ourselves as having our own sound. We were paying more attention to songwriting, and not just throwing a few riffs together. The whole band was taking influences from bands we grew up listening to like Rush, Sabbath, to compliment our metal influences like Exodus, Slayer, Mercyful Fate and Trouble. "Flames of Armageddon" was really influenced by old Rush. Another reason our sound changed I think was because we became bored with our first album. The songs were simple and although we liked them, we wanted to challenge ourselves more. Lyrically, we needed to move on. We loved Black Metal, but we didn't do it very well lyrically.



What were your own fave songs off that album and could you tell why indeed? What made them so ´special´ for you particularly?

My faves were "Forward To Termination" (we wanted to do a short intro song like "Ides of March" by Maiden and I just like how it just blasts out into pure speed at the middle), "Light Of The End" (the riffs were great, good double bass, fast vocals, and Joe's solo blew me away), and "The Entity" (the last song we wrote for the album just came together well and was great to play live).



Is there anything on FORWARD TO TERMINATION you would like to do some other way now afterwards… 16 years later in 2003?

It might be fun to re-record some old songs like Testament did.



Obviously you also did some intensive yet heavy touring to promote your new album FORWARD TO TERMINATION back then. Would you politely share some of those best (or worst?) memories with the readers of Metal-Rules.com., too? What kind of venues reached a special place in your heart and what could you say about some certain bands that ´were privileged (-he!)´ to tour with Sacrifice?

Blondie's in Detroit was always good to us, people almost felt like we were a local band, we played there so much, Chicago was really good, but all over Canada people treated us like metal gods.



Still, I believe that Canada, your own home country, was the best and most supportive ground for you, especially most welcomed soil for doing gigs - not to mention even your home city Toronto where people who really cared for you, considered you at least somehow - and on some level, as ´the true local metal heroes´ that brought Toronto to the worldwide metal map as one of the hottest beds for an absolutely killer and inspirational Speed/Thrash Metal. I guess you pretty much agree what I just stated here, correct?

We went to a lot of towns that bands never really bothered to play, from coast to coast in our massive country, and the fans really appreciated the effort we made to do that. Canada is the most difficult country in the world to tour because each city is so far away from the next. It is also a beautiful country and I'm glad we got to see so much of it. Our video for "Re-animation" was getting played in regular rotation, that helped us out too.



Reviews for FORWARD TO TERMINATION were surely very uplifting and nice to read for you presumably? I remember many metal medias praising it as one of the finest and most addictive moments that has ever been created in the Speed/Thrash Metal genre (still able to remember some of the reviews in Metal Forces, Kerrang!, Morbid, Violent Noize and the likes even these days?!). Would you say that FORWARD TO TERMINATION was the brightest pinnacle of your whole career as far as the whole Sacrifice catalogue of albums is concerned due to these facts I just stated in this question?

I would say that this was our finest record, there was just a catchy quality to the riffs and songs that stuck in your head, but was brutally heavy as well. The reviews were all great, I don't remember a bad one for F.T.T., I wish I kept all of them! I think even NME gave it a good review.



A label switch from Fringe to Metal Blade probably happened on good terms between the band and both of the labels (or did it?). Your third album SOLDIERS OF MISFORTUNE came out in 1990 on Metal Blade. How did you end up signing a deal with them in the first place? Why didn´t you want to continue on Fringe any longer? Was it more or less a financial question about which of these two labels could have put more money behind your band in order to provide you the best possible support and promotion in the future?

At that time, we were still on Fringe, Metal Blade had license to release in the U.S., the same as our first 2 albums. Metal Blade was pushing us more in the States by this point though.



Musically you still sounded & stayed somewhat the same on SOLDIERS OF MISFORTUNE even if you started concentrating on new topics lyric-wise. You decided to give up some the more occult themes and replaced them with some more psychological, universal and earthy lyrical approach. Why this change? Did you somehow become more aware of some other lyrical surroundings around you that inspired you more than the over-used satanic themes in Heavy Metal music at that time in general?

Let me just say that satanic themes will never be overused in Metal! As for Sacrifice, the occult/horror lyrics just weren't right for the songs anymore. Many of our lyrics were influenced by films, and now instead of "Evil Dead", they were about "The Dead Zone", "Altered States", or even just bad experiences we had.



Rather shortly after its release, your long-time drummer Gus Pynn went into some troubles with the other band mates and was also soon replaced by Michael Rosenthal. Was it kind of hard to let him go ´coz he had been your drummer for so many years who obviously already knew (at least ´til his departure from the band) what kind of sound you guys were after for with your albums? How was Michael different compared to Gus both as a drummer and as a person as well?

Gus Pynn It was extremely hard to let Gus Pynn go. I had kind of blocked that out for a while and just focused on everything negative about that time, but Gus and I have recently got back in touch and thankfully we have both left all the shit in the past. We all got together very young and kind of grew up along the way, so we all feel kind of like brothers that went through a bunch of really good and really bad shit. Taking one brother out was really hard. Mike was a close friend of everyone in the band and he was really the only one that could have fit with us I think. Mike's style was great, he was a very schooled player and knew everything perfect the first time we rehearsed. Writing with him was good too, he picked everything up so easy, and added some insane fills that few could duplicate. Gus' advantage on drums was his emotion, and with Sacrifice, we all almost knew what each other was going to do next when we were jamming. Personally, their drum styles mirrored their spirit.



Then you went on tour to support Monster Voodoo Machine - and that particular tour turned out to be a really successful for you all in all. Your record sales were doing great and you got a chance to play at totally new places and for a rather new crowd as well. Was that kind of a tour you had always hoped to do with the band - and could you even tell what were actually both advantages and disadvantages to open up for Monster Voodoo Machine? Or would you rather have liked to do your own headlining tour than this support slot thing for the tour with Monster Voodoo Machine?

Actually, we did headline that tour. I believe this was Monster Voodoo Machines first tour. We always tried to help out new local bands and they were willing to cross the country with us. I met Drew Gauley on that tour who plays in Interzone with me now. Our national US tour was with Bolt Thrower and Believer and we traded opening slots with Believer for that one.

That tour wasn't the greatest, both opening acts would have been better served opening for a band with more ability.



The year 1993 was the year when your 2nd album for Metal Blade, APOCALYPSE INSIDE, was released. It was a great album again, into the well-known Sacrifice style that we as fans had always admired and loved very much. Unfortunately, even if the album was musically (and lyrically) very good again, you kind of didn´t break any record sales with it. A decent amount of copies were sold, but I guess both the band and your label expected the record sales to be a little bit bigger than what you actually achieved? What went wrong then? Do you put the blame on Metal Blade for lack of support, for I can hardly find any other reasons for the rather low sales figures??

Grindcore was the trend at the time and we weren't accepted anymore playing speed metal. Incorporating that style into Sacrifice wasn't honest for us and we thought people would respect us for staying true to our style, but that was not the case. A few Thrash bands sold out to ballad songs and killed the whole scene. Someone said Forbidden and us were the only ones left at that time! I think we blamed record companies and a few other things, but really we just got left behind. We should have waited and released it now!



Then rather soon you had to meet with another setback when your bassist Scott Watts stepped down from the band. Did his departure from the band happen on good terms; did he have his own personal reasons to quit sacrifice or were there some other reasons behind this solution?

It was on good terms, he always remained a friend. Scott just wanted to try playing jazz and stuff like that. He tried adding some slapping in Sacrifice songs, but the rest of us didn't want that style in the band.



Scott was soon replaced by Kevin Wimberley. Was he well suited for the line-up of Sacrifice back then? How was he different as a person compared to Scott as a bassist of the band and as a person?

Kevin is a great person. He fit in great, personality wise he was different than Scott, his bass playing was extremely tight, great musician. Scott was in the band from the beginning and it was hard to see him go. Touring was weird without him, especially since he had the best cassette collection.



You were on a tour with him, touring North America with Death and Gorefest in early ´94 and then it was his turn to quit the band for some strange reason or the other. Did he just realize somehow touring in general wasn´t his thing to do at all and he rather wanted to concentrate on other things instead of that?

Actually, we split before the tour, Kevin did the whole tour. I think Scott just wanted to try playing other kinds of music, like jazz or classic rock.



Sacrifice split, I guess, officially sometime in 1994. Both you and Kevin formed a new band called Interzone. Joe Rico moved down to Detroit and formed a hardcore band called "Walls of Jericho". Mike joined the band Hunnytruck. Could you tell us what are the updated news of the old members of Sacrifice these days? Are you guys still involved with all those bands? You already threw me some news about your new ´project band´ called Tenet via email in which you have taken a vocalist´s role. Then it also includes Jed Simon from Strapping Young Lad who actually wrote all the material for it. Then you have this Dark Angel fame Gene Hoglan on drums and Stu Carruthers from Grip Inc. who will play bass in this line-up. Seems like with this line-up you are about to catch a few new ears for your music again…?

Right now, I don't think Joe is playing at all, Scott is playing in a Rock band in Vancouver, Gus is in a punk band called "The 3tards" with Rob from Razor, Mike is in a Rock band called Supergarage, Kevin and I are in Interzone. Scott's brother, Mark Watts has been playing with us on guitar. Right now we are only getting together maybe 2-3X a month, but we are writing for a release. I'm really excited about the Tenet -project.


- Interzone 2002 -


How did you get hooked up with these guys anyway for that project?

I've known Jed for a long time, we haven't really kept in touch living so far away, but our paths seem to cross time to time. He asked if I'd be into doing some vocals on his last Zimmers Hole CD and I said absolutely! After this, Jed mentioned that he had some songs written and asked if I would do the whole CD. The demo he sent me is so crushing... Trust me, it will be full of hate and spite. Everyone in the band has been playing Death/Thrash Metal for about 15-20 yrs... this will be our apex of hate.



You also told me by email that you´ve desperately been trying to find a label that could re-release at least your 1st three albums all over again, possibly having some bonus both demo - and live material on them, too. How things are standing for those plans at the moment? Have you been a bit more successful with your attempts lately concerning these re-release plans? In my opinion it would absolutely be more than nice to get your two videos available ("Re-animation" and "Flesh" that were) for them as ´xtra´ things for sure…

I have talked with a few people but nothing serious... we would really like to get the stuff re-released, so many people ask for it. I have lots of bonus stuff like videos, live stuff, demos I'd like to include as well. As of right now, no plans though.



In the name of all honestly, I also need to spit out that I do confess to be one of those people who hasn´t still heard Interzone at all. I´ve been trying to hunt down your rather well received CYDONIA CD, but without any luck so far. Maybe I´ve just been a bit of unlucky or something; "wrong place - wrong time" syndrome obviously has been haunting me all this time, I don´t know. I was just visiting to eBay, trying to get it from there desperately....I returned back with empty hands as always. However, it was released on the "Utopian Vision Music" label a few years ago. What kind of distribution did they have for that CD anyway ´coz it seems to be such a hard item to trace down nowadays?

The distribution was extremely limited, only about 3000 or so, occasionally it's on eBay, but we would like to re-release that as well, maybe a bonus CD with our next one.



As you also are aware of the cold fact, a rather professional looking bootleg has been released for TORMENT IN FIRE - and it´s got one of your old 3-song demo as a bonus on it, too. Do you have any idea who put it out? Obviously this unnamed fellow who released it, has got a few extra bucks into his own pockets by putting it available again…?

We have an idea who is doing it. They'll be crying soon. Bootlegging underground shit for money is shit. If you want to give it away, go ahead, internet trading doesn't bother me at all. Sacrifice didn't make much, as most underground bands don't, so why not bootleg Metallica? Why take from bands that pretty much do it for free?



I´m pretty damn sure that you have received a lot of requests from your friends, fans, etc. - all begging the same thing from you - Bring the old corpse back to life again; we need to get that good´n´ol´ Sacrifice back in order to get some new Sacrifice albums added to our personal Sacrifice -collections!! Well, Rob… have you sacrificed a thought or two to this lately? Do you still believe that there could be some market for a band like Sacrifice these days ´coz as you have surely noticed, there´s been a huge revival of once buried Thrash acts lately - bands like Dark Angel, Exodus, Death Angel, Nuclear Assault and the likes coming to my mind as some of those first examples? Do you overall think it´s a good thing to get some of these ´old corpses´ back again IF they are able to live up to their past glory days and do their high-octane Speed/Thrash Metal passionately and devotedly without cashing in with it as their main purpose?

None of these bands gets back together to "cash in", because the money isn't great! These bands do it because they miss it. I'd love to do one more Sacrifice album, maybe play like once or twice, but we all live so far from each other, it makes things difficult. If we did an album, it would have to be crushing and fast, or forget it. Exodus... I'm really looking forward to that.



By the way, have you heard any new bands out of today´s metal scene that have rather well adopted some of the well distinctive Sacrifice sound into their sound, sort of paying homage to the heritage of Sacrifice? What bands could you name or recommend as some your own current favorite bands from the metal scene nowadays anyway?

Obviously, like any old thrasher, I think we all agree that The Haunted is great. Strapping Young Lad, Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars, Lamb Of God, those are some bands I'm listening to right now. I do hear Sacrifice influences occasionally in the vocals, or the riffs in some new bands, but other people have to point it out to me.



One last question before I let you go… You have confessed to be a big hockey fan. Out of my own curiosity, I´d like to know what are some of your favorite Finnish hockey players in NHL and have you had any chance to meet some of them personally? I know for sure that at least Jere Lehtinen (Dallas Stars) and Janne Niinimaa (Edmonton Oilers) are big consumers of metal music. For example, I met the dudes here in Finland at Nummirock festival at the backstage area in 1998 for the very 1st time when both Slayer and Pantera were booked to headline the festival. And as everybody knows the Pantera dudes are huge fans of Dallas Stars, of course the guys felt very honored that both Jere and Janne took the invitation and came to see them playing at that particular festival. Later on I have seen Jere at Tuska -festival which is 100% a metal festival here in Helsinki, being arranged every summer and having had some great bands on the previous bills (like Bruce Dickinson, The Crown, Nightwish, Marduk, etc.). Last time I saw Jere was watching Nightwish at Tavastia in the fall of last year - and he seemed to be rather drunk at that time, he-he…!!

I'm a HUGE hockey fan, it´s great living in the best hockey city in the world, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jere and Janne are both great players. Aki Berg has his moments here in Toronto, Teemu Selänne is very talented. Niinimaa almost got traded here, but ended up in New York... too bad because our defense is shit. George from Cannibal Corpse said that Janne came to see them once, and was really into underground shit. I have never met any hockey players, but it seems like only the Finns like metal. Sami Kapanen and Saku Koivu are good players, Saku coming back from cancer was amazing, but he wears a Montreal Canadians jersey and I despise that team.



Thank YOU very much Rob for your time you put into these questions and let´s hope Tenet, Interzone and of course Sacrifice will get all the attention and recognition they deserve without a doubt. Any final words, ´last curses´, etc. for the readers of Metal-Rules.com.?! Feel free to spit them out as your last chance for this interview…

Thanks for the interview Luxi, and thanks to everyone who has supported Sacrifice over the years.


EvilG's 1999 Interview with Rob Urbinati