INTERVIEW WITH GUITARIST DAN HOLDER
Started by Andy Torres and Dan Holder in early march 2003, a couple of songs were written for Guitar and Vocals. No band name was finalized as there wasn’t a whole band yet, but the two possibilities were ‘Merciless Onslaught’ and ‘Merciless Death’, the latter being chosen. Then in September 2003, Cesar Torres joined on Drums along with Mike Griego on Rhythm/Lead guitars. More songs were written with practice being held every week, and still are to this day. The influences that are listed were there from the start, every song sounded like 80’s Thrash/Speed Metal, if it didn’t, then it wasn’t used. On March 24, 2004, Merciless Death played its first show at the Chicago Bar in Santa Clarita, a few months later we played our second show there. At this point, we decided to record one of our rehearsals so as to become more familiar with our music and not wait until each weekend to practice them.
The CD was recorded in Andy’s room using a home computer and a total of 8 tracks were laid down (4 of which are no longer played). What later became known as “The Shores of Hell” Demo was not meant to be released (but somehow found its way onto the internet a few years later.) It was decided at this point that we should consider recording a real demo and so we enlisted the aid of Dan’s acquaintance at school, Jason Kivi who had recording equipment at his house and offered to record us for Free. It was May ’04 and the band spent several weekends at Jason’s house recording and re-recording and spent a couple months waiting for him to hand over the results. Of course, like the old saying goes “You get what you paid for” and in this case, it was nothing.
Sometime later Mike quit due to personal differences, and so we decided to become a 3-piece rather than sit around and look for another guitarist. Soon after, the "Annihilate the Masses" Demo was recorded at Command Audio in Santa Clarita on July ‘04. Following the demo recording, Merciless Death preceded to play clubs and spread their name all around Hollywood and LA. Places such as The Whisky, Roxy, The Knitting Factory were visited as well as several other local clubs and only 3 backyard shows were ever played.
By this time in 2005, the 1st pressing of the “Annihilate the Masses” Demos had sold out and thus the band proceeded to make a 2nd pressing with a new Cover and Band picture. Dan took the next step by sending out several copies of the Demo to various record labels in hopes of one of them finding interest in the band and signing them. Unfortunately, only Metal Blade had the courtesy to send a letter to the band with their response stating that Merciless Death’s music wasn’t the style they were looking for at the time. With more shows being played, more recognition was earned to the bands name and with the increased interest from the underground scene in LA, Merciless Death decided to hit the studio in December 2005.
Rather than wait for a record company to sign the band, "Evil in the Night" was self-released on May 2006 at the “Thrasho De Mayo I” show held at the Whisky. The 1st pressing of the album were individually hand numbered and limited to 100. Those quickly sold out and another 300 were pressed without being numbered. It was around this time that Heavy Artillery Records approached the band and offered them a record deal. "Evil in the Night" was released in 2007 through the label and recieved positive reviews, also with support from the 5 week "Evil Curse Tour" across the u.s..As of now the 2nd album is release as of May 20th 2008, entitled "Realm of Terror…"
So Guys, the band was established by Andy Torres and Dan Holder back in 2003, so we can speak about a relatively new band. How did you hook up with each other exactly? Is Merciless Death your very first act?
We met back in high school, like 11th grade, we shared a similar interest in music and started to hang out a bit and I let him borrow HAUNTING THE CHAPEL the first day I met him and from then on that’s how it began.
What are/were your influences to become musicians? All of you are self taught or…?
We are all self taught, my influence to become a musician just basically grew from my love for certain music, I really like the thrash/speed/death bands and also stuff like Jason Becker which really pushes you to learn more about guitar.
In the last 4-5 years came a lot of old school sounding bands into being, such as Toxic Holocaust, Crucified Mortals, Avenger Of Blood, By War, Eternal Devastation, Farscape etc. Are you close to these groups? Do you have a friendship with them?
I know a few of those but we aren’t close really with any of them, but like I said I know some of them and whenever we run into Avenger or Toxic Holocaust it’s always like "Hey, how you been man?!" you know.
Would you say that the goal both of you and of these bands were to keep the flame of old school thrash alive and to draw the younger fans attention to acts, such as Dark Angel, Possessed, old Slayer, old Exodus etc.?
Maybe. I think alot of people seem to think we are deadset on making thrash metal number 1 but honestly we are just playing the music we love and watching it grow, while at the same time it’s good to see people starting to get either back into Dark Angel and Possessed or discover them for their first time, I really like it though that this kinda stuff is more popular again now and alot of crap metal is falling under.
How do you view all of those reformations that happened in the last few years, such as Hirax, Destruction, Necrodeath, Metal Church, Heathen, Nuclear Assault, Agent Steel, Assassin etc.? Did you perhaps listen to their comeback stuff? And what do you think about them compared to their classic ones?
A few I listened to the comeback stuff. A few I saw live. Destruction is great live, and Heathen and Hirax are good live too, but I think some of those "older" bands we’ll say for lack of a better word are maybe trying to get back to it because its getting popular again. Don’t get me wrong though I don’t think all of them are like that.
Do you also like the newer materials of Exodus, Slayer, Kreator or Sodom as well?
Not really. Exodus I really like BONDED BY BLOOD and some of PLEASURES OF THE FLESH and that’s about it. The new slayer is no where close to the albums I love by them, Ii’ll take HELL AWAITS any day. Kreator and Sodom I haven’t listened to much to the new material but I can say live they both still have it.
As far as the name of the band, no band name was finalized as there wasn’t a whole band yet, but the two possibilities were Merciless Onslaught and Merciless Death, the latter being chosen. Did your choice fall on Merciless Death because you are huge Dark Angel fans or…?
Partly for Dark Angel and partly because we just thought it sounded better, Dark Angel kinda helped us to keep the name once we had it I guess.
Completing the line up in September 2003, Cesar Torres joined on drums along with Mike Griego on rhythm/lead guitars. What about their musical background? Is Cesar Andy’s brother?
Yes, they are brothers. Cesar had just gotten a drum set and started practicing and Mike had played guitar for a while and me and him started jamming and once Cesar had the drums down (which was fairly quick) we started practicing as the band.
Tell us please about your rehearsals! Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you jamming mostly on old school thrash covers?
I have always been writing music, so when the first day came that me and Andy worked on stuff I basically showed him a couple songs I had and we kept moving on them from there. We would throw in covers once in a while at practice or whatever but mostly we were focused on originals and getting them down well back when we first started.
On March 24, 2004, Merciless Death played its first show at the Chicago Bar in Santa Clarita. A few months later you played your second one there. How did those shows go since you hadn’t any demos yet?
It went really well, the first better than the 2nd because I remember the 2nd gig we couldn’t hear very well but they were still great…we had a decent amount of people there too for a first show, lots of old friends from high school, actually alot of people that Ii wonder what they are doing now, for different reasons I never was able to talk to them much in the past few years…and yeah it would be another few months before we recorded our demo.
Can you give us an insight considering the setlist?
Probably something like this, maybe just not this order “Desecrations,” “Legions of Evil,” “Burn in Hell,” “Dungeons of Torment,” “The Skull,” “Act of Violence,” “Merciless Death,” “Final Slaughter,”and not sure what else but alot of early material.
Your first effort was the SHORES OF HELL demo, but it was never meant to be officially released and it contains some songs that you don’t play anymore with titles only known to them. Did you record these tracks just to check out how they sound in a studio situation?
You could say that, more just to record them and hear them because what we did was use a little 10 watt amp with a mic and we then recorded that to a computer and burned the tracks to a cd. It worked though so we could hear what we were doing…I believe it has 4 songs on there we don’t play anymore, I mentioned them in the setlist for the first show.
How was this material recorded at all which was your first experience? Do you still remember what the material sounded like?
The sound quality wasn’t amazing and as I said it was a 10 watt amp with a mic so you can imagine it didn’t sound that wonderful, haha but it sounded decent enough for us to be able to listen to it and hear what we were doing, not sure how other people ended up getting it though but thats cool they did.
Which tunes were on this stuff and were they the very first Merciless Death ones?
Yes, it was pretty much the songs that we played at the first show, Ii think it had 7 total on the disc.
What happened with you after this material? Did you start writing more originals?
We kept the ones we liked and dropped a few for different reasons, and yes we kept writing. I always write because I like to stay ahead of the game and have new material down really good before it’s time to record it.
At which point did Mike Grigero leave the band and did you part ways with him on friendly terms at the end?
Yes, he’s a cool dude. In fact I need to call him up. We stay in contact once in a while and hang out and jam sometimes, it just wasn’t his thing anymore and theres no problem with that, we just continued on as a 3 piece, it seemed to workout for us.
Why didn’t you start seeking another guitarist? With two guitars you would sound more brutal, wouldn’t you?
Nah, Venom is heavy as fuck with one. 2 guitars I think just enables you to write different types of solos because you can play slower without it sounding empty since another person is playing the rythm with the bass, with us it’s about speed and raw heaviness and slowing down with one guitar would only make the bass playing the rythm alone stand out more, but that’s the thing too, alot of people are surprised there is no melody on our albums. I don’t know why they are, the past few years all you would hear is "this band is playing thrash" and then the solo would start and it would be a nice melodic lead for a minute. Fuck that. I’m glad to take it back to the days of raw leads that lack melody, if you can’t handle it or complain it’s out of key, fuck off. hHaha. I can play "in key" but this band isn’t about that, it’s about what sounds good to us and in this kind of metal raw leads that jump everywhere sound great.
You entered the Command Audio in Santa Clarita on July 2004 to cut the second demo ANNIHILATE THE MASSES featuring “Act of Violence,” “Annihilate the Masses,” and “Tomb of the Dead.” Was it a better representation of the band?
Yes, it was better recorded and we played tighter on there, even though it’s still really slow by todays standards of speed that we play by, its cool though. Alot of people remember that coming out and they tell me how they hadn’t heard anything like that in a long time and thats really cool to hear.
Following the demo recording, you proceeded to play clubs and spread your name all around Hollywood and LA. Places such as The Whisky, Roxy, The Knitting Factory were visited as well as several other local clubs and only 3 backyard shows were ever played. What do you recall from these gigs?
Good time. You have to go out and put your name out there, and I always tell bands, a good trick to getting your material out is by giving demos away for free. Yeah you don’t see any money but gauranteed alot more people picked one up and will do something with it since it was free than if it was $3 or $5, you have to work at it and we did, we played a ton of shows where there weren’t a ton of people, but that’s ok. You grow and things change over time and the way things are now is pretty badass, the L.A. shows are really kicking ass these days, lots of people, tons of women, which is amazing and they are all getting really into it. It kicks ass.
Did you sell your demo during these shows? How much promotion did you get for the demo at all?
Lots of promotion. We gave them away. Me and andy both worked full time so we could put a little bit of money into it and we didn’t care about making any. We just wanted to get the demos out there. We mailed them all over the world and most people were pretty surprised by it.
By this time in 2005, the 1st pressing of the ANNIHILATE THE MASSES demo had sold out and thus the band proceeded to make a 2nd pressing with a new cover and band picture. Does that mean that it was a successful release? Were you surprised because of the success of this demo?
Yes I was. We kinda were watching everything unfold for us, we decided to make more copies, and soon those were gone too. The demo was recieved really well and we just kept doing what we were doing.
Did this demo open some doors for you guys and did it help to spread around Merciless Death’s name?
Yes, I think more people definitely got into us then and it got them ready for an album from us I guess.
You did more shows as well at this point, didn’t you?
We started to get shows much easier in the past few years. Alot of bands would ask us if we wanted to play somewhere, which was really great because we had been setting up our own shows and playing with some shitty bands sometimes.
What about the free, two tracks promotional cd EVIL IN THE NIGHT, featuring “The Final Slaughter” and “Deadly Assault” in 2006? Was it done in the hope of label interests or…?
Damn, I’m surprised you know of this! This was basically 1 to send out to labels but mostly to give to people so they could hear what the album was gonna kinda sound like once we had it done.
Then you entered the studio to record the EVIL IN THE NIGHT full length record. What about the recording sessions?
The recording sessions for that album span about a month period. We would drive to the studio on a Saturday morning and spend all day recording and then come back the next Saturday and continue. We did this for about 5 weeks and we had the album done.
Although it was a self released material, did you have a decent budget to record the material?
The budget was through mine and andy’s paychecks. We put alot of money into this because it’s just what we do, so we’d work all week and then go and record on saturday.
This album is pure LA thrash metal worship served up ’80’s style and everything about this band screams THRASH. Is that correct?
You could say that. We just take the influences that we are really into and create our own brand of thrash/speed/death metal that maybe combines those influences with our own ideas.
What does thrash metal mean for you and how would you define the essence of thrash metal?
I think thrash metal revolves around speed and heaviness. It is the fastest and heaviest metal gets before going over the top in grind or death or something like that, and I think it’s the most memorable not just for music but for album covers.
Would you say, that the music is dirty, heavy, fast, thrash metal with Dark Angel-style riffs, Possessed imagery and most certainly early Exodus as huge influences on the band?
I would say early exodus a little bit, and yes Dark Angel and fuck yes to Possessed. I love them. Basically, we are really into the thrash/speed bands that had a darker edge or feel to them, Possessed, Slayer, Venom, Infernal Majesty, Sepultura, stuff like that. We really like the "evil" sounding bands if you know what I mean.
All eight songs included here are essential thrash metal listening. There is nothing in the way of innovation or experimentation, rather the band are perfectly content to play classic thrash metal. How do you view it?
Thank you. We weren’t looking to be innovative or experimental. We wanted to create fast heavy metal that we could say "yeah that’s us and that’s what we do."
As far as Andy’s voice, he seems to be the reincarnation of legendary, influential thrash vocalist Paul Baloff (R. I. P.)…
On EVIL IN THE NIGHT, Ii think you can see some of that, which I think is good. Baloff was a great frontman for Exodus and he had a real vicious style.
Merciless Death are not a band afraid to wear your influences on your sleeves, and on the front of your patch clad, denim vests either. What do you think about it?
We wear what we want and anyone who has a problem with it can fuck themselves. Really that’s just how we are, what you see us in in our pictures is what we wear on a regular day and we don’t really think much of it.
Do you agree that the production sounds a bit muddled, things are not as clear as they should be, but this actually works in the band’s favor? Is the reason of it the lack of money? Would you say that the dirty recording adds to the overall charisma of the album?
I would agree it’s not as clear as it could be but yes I think that works for it. Mmoney you could say played a roll in it as well since it was self-financed and we are pretty fuckin poor, haha.
Unfortunately this CD clocks in at only 25 minutes, making this closer to an EP than a full length, however, all eight songs are great and there is no filler whatsoever… REIGN IN BLOOD was 28 minutes or so back then…
Thanks, and exactly. That’s why its funny to me when some people say its too short. I’d rather it be too short than way too long.
It’s also worth mentioning that the “hate list” on the back of the CD booklet really is hilarious. How about “much hate to people who prefer Pantera over Razor,” “people who think Metallica and Megadeth are gods”, or “much hate to people with the Reeboks High-Tops that shouldn’t have them.” This list sits just below a photo of the band decked out in their most metallic denim and leather garb, and of course white, high-top Reeboks. Any comment to it?
Yeah, we basically wanted people to know that we are into real heavy bands and fuck your Metallica and Pantera crap and fuck those kids that seem to think you can’t be into thrash unless you wear hightops. Who cares what shoes you’re wearing. Buy the albums that made the genre what it is.
The disc features cover artwork by legendary cover artist Ed Repka who has done covers for Death, Possessed, Nuclear Assault, Evil Dead, Megadeth, etc. and even designed the infamous Dark Angel logo, how did he get in the picture exactly? Were you happy with his work?
Our label contacted him. We said it sounded like a good idea and I think he did a great job. Andy gave him some artwork and he then recreated it the way you see now.
How do you like Ed Repka’s classic, early works? Is he the THRASH METAL COVER PAINTER or…?
BEYOND THE GATES fuckin rules, not just for the cover though I think he did a great job, that and SCREAM BLOODY GORE, everyone knows PEACE SELLS but I think his work on SCREAM BLOODY GORE and LEPROSY looks amazing.
The record was re-released in 2007 by Heavy Artillery, how did you get in touch with them and what about the label and about their releases as a whole?
We originally were doing the speed kills comp and after they saw how we worked with them on that things worked out with them to sign and do a record. They contacted us.
I read, that earlier only Metal Blade had the courtesy to send a letter to the band with their response stating that Merciless Deaths music wasn’t the style they were looking for at the time, Were you disappointed because of it? Would it have been a good choice to sign to Metal Blade?
We had sent them a demo and that was their response. We were just like "ok, we’re gonna do it ourselves then" and we did, not sure if signing with them would have been good or not…I think there is good and bad to any deal.
Would you say, that Metal Blade are still into old school metal and didn’t become a trend riding, trend-oriented label such as certain others?
I don’t know. Look at some of the bands they had on there the past few years.
As far as the selling of the album, The 1st pressing of the album was individually hand numbered and limited to 100 and those quickly sold out and another 300 were pressed without being numbered, were they also quickly sold?
Yes, those we sold anywhere all over the world and they went quick for us.
What about the distribution of the CD in Europe? Did you often get orders, interview requests, tour offers etc. from Europe? Have you ever been in Europe?
We went in April and played the Keep It True X festival which kicked ass, and yes we get interest from Europe alot which is really great.
You were invited to play at the Minneapolis Mayhem 3, what do you recall from that gig? Was it a kind of support show for the record or…?
We were offered to do that show in Minnesota and thought it would be a great chance to play outside L.A. and it was. Show went pretty well and we had a good time over there.
Your next appearance was on the SPEED KILLS AGAIN! compilation which was released in July 2007 on CD and Vinyl, along with Avenger Of Blood, Enforcer, Toxik Holocaust, Hatred and Warbringer, can you give us details on this record?
We just had to give them 2 tracks for the album and then they put it together, came out pretty good I think. Much better than other "recent comps" I’ve seen or taken part in…haha
What do you think about the other bands? As far as myself, I like this record, but undoubtely you are the best on it…
Thank you for that. I think the other bands are good. There are alot of them these days so you really have to do something to stand out now.
This year you released your second album titled REALM OF TERROR. When did you start writing the new material for this record?
Over a year ago. I’d show the guys the new riffs or song and we’d learn it and add vocals if they weren’t there already for it, and then when we went on tour last fall we got to practice them everynight almost so that was a good thing, it got us ready for the studio.
How did the recording sessions go? Were you more preapared than with the first album?
Who paid the studio costs?
Recording went well, and yes we were more prepared for this album. As for costs, this is kind of a sore subject because the label really wanted us to save money so they had us record at Lovejuice Labs again and we busted our asses on it, got it done really quickly, 2 days to record and 2 days to mix it, and let’s just say we didn’t quite get the reaction from them we thought we would, but I’m not going to talk about this anymore right now, maybe one day.
Comparisons between the two albums are none. They both stand tall in filling the listener’s vicious Thrash Metal hunger. Do you agree with it?
Thanks. I’m glad you think that. I think they have similarities in them but each is thier own in their own way you know so that is a good thing and I think the 2nd is actually better, or at least I can say I’m really happy with the way it sounds and stuff, moreso than the first.
Merciless Death, of course, is largely at the forefront of the current revival of mid 80s, German-style thrash metal, how do you explain this?
Not sure. All I can say is we’ve stuck to our guns and not taken advantage of anything and I think our hard work is paying off with people recognizing us the way they do, we can only see where it goes from here.
Would you say, that REALM OF TERROR however, has a really thick, prominent guitar and bass with a more modern, mature sound. The drums are better, as well, although they lack a bit of a punch and are a bit overwhelmed by the guitar and bass?
Maybe a bit. I really like the sound though. It reminds me of one of my favorites "none shall defy." Also, Cesar was really ill when we recorded. The drumming you hear there is his last time ever being able to play drums. After he finished he had to lay down and sleep, so I always think the drums will be amazing just for what he did and how he had to do it.
How would you describe this record compared to the previous one?
I like it alot more. The first one was good, but this one we knew what we were doing a little more I think.
The album blows by pretty quickly with short songs that do not allow one to become complacent. It is well written with simple songs and catchy riffs that just seek to rip the listener’s head off and succeed in doing so…
Thanks. When I write music my main thing in mind is keeping it interesting and constantly changing up the tempo and riffs, otherwise things blend together too much I think.
How did Andreas Marshall end up becoming the painter of the cover of the new record?
Label said they could get in touch with him and we thought he could capture what we wanted the best and he did a great job at it.
The record was released by Heavy Artillery. Did they offer you a good deal? Does it mean, that you will work with them in the future?
We have a contract with them that is still in effect for a little while longer, not sure what the future holds though…we’ll see what happens.
Would you say that they are great supporter of the present American thrash bands?
They have done a good job with us so far for the most part. I wouldn’t say they represent all the current bands though but they do support this music greatly.
Thanks a lot for this feature guys, anything to add that I forgot to mention?
Just a huge thanks to our fans worldwide. Their support is greatly appreciated! And thank you for doing this interview.