Interview with Phil Fasciana of Malevolent Creation
January 28, 2019
Interview by InfamousButcher, Photos by SheWolf
For more than 30 years Malevolent Creation has cranked out some of the best death metal ever made. The feral aggression and energy of a Malevolent album is unmistakable and they never disappoint. Sadly, last year the underground metal community suffered a devastating loss when frontman Bret Hoffman passed away after a battle with cancer. Guitarist and founding member Phil Fasciana has soldiered on, creating a new band and releasing Malevolent Creation’s 13th album, THE 13th BEAST. I was able to chat with Phil about the new album and Bret.
MR: You have a new album THE 13th BEAST and a new band! Tell me about how the new lineup of Malevolent Creation came together.
PF: After the last album, we started off alright, everything was okay. We did a tour over in Europe with Grave. After that we had tours lined up the wazoo. Our singer Bret had gotten married, and suddenly right before we were supposed to leave for a South American tour, he bailed. There was going to be a European tour and a U.S. tour after South America. We had to cancel everything. Everything pretty much fell apart. I don’t know why Bret pulled the plug on this. I didn’t know if it was because he just got married a couple of weeks earlier or what. But it was strange that he did this. Just a week before he called me up and said he can’t wait to get to Florida to rehearse and kick some ass. And then all of a sudden it just stopped. I mean I really wasn’t happy with the lineup anyways. The guys in the band, Gio Geraca, he was good, our drummer (Justin DiPinto) was good. We wrote the album and you know as far as the bass player goes, Jason (Blacowicz) hasn’t really played on an album since 1992. It’s always wishy washy with him and we don’t know if he’s coming or going. So, at that point I didn’t know what to do. I was shocked that we had to cancel all these tours. And then you know Bret got sick. When I had found out about that, I didn’t know if that had anything to do with the way he was feeling or what. He told me he didn’t want a lot of people to know about it. Then we found out that he had cancer. And I was like we can still put out albums, maybe just won’t be able to tour. He told me man, Phil just keep it going. Despite everything, the doctors say I’m going to be fine. But you do what you got to do, you always kept the band going, you always did a good job, with or without me man, just keep it going, get the best guys you can. Do what you want to do man. Get the best Malevolent Creation line up you can. Luckily, I’ve got a handful of good friends and good musicians that I know, and I always keep them in mind because you never what’s going to happen when you play in a metal band. Oh, you know I am going get married or my girlfriend won’t let me tour. Things happen man, they’ve got families. And we all have personal fucking issues. I mean lucky for me I knew our drummer Phil Cancilla from when he was playing with Hank Williams III. Bret was a really good friend for years with Hank Williams III and Hank was a big fan of Malevolent. Like they were fucking always emailing each other and talking on Facebook and what not and he would set Bret up with all kind of Hank Williams merch. And there was one part of Hank’s set where he would play heavy stuff almost like grindcore. When they played down here in South Florida Bret told me you got to go, Hank Williams wants to meet you. He also said the drummer Phil is a huge Malevolent fan like Hank. I went and met them after I’d seen him play I was like man, I got to get your phone number! I may need you soon. Totally out of left field man.
MR: Wow that’s really cool Phil. I would have never thought you’d have somebody from Hank Williams III in Malevolent Creation!
PF: Hank and Phil even liked my grindcore band Hateplow. I am sitting on their tour bus and that’s all they were playing. I was shocked that those guys are so fucking into that. So, he was always like in the back of my head if anything ever happened with the drumming situation he is definitely my first fucking call. As far as bass players go we have had so many session guys it’s ridiculous because Jason just always wanted to get his picture on albums. I’d always end up playing bass on the records. He only toured when he wanted to, when it was in foreign countries and exotic places. But if it was like a real tour and it was long and tedious he was all like I can’t do it, I’ve got to work blah blah blah. But anyways the new bass player Josh Gibbs is a friend of mine from down here that at the time was with the band Solstice. He jumped ship after they did a tour in Europe and things didn’t go right for him. I explained the situation to him and he jumped on board next. The only thing is, even though I knew Bret was sick, I thought he would get better and he would at least do vocals on the album, but things started getting worse for him. I was weaving through all these videos and messages and emails of singers wanting to try out for the band. I came across this guy Lee Wollenschlager who had sent me some videos of himself singing Malevolent songs and some of his own material. I was just blown away! I was like, this is the guy! I don’t know what even made me open that message because I was kind of getting sick of everything at that point. And even though he lived all the way in South Africa, I knew it would work out. When he emailed me and said SA I thought he meant South America and I was like, well that’s not that bad being that we’re in South Florida it’s not that far away. We recorded the last three or four albums with everybody scattered all around the U.S. It as a pain in the ass getting together and stuff, writing music, writing demos. But long story short that was it, he played guitar and sang. It just fit. We just started exchanging demos with each other and sending the songs to the bass player Josh and drummer. And it just started. It just went really fast. Songs just kept coming at me left and right. It’s just really strange that something like that with all this, having a frontman to be that far away from us but being so familiar with the band and being able to fit in like that is shocking. Even when we did the album everything went really fucking good. We just knew that he was definitely the right guy. Its just a stroke of luck.
MR: You definitely got the right vibe. I’ve heard the new album. Lee knows what Malevolent Creation is all about. He seems to fit perfectly.
PF: We talked and talked for fucking days, for weeks and weeks. All the time via emails. He had sent me a lot of his songs he had written with his one-man band Imperial Empire. I was telling him that sounds a little bit too much like Morbid Angel! He’s like, I know I know, I was on a Morbid Angel trip back then (laughs). I told him You got to start listening back to your Malevolent albums and get me on board with it and he started doing it man. He wrote songs and fucking wrote lyrics to these songs and recorded the with a drum machine and it was incredible. I can’t believe how amazing it sounded. We were able to send shit that he wrote and I wrote and our bass player wrote to our drummer and have him demo them for real. It was unbelievable man.
MR: it sounds like you did it all online. Everyone wrote and recorded different pieces. Did you eventually all meet in the studio together?
PF: Oh yeah. Everybody came to Florida and it cost us a little bit of money to get Lee our singer from South Africa all the way over here. That was an expensive fucking flight (laughs). We have a studio here in Fort Lauderdale where we recorded everything except the vocals on the last album DEAD MAN’S PATH. Everybody was here so we were able to go through the songs together, practice and rehearse in the studio before we started tracking. Unfortunately, it was in the dead of summer in Florida in August and it was like a hundred degrees or hotter. I mean in the studio the air conditioning couldn’t handle the heat. When you’re trying to record an album in a gigantic studio and it’s 90 degrees in there, it’s brutal! We all probably lost about 20 pounds in those 3 weeks. It was a little annoying but there was nothing we could do man, we had to get this thing done while everybody was here. There was no turning back. Everybody did the best they could and it got done.
MR: I think it’s a great album Phil. I just listened to it recently. It’s not available in the U.S. on CD until March 1st but I do have a download of it. I like the aggression. All the trademark stuff is there as far as your chugging riffs, the solos, the drumming. And Lee’s vocal approach has similarities to Bret’s. You can definitely hear that Bret’s an influence.
PF: I always remind him to keep it in that vein of Bret. Bret was never just a traditional regular old death metal singer that just sang along to the music. He has his own style and I want him to keep that because that’s kind of what separated us from a lot of death metal bands. Lee did a really good job man, he did. His voice is a bit heavier but at least it’s audible and you can understand what he’s saying. He’s a great guy man. A great guy to work with. So easy going. Its like we’ve known each other forever man. I can’t wait to get on tour man with these guys.
MR: What are your touring plans? Do you have any festival appearances planned?
PF: We are going through talking with our management and going through all kinds of stuff with different kinds of offers but it looks like the first tour is going to be in South America. That would be at the end of March. Its been in the works for a while and it seems like everything is a done deal. I should know by today or tomorrow if everything is worked out perfectly and we’ll post the dates because the dates are already done. The contract aside but everything is pretty organized and ready to go. We’ve just got to make sure, we are waiting to sign the contract and do it. Then it looks like Europe and some summer festivals and some other smaller shows. Hopefully after that a North American tour. Everything is coming at us at once. We finally got some good management and we are trying to get everything in order here. It’s a little bit crazy right now. Everybody’s eager to get out there and play but then we still need to get together and rehearse. We have a set list of about 20 songs that we’ve put together for touring, not including songs from the new album, of course we’ll be playing songs from that. But we’re going to be digging up some songs that we haven’t played in forever or never played live. With 13 albums, you know that’s another thing with these past line ups. We had 18 songs in the bag, and I could never get them to practice all the other songs that we could’ve played. But with these new guys they’ll play anything, or whatever they suggest I’m up for anything. With all these songs, there’s over 150 songs, it’s tough to do. You’ve got to play the ones that people love and are expecting and want to hear. But there’s a lot of songs that we never even played live.
MR: You’ got new blood now so you’ve got guys that are eager. Look what Judas Priest is doing. They’ve got some new guys now and they are playing all this great back catalogue stuff.
PF: Yeah man you know I just saw Priest the last time they came through, and I am going to see them again. I can’t believe it. They’re fucking getting better and better. Me and my buddy flew up to Atlanta few months ago to see them. My friend John Goss is the drum tech for Judas Priest. They weren’t playing in South Florida this time and he was like the best I can do is Atlanta. I’ll get you on the list, get you some VIP tickets. So me and my buddy Denny flew up there and went to the see the show and it was fucking amazing man.
MR: I saw them twice this past year and they blew my doors off! Fantastic!
PF: I had front row a couple years back. The new guy that took KK Downing’s place, Richie Faulkner, man he is amazing. I got to meet him and hang out with the guy for a while. I was sitting in the front row and he was flicking guitar picks at me right in the face. They were bouncing off my fucking head! They were so freaking heavy and so loud. I mean my chest was pounding. I couldn’t believe how amazing they were. I mean I saw Judas Priest in 1982 on the SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE tour, and through their whole career I’ve seen almost every Goddamn tour and I cannot believe how amazing they still sound! They are one of my favorite bands. I love them and Iron Maiden. I still cannot believe at this point in their career they are still fucking kicking ass so fucking bad. It’s unreal!
MR: You can take inspiration from that because you’ve got new guys in the band now.
PF: Oh totally. For me that’s what I needed man. I needed some guys that are hungry man. I needed some guys that aren’t lazy, that want to tour and get out there and play. I don’t want to beat around the bush. The clock’s ticking man. We can’t do this shit forever. I want to make sure we do as much as we can while we still can.
MR: Death metal is a grind. it’s not like you can play this type of music when you’re 70 years old.
PF: Yeah man I’m glad I’m not the drummer. (Laughs) It’s rough man. Especially when you’ve got a lot of songs and a lot of albums to choose from. It kind of I never thought I would be in this situation where we had too many songs.
MR: With this being your 13th album, where do you feel this fits in? THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and RETRIBUTION are all time classics. DEAD MAN’S PATH is a great album. Where do you feel this one fits?
PF: To me it just feels so fresh and new. I feel it fits amongst the top albums ever for us. Definitely. With each album I always wanted to be heavier and more intense. Back in the early days it was hard to find drummers that were all that good. Musicians that were focused in the way I was about heavy music. Playing extremely fast. It was hard to find people that were into that. So now its really good. I’ve got these guys that are really into it and love it. They are great guys. It shows on the album. If it was a half assed album with a bunch of guys that didn’t give a shit, that’s what it would sound like. But it doesn’t because everyone in the band is hungry. The newer guys all were excited. They got a chance to play with a band that’s been around for a long time. They all knew that they would be like scrutinized and compared to ex-members or whatever, but you know I am always willing to take that chance because I know how good these guys are. I knew that if we got together and started writing songs that were good, then I was going to go with it. If things weren’t working I probably would’ve just changed the name of the band and did something else. But you know even Bret told me before he passed away, just keep the band alive brother. You know I did.
MR: I wanted to ask you about Bret. You and Bret were original members of Malevolent Creation. You’ve known each other since you were 10 years old. Tell me a little about the early times. How you met. How you formed your friendship. How you formed the band.
PF: Yeah man we were really young kids. We met of all places at the day camp (laughs) when we were probably about 10 or 11 years old. Me, him and a few other people had a little circle of friends that were all big Kiss fanatics. When we were all in high school together, when we started in junior high, we always talked about maybe one day forming a band. Because you know I started playing guitar. It was all Bret’s idea. He was like the mastermind. He was already designing logos, and stage props, and telling me what was going happen. It was like he foretold the future!
MR: Bret had the vision of the band.
PF: Oh man he already had it. We would sit there in study hall and he’d be sending me drawings of our first band that we had that was called Resthaven. Bret actually started out drumming. No wait he first started out as a bass player. I tried to get him to play bass because I’d been playing guitar since I was about 11. I was taking guitar lessons and I tried to teach him bass. He was a big Kiss fan and loved Gene Simmons and he wanted to be like Gene Simmons. So he got a bass and we had like a little garage band with some of my friends with drums and another guitarist. But it didn’t work for him. Then he went to drums and he was actually really good. But there were other drummers that wanted to play with us that were even better, so I said why don’t you start singing (laughs). Back then there was no such thing as death metal. It was 1981 or ’82 and we were little kids so man we were doing covers of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. You know your usual heavy metal bands, Motley Crue (laughs) you know shit like that. But then thrash metal started getting popular and bands like Mercyful Fate started coming. Suddenly we had Metallica and Slayer and Exodus and Destruction and all these great bands and to me I was like oh my God this is what we really got to do! So I told Bret you don’t have to sound like Rob Halford anymore, listen to these guys! He was listening to thrash singers and I gave him a Death demo and he was like oh my God. I don’t have to be like a fucking “great singer”. I was like man, all you got to do is sound like you’re the meanest mother fucker around! You don’t have to sound like Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson no more. Just fucking go crazy dude then you can be the singer. He just took the ball and ran with it man.
MR: He sure did. After STILLBORN, Bret was out of the band for a bit. There were different periods where he was gone. Jason and Kyle Simmons handled the vocals on two albums each between 1995 and 2004. What happened?
PF: I don’t want to get too deep into it, but he had personal problems. It was impossible. He got a little bit too much caught up with the partying and the drugs and shit. And hey we all were. I am not going to just blame it on him. But you know everything got a little nutty after like the second album. He just got a little bit too caught up in things and after the third album, after the tour and everything man he really was falling apart. It was terrible man. We had to do something or the band would’ve been over. It’s just like now, I didn’t want it to end. I was like come on man. We worked so hard to get this far and now it’s going to all fall apart because of this. You know I didn’t want it to happen man and I didn’t want to replace him, but I had no choice. Instead of getting somebody else we had Jason take over on vocals because he had always been doing backing vocals and stuff like that on the early albums. We let Jason take a crack at it. It was definitely different, but all the music was my department man. I was writing the music. I was doing the best I could. Getting Jason to sing was the best possible solution at the time. It was different just because he was different. No one could do it like Bret did it. Bret just had his own style and he just ran with it man. It was a difficult situation that’s why he had to be replaced. But you know what? Bret realized he had to do something. He straightened out and he moved from Florida back to New York. It was in 2005 when we got an offer to do a tour with Bolt Thrower and our singer Kyle at the time he was going through some personal bullshit and he didn’t want to tour. Of course, the only person I wanted for the tour was Bret. And from 2005 all the way up until 2015 Bret was back in great form and playing with us and touring with us and recording with us and doing a great job. And he was done with all the bullshit and the drugs. Everything was working out great. But you know things happen. He’s still my best friend and I always tried to help him out and tried to get him straightened out. I loved the guy like a brother man. I looked up to him as an older brother.
MR: How had Bret’s passing affected you?
PF: Oh dude I’m still not right. It still affects me man. I just had a dream last night that we were on tour somewhere. Even talking about it brings tears to my eyes because (choked up) me and him experienced so much shit together. We were friends for so long that it’s hard to believe that he’s gone.
MR: I knew him a little bit as an interviewer and from meeting him at shows. He was just a great guy. A wonderful person and a kind human being.
PF: Yeah that’s the thing. He was one of the best guys you could ever meet.
MR: Absolutely. I didn’t know him like you did, but the little bit I knew of him showed me that he was a great person as well as a great musician and singer. He was a great human being who treated everyone the same.
PF: Yeah you know that’s how he was. He never had some rock star attitude or anything. He was always, just a happy guy, you know when he was having a good time, he was having a good time man. I don’t think I ever met anybody that disliked him. You know what I mean. Never. He was like a magnet. People were attracted to him. He’s a fun guy to hang around with. You know you hang out with him and you’re going to laugh your ass off. He’s always cracking jokes and ragging on you. He was a one of a kind guy man.
MR: Has making THE 13th BEAST been therapeutic for you? Do you think it has helped you?
PF: It was tough because Bret passed away right when we started. It was a little rough on me man. It was tough. It was tough for me to go to the studio every day and do this because it’s too much. It’s too fast. Not only him. Not only did I lose him, I’ve also lost a lot of family members and other friends. Bret was my best friend since I was a kid and I was talking with him the whole time while he was sick. It really took a toll on me man. All the guys in my band understood it. They would say, hey man we’re doing this for Bret. That’s why we dedicated the album to Bret. This is what he told us to take the ball and run man. Do the best fucking album you can. And I tried. I tried my very hardest to make the best album we could. I’m glad then people are really happy with this album and the choices I made. Hey it’s just a terrible thing man. As you get older these things happen. Never in a million years did I think this would happen to Bret. When it happened to him it really hit me like a fucking hammer. I was devastated man. I was crushed. I still am. I think about him every day.
MR: I am sorry for your loss for Phil. I understand how you feel. I lost a sister to cancer 13 years ago and both of my parents have died in the last 4 years. Sometimes when a certain person passes away it really hits you and in your case it is your best friend Bret. It takes a long time to heal.
PF: I’ve lost my father and so many close people in the last 10 – 15 years. The last few years it has been non-stop. Almost every month someone is dead. Why I am still here? I should be dead. These people are good people. They never did the things I have done.
MR: You’re still here Phil, plugging away, cranking out brutal death metal brother!
PF: Music is the only thing keeping me alive. If I keep dwelling on it, I’ll never get over it. I did my very best with this band and this new album. There’s actually some extra songs that we recorded that haven’t been released yet. I think some EPs could be coming out. We are really on a roll. With these new guys and me and all the material that I had and everything that everybody else was pitching in, we had a lot of stuff. We were looking at a double album at one point. I was like man I wonder if the record label would want to do that. But I guess a double album for a death metal band is probably not the best idea. If we had tried to put everything out we couldn’t, because the album alone is already almost 50 minutes. We didn’t know that until we were in the studio and going holy shit we’ve recorded way too many songs!
MR: it’s good to have some spares for an EP or as bonus tracks.
PF: Oh yeah, we got good plans that are coming out. I think a split CD is coming out with Pete from Angel Corpse’s new band Abhomine. We’ve even got a bunch of songs that we did from ETERNAL. The ETERNAL album with having Lee singing and the songs that I thought we should re-record. The production wasn’t so great back then. We were on a shit budget at a shit record company, Pavement Records (laughs). All these guys they all love those songs and they’re like we’ve got to re-record these things properly. There is a lot of stuff that we’d like to do and we did do a lot of shit. We did actually too much recording. Some of the other shit will go and get released eventually. We already have another album already written. If we had to get together right now we could record another album.
MR: I’m excited to hear the re-recorded ETERNAL stuff with Lee’s vocals.
PF: Yeah we are not going to re-record anything that Bret did. But we are thinking of some of the stuff on ETERNAL and IN COLD BLOOD. Because those songs I think we could do them a little bit better. Plus, I think I am going to be doing a Hateplow album as well.
MR: You’re a busy man.
PF: If I don’t stay busy I’ll go nuts. I’ll lose my mind.
MR: Last question – Malevolent Creation has always been consistently brutal, never attempting to soften things to reach a larger audience or become more progressive or technical. Is that what you set out to do and are you proud of that?
PF: I’ve been saying this since the first interview I ever did. In 1990 we recorded our first album. And here I am now in 2019 and we have our 13th album out not to mention how many compilations and live albums and DVDs. My goal always was to be better than the last album. I never jumped on a bandwagon and wanted to play what was popular. I just wanted to be heavy. Be the most extreme band that we could be. Not ridiculously extreme but always just heavy. I don’t want to be one of those bands that people say, oh they were good back then and they turned into this or that or their music isn’t even heavy anymore. I’m just proud to say that I’m still part of this. I’m still doing it and we never really ever fucking sold out man. We just keep playing. As hard as we can man.
MR: I have immense respect for that.
PF: I know a lot of people do and I’m really happy that people appreciate it because death metal is not the most popular music in the world. But for me it’s my life. I love it. I love hearing music that is extremely heavy and put together well. I just love it man. And I just want to keep doing it until I can’t.
MR: Thank you very much for your time Phil.
PF: I appreciate it man. I appreciate the promotion and everything. I’m glad that you like the new album. It’s doing pretty good man. It cracked the top 100 for one-week sales in in Germany. Our label said to me, wow congratulations you guys cracked the top 100 in Germany at number 57. I was scrolling through all these bands that are like pop rock that I’ve never heard of and all of a sudden you see that ugly album cover and our name and I thought Goddamn look at that! How about that shit?!? We are going keep going dude. We are going keep going until we can’t. I got a fresh new lineup and they love it. I love playing with these guys. You’ll be seeing us on the road man. Don’t worry man. We’ll be coming around man. There’s no doubt about that.
MR: Excellent. I look forward to it. I am in the Philadelphia area, so anytime you guys are in Philly, Jersey, Baltimore, or NYC I’ll be there!
PF: We’ll definitely be in that area, those are our favorite places to play. The East Coast.
MR: I’ll see you on the road man. Thanks very much.
PF: Alright buddy take care Thank you for the interview.