Rob Thorne of Sacred Oath
Interviewed by EvilG
Interview questions by EvilG and Waspman
Sacred Oath are one of those bands that you wish you wouldn’t of missed the boat on back in the mid-80’s. Growing up in that period here in Canada, it was hard to hear new stuff outside of what your friends and you found, what was on the "Power Hour" and of course the main print zines of that time. So better late than never to discover what this band did 20+ years ago and to now discover the new and improved version of the band which are back with a vengeance to more than recapture old glory, but to take the band to the next level. I recently spoke to guitarist and vocalist Rob Thorne about the band’s reformation, rejuvenation and rebirth!
The obvious opening question for you has to be, what was your motivation for getting the band back together after being gone so long?
We did it out of respect for what Sacred Oath was, and what we felt it should have become, had we not fallen victim to the bumblefuck Mercenary Records gave us back in ‘88. The songs that made the Darkness Visible album were just hanging in limbo for almost twenty years. They needed to be recorded. In the end, we were so pleased with how it turned out, and it was so well received by the underground press that we decided to keep it up!
The exact same line-up from the late 80’s isn’t completely intact. So what is the deal? Were not all asked, available, or interested in having another go with Sacred Oath?
RT: We were all there for Darkness Visible, but Pete and Glen were not able to tour, so we all kind of decided that the Oath would move on without them after that album. It was a mutual decision, and we’re all still best of friends. The current line-up has been in place since the 2007 and live album ‘Till Death Do Us Part (2008).
20 years after the release of A CRYSTAL VISION, Sacred Oath returned with the 2007 offering DARKNESS VISIBLE. During the two decades between albums, how close did the members of Sacred Oath follow the metal scene? What projects were all members involved with musically during that time period?
We were all tapped into it in one way or another. I was playing with Soundscape and writing my rock operas while Pete was playing in Low Twelve, Glen was playing in Native Tongue, and Kenny was in Rock Alley. Half of us were in LA and Pete was in Illinois; we just weren’t in touch with each other, so there wasn’t much hope of resurrecting Sacred Oath, and not much point either. No one seemed interested in the band anymore. Boy were we wrong!
The album DARKNESS VISIBLE picks up almost exactly where A CRYSTAL VISION left off in terms of style. Was it a conscious effort to return to your original style of power metal or did this evolve naturally as the writing process began?
Well, as I mentioned, the songs on DARKNESS VISIBLE were written back then and were always intended to be the second album. But we did make an effort to have the CD sound as if it were truly the follow up to A CRYSTAL VISION. It wasn’t hard though. Stylistically it slipped on like an old glove. Production-wise, I insisted on real live drum sounds and minimal edits. It was important to us that the CD not sound like a Slipknot record.
In the intervening years did you find any new influences or have you always looked back to the classic metal bands that inspired you as a kid when you first picked up the guitar?
Even for this new album I drew all my inspiration from Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, Sabbath, Metallica . . . Those are the bands that influenced me then and still influence me now. That’s what I listen to.
When the band reformed you chose to rerecord A CRYSTAL VISION as A CRYSTAL REVISION. How was the decision made to do that instead of release an album of new material?
The interesting story there is that we didn’t actually reform back then. A Crystal Revision was recorded in 1998, when we were approached by Sentinel Steel Records about re-issuing the first album. They wanted some bonus tracks for the release, so we pulled ourselves back together to record “The End” and “The Invocation”, and it was a great feeling – so great that we kept playing through the entire first album, essentially re-recording it. Those recordings got shelved, as we were all busy in other bands at the time. But in 2005, while we were working on Darkness, we decided to release those recordings as an “official bootleg.”
There was obviously a lot of interest in the re-release of ACRYSTAL VISION; has the attention given to their new albums lived up to your expectations/hopes?
Way beyond! If you consider that Sacred Oath has much more going on now than ever before . . . But more importantly, the quality of what we’re putting out is everything I could have hope for. We just keep getting stronger.
Why did you not continue with Sentinel Steel Records after DARKNESS VISIBLE? It seems that the label’s interest in the band and old-school metal played a big part in the comeback.
Sentinel Steel did play a big part in our comeback. If Denis Gulbey had never hunted me down in 1998, who knows where we would all be right now? But I think Sacred Oath was moving faster than Sentinel Steel could keep up with.
Self-titled albums are usually transitional albums or a sign that a band has lost their inspiration – that’s not the case with Sacred Oath, so why is the latest release self-titled?
This album is our first newly written material in 20+ years, and in that sense it is a rebirth. I felt it was important to make a statement by self-titling the album. We’re here, we’re back, and we’re for real.
"Counting Zeros" from the new album is very much about the current state of world affairs. You’ve also chosen to film a video for this song. Tell us a bit about the video and the song itself.
We chose this song for the video for obvious reasons. It was the first single off the album, and iTunes had a role in that, having chosen it as their Discovery Download Of The Week April 7th. But also, this song is central to the theme of the album. A new generation is coming of age with an overwhelming sense of disillusionment with the world we live in, with the institutions we once had faith in. The video gave us a chance to explore that theme. We cast some of my guitar students in the video as that new generation, growing up in the shadow of a messed up war and a crippled economy. Location-wise, we really lucked out. The Military Museum of Southern New England helped us out by giving us total access to their tanks! That was cool. And it really plays out well in the video. We just got word that it will premier on MTV Headbangers Ball Blog, so watch for it next week!
Lyrically, what else inspires you these days?
Oh, I’m never at a loss for words. It’s easy writing for Sacred Oath, because my whole life I’ve been fascinated by the epic struggle between good and evil, and that is the central theme to most of our lyrics. It’s just one way of interpreting the world around us, but it sure lends itself perfectly for metal subject matter, especially a band like Sacred Oath, which is rife with spiritual and occult themes.
Your new guitarist, Billy Smith, wasn’t even born when A CRYSTAL VISION was originally released. What does he bring to the table aside from killer playing?
Well, killer playing is the top of the list. He’s also a great guy, gets along nicely with the band, and believes completely in what we’re doing. But the main reason he got the job was that he has passion. You never need to light a fire under Billy’s ass.
With Sacred Oath making a comeback, do you have any time to devote to Soundscape anymore? The band hasn’t released anything since ’99!?
Soundscape has a new album coming in June, and it is absolutely monstrous. But my heart is in Sacred Oath, always has been. The Oath is what I do naturally, without really having to think much about it or work very hard at it.
Tell us a bit about the Rob Thorne/Rob Volpintesta rock opera band/project. Was this a one off? I take it this is Christian rock? Don’t you think this will freak out/turn off some of your metal fans since metal and religion typically do not mix well together? ha!
I think you’re confusing several of the solo albums I made into one another. My first rock opera America the Beautiful was about the demise of Marilyn Monroe, and my second rock opera Iago was based on Shakespeare’s Othello. Those were experimental albums (which is basically what I was doing all through the 90’s, experimenting). I was fascinated with theater and the idea of creating a metal show that could eventually be produced on a Broadway-type stage. It had a lot to do with my majoring in Opera Performance while I was in college 1990-1994. Then in 2001 I wrote and produced songs for an album called Rock Mass that I did for a youth group in a Catholic Church, but that was definitely not for the Sacred Oath audience! It’s not metal. It is a good album, though. But that’s not where my heart is . . .
Considering you’ve helped a Catholic youth group, would you say Sacred Oath is Xtian metal?
Uh, have you read our lyrics? Sacred Oath has always rallied against institutionalized religion, even to this day with “High and Mighty” on the new album. But growing up in Catholicism impacted me in two ways – I have a deep distrust of authority and I’m fascinated by god and the devil.
With Sacred Oath you were a part of the metal scene to see it’s peak in the 80’s and then it’s downfall in the early 90’s in terms of popular mainstream appearance. Do you see any commonalities with the current rise in metal? Do you think it will have more staying power now or do you think it could all be driven deep underground again within 5 years?
I don’t think at all about 5 years from now. I’m just too happy to see classic metal bands on the rise again! For a singer like myself, I really felt sidelined for a long time. I was never willing to do the growling thing, and for real singing to make a comeback in metal is deeply satisfying for me. And it makes no difference to me whether it stays or goes back underground. I’ve always been underground, and I’ve survived and managed to etch out a career as a musician.
Your bio makes a fairly bold claim with the words that Sacred Oath are "one of the pioneers of the American power metal movement that began back in 1985." I understand that you were active back then, but isn’t it a bit of a stretch to claim pioneer status? I don’t mean to take anything away from what you did, but I was listening to metal back in 1985 and I only heard of your band in the past 2 years. ahaha… Maybe it’s because I’m up here in bumfuck Canada and not in Europe where your brand of metal was more readily available? Ha!
Is that actually a question? We put that line in our bio after a few reviews of DARKNESS VISIBLE referenced us that way. I was honored by it. But thanks for putting me in my place. I’ll remember to tread lightly in Canada.
You’ve clearly embraced the iTunes world with them making your live album one of the top live metal albums of 2008 and now with your new release iTunes are getting preferential treatment with having an earlier release date at a great price. Do most of your current album sales come from iTunes/MP3 sales?
Yes, they do.
Do you view the iTunes model as the future in that you think people are only interested in paying for access to a file and will never have the need to own and hold physical product in their hands?
It’s bound to happen. I work with a new generation of private guitar and voice students that carry their entire library on their iPhones. They have no desire to own discs or any album packaging, for that matter. It’s a foreign concept to them. They don’t know what they’re missing, but that’s the point – they don’t know, and they don’t care!
Tell us a bit about ‘Angel Thorne Music’. What is your involvement and what is the driving mission?
I started Angel Thorne in 1994 when I finished college, and my mission was to never get raped by the industry again. That’s how burned I felt from my experience with Mercenary Records. I’ve never been able to shake my suspicions, and in some ways that may have held me back at times. It’s been a long, hard road building my studio and my label. But my life has been a crazy, awesome journey that has brought me to this point, and I wouldn’t change any of it. I’m proud that Angel Thorne is a success and is largely responsible for the good things happening for Sacred Oath right now. We’ll also put out the Soundscape album in June and see what develops there. That should be interesting. What’s great now is that I own all of my masters!
I understand that a part of the reason why there was such a long gap is problems with Mercenary Records. You’ve been quoted as saying: "THAT was a nightmare, and it crippled the band for years." Can you please elaborate on what went down…I’m sure some valuable lessons were learned that young bands could learn a thing or two from!
We were as young as you could get when we signed that deal. I was 17. In fact, that ended up working in our favor because I was underage, and it rendered the contracts void in the end. But we were starry-eyed kids desperately wanting to be rock stars. We trusted the label to do what they promised, but they never did. They got us to book the studio time, and then wouldn’t pay for the masters. The studio owner conspired with us to bootleg our own album just so he could make his money back! Then they postponed our album release, five times! That was demoralizing and really took a toll on the band. We were always having to make excuses to our fans about why our album wasn’t out yet. Then when it came out – the cover! It wasn’t the cover we had agreed on. They unilaterally changed everything and we hated it. We were even embarrassed by it. It was a terrible experience, and there was nothing we could do about it. Our hands were tied. In the end, we were fighting with each other and we lost heart. It was the Spinal Tap experience without the humor.
Back to current Sacred Oath, I understand you are planning a summer tour in Europe? Is anything finalized regarding countries or cities you’ll visit, or bands you’ll play with. Are you trying to hop onto a tour as an opener?
Nothing is finalized, and yes we are trying to hop on several different tours as the opener.
Will you be doing any touring in the USA, Canada or elsewhere?
Definitely. The response has been overwhelming, especially in Canada!
Is there anything else going on with the band that you’d like to let us know about?
Well, remember, ITunes will be releasing the new album 5 weeks earlier than anyone else, and for $5.99! That’s Tuesday April 7th 2009. I know it’s our best work yet and I hope many of your readers will check us out.
Thanks to Chip from Chipster PR.