Randy Black is a Canadian drummer, who currently plays with the German thrash metal legend Destruction. Randy officially joined the band in August of 2018, and his debut album with the group, “Born to Perish,” came out one year later. Randy has been living in Berlin, Germany since 1998. There he also has his studio, and he is available for recordings and teaching when his main band is not busy. Besides Destruction, Randy is best known for his work as the drummer for Annihilator, Primal Fear, W.A.S.P, Rebellion, and DuskMachine. He’s also done recordings and session work for several bands, including; Big Naked, Udo Lindenberg, Skew Siskin, Level 10, and Striker. Randy’s career has been full of twists and turns. So, it was more than interesting to meet the man last October in Helsinki, and discuss the past, present, and future of Randy Black.
JOINING DESTRUCTION, AND LEARNING THE GERMAN THRASH METAL
First of all, welcome back to Finland. You’ve been here a couple of times with other bands, but this is the first time we see you here as the drummer of German thrash legends Destruction.
Thank you, Marko. It’s always good to be back here.
You officially joined the band in 2018, but you had played shows with the band already in 2015, as a replacement drummer for Vaaver, who was the band’s permanent drummer then. My question goes, how familiar were you with the German thrash metal scene and the “The Big Teutonic 4” (Kreator, Sodom, Destruction, and Tankard) before you started to play with these guys?
Very good question. Very good question. Because when I first did the tour, as you mentioned in 2015, I knew the guys just from playing festivals all over the world and meeting Schmier and Mike. And I didn’t know them that well. And, to be honest, to make a long story short, I wasn’t always a big metal guy. When I got the Annihilator gig in Canada, I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know who Annihilator was. So anyway, they weren’t on my radar. So, I did the tour with Destruction through the U.S., and it was fun. I had fun playing thrash music again. And so that was it. I knew Vaaver was coming back after he had, and his wife had their child. And so, I thought that was it. Then they contacted me again and said, “Vaaver is leaving permanently, can you help us out to the end of the year until we find a new drummer?” It wasn’t an offer yet. That’s when I got onto the internet to start doing my research and found out about what you just mentioned the Big Four, and it’s like they’ve been around since the early ’80s, legendary in the scene. And it was like, “Wow, fuck, these guys have a history that I wasn’t aware of in detail.” So yeah, I got myself up on the history. And to be honest, that’s when I was thinking, “Man, I hope they offer me the gig.” But there wasn’t an offer. So, we did some shows together, and they did some auditions with other guys, and then the offer came a few months later.
What I’ve learned is that Schmier is a person who knows everybody, and every detail of the German metal scene and thrash metal. So, now you are in the same band with the real expert of the genre.
Absolutely. Yeah. He’s like an encyclopedia of lots of different types of music, but when it comes to metal and thrash metal, you can ask him almost anything, and he knows, who was in what band when, what year it was recorded, etc. etc.
However, the offer finally came, and you officially became the drummer of Destruction in August of 2018. That was after you had finished your touring duties with Wasp, right?
Yeah. But it didn’t happen right away. After the Wasp tour, I did work at my studio for a while. I was always looking for a new gig, and I got some offers, but I was like, ‘Okay. It’s either got to be the same level or a step up. I’m not going to take any steps backward. And so, I did that to the end of 2017. Officially, I joined Destruction August 8’th, 2018, at Wacken. That’s when it was announced. That was my very first gig as the new Destruction drummer. But before that, earlier that year, we did a tour in South America, Australia, Asia and– this is what I love about Schmier, he is very direct. He said, “Randy, you fucking do a great job. But there are some other people we also want to try out,” he said, “maybe some younger guys to bring some new energy.” At first, I was a little taken aback. He didn’t tell me like, “Oh, you probably have the gig.” So, they did that. They tried out a couple of guys. And then I did Rock Fest in Barcelona with them last year. We went out for dinner later. And they said, “Well, we tried the other guys and to make a long story short, it just didn’t sound the same. So, if you want the gig, it’s yours.” I was like, “Great!” So that was a very nice dinner. “Laughs”
A FOUR-PIECE BAND
In February of 2019, it was announced that Swiss guitarist Damir Eskic had joined Destruction. At which point the band decided to extend the line-up to four-piece?
Yeah. That’s an interesting story too because they had already been discussing it, Mike and Schmier, before I was even in the picture, I think. And when I joined them, I was like, “I’m back in a trio. I’m in a trio again. This is great. Just three guys on stage. Everything is easy, traveling, all that stuff.” And then, Schmier started talking about the second guitarist. And I’m like, “What?” I didn’t even know who Damir was yet. They didn’t even mention his name. “We’re thinking about a fourth member, and we’re serious.” I was just so happy and telling everybody, “I’m back in a power trio now, and it’s great.” But fast forward to now. It was a very good decision for them. The album is much stronger with two guitar players. Damir is an amazing player. He fits the band great – personality-wise, looks-wise, and playing wise. And it was funny. So, I have a story. He and his band, his other band Gomorra (great band!), came and played Berlin a couple of weeks ago. Actually, I’m a little bit embarrassed to say, that’s when I really realized what a killer and extraordinary player he is. Because I sat and only focused on the band. I watched the whole show, and honestly, I was blown away. I was like, “Fuck. This guy. Wow.” So, to answer your question– “haha,” what was the exact question?
I think it was something like: “When was the decision made to add the second guitarist to the line-up?”
You’d have to ask those guys, but it was before the last studio album was even written. So, it was maybe a year or two that they were talking about it amongst themselves. I think it was the right decision. There’s much more action on stage, and the band sounds much heavier now. The funny thing is that Sodom made the same decision last year as well. They also have two guitarists in the band now. I know “Laughs,” but I know that from our sound man Martin, who’s been with them quite a while. He has heard both versions of the band. And he’s like, the band was powerful before, but now with that extra guitar, it’s even better.” It’s a perfect setup now.
BORN TO PERISH
“Born to Perish” was last released August, and it’s the first album you have recorded with the band. How satisfied are you with the results, and how was the recording process?
I’m very happy with the results for a couple of reasons. Normally, Destruction record drums in a studio in Switzerland with their engineer, V.O Pulver. I had a couple of years, where I was “bandless.” I had left Primal Fear, and I had a lot of time on my hands. So, I learned how to record drums. And I bought good microphones, “Laughs.” And to make a long story short, I suggested I record the drums in my studio, at first, they said, “No. You got to come down here and record with us.” So, I sent some demo material to them, they checked it out and wrote back and said, “Well, maybe you can do the drums in your studio after all.” So, the process for the drum recording was, I did it all on my own, 100% in my studio in Berlin. And it turned out great. I’m very, very happy about that. Some people might know two other records I did in my studio for a Canadian band called Striker. The second album I did with them was 100% alone, as well. I’ve been recording drums for a while, so hence, it was good enough that the guys said, “Okay. Do it in Berlin.” So, I did and very happy with the results.
Destruction’s music is quite different compared to the stuff you’ve played in the past, at least compared to your previous band. Was it challenging to record material like this?
Yes, it was challenging. The main reason is the last time I played anything similar to the type of music Destruction does, thrash metal, was in Annihilator. And the last time I played with them was 2003. So, it had been well over a decade. I had to get my thrash metal chops up again, and thankfully, I’d done a bunch of tours with Destruction prior to doing the record, so I was already back into the “Thrash drumming” shape. So, yeah, it was challenging for sure.
When you are doing these recordings at your studio, which D.A.W. system (digital audio workstation) you do use?
My D.A.W. is PreSonus, Studio One Pro. For me, personally, it’s much more user-friendly than others I’ve tried. So, I could learn how to work with it quite quickly.
THE EARLY YEARS
When you started playing the drums, your first bands were cover bands, and you played a lot of different styles of music, mostly hard rock and progressive rock?
Yes. Before I started playing in original bands, touring and recording records, I was in cover bands in Canada right out of high school right up until I joined Annihilator in ’93. So yeah, but I never played metal. The most double bass I ever played in those cover bands was mostly drum fills. But no, a song with double kicks start to finish, never. So that was a big jump for me to go from playing in cover bands to suddenly playing in Annihilator.
Canada had a strong metal community in the ’80s. There were bands like Exciter, Razor, Piledriver, Anvil, and Voivod. But you were not any familiar with those bands?
Back to what I said earlier, I wasn’t really a metal guy. Jeff and the guys used to make fun of me in the van when I started touring with them; they’d put on tapes and ask, do you know this drummer?— embarrassingly I’d say no, and they’d say it’s Dave Lombardo, and I’m like, “Who’s that?” Jeff played “Reign in Blood” pretty much the whole tour, over and over and over. Slowly through those guys, I started to learn who those bands and drummers were.
You didn’t listen to metal, but which bands were the most important for you, and which Canadian bands did you listen back then?
Well, Rush, for sure, and Helix was very popular. But bands I grew up on were April Wine and Bryan Adams, of course, they were more commercial. But I liked Journey and Boston. The Who was a big one for me, and also Led Zeppelin, Queen. But that’s more rock, heavy rock, but no metal stuff. Maybe a little Judas Priest because it was popular on the radio back then, “Turbo Lover.” That’s not real metal, or I should say, not Thrash Metal. But that was the early stuff I was into.
So, basically, Jeff Waters is to blame that you became a metal drummer?
“Laughs,” Well, actually, no. It was more… Yes, him, but it was really the guys in his band. Ray Hartmann, the drummer and the guys in Annihilator, were fans of our cover band. Because like I said, we did all this Rush stuff, and everyone in his band was a fan of Rush. They used to come out and see us play. Jeff didn’t, but when Mike Mangini left, they all said, “Hey, Randy Black, this guy in this Rush cover band Click, we got to try him out.” The management contacted me. They said, “Hey, Annihilator is looking for a drummer.” And I answered, “Annihilator? Who? What?”. They said “Don’t you know the song “Alice in Hell”? And I replied, “No?”. So, they sent me a tape, and it was actually still cassette tapes then. I listened to music, and I thought, wow, this drumming is challenging. I thought this is something I’d really like to see if I could play. So, I worked hard on it. And I did the audition with Jeff. He was very blunt. He said, “Your hands are great, no problem, but your feet, you got to work on that.” As I said, I never had played double bass like that.
Did you learn the tracks the same way how Mike Mangini had played them with the band?
Basically yes. He was on the rehearsal tape that I got from the management. And like I said, first of all, just the music alone, playing all of that double bass was like, “Wow. I want to get into this. I mean, Annihilator’s got that reputation where they’re tight as hell. It was a big challenge. I didn’t know who Mike was, because back then, he was fairly unknown, but the drumming was great, and I thought, “Okay. Cool. I want to do this.” Those were big shoes to fill, but I was up for the challenge, it was fun. I got the gig, and Jeff and I rehearsed on our own for a couple of weeks before the rest of the band even came in, just to get it really tight.
One particular track Mike recorded with the band for SET THE WORLD ON FIRE was “Brain Dance.” What was it like to play that song because it has some absolutely crazy drum parts?
Actually, I played that song in the audition for Jeff, because I’m sure he was thinking, “Okay. I got to test this guy to the maximum, right?” As I said, it was a big challenge, but I loved it because it was so different from the music I had played before. I always remember when the “King of the Kill” album came out, and I listened to it the first time. I was 100% sure there was a drum machine used on the record. It sounded that tight that I thought it had to be a drum machine. “Laughs” Well, Jeff can give you details on that. Yeah, that was the first record I did with them. But yes, that was a great album.
However, “King of the Kill” was a kind of new beginning for Annihilator. The old line-up was gone, and Jeff started a whole new band under the old name. The record was a great success, and you did some amazing tours together, like the one in Japan. Any good memories from that tour?
Yeah, that was one of my first early tours with Annihilator. And being outside of Canada, touring, was great. I mean, it was a totally different world. I’ll never forget any of those tours–. The first time I played with Annihilator, I had been playing in cover bands for over a decade, and the audience was completely different. Usually, when playing in a cover band, the audience just sits there, and they want to hear their favorite songs. On the other hand, the first time I ever witnessed a mosh pit was on my first gig with Annihilator. And it was like– I was all nervous and stuff, but suddenly, I was watching the crowd, going “what the hell’s going on here?” So, it was just a completely different world, and I loved it. It was great. And it took a while till I really got into playing that style.
The next Annihilator album was “Refresh the Demon”. It was a good record, but then a lot of things happened, and you left the band in 1996.
Yeah. Many things happened then. I quit the band, sold everything I owned, but my drum kit, and moved to Germany. I was just going there to teach and be with my girl and see what happens. But before that, I recorded a highly successful record with Bif Naked called “I Bificus.” And then I moved to Germany. What had happened was, during the “King of the Kill” -tour, I met my girl, my lifelong partner, on that tour. And that’s the reason I moved to Germany. But with Jeff, I mean, me and Jeff have had our differences over the years, but we get along now. I actually worked with him recently when he set up his studio in the U.K. I went in to help him get drum sounds. They’re doing quite well now, and I’m actually going to see them in a couple of weeks in Berlin.
REBELLION, RE-JOINING ANNIHILATOR AND DUSKMACHINE
After you had moved to Germany, you took a break from playing, but in 2001 you joined the group Rebellion, which also featured former Grave Digger and the current Accept guitarist Uwe Lulis.
Yes. He’s the only reason I joined the band. He came out on that first tour I did with Annihilator, and we met. And, it was funny, he was still in Grave Digger, and he said, “Someday we’ll play together.” I’m like, “Yeah. Okay.” And then, sure enough, I moved to Berlin, and he heard about it somehow, he’d quit Grave Digger, and I wasn’t in a band, and he said, “Hey, I’m forming Rebellion. Are you interested?” They were in Frankfurt, so I joined, went down, and I did two records with them. It went quite well. It was cool. I had recently joined Annihilator again, in 2001, and joined Rebellion around that time as well.
A few years earlier, Annihilator announced a comeback with the original line-up, and although it didn’t last long, Ray Hartmann still sat behind the drums kit at that point, in 2001. How did you end up back to Annihilator then?
Ray and Jeff called me during that tour, and I think it was the “Carnival Diablos” -tour. Ray just said, “There are no problems,” but You know what, I’m just done with touring.” So, after Jeff and I talked through some details, I agreed to join them again.
Wasn’t it challenging to work with the band when you lived in Berlin, and they were in Canada?
Yeah, my air miles were through the roof then. I was at elite status. It was great! “Laughs” But no, it worked. I mean, I just flew over to Canada. We usually did one or two weeks of rehearsing. Then we flew to Europe, usually. Or Japan, or something. We did the tour. They flew home, and I stayed. So, it wasn’t really a big cost difference for the band. But yes, it worked for some years.
In 2002 you recorded the album “Waking the Fury” with Annihilator. I would say that it’s one of the band’s best albums to date.
Thanks! Yeah, me too. Of course, I’m biased because I’ve recorded it, but I loved it too. It was a great line-up again, and Joe Comeau, I thought, had a great voice.”
Unfortunately, this line-up didn’t last long either, and the band split up again in 2003. But you remained friends with Joe, and a couple of years later, you worked with him again in DuskMachine. Tell me something about that band?
Oh man, there’s a lot of different stories going in there, right? One of my students in Berlin was a guitar player, who is the guitar player for DuskMachine, and we had started a side project, in Berlin, it was just as a hobby thing. We did our first record, then the singer left, and I asked if Joe was interested. He agreed, so we did the second record with him, the self-titled album in 2013. It was a band featuring three ex-Annihilator members because Russ Berquist was the bass player for the second record. So, yeah, that was a great album.
DuskMachine never did very many gigs, and we haven’t heard anything from the band in a long time. Is DuskMachine still alive?
Well, — first of all, Joe is in Florida, Russ is in Vancouver, and the guitar player and I are in Berlin. So it’s very difficult to plan anything, especially without financial backing or support. 70000 Tons of Metal. Those are the only two gigs we’ve done. So, yes, to answer your question, we’re still alive, but it’s on the back burner. We’re just in the process of starting to think about recording some stuff, but it’s when everyone has time. So, it should happen. I would say if we’re very lucky, we’ll have something by the end of 2020. Hopefully.
Is Joe still working as a tour manager for Yes?
Yes. He is. So, he is very busy with them, and he also sings with his other band Liege Lord. They’ve got some interest, and they’re doing some good gigs, and I think they’re doing a new album. So, he’s busy with that too, so we’ll see.
PRIMAL FEAR STUFF
In 2003 you joined the German power metal band Primal Fear.
Yes, in 2003, I joined them. I was still in Annihilator and Rebellion when I joined Primal Fear.
So, after a few quieter years, you were suddenly a really busy drummer.
True. Yeah. Suddenly, I had three bands. At the same time. But that didn’t last long, “Laughs.”
However, you then spent eleven years with Primal Fear.
That’s right! That’s the longest I’ve ever been in a band.
If you need to summarize your time with Primal Fear briefly, what would it be like?
Good question. Just to summarize it? Well, it started great, lasted a long time, and ended badly for me, anyway. And, to try to make it a long story short, when I actually left, it came as a big surprise to me because, after eleven years, I remember consciously thinking, “Man, this is great. The band’s running great. I feel great in the band, and it’s fun to play every night. I can’t ask for more.” And then one very unexpected thing happened that for me was a game-changer that made me decide to leave. It couldn’t go on the way it was, and the band had to make a decision. And they made their decision, and I made my decision, stuck to it, and left in August of 2014.
From the fans’ point of view, your departure was unexpected, and it happened really fast. Only a couple of days after the announcement, you were gone.
From the announcement, right. Yeah, but they knew I was planning to leave at least six months earlier. For me, the line was crossed, and I made it clear to the band then. We had six months of touring coming up, but I said, “Hey, listen. If you want to get a guy before, go ahead, but I will honor my gigs until the last one already booked in the calendar.” But I said that after that gig if something isn’t different, I’m out. And up until that time, maybe they didn’t think I was serious because they kept saying, “Hey, reconsider,” and I said, “Guys, this is my decision.” And that date came, and that’s why they announced it just shortly before, and I knew it was going to be my last gig, and that was tough, man. There were some tears shed for sure after that gig, but hey, things happen, and you got to go on.
Are you still in touch with any of these guys?
Yeah, sure. Not a lot. I just wished Alex happy birthday the other day via Facebook. And I saw them the last time they were in Berlin. Striker was opening for them, and I talked to most of the guys. Not all of them, but so it’s a civil relationship. At Bang Your Head last year, I chatted with the guys in the catering area.
If you think about it now, what was the highlight or the best moment you experienced during your time with the band?
With Primal Fear? There are a few of them.
Okay, maybe you can explain three?
Three from Primal Fear. You know what? Summer Breeze, I think that was my first official gig, and it was my last official gig “laughter,” as an announced drummer. The first time I played Summer Breeze, I was the new guy, it was just announced, and I had a really good gig. I remember just having so much energy. I think it was a great show and it got a really good reaction from everyone. It was a new start, and it felt good. So that is one, and the second one has to be South America, Argentina. I think I have it on my YouTube page. The crowd was just insane! It was the second highlight for sure, and the third is probably Japan. It was my very last tour with them there, and I knew I was already leaving. That was also very cool because Japan is always– for me, personally, and I think a lot of musicians, it’s a special place to play. Starting from fan reactions and just being there and the way you’re treated. So those would be the three.
It sounds that you had a great time. So, do you think that despite the way how it ended, being in Primal Fear was a positive experience as a whole?
Yes. Definitely, and I’m really proud of a lot of the albums I did with the band.
The next big thing you did was joining Wasp in 2015. Yes.
Over the years, I have heard many different opinions about what it is like to work with Blackie Lawless, but what was that experience for you? Well, to sum that up, it was interesting. When I first got the gig, this was something completely different for me. I hadn’t played music like that in a long time, and to be honest, they were never on my radar either. A lot of the songs I had to learn were like, “Oh, wow. This is great stuff.” And actually, there’s a little backstory to it, now that you ask. Regarding their last long-term drummer!
Yes, Mike Dupke. Yeah. Before he joined– okay. This goes back to my Annihilator days. We toured with Seven Witches, and their guitarist Jack Frost, he watched our show pretty much every night. And then he went back to America, and Wasp was looking for a drummer. And Jack Frost spoke very highly of me to those guys. So, I was contacted way back then already.
Dupke joined the band after Stet Howland left, and it was around 2005?
Okay. So, I was approached in 2003 or 2004, when they were making a change. And I was in contact with the bass player and sent him videos of my playing, and long story short, it was, “Oh, man. Fucking great. You’re the guy! I am pretty sure you’re the guy, blah, blah, blah,” and suddenly, nothing. Nothing. I heard nothing until… How many years later? In 2014. Ten years later, I get an e-mail. So anyway, in a nutshell. They flew me to Barcelona to do an audition. I was the only guy there, it went great, and Blackie offered me the gig on the spot. So, I started learning the songs, and I thought and hoped it was my next long term gig. I thought, “Man, if this lasts ten years, this will be great.” So, it didn’t, obviously. It was really up and down, but it was obvious to me very early that it wasn’t going to be a long-term gig. And I knew, “You’re just a hired gun.” Again, this is just my opinion from my experience. You’re just a hired gun in that band, and if you do the job the way it’s supposed to be done, you’ll probably last, I guess. So, I did the tour 50 + shows in all, and that was it.
No more phone calls?
No. No. And to be honest, after I went through what I went through, I thought, “Yeah. I could still do the gig under certain conditions, but I think it’s obviously best for both sides that it didn’t work out. They’re happy playing with whoever they have now.
They have that Brazilian guy Aquilles Priester now.
Right! Cool. Again, it worked out for the better for me because now I’m in Destruction, and it’s a totally different vibe. Back up to the Wasp gig for a second– when I first got the job, I had friends who knew the situation there emailing me saying, “Hey, congrats on the gig but be very careful, man.” The main guy there is difficult.
But I think it’s still great that WASP is mentioned on your professional CV?
Of course. And I loved playing most of those gigs. Some of the music, as I said, wasn’t on my radar, but I was like, “I dug that stuff a lot.” I really enjoyed playing a lot of that music.
Is it really that you never listened to W.A.S.P.? Not even in the ’80s, when they had so much visibility on MTV, etc.?
No. I was a Rush geek. I was a prog-rock guy. I knew that they existed– because I watched MTV and I saw that they had their hits, right? I knew they were big. But I was never a fan, no. Yeah, but I think they have a lot of great music for sure. A lot of great records.
How would you sum your time with WASP in one sentence?
Well, it was just– it was a roller coaster ride basically. “Laughs”
I think we have now covered almost everything, so it’s time to ask about the future. I have learned that there are plenty of things coming up for Destruction. After these European shows this fall, you have the “Thrash Alliance” -tour with Suicidal Angels, and Legion of the Damned, and there are already festivals announced for the next summer. So, it’s going to be a busy year for the band.
I hope so. I mean, it looks that way because, first off, it’s all very positive reactions to the four-piece, for one, and to the new CD. So that’s generating a lot of good things. I think people want to see the band for one thing as a four-piece and see the new songs being performed. So, it’s all good. And I think that’s helping with more shows coming in and the band being busy.
Does the band have plans to return to North America at some point?
Absolutely. So, from what I gather, it’s not easy. And for other the guys, it’s a pain in the ass. Me being Canadian, it’s easy. I don’t have to do interviews to get the proper visas or have to pay extra money. But the other guys have to go through a lot of paperwork etc.— so it’s just as soon as the right offer comes, we’ll be there. For sure. I’m pretty sure we’ll be there in 2020. Also, Japan and Asia are being talked about. South America, always. So, it could be a very busy year for us.
It is time for the last question. You probably still have a lot of former bandmates, friends, and family members in Canada who have been following your career since the beginning. Have you received feedback from them on your new job as a Destruction drummer?
Oh, yeah. For sure. As I said, those guys have a long history. So, there are people that say, “Oh man. I first listened to these guys on the first album back in the early ’80s. It’s so great to see you playing with them now. Cool! The band has never sounded better,” which is nice to hear, but I mean, I think everyone has done a great job that’s been in Destruction. So, it’s been very positive. Very positive, the reactions. It’s cool. But it does keep me on my toes, man. I’m not getting any younger. So, I’ve to go to the practice room often to keep those demanding levels up to speed. That’s good. Yeah. Of course. It’s a positive thing.