Dream Death, hailing from Pittsburgh, have gained a monumental underground status with the legendary JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY album released in the late 80’s. The band however vanished from the map and the core members of the band continued as Penance. Dream Death returned to the light by getting on the stage in their home state a few years back. But it wasn’t until now that the legendary Dreamers finally made it to their first European show at Holland’s Tilburg. The band’s latest and newest output SOMNIUM EXCESSUM shares the old school spirit of Dream Death. It was time to sit down with the drummer Mike Smail and vocalist Brian Lawrence to talk about the past and the present and beyond that.
Interview and live pics by Arto Lehtinen
This is the first that Dream Death has been to Europe. How did you get this gig here in Roadburn?
Brian Lawrence: Well, once we did the reunion show…
Mike Smail: In Pittsburgh and that went over relatively well. Then we had kind of all agreed that. We would do a new record. So, once it was kind of up and running a little bit there. I had contacted Walter and just kind of mentioned to him, like, “Hey, Dream Death is active again.” Or up and running, and then it was in like a day or two after that, then we got the invite to come over here. That’s really about it. I contacted Walter…
Brian : He mentioned that Jus Oborn was probably going to ask us, anybody, or something, because he saw some YouTube footage of our reunion show I think.
So basically, Electric Wizard helped you to get here?
Mike : Yes.
Are you good friends with the Electric Wizard guys?
Mike: I don’t know.
Brian: I just met them today after our show, he came up – very cool guy.
Even though you have been out of the metal thing for years, I guess you haven’t paid attention that there is a plenty of all kinds of metal festival for example – doom festival, Sludge metal, Black metal. Have you tried to get Dream Death or Penance, as it’s back now, get to these festivals here in Europe, just Roadburn?
Brian: We haven’t tried any. We’ve had some calls from festivals. But we can’t just get into our schedules .
Mike: Some of it too, it’s like with the whole Roadburn thing – there is a bit of an exclusive kind of thing where they didn’t want us to really play like a show (in the area) for I think a month before, or a month after. I know the whole Doom Shall Rise is next week. I wouldn’t like to play that because I’ve played that before. I know Frank, and that’s a top notch festival too. But at the same time with this, I mean you are going to honor whatever that is for us to come over here. That’s why I was kind of sad to hear that, I guess this year’s Doom Shall Rise is going to be the last one.
It’s pretty easy for you because you only have to switch one member there.
Mike: Kind of, kind of…
Brian: Well, we are doing the same thing at a festival called Days Of The Doomed.
When you played with the gigs with Dream Death in the heyday, there were no security, no barriers as nowadays everything is controlled. When I was at gigs in the 80s, they were pretty chaotic. I guess you got the same experiences at gigs?
Mike: Yeah. It was controlled out of control, yeah.
Brian: It was back in the beginning of punk, there was called, you know, a mosh pit. That came out from the underground among singers as far as I’m concerned, you know. They didn’t call it, they called it moshing, but they also called it slam dancing. We weren’t Punk at all, but somehow we…
Mike: Well, we had the energy…
Brian: Yeah, so we would play and it would be like you said, kind of chaos.
Mike: I think it was kind of funny too. I remember the days where the whole quote unquote “crossover view” came from. But there were times where you were either metal or you were punk, and then the two were almost at odds with each other. The metal heads are staying on that side of the room and the punks are over there kind of glaring at each other. Then it was until some of those bands, early bands like COC, DRI stuff like that. That they would start to play, then it was almost like, “We have a common theme.” Or at least its original music, it’s heavy music. Okay, punk, metal, slow, fast, whatever. But it was like one of those kind of things where, I remember that, it was like a big thing too – I remember having punk and metal unite or whatever. It was like, you think you are going to like [it].
Brian: That is exactly our time period right there, because like in Pittsburg, the punk was so big too. We started playing with punk bands and it was like this kind of like slowly the scratching acceptance – kind of hate each other first and then, we all into the same aggressive music.
Mike: Yeah. I remember that was the whole reason, kind of. Even if given COC to listen to. Because I remember the guitar player had like a sticker on his guitar, whatever, and you are like, “Well, this too, it’s going to be cool then.”
Brian: Yeah, and like the band, I like Dr. No or whatever, and you are like listening, like “what’s that?”
Mike: Yeah, you are like, “that’s pretty heavy stuff right there.” Now it’s just common place where there was a definite definitive line before then when metal heads didn’t… I mean, I was going to name it at that time but… I mean in England it was the same thing. I’m like, okay, you had the punkers over here, you have the metalheads there, and it was either going to be a fight or…
Brian: I remember being in the mosh pits and you got kind of a little extra show from the punk kids – It was all good.
RETURN OF DREAM DEATH
All of you went your separate ways when Dream Death quit. When you started getting back together, but how did you get back together?
Mike: We are still all friends. We still talk to each other even though we weren’t in bands or playing together or whatever. Well we did quit, I guess, Dream Death and then of course Terry and I still kept going and doing the Penance thing for quite a long time. And then he bowed out, and a nice deal kept going a little bit. But we are all level, I mean, Pittsburg is not that big of a city. We were still all friends and still kept in contact and talked all the time. So, it wasn’t like just because we weren’t in the band playing active that we still wouldn’t talk to each other and be friends. Once we started getting this back together, it was kind of a natural thing,
Were each of you ready for the comeback, or did you have have some kind of long conversation about getting back together?
Mike: I think him and Rich, because those…
Brian: I was going to say you and Rich, they started jamming together, just playing.
Mike: Yeah, but I’m just saying it like me and Weston still had been [with] Jim and playing for a long time. When you did drop out, you quit playing and everything all together pretty much.
That I think it was, I mean, I don’t want to speak for you. But I kind of think with you and Rich not having played for so long, that it was a bit more of a… I don’t want to say a nobody for you, but it was, I think maybe a little bit more. Because it was like revisiting something that you hadn’t done for a while where, you know, especially even me. Like I had kept playing the whole time. So, it wasn’t like, “I haven’t done this for twenty years.” And all of a sudden we are going to start playing again. I’m [thinking], “This is pretty cool.” You know what I mean? So, I don’t know, I think with those two, like I said, you know, with Jim and with Rich. It was just more of… Richard called me up, out of the blue one day. And because he has kids and such, it was like, “Hey, I’m starting to play bass again.” You know, and I had still been jamming and he was like, “…instead of just sitting there playing by himself in the house, do you want to get together and jam or whatever?”. So, I’m like, “Sure.” Then once we started playing and it was pretty cool – obviously kind of asked him and then snowballed from there really.
Brian: He pretty much hit it on. I mean, they invited me up one time. I kind of tell the story too that also around that same time he was putting out the Dream Death demos on the, “Back From The Dead.” with Psychedoomelic – And he asked me to write a line on those – “can you put something in here”. And really I hadn’t listened to that music in a long time, and my personal tastes were kind of like, I like some music. There was like a lot of changes to it and so forth. When I would listen to the music, I was like, “Shit, I was in that band.” It was kind of cool or whatever. So, it kind of happened right around the same time they started jamming together. So, they kind of… It was just coincidence.
Mike: Well, I don’t know, it was a lot earlier, that was 2005…
Brian: Okay. I’m missing a little bit of story, we tried to get back together. With a line on those, there was an attempted reunion with the original bass player in Dream Death. That fell apart, so we are like, “Okay, it wasn’t meant to be.” Then you and Rich started jamming, So I…
Mike: Yeah, then me and Rich started jamming only not that long ago. It wasn’t around the time when we had demos, that was just me. So, it wasn’t me and Rich jamming for fucking eight years. I mean, me and Rich started jamming not that long ago. And then it all progressed from there.
Brian: That’s when my interest got back into it when you asked me to write the liner notes…We attempted the reunion, it failed. And we said, “Well, fuck it. it was meant to be.” Years later they started jamming.
Mike: Okay, there you go. Yeah, yeah.
Brian: That’s the story that you were all know, and that’s the truth
How did you feel starting jamming and playing the old songs, when getting back at the stage?
Brian: First, he said “maybe”. For us it was just fun. The group playing the old songs like “Sealed in Blood” or something, it was fun. Because, it was part of our history.
Mike: I think it’s kind of a natural. I think I don’t want to speak for Rich but I will. With him playing, he’s obviously a good bass player and everything. So, we were just kind of jamming. It only made somewhat natural sense that we started jamming old Penance songs and old Dream Death songs. Because that’s what he knew, like we weren’t going to be jamming to Led Zeppelin or something. So, it was just, “Pull this out and see if you will remember it?” Then once we started playing it was just kind of like that – the logical choice of the songs that he knew were old Penance songs and old Dream Death songs. We started playing them and they hit big. He was just “that’s not on, hold on” and I was just like, “This is pretty good. ”
Brian : Yeah, just your subject a little bit. I don’t think Rich gets the credit he deserves, he’s probably… In my opinion he’s probably the most talented guy in the band, actually he’s the most musical. There are always people always asking us why the original bass player isn’t in the band anymore. It’s kind of an insult to Rich, because we have Rich in the band because he’s a better player.
Mike: A thousand times better than Ted ever was. I mean, we kicked him out halfway through that anyway. Like everybody, I guess it’s a natural assumption like we are going to have a reunion or you are going to want the quote unquote, “original members”. But…
Brian: Rich was on the last three Death demo and in the first Penance album.
Mike: I mean, he was in the band almost as long, if not longer than Ted anyway. It was just more…
Brian: Ted just happens to be on the JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY album, so people recognize that a little more, I think or something.
WRITING NEW MATERIAL
When you got back together, did you immediately start to think about writing new songs? I guess you didn’t want just to be doing the nostalgia thing?
Brian: We wanted to do one new song to not be a nostalgia band. We said, “To make this legitimate, we are going to do one song and see how it goes.” I think we had fun writing that. That was the song, “Count Them”. It wasn’t called that originally, but that’s what it is on the new album. I think that turned out pretty well. Everybody seemed very happy with that album – Probably that song sparked the whole thing of making a new album. We were probably thinking we can make some new stuff.
Mike: Well, it was. I think, you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you hadn’t played in so long. We’re all, dare I say, older, and everything now. A lot of bands, when they get back together after a long time, even if they are technically right, they are playing stuff and it’s in time or it’s in tune or whatever, but it loses that spark. There is no spark…
Brian: Anyway, to this point that we don’t want to be like. I was through this, not an insult to fuck at, I like fuck at. But, how the bands that keep playing and don’t do anything new and exciting…[that] type of thing n or whatever, cashing it in.
Mike: So, once we did the reunion show there was pressure on us to see if we could still play and have it still, to sound like we did then. Which was a worry for me anyway. Then once we did it and realized [that] this is still sounding like us and we can kind of, I guess, pull it off, so to speak. You just transfer those same worries or considerations to the new music. There was a natural progression. None of once the reunion show went well, was like, “Okay, would like to write some new music and everything.” Everybody seemed to be on board with that. So, you just transfer that to the new material. Then I’m thinking like, you don’t want it to sound just like rehash stuff of you and everybody says, was using old ideas from way back when now. Everything on that new record was fresh – all new not rehashed ideas or old ideas that we had never used. Which a lot of times people do or a couple of people, they are saying like “Because it’s only six songs, you should or maybe re-record some of the early songs, not to fill space.” But they never had a proper recording, like maybe some of the demo stuff like “Meet Thy Maker.” Or something like that, that didn’t make it to the first record. But put them on this one. But we wanted to stay away from all that. So it was more like entirely new.
Do you think that those bands, which were around at the same time with you, have been able to come up killer material on their new albums for example, Death Angel or Exodus or something like that?
Mike: I honestly don’t know and I haven’t heard their new stuff, so I couldn’t tell you one way or the other to be honest with you.
Brian: I mean, I don’t follow. I’ve heard the new Exodus stuff like that. I don’t think it sounds too bad. I’m not sure. It would be up to the hardcore fans to decide. But if I’m a hardcore fan of a band that I love, and then they put something new – you know it right away whether it’s – Its hot stuff or not.
Mike: It’s a double edge sword, because you don’t want to necessarily stray. Especially when it’s so compartmentalized or whatever because Dream Death just pretty much had that one record. So, you only have a small window of what people think Dream Death is or what they are supposed to sound like per say. On the one hand, you don’t want to stray too far from that. Because then people will say, “Well, that doesn’t even sound like them.” But at the same time, you don’t want to sound just like that, to rehash the same thing. So, I think with the new record, I’m very happy with that. I think it’s a perfect measure of old versus new, where it still sounds like us. Then when you hear it you’ll be like, “That’s Dream Death”…but it still sounds fresh and modern and new without sounding like we are going off the beaten [path].
Was it too hard to capture the same feeling and the same spirit that you had as a teenager?
Brian: We are playing a dangerous game here, because when you put an album out. It’s a dangerous game up there. Like you said, you put that one album out and it’s got a mystic about it. Because it’s only one album. So you have every chance of blowing all the mystic you’ve ever had. If you put up this piece of shit record or whatever and we were conscientious to that, we weren’t going to put it out if we didn’t think it was. I know every band gets back the other things, what they are putting out is probably good. But I think we felt like we kind of… You are not going to capture that spirit of when you were seventeen years old, you are just not going to do it.
Mike : It’s hard to recreate the youthful [feel]…
Brian: But we didn’t try to recreate the youth of it. We said,”let’s take this in a different direction.” It’s just kind of natural, the sound that comes out of Dream Death.
Mike: One thing, that’s two. We have the same talk about the whole Dream Death and Penance thing . Well, that’s exactly what it was. Since Dream Death was just, let’s say a shorter entity – you have more of a smaller window of what it is or what it isn’t as opposed to Penance. Because good bad or different, it was so lengthy that there was time for that to say more to change or advance or whatever. That it wasn’t just one thing and then couple that with all the personnel changes. I would like to think, and I could be wrong, that let’s say Dream Death was going to go at that length. That would have been a progression as well. But since it was like you say, it was just that little snapshot of one record. I mean that is what it is then.
Brian: It makes them more romantic to people too. If you had ten albums out there, we get that one album. And they are just like, they like that. And you know, it has a mystic to it, for sure.
You mentioned about re-recording old songs from the demos – but these old bands from your era like Testament, Anthrax, Destruction have all re-recorded their old songs from the 80’s with the modern technology, and the result has been more or less – Okay. Fans have been really negative. Do you think there is a risk to go pick up the old song ?
Brian: I don’t think you should do it.
Mike: Absolutely, I mean. I would love to hear JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY with the production now, that we got on the new record. Because we were never totally happy with it then. I would like to hear it now. But like, even if, let’s say that it was great. People, like the whole hardcore fans, still wouldn’t like it, because it isn’t what it is. I think even Sumblemary or whatever, they would just reject it straight out of the game… Just because it wasn’t one of this…
Brian: You have to leave the past alone.
Mike: Yeah, that’s just stupid…
Brian: It’s going to sonically sound better but it’s not going to have the same [feeling].
THE DIY ATTITUDE
Did you get disillusioned about record labels back in the day, because you have the self financed album out now – Did you get ripped off back in the day?
Mike: We never saw a dime…
Brian: Didn’t make a penny of…
Mike: Nothing! Then she had the balls to release it, like was it 2000 or whatever. Which was never even asked us or whatever, if even we would had some kind of legal rights to say no or whatever.
As far as I’m concerned, It’s like I never saw a dime from it in the first place. Then like a new run, it kind of goes under whatever in any kind of just the same thing – almost like us, like a reunion band. Here is a reunion of a new run comes back around. Well, she didn’t release the whole new run catalog. It was a couple of handful bands, one of which was Dream Death. That leaves me like, if we didn’t sell shit then, she wouldn’t be re-releasing it. So, it’s like this double dipping.
You are not able to have control over the….
Brian: It was a contracted – Mike set a lawyer to look at and basically she owns the rise of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY.
Mike: It’s one of those things where for us to sue, we would have to go to California and it’s just like, it’s… The past is the past. That was a bad thing then. I’m cutting my losses and saying “Fuck it”. That is precisely why we are going to do this on our own. Especially with all the technology now, you don’t need the record label per say.
Brian: We see that it’s a lot of work doing it on your own and you don’t get quite as much exposure for record label. It is modern technology and the internet and all that. But still the record label, you would get more, but it would probably have a bitter taste in our mouth and we’d rather just do it ourselves.
In your case it is more reasonable to be on a self financed label?
Mike : Yeah, yes.
As you are not selling like Megadeth?
Mike: That’s right, exactly.This is us selling fifty copies.
It’s more like underground collectors picking up your new album?
Mike: That’s right….
Brian : Exactly. And even in this modern era, you find that people probably are downloading it anyway.
Mike: There is tons of people on the internet downloading for free.
That’s the name of the game nowadays?
Brian: That’s right. We can’t do anything about that. You just put our new album and get your music out there.
Mike: We definitely have no delusions of grandeur, or like we are going to sell – “let’s quit our day jobs and we are going to like make a million on Dream Death” – just ain’t going to happen.
Brian: But new music has put more validity to this whole plan here playing here at Roadburn or and so forth.
Mike: Which is nice and I was thankful for that. It was like I said, when I called Ted or Walter. There was even the interest to even have this even be a possibility to let it alone happen. I feel grateful for that. Because after all we were just a whole bunch of nothing, there is a million bands that are going to play there. But they have asked us and I’m thankful for that.
Speaking of your label thing a bit more. Were you more excited to have the album out than going to check out these legal rights?
Mike: Absolutely. You are a kid, you are just an amateur, and you are thinking “Hey, this is it, we are going to…” – Will be now, we are loads and I know.
Brian: We put out a song on, they had SPEED METAL HELL compilation on that label. They put a song out and this is my memory. They sent royalties right away for that album, like and it wasn’t much or whatever.
Mike: Like we did, we got like sixty bucks or so…
Brian: Yeah, I think… So, we were thinking like they are serious. They offered us a deal for albums and we are like “Well, it jumped right on the SPEED METAL HELL thing. They must be serious”.
I did an interview with Greg Mackintosh from Paradise Lost. He named your album as one of his favorite top five albums. Several other musicians, have named Dream Death one of their influences. Despite this you had one new album – Have you been surprised that Dream Death is still remembered nowadays?
Mike: I am, I am. And I appreciate that. I think that’s really cool. When you are a kid, you have delusions of grandeur or, like everybody. At least me, I remember when as a kid with the “What are you going to be when you grow up?” “Well, I’m going to be an astronaut. I’m going to be farmer.” I was like, “I’m going to play music!” So, even though I had fallen short, I was never able to quote unquote, “make a living” at it per say. But it was still nonetheless a passion, a hobby, but passion. You do it and then to actually do something that whoever would consider to be an influence or leave a mark on somebody, I mean really. That’s what you are shooting for, not necessarily fame. But you have somebody say “That’s cool.” That’s the same reaction when you heard Black Sabbath or whatever for the first time. I remember hearing for the first time Wino with The Obsessed and stuff like Trouble. It was like that jaw dropping time stopping kind of thing. And to think that maybe you had that kind of effect or something to somebody else. I mean, that’s awesome.
SPEED? THRASH? DOOM?
Did you consider yourself speed / thrash Metal band back in the 80s?
Mike: We were just us…
Brian: Still don’t, neither, nothing.
Because in my books, when your album came out – I though it was a thrash/speed metal album as that kind of thing was really big as albums were coming out all the time from small and bigger bands in the late 80’s?
Mike : I mean we were just more concerned, not necessarily about speed, fast or slow per say. It was always more about just trying to heavy and trying to be heavy as we could. Whether that was fast or slow, and it was both.
So, we never wanted to pigeonhole ourselves in that. It was in kind of an album motion of what we listened to. Because on one hand, I’ll have like some thrash up, like of course Metallica and even Destruction – the first Destruction record or Slayer and stuff. So, you liked parts about that, where you liked the aggression, you liked their heavy stuff for that. But then you also liked the stuff that was a little slow of course, like Trouble or Sabbath and stuff like that or Obsessed and different things. So, if some is good, more is better, which had to blend everything. A good riff is a good riff, whether it’s fast or slow. There was no rules, and there are still no rules. I never believe in that, that’s why, even with the whole Penance thing. I didn’t want to be this carbon copy of just the same thing all the time or whatever. Now some people love that, some people hate that. But at the end of the day, you have a whole length of stuff to choose from whether you like it or not. I’d like to think there is good stuff throughout the whole way, maybe not everything. But you have a lot of different diversity in that, in itself to choose from – the same us. The riffs on a Dream Death record was like, “this is so slow and this is all fast.” Right now, it is what it is.
Brian: That’s kind of going back to where my interest in Dream Death was – it didn’t really have any set rules. You could play fast, slow, whatever makes up all the tempos and it didn’t matter. I always think, if you tried to play in a category, like we are going to be a doom metal band. So, you have rules right there, and you’d have to meet them or else you are not a doom metal band anymore. So, I’d rather consider Dream Death just a metal band – a heavy band.
Which bands were an influence in the first place when you started?
Brian: Mike and I grew up and it was in the late 70’s, when we kind of got the hard rock bug, and it was your typical hard rock, like Kiss…
Mike: Judas Priest
Brian: Well, yeah, we turned to Judas Priest, Scorpions, turned to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal that turned into thrash. We were just there for the whole thing. It was just metal continuing. We were sort of pretty much influenced by all those bands.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, you think about like even that far. I remember hearing Accept’s RESTLESS AND WILD, that was just like that was awesome. Or even think about that, the first Ozzy record, when you heard, “I Don’t Know.” I remember that at that time sounding so fast, like… Which now sounds real slow. But at the time, I was thinking like, “Holy shit, is that fast!!”. It’s like you are blown away by that. So, it all rubbed off.
When you got the first album and demos – You played a lot of gigs with with speed/thrash bands ?
Mike: Punk bands, Pittsburgh have always been a punk town. So, it was…
Brian: If you look at the history of Dream Death, like the first demo compared to the second demo. The second demo definitely does has a lot more speed influences in it. And I don’t know if that was a conscious decision or not, but yeah we were watching a lot of Punk band at that time and…
Mike: And thrash was like that was newer at the time.
Brian: The thrash was around before that, and I remember “Sealed In Blood” were kind of like, were kind of involved with another band that was playing Thrash. W said, “Why can’t we just play some heavy stuff like Black Sabbath.” We threw [that idea] out. It’s common to hear the word Black Sabbath now, but at that time in the mid 80’s…
Nobody cared about Black Sabbath?
Brian: Nobody gave a shit about Black Sabbath in the mid 80’s. But we were always like, “Why don’t people play like Black Sabbath anymore?” Something or whatever.
Mike: I remember hearing, that was still in the days of tape trading or,..
I used to do tape trading…
Mike: It was like Christmas. It was not like now. That’s different, like in the entertainment on the Internet now. I mean, everything is so instantaneous now. Whereas then, it was a bit of there was a real mannerism. You have somebody, it’s like, “Here is some band from like…”. I remember my one buddy having a band or something and you just hear this stuff and you are blown away or whatever. That’s how you got your music then. You had a cassette and then you would dub it from your buddy, be like, “Hey man, you got to check out Death.” I remember the first demo of Death. I was like, okay, like here is this dude from Florida or whatever. And you are hearing that, you are like, it sounds just like a demo. It was like holy shit, now it sounded like the dude recording in his garage or practice or something. But it wasn’t about production or quality necessarily, it was always more important about like the rest of the songs. So, you would hear stuff, and okay maybe it sounded like shit. I mean, I know our demos did, because we didn’t know what we were doing, we were kids, whatever. But it was still, like when you heard something you almost look past that, because it was always more about the music as opposed to the production. Those were the days when you would dream, if we were a real band and had money or had a record label that somebody knew what you were doing. We can take what we do, and have somebody make it sound like it’s supposed to. Because we certainly don’t know how.
PENANCE-CATHEDRAL AND PENTAGRAM
You, Brian, left the band and you, Mike, started the Penance. Was this an easy decision to continue with a new singer as Penance?
Mike: In my mind it was just more of somewhat natural progression, because whatever progression you would have in Dream Death. Like if you are going to say, you would admit that out of the whole, the third demo was a lot better, structurally, and better written as opposed to the first demo. So be it ever so small, you still had that fluctuation of the time frame. With Penance it was one of those things where one, we never even liked the name Dream Death. It was just like it was a song before it was a name and we were always going to change the name. But then it was like we started gaining some momentum with everything with the record. Then it was like, “We can’t change the name now.” With everything going on, and then once – everything quit, like me and Terry knew we still wanted to play. And then, when he dropped out it was more like “okay, we were going to change the name even then, well now is more than perfect time to change the name.” It wasn’t like, I think that gets misinterpreted because there are a lot of people who say that there is a definitive line of between the two bands. Yes, there was a conscious effort to do something new, but it was still an extension or progression of where we were at, where we came from the whole time. It wasn’t like it makes it sound like, me and Terry said like “Okay, we were Dream Death and we are going to start a new band, we are going to call it Penance now”. All of a sudden it was like “Okay, we are going to go in the Doom direction”. No, it was just – Because we were so obsessed with doom or if you want to call it, it wasn’t even a term then of you listening to the unseen and that stuff. That was where we were at, at that point anyway. When Penance kind of kicked in, that was where we were at. We just kind of were floundering a little bit, just because it was just us with no singer and we still were writing stuff and jamming.
You also played in Cathedral?
Mike: Yeah. I was like a hired gun per say.
How did you get that gig in Cathedral then? Did Dorrian contact you?
Mike: Yeah. Back in the days before the Internet, I got a letter in the mail one day. It was from England. I’m like “What the hell is this?”. I open it up and it was Dorrian saying that, they had studio time booked and their drummer at the time – I don’t know if they were having problems with him or really exactly what the story was?! I think I do remember something about, like he jumped out of a window or did something or whatever and he broke a leg or he broke an arm or something. And they already had studio time booked. Well, even more so, Lee and Gaz were fans of Dream Death. They were kind of sitting around thinking like, “Who are we going to get to play drums?” And they were like, “Hey, let’s see if Mike will play.” Then I just got an old fashion letter in the mail of like, “Hey, this is…”. I honestly didn’t know who they were. I’m like…
You had no idea?
Mike: I had no idea.
Did you know Napalm Death?
Mike: I knew the name. I was never a fan of Napalm Death. That was the whole punk side of town, with the whole speed of like – thirty five songs on a record or whatever. I never really liked that, sorry. But I was never a big fan like that. But, I knew the name. And at that point, I knew that he used to be the singer in that band. But like other than that I didn’t know anything much about it.
Then you went to England?
Mike: Yeah. I don’t know how old I was, twenty or whatever. When you get a letter in the mail, like, “Hey, if we fly you to England would you play on our record?” “Absolutely”. So I had, I think, twelve days to learn all the songs. I remember he sent me the demo, because some of those songs were on the demo that they were doing and I’m thinking like, “Okay, I have like twelve days to learn these songs.” Then they flew me over and they had rented a rehearsal space in Birmingham, that’s where I met Black Sabbath, by the way. Which was kind of surreal for me because Black Sabbath rehearsing was rehearsing in the next room. You can hear this “mar” going on, and it was like they never recorded like to human eyes. I remember hearing that first, yeah. But Dio wasn’t there, I didn’t see Dio. I just met Tony and Geezer. I’m even thinking to myself like “Man, you are going to play another riff or what.” But it was weird because they were my childhood heroes. You are meeting them and I would eat lunch with them. Tony would come in and he’s like in a sweat suit, with a matching top. I think I had like twelve days basically to learn that stuff and then rehearse it. I just laid stuff down in the studio for those guys and that was it. Once again, you want to talk about an indelible mark or whatever, because that first Cathedral record is like enshrined in people’s top, whatever. Once again I had no idea when we were doing that, it was just like “Okay, let’s just do it.”
It takes time before an album is a classic.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, I was thankful for that too, I mean, to be a part of that too. It’s awesome.
But you didn’t join Cathedral permanently?
Why – didn’t you have the chance?
Mike: They had talked about it. It was one of those things where – I don’t know. I mean, things would have definitely been different I’m sure had I done that. But I don’t, I was best friends with Terry and it was more like we were doing our own music. I was more back to the same thing with the whole Dream Death thing. It was like it was mine, like Cathedral really wasn’t mine, I would have been a contributing member. But I don’t know, it’s just me and Terry were best friends and stuff and I was Penance. I was like that was where my heart was, so that was it, really.
Did you, Brian, listen to the first Cathedral album?
Brian : Yeah, I heard it. I know him as a drummer, I think he’s a great drummer. And I think it is the good stuff. But they didn’t kind of let him do his thing, I don’t think. He’s kind of all over the place. They kind of wanted more straightforward thing. But it’s a classic to people.
At that time in the late 80’s early 90s, Death Metal came with the very strong grip. When Dream Death split up and changed the name to Penance. I guess that most people considered you a death / doom Death metal band as well. When you got flyers you were with other underground doom / death metal bands, even though you were not 100% pure Death metal band?
Mike : Yeah. I don’t remember us really ever getting the moniker of Death metal per say. It was always like doom metal for sure. Which I would have to give Brena credit for that one, Brena is the first one I ever heard, it was like… It was on the back of that first Revelation demo, was like “Doom Will Be Doomed”. I don’t remember it quote unquote being called Doom metal before that necessarily.
Brian: It goes back to the whole thing, we weren’t trying to play anything. And specifically… Death Metal didn’t really even exist back then.
Mike: I mean, once again, it was just more one of those things where we were just trying to be heavy or trying to write good music, and hopefully people liked it. It wasn’t decidedly conscious effort of we need to be this or that. I think a lot of these terms and even now – I think, here is your irony of ironies, I think it’s kind of funny. Like when we did this new record, obviously we are putting it out ourselves and what not. But then you have these like CD packages and people can buy it like on Amazon or whatever. I remember you had to feel the stuff, you are feeling out the information; like the band name, here is the record title, here is the song title and stuff. It gives you like these three, like you have to pick like a genre. And it’s like funny to me now, because you click on it and it’s like a drop down menu – here is your drop down menu of like now we have like Doom metal, Stoner rock. I mean, it’s become so…
Mike: Yeah, that it’s like, it’s even… It’s a mainstay name now, we got stoner Rock, we got Doom Rock…
That’s why I asked that, if you consider yourselves Thrash or Speed metal because at that time stoner was…
Mike : …Stoner never even existed, yeah. Not at all.
As I said that in my books, Dream Death was like more like heavy thrash stuff. I didn’t have a clue about Stoner or Sludge or whatever in the early days. Nowadays you can automatically categorize – “okay, this Thrash metal, this is Sludge, this is Doom. Okay, this is…” and so on.
Mike: And they had that on there too, because the whole Sludge thing. I think you coin that or whatever. Because that was on their posters like Sludge metal, and everybody was like, “What the hell is that.” And that was one of the choices too. You had “Doom metal, Stoner metal, Sludge metal”. I’m like “You got to be freaking kidding me.”
Brian: But Dream Death want to be considered what they consider sludge metal.
Mike: No, not now, but it’s just funny. Like you have all these and that’s where you get the whole either record labels. It’s just marketing bullshit one on one, everybody wants to compartmentalize and label something, in order to try and sell it more, as opposed to. What are we? We are just whatever we are.
Brian: I understand the label is almost like a necessary evil; you like this band, what other bands sound like this band, because I really like this band. It falls into these categories. But I’m happy, I’m proud Dream Death doesn’t fall in any category, really. But on the same hand, that keeps people from finding you.
Mike: That’s true, that’s true.
You got a deal with the Rise Above run by Lee Dorrian – Was it a result of you playing with Cathedral?
Mike: That was one of those things where Lee was – Well, no, first he was putting out their compilation record, the Dark Passengers. You know, so he had like Revelation…
Like Solitude Aeturnus…
Mike: Yeah, yeah. I remember Count Raven and stuff like that. So, that went over well and then it was one of those things where I kind of worked it out to a record with him. Then subsequently I remember Century Media getting in touch with us and they wanted to do something. But at that point again, I’m kind of more of like a handshake honor kind of guy. Where I had a handshake deal with Lee that like “Okay, we are going to put that record out with him.” So, I did and then when we put that out and it was like, “Okay I did that because that’s what we said we were going to do.” Like instead of doing another one on Lee’s label or whatever, like would you really be mad like if I called Century Media up and said like, “Hey, is that offer still good, do you still want to do something ” and they did. So, that’s where then, we kind of went to Century Media.
Did you play in Pentagram?
How did you get that one? I guess Bobby Liebling was quite “high” at that time?
Brian: Can I say something before you say this?
Brian: I don’t know if you are aware the doom metal stuff was pretty big in a city called Baltimore. And like why I say, we never consider ourselves a category. We always got along with those bands, like we always went down there played and we were friends with a lot of these bands. So, I think you can pick up the story from there, kind of look.
Mike: Well that was the last the Doom Shall Rise singer, whatever in 2004, Penance was pretty much on it’s last leg at that point, like Terry had left. I was basically the only original member still there and then that was kind of like riding itself into the sunset kind of thing. Internal Void was another band from Maryland, their drummer Ronnie was quitting those guys. They needed a drummer, so I was like, I was a fan of those guys. I started playing drums for Void, so we were playing that stuff and they are like the main gurus of the whole quote unquote “Doom metal”. In Maryland, there was a guy named Chris Kozlowski who had a recording studio, and always recorded all these bands, like, Pentagram. [He also] went on tour with Trouble. So, I was playing with Void and everything, we were getting that rolling, and since he was the Pentagram sound guy doing records and everything. He pretty much was the one to kind of want to set that up. He basically kind of came up and said “Hey, you guys are going to be the new Pentagram, basically it’s Internal Void, you’ll talk about swapping singers from him to Penance, it’s the same thing.” Well, now, instead of JD, we are going to pull double duty and Bobby was going to do a new record. Well, I wasn’t going to pass that opportunity up! It was more like I just started thinking in terms of almost like a resume, I would play with them. And it’s like I’m not going to do that, looking back, I’d probably rather not – it was a mistake. But at the time he didn’t know that. Then unfortunately that spelled even more doom over Internal Void, Because I never did really do a record or anything with those guys. We wrote like maybe two songs. But then, when that whole Pentagram, the buckle crapped out and they did bad. It wasn’t like you are going to have Internal Void, when that crapped out too. And then it was just like nothing…
Well, Pentagram has got a complete new boost to their career, because they got the album out on Metal Blade and nowadays they are everywhere?
Mike: I know, I mean Bob could had held it together. I mean, they had a European tour for us lined up and everything. Matter of fact, they still wanted us to go. We had a show in Europe that even now, when he crapped out at the black cat, like they were going to have this like a handler guy or something, someone to babysit him 24/7 to make sure that he wasn’t going to be high. They still wanted us to go and do the show in Europe. I’m like absolutely “This guy can’t even make a show in his backyard, I’m not going to fucking Europe with him, that’s just crazy.” It was insane, and then. Good for him now that he got actually supposedly sober and got his stuff together long enough. They’ve done whatever they’ve done. Victor is gone again now, you know what I mean. That was another thing that, like you said, that’s maybe a mistake, some things are better left just in the past…
Alright, thank you for the interview!
Mike and Brian : Thanks man.