“Evil in MERCILESS DEATH”
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Merciless Death, this relentless 3-piece old school Speed/Thrash Metal act, hails from Canyon Country, California. The band´s full-length debut, EVIL IN THE NIGHT, was unleashed a short while ago via Heavy Artillery Records. Merciless Death have made themselves known mainly around the LA area by their furious shows that they have been playing with many other rising local forces. There, they have been successfully introducing their ever-growing and strong thrashing muscles for wild crowds, and overall getting their name stamped on people´s foreheads.
Merciless Death´s guitarizt Dan Holder talks more about their world thrash domination to Metal-Rules.com when it got started and where it has led to them thus far. Now let´s enter Dan…
NIGHT IS EVIL… EVIL IN THE NIGHT
EVIL IN THE NIGHT, which is the title of your debut album, was released through Heavy Artillery Records for quite some time ago, and all the reviews for it, have overall been very flattering and uplifting. Are you at least a bit surprised by all this positive feedback you´ve received from this album for yourselves?
Yes, I mean when we recorded it we thought it sounded good, we were happy with it, but when it was getting close to the album release you start to wonder what people’s opinions of it will be, and it was really fucking great to see how many people liked it and thought that it captured the sound of the genre the way it was back years ago.
How did you end up signing a deal with Heavy Artillery Records anyway? How many albums does your deal with them cover all in all?
We were contacted by them around March of ’06 I believe, right after we had decided to release EVIL IN THE NIGHT on our own, we had been sending demos to some different record labels but none of them had interest and we really didn’t care at that point what their opinion was of us or our music. We were gonna do it with them or without them, so we did the release ourselves and then we were contacted and soon after signed to Heavy Artillery. We hopefully will be doing 3 records with the label, atleast that was the original intent so it would be great to see that happen and the way things have been going I’m very positive about it happening…
Before you got signed to them, Merciless Death had a very good reputation as a very hard-working and very popular old school Thrash Metal act in your local scene – and you were becoming more and more popular amongst metal maniacs all the time. Did you find all this that was happening to you – relatively rapidly even, almost too good to be true, becoming one of the most followed bands from the Californian metal scene?
It is pretty amazing how things have taken off, and what you have said is true. Before the record we had a good reputation in L.A. because of all the shows we have played, we still were known all over by some people but definitely not the same way that we are now with the album out. It really has put our name out there – and yes sometimes it seems too good to be true when I think of how all these things are happening so fast. But that just makes me realize how lucky we are to have the opportunity to do this so we will never take it for granted.
THE 2ND COMING OF THE BAY AREA THRASH
Merciless Death could be considered to be one of the true pioneers of this 2nd Speed/Thrash Metal invasion that started to spread from the California area again to the rest of the world, along with such bands as Warbringer, Fueled by Fire, Execution, Devastator, Hatchet and few others. I guess you feel kind of honored to be a part of this 2nd coming of old school Thrash Metal coming from the California area along with all those other bands. Just correct me if I´m completely wrong… ;o)
No, you are very correct on this man. We feel very proud and honored that so many people look to us as a leader of this 2nd coming of Thrash/Speed metal, it’s also really something special to us when we have someone who was around years ago and saw the bands we listen to play some of their best shows come up and tell us that we sound great and they can’t believe someone can sound like that nowadays.
What is so cool about this so-called ´2nd coming of Thrash´, people really seem to be into it, and digging all these bands like there´s no tomorrow. Even many labels have noticed the potentiality of many of these bands that have crawled from their catacombs into the daylight – and eventually signed them, like Merciless Death and Warbringer as good examples. Your thoughts about this?
I don’t know, it´s really weird how the ´scene´ has grown, – especially here in L.A. A few years ago there was nowhere near as many people that you see going to the Thrash/Speed shows, but in the past 2 years it really has been growing and I see a lot of kids with patches of bands that I have thought kicked ass for years so its really cool to see that happening – even really obscure bands. All I can hope is that they are actually listening to the bands they have on their jackets! You know what I mean? That’s one thing that bothers me though is that I think some people focus on the way they look and what they are wearing so much they don’t actually focus on the music – which is too bad for them. And yes, more young bands just like us are starting to get contacted by labels - and who knows who will end up signed. The thing that I really think about though is that if you look at how things are going now they have almost repeated what happened 20 years ago. So for me that asks the question “in 4 to 5 years will it burn itself out the way it did at the end of the 80’s when it became so over-saturated?” I don’t know. However, I do know that if that happens there are some people that I know from shows and stuff that are still gonna be around like us – listening to the same bands no matter what. We wouldn’t give a shit if some people lost interest in this music after a year. Good for them we will still be doing the same thing.
What are, in your opinion, some of the most promising and talented old school Speed/Thrash Metal bands from your area that people should keep their eyes out tightly for in the future?
Well, I would say Malicious Assault but I talked to their bass player Steve yesterday and he answered my question that they have broken up I guess, so that sucks because I really thought they kicked ass at what they were doing. Other bands I’d say people should listen to or keep their eyes out for, are bands like Execution, Tyrant and a new band I know about that has yet to record or play but come next year. I’m sure their name will be getting around a bit… we’ll see!
A bunch of badass thrashers from L.A.
Merciless Death was formed about 4 years ago, and obviously since then your goals with this band were very clear that old school Thrash Metal was the name of the game for you. Anyway, could you tell by your own words what bands particularly inspired you since the very beginning actually? When people listen to your stuff, some of the names that tend to pop up out from your music, are the sounds of early Exodus, early Metallica, early Destruction, early Kreator – ´early anything´ that has something to do with this ´80s vibe. Would you subscribe the aforementioned listed bands as some of the strongest influences for Merciless Death?
You are correct in saying Thrash Metal has always been the ´name of the game´ for us, since me and andy met up and started to rehearse together we always wanted to play this music. It grew out of this passion we have for it which at the time was the same thing we share now and that is ultimately this music kicks ass. But the other thing that I think maybe made us push ourselves to do this band as well is that back in ’03 the word ´Thrash´ or ´Speed´ were being used to describe some total shit bands that have never heard of a Thrash band besides Metallica. We knew that we could do better and since we were already diehard fans of the genre, we decided to start a band. As for the influences your right in early Exodus, and a bit of early Destruction and Kreator as well. Particulary of the SENTENCE OF DEATH / INFERNAL OVERKILL / ENDLESS PAIN / PLEASURE TO KILL album era’s. Coincidence that they are first and second albums of each band? Yes, – I just happen to like what Kreator did on those 2 records more than anything else they did - same with Destruction. Though RELEASE FROM AGONY is fuckin´ brilliant but I wouldn’t say that is such as big an influence as the others would be since that aims at the more technical and sometimes melodic guitars, and I don’t like to play melody in our music.
Let´s talk about your debut album EVIL IN THE NIGHT with a bit closer thoughts next. The first thing that should obviously be mentioned, is the very eye-catching album cover. There´s this desperate-looking blond lady haunted and surrounded by a small legion of evil zombies in sort of boghole on the cover – artwork done by Ed Repka who painted many album covers for metal bands especially during the ´80s. What made you to choose his artwork for EVIL IN THE NIGHT in the first place?
It was great to have Repka do the cover. When we heard about him doing it, we were really fuckin´ happy to have the same guy who did covers for Possessed, Death, Venom, Vio-lence and others back in the day (obviously Megadeth, too – but everyone knows the PEACE SELLS cover!). As for the idea behind it, it really came down to me, Andy and Cesar sitting down and coming up with ideas. Another idea we had was this shadowy figure standing somewhere like on a mountain or something, holding a head up in the air by its hair - with its blood and guts falling out the bottom of the head onto the ground. And a knife in his other hand obviously giving the inclination that he had beheaded the person, but we decided on the girl with the zombies and it came out really good. Originally Andy and Cesar drew the cover which was released on the version we had before we were signed, which now are hard to find as they were hand-numbered, 100 copies. When it came time for the label’s release version, I think they sent the cover Andy and Cesar did to Repka, so he could have some idea of what we wanted. And he did a great job with keeping the idea we wanted and also expanding it with a few ideas of his own. We wanted something that people would remember and something with some sort of violent aggressive nature to it.
Did you have some other artists´ names in your mind that were also good alternatives for the album cover artists for your debut album (Dan Seagrave? Joe Petagno?)?
You know honestly I’m not so good with artists names. The only other one I remember was someone who had done some Motörhead album covers in the past and it was kinda between him and Ed Repka (Joe Petagno is the guy who has done f.ex. some artworks for Motörhead albums -Luxi).
Then, as for the songs – well, what you can tell really, but admire sincerely how you guys have managed to sound like one of those Thrash Metal bands from the ´80s period of metal. To sound as old school as you guys do on your debut record, really tells it clear language towards that particular style in question – and there´s simply no way that you could churn this type of shit out if you just did it for the hype. I have to say that at least I´m honestly pretty damn impressed and convinced by the stuff you guys do on EVIL IN THE NIGHT. So, what are your ´secret weapons´ for capturing the magic of that golden ´80s vibe for your sound?
Thank you very much!! I’m glad you are able to see it that way rather than like you said doing it for the hype, really it comes down to how into the music you are I think. I mean - seriously, this music rules our fucking lives. On a regular day we sit around and get fucked up and listen to records. That’s what we enjoy doing so when it came to writing music for the band, it was basically us saying “ok, well I like the way these bands do this type of sound and give this presence and feel to their albums”. Bands like Slayer, Possessed, Venom - and so on. They all had a very evil vibe and their music never gets boring because of a lot of rythm changes. I like my Thrash/Speed Metal to be evil, over the top, fast and heavy as hell. And that is what we wanted to do when we started the band, is create music that keeps people interested like that. I don’t like to write stuff that I think is too long or is going to get boring because it doesn’t have a lot of depth to it, and it works well for us when we come up with new songs because Andy and Cesar are the same way. As for secret weapons, I really don’t have any. All I can tell you is that the 2nd album will have that same feel because it´s what we know how to do, and it´s what we like to do. Some people don’t like that; they think this music is dead or that it shouldn’t be played anymore but really they can fuck themselves.
Even the song titles, like “Slaughter Lord”, “Command Death”, “Exumer”, “Ready to Kill”, etc. speak for their own language what old school Speed/Thrash Metal used to be back in the day. But I think that´s the main idea what kind of message Merciless Death want to bring out from themselves, correct?
Yes, it´s funny too because some people think we tried to come up with those titles just because “they sound so much like they are from that time” but really we would just say “what do you want to call the song” or “ I was thinking this…” – and we just come up with a name that we think sounds good and is going to tell people what to expect for that song.
THE HARDWORKING AND DEDICATED TRIO
How would you describe your band mates (the Torres -brothers) by a few well-selected words how both Andy and Cesar are as single individuals, and under what kind of circumstances you met them back in the day?
In a few words for each. Well, actually these words work for both: Hardworking, dedicated, passionate about this music and the band we have created. They really have worked hard, I mean when I met them neither of them played an instrument! They just picked them up and went from there. As for meeting them, it started with Andy at highschool in 10th or 11th grade. We had a class together and I had just got a leather jacket for my birthday and he took the opportunity to say “hey, nice jacket man” and that pretty much started it. I let him borrow HAUNTING THE CHAPEL that day…
After that we started hanging out a bit and slowly the band got started. Me and Andy would sit in his living room and I would show him these songs I had written and he would sing them while I played them on guitar and that’s where it started. “Desecrations” and “Legions of Evil” - and “Burn in Hell” was soon after that and it is the oldest song on the album actually. I wrote the initial music and lyrics for that back in fucking ’02 if you can believe that, Then developed it a little more and by the end of ’03 we were playing it fluently. Before I met Andy and Cesar I would just write music and lyrics and save them because I knew one day I would meet someone who would share the same desire I had and that happened when I met them.
There was this guy named Mike (on guitars) in the line-up of Merciless Death back in the day, too. Why did he leave the band, or was he just simply kicked out from the band due to a lack of motivation and dedication to play in Merciless Death?
Yeah, Mike is a cool guy and I still hang out with him usually every other week or so when we can, just party and shit, y´know. He’s a great guitarist and a cool guy all around. Back when he left the band I think it came down to he had different tastes than we did. He was into a lot of more Black Metal stuff (and I’m not talking Venom obviously!) and I think while he had fun playing this music, it wasn’t entirely what he wanted to do. So when it came down to it, he quit based on a loss of interest, I guess. But it was cool - no hard feelings or anything. We are still great friends. He actually quit about a month before the demo was recorded I think.
He did play the first 2 shows with us though out where we live in Santa Clarita. Maybe one day someone will be able to see that footage! One day…
Heavy Artillery Records also decided to add more of this old school trademark to Merciless Death by releasing EVIL IN THE NIGHT as a very limited vinyl edition. Could you kindly tell us where the idea for that vinyl release came from, and how much there still is availability for those Merciless Death – obviously ´soon-completely-sold-out- vinyls´ (if any?)?
Well for us, me and Andy especially, since we are collectors it was really important to us that if we had the opportunity for a LP release that we do it, and when the label asked we were sold on the idea right away. Vinyl is the best way to listen to albums anyway though most kids have never heard a record before! As for availability I’d say check eBay at this point since they all sold out which was cool for us to see that a lot of people wanted our album on vinyl.
What about the Merciless Death merchandise? What kinds of items do you have available now and what kind of plans do you have to expand it during the coming months? Is there something really special in your minds that you´d like to carry out badly regarding the band merchandise?
As for now I think we have some patches and pins and we are supposed to be getting shirts soon, too for the album I think. So that will be cool. We did a shirt for the song “The Gate”, but we weren’t able to make too many of them and they sold out at one show in about 10 minutes. I think we are gonna make more which I really hope because I think it is a great fuckin´ depiction of the song. Andy and Cesar did the art for it.
As for something really special I’m not sure at this point, we’ll see what happens…
Playing live is naturally a very important part to make your band known amongst people, so what kind of plans do you have for making gigs?
Well, we usually play at least once a month here in L.A. Sometimes more so we are always ready for a live performance. As for making gigs really it´s just us and the other bands talking and figuring out when and where for each show. Playing live really kicks ass so whenever and wherever we play, we will always be playing like it’s a fuckin´ packed venue – even if there is only 5 people there, those 5 people came to see us so we are gonna make them remember it.
THE INTERNET: A HELPING HAND IN PROMOTION
How much has The Internet helped you to get Merciless Death´s name out for people´s lips?
A lot!! It´s like the way they had the tape trading back in the 80’s, only I guess, much faster since you can just click a fuckin´ button now, ha-ha! But yeah, it has helped us a lot in getting our name out there and our music; it also helps with shows a lot to as you can spread the word really fast.
What about this so-called ´mouth-to-mouth´ promotion in which your friends tell to their friends about Merciless Death – and your friends´ friends tell to their friends and so on…? A word getting spred through the grapevine is one of the greatest of inventions of the entire history of mankind for sure… ;o)
Word of mouth is very important! People talk and they will be talking about your music, lyrics, etc. - and when you play shows they will talk about how you played – good or bad and what not, so your reputation is basically set by that a lot of times.
WHAT MAKES THE ´80S METAL SCEN SO SPECIAL THEN?
Let´s fly back to the ´80s period of Speed/Thrash Metal for the next couple of questions, shall we? If you look back in time, and run a comparison between the whole influential 80´s metal scene and the rest of decades in the worldwide metal scene, what are – from your point of view, 3 most the most important and remarkable things that make the 80´s metal scene so superior to other decades in metal?
Really for me it’s the fact that those bands were so far ahead of their time. Nowadays metal has done so much and you can get an idea from anything for any type of genre of metal because there have been so many bands playing music up to this point. But what about those bands that listened to NWOBHM bands or the like and took it a step further in creating some of the heaviest metal ever. They created albums that have stood the test of time and have stood up and surpassed (in my opinion) albums of today. HELL AWAITS, NONE SHALL DEFY, SEVEN CHURCHES, BLACK METAL, DON´T BREAK THE OATH, etc. - all of those are heavy as shit and are definitely my favorites among a few others. Other than the music itself, things that make is superior is stuff like “Ultimate Revenge (fuckin´ Slayer, Exodus and Venom on one bill in ’85 - playing their heaviest music! You’d never see a show like that today!) and World War 3 festival as well - as well as the Metal Battle ’88 in Katowice, Poland with Nasty Savage, Atomkraft, Exumer and a few others. I have Nasty Savage’s set on tape and got really close to getting Atomkraft’s. I’d really like to get Exumer’s footage for that though! And at the same time, my point of view maybe a lot different from others as I never had the chance to experience all of that first hand. I mean, shit I was born in ’86, so maybe for me it has something special to it in a different way. I certainly know the music does and the bands that I really admire too!
Many known and popular Speed/Thrash Metal bands ceased to exist during the end of the´80s – and in the first half of the ´90s due to Death Metal becoming a popular trend back in those days, have now been resurrected from the dead – and some of them have really made pretty impressive comebacks, just like Exodus and Onslaught, for example. However, what has become rather evident already, these resurrected Speed/Thrash Metal bands just cannot live up their past days of glories and success any more, no matter how hard they would try – even if, like I already stated some lines earlier, they are still doing somewhat ok – and obviously still have their hearts in this old school Speed/Thrash Metal style. Now I´d like you to comment this subject a little bit further what are your sincere thoughts about this. Do you find all of these ´resurrection´ worth of your interest?
Honestly I don’t. I like the idea of bands maybe coming back to play a one-off show with an old line-up or something, but to me if the band has been dead for almost 20 years, then I doubt you could bring it back and capture what that band and its name stood for years ago. Obviously people have different opinions on this, but for me when I think of Exodus, I think of Baloff screaming classic lines like “gates of hell are old and cracked, they tumble and they fall!” – that to me is Exodus. Hell… even Souza on PLEASURES OF THE FLESH! It´s cool to see Gary still carrying the band on I guess, but it´s not my thing. I’m not really into the new singer and I’d just prefer to listen to the albums I mentioned by them. No hard feelings or anything towards that stuff – don’t get me wrong…
Are there actually some worthy comebacks of some certain Speed/Thrash Metal bands that you´d love to witness some day? I guess at least Dark Angel and Forbidden might well be some of those bands for you to agree heavily with me… ;o)
Dark Angel would be fucking cool, but more than that honestly I’d like to see Possessed, and right now Sadistic Intent is doing what I will call a project with Jeff Becerra because I really only think it´s Possessed if you have Tarrao, Sus and Lalonde up there with Becerra. I was able to hear a few songs the last time I saw them and they really did a kick ass job on them – (“Pentagram”, “Burning in Hell” and “My Belief”) so if that’s as close to Possessed as we get nowadays, I’ll go see it! Other than that I think it would be kick ass for Razor to get back with ´Sheepdog´ and get to see them play stuff off of the classic albums (EXECUTIONERS SONG, EVIL INVADERS, MALICIOUS INTENT and VIOLENT RESTITUTION), or have Destruction, Sodom and Kreator come over here. Now that is something that isn’t so far fetched, I guess!
“SPEED KILLS… AGAIN” comp. featuring Merciless Death
DAN COMMENTS ON SOME ´80S SPEED/THRASH METAL ALBUMS
As we can rightfully consider you guys as some sort of experts in old school Speed/Thrash Metal, I´d like you to comment the following 5 known/less known Speed/Thrash Metal releases from the golden ´80s era of the genre. Ready? Good… so go ahead:
1) Angel Dust – INTO THE DARK PAST (Disaster/Scratch, 1986)
INTO THE DARK PAST is fuckin rad! I actually am still trying to get a copy of this on vinyl and CD. Andy has this and we listen to it once in a while.
2) Exumer – POSSESSED BY FIRE (Disaster, 1986)
POSSESSED BY FIRE I really like (I must if the cover is tattooed on my left arm)! I am also a fan of RISING FROM THE SEA – maybe even more because I think it has a heavier Slayer -vibe to the album. But POSSESSED BY FIRE is a great record; I like it because they didn’t sound like a German band so much. It had its own feel especially on songs like “Fallen Saint” and “Xiron Darkstar” and “Reign of Sadness”. Good album.
3) Exciter – VIOLENCE & FORCE (Megaforce, 1984)
VIOLENCE & FORCE is great!! That takes me back as Andy has that one on vinyl and I can remember sitting in his room listening to it. I liked that Dan Beehler played drums and sang (I only have HEAVY METAL MANIAC on vinyl). I’m not as huge a fan of Exciter as of certain other bands though.
4) Hydra Vein – RATHER DEATH THAN FALSE OF FAITH (Metalother, 1988)
I still have to get a hold of Hydra Vein, so I can’t comment on that now.
… and finally, Dark Angel – DARKNESS DESCENDS (Combat, 1986).
DARKNESS DESCENDS is a great album!! Fast as hell and totally heavy from beginning to end! “Burning of Sodom” is really fuckin´ fast, and “Merciless Death” sounded great on that version though. I still like the WE HAVE ARRIVED version as well with the chants of “death!”. To be honest, “Black Prophecies” kinda bores me but it works since “Perish in Flames” is right after that and closes out the album.
Before the year 2007 has come to its end, what do you hope Merciless Death would have achieved by the end of the year – being it something materialistic or spiritual property?
I hope that we have completed a successful tour for the EVIL IN THE NIGHT record and had a great time the whole way. I know we will. Meeting cool people that share the same interest in this music as us and getting fucked up with them after playing some rad shows. I´m not sure exactly what the plans for albums is but I can tell you this if we have the opportunity to get started on the second album, we already have the material done so we are ready to go on that!
Ok Dan, I think that was it all this time. I wanna thank you for your precious time with all of these crazy interview questions and I hope you found the q´s worth answering for yourself. Also, I wanna wish you all the best with the future endeavors with Merciless Death and hopefully we will hear a lot of more from Merciless Death in the coming months! And now the last words… I guess it´s your privilege to spit them out, so be my guest and go ahead, Dan…
Well, first I’d like to thank you for giving this interview! Yes, I did enjoy answering the questions; some of them made me think a lot about different things and I feel honored that people will care to read what I have said. Thank you for all the best in the future for us and there will be more from us soon so be prepared! Thank you to all the fans, all the true diehards! And what the hell, all the hot babes who are into this music. That’s one thing I can definitely say is a good thing about these days; a lot more chicks are into heavy music and that’s really cool! Ha-ha… Anyway man, take it easy and thanks again – and I hope one day to meet with you in person at some point somewhere. Have a few beers and talk about some killer fuckin´ records!, till then! -Dan
“Merciless Death… -FUCK YEAH!!”
“…and HEAVY fuckin´ARTILLERY… -OH YEAH!!!”