One of the most impressive comebacks in 2014 definitely has been the return of Chile’s ATOMIC AGGRESSOR. The band’s debut album "Sights Of Suffering" is a feast for all fans of old school Death Metal, with some nicely incorporated Thrash Metal overtones, pretty much in the vein of old SLAYER, MORBID ANGEL, POSSESSED, COFFIN TEXTS or SADISTIC INTENT. If the album would’ve been released a little earlier last year, it most certainly would have had chances to appear in the top ten of the best releases of 2014 for sure! We hooked up with guitarist Enrique "Kike" Zúñiga for an in-depth chat about the bands almost 30 year long history…
ATOMIC AGGRESSOR originally got together back in 1985, still with a completely different line-up though… So, what happened, that Jose Luis Garcia (bass) and Alan Lenz (vocals) not even stayed long enough in the band to appear on the debut demo "Bloody Ceremonial” from 1989?
"From 1985 to 1988 the band was more like a kids garage band. The style was a schizophrenic mix of everything we liked at that time, from early Death Metal to Hardcore Punk. During some time there was also another guitarist, called Pablo, with an absolutely Hardcore Punk oriented style. In 1988 the band split up and José Luis and Alan formed then their own Hardcore band, called ANARKIA. The other 2 of us, Pato and me, stayed with ATOMIC, and decided to change our style to Death Metal. After that, arrived Alejandro and later Jaime."
Do you still recall those early days yourself? Has the band already been playing out live with the first line-up? How many original songs did exist at the time and were any cover songs included during shows and / or rehearsals?
"Well, I don’t really remember much of those days. There were a few songs, no covers and we only did a couple of small school-like gigs. It was a really really amateur band. Everything from that stage is blurred right now hahaha."
From today’s point of view the band’s name ATOMIC AGGRESSOR could easily been associated with a political background as well (considering all the turmoil and terror around the world), but I can’t really believe that it was chosen with that in mind back then, was it? So, do you still know what inspired that name when the band was formed?
"That name doesn’t have much sense really. It was chosen at that schizophrenic stage. More than a cold war inspired name, it reflects the mix of styles we used to listen to at that time. Our country was under the dictatorship of Pinochet, so the lyrics covered from politics to satanism. Then I designed the logo and we liked it. And after that we didn’t want to change the name."
What about the lyrical content of the songs? What kind of topics have been included in the lyrics in the early days and have you continued to write about that kinda stuff in the years to follow, after the line-up had already changed?
"Since 1988 our main theme has been Lovecraft’s mythology. Stories about dark cults, forgotten divinities, ancient giant monsters that influence the human minds and stuff like that. There are some occultism and anti-christian references too. After the reunion in 2007, we decided to continue writing in the same line."
When did the first more serious line-up of ATOMIC AGGRESSOR got together that recorded the "Bloody Ceremony" demo in 1989? What kind of musical background did those new members bring to the table? Have they already been playing in any bands prior to joining ATOMIC AGGRESSOR?
"When Alan and José Luis left the band, Alejandro were already our friend. He used to help us like some kind of roadie. He said that he could sing so we tested him and we were really surprised. He was exactly the voice that we were looking for. Then we started to look for another guitarist, so we printed a small notice and we placed it in Santiago’s main records store, called Rock Shop. After that appeared Jaime Moya. The band was ready in 1988, and in November we played live for the first time. None was playing in other band before."
What kind of information can you give us about that demo? Where was it recorded, what kind of reactions did you get in Chile and also internationally and do you know anything about the number of copies that got sold of it?
"“Bloody Ceremonial” was recorded in a studio called Rec. There was working a sound engineer called José Luis Corral, that was also a big Metal fan. There was a special price for Metal bands who wanted to record a demo, cheaper than the regular market price. So we took the opportunity. The reaction was awesome. Great reviews in a lot of fanzines in Chile and some other countries. I don’t know how many copies we made… maybe near 800."
The track ‘Beyond Reality’ even appeared on a compilation tape from Hell Zine back then… What can you tell us about that?
"Yes… well, I didn’t remember that! I can’t say much about this subject hahaha."
Before the second demo "Resurrection" was released in 1991 there was another 4 song promotional demo in 1990 already… What was the intention of that and why did you re-use ‘Twilight Spectres’ and ‘The Spell Of Necronomicon’ on "Resurrection" again? Have those songs been re-recorded for that manner or did you just use the original versions from the promo demo again?
"The 1990 tape was only a rehearsal. We wanted to show some new material because the first demo was out for more than a year. It wasn’t an “official” demo. That’s why we used those songs again. The “Resurrection” demo was recorded with a new drummer, so the songs had certain changes."
What happened to drummer Patricio Leiva, who still played on "Bloody Ceremonial"? When and why did he part ways with the band and how did Pablo Clares join the picture then? Did he play in any bands prior to ATOMIC AGGRESSOR?
"Patricio (or Pato) was in the band almost since the beginning. By the end of 1990 we had a conversation about the future of the band and expectations about the way we was playing. After that, Pato decided to leave for personal reasons. Pablo Clares was a friend of us and he was playing in TOTTEN KORPS. We were looking for a new drummer and he offered to play with us for a certain time, without leaving his band."
From what I’ve read the band split-up shortly after the "Resurrection" demo, in 1992… What went wrong at the time and what have you guys all been doing until you re-joined in 2007?
"Some time after the second demo, when we were convinced that finally we had a drummer, Pablo decided to quit. It was after we had some great shows and we were very surprised and shocked by his decision. After that we started to lose the motivation to keep the band alive. Besides that, the 3 members had others priorities growing. Some time after, Jaime moved to Arica, in the extreme north of Chile. He became a teacher and a poet. Alejandro studied advertising, and years later had a Hardrock band. I joined TOTTEN KORPS for a short time. I studied graphic design. Then, between 1997 and 2009, I joined SADISM."
In September of 2008 guitarist Jaime Moya unfortunately passed away… what exactly happened and had he still been part of the reunion in the first place?
"Well, he had cancer and decided to avoid the standard treatment. He preferred alternative medicine, but the disease got worse. Around the year 2005 I think, there was a first chance to re-unite the band, including Alejandro, Jaime and me, but it didn’t work out. Then, in 2007, we decided the reunion but Jaime was in Arica, very far from Santiago, and his health didn’t allow it."
How did ex – MAGNANIMUS guitarist Julio Bórquez get on board as his replacement then?
"Julio was in MAGNANIMUS along with our drummer Pablo, so he proposed him and it was perfect. The style of playing the guitar and the personality of Julio filled the expectations we had. In a way he was similar to Jaime in some aspects. So everything worked great after he got in."
In 2002 Endless Hard Records released a compilation of old ATOMIC AGGRESSOR material entitled "Bloody Resurrection – Demos 89-91". Please tell us more about that and why you decided to go for another compilation ("Rise Of The Ancient Ones") via Rawforce Productions (and later on) Hells Headbangers Records? Do they differ in the featured material in any way?
"“Bloody Resurrection” is an unauthorized compilation of our demos. None asked us to produce that release and the record label never existed. It supposed to be a japanese label, but we heard it was actually some guy in Chile or Peru. That was one of the reasons to get back. We wanted to produce the official compilation and we needed to do something the a pirate couldn’t do. So we decided to record some tracks exclusively for that release. The non-official CD includes 2 demos, one rehearsal and some live tracks. “Rise Of The Ancient Ones” includes 2 demos and 3 re-recorded tracks and it was edited in CD, digipak, tape and 12” vinyl."
There’s also 3 previously unreleased songs from a 2008 demo on that "Rise Of The Ancient Ones" compilation… Why did you never release that particular demo prior to the compilation?
"Those songs were ready by 1991-92 but we hadn’t the opportunity of record them. The compilation was perfect to record some old songs."
Before you finally recorded your long overdue debut full length, a live album ("Live Ceremonial") and a split EP with DEATH YELL (both in 2013) got released… What can you tell us about those two releases?
"The split only contains one song, called ‘Blind Servants’. That is the first song made after the reunion. The idea of doing a split came from our friends of DEATH YELL. It was released by Hell’s Headbangers in a very limited edition. The recording of a live CD wasn’t very much planned. We seized the opportunity in a concert made in December 2012, because our friends of TORTURER were recording a DVD and had everything ready to record audio. Of course we shared the expenses hahaha."
The split EP even features the exclusive recording ‘Blind Servants’… When and where was that recorded?
"It was recorded in Maestría Estudio, in Santiago, during January 2012."
In 2014 "Sights Of Suffering", your amazing debut full length, finally saw the light of day, which to me was without a doubt one of the best releases of the year. So, would you mind telling us a bit more about its origin and the response you’ve gotten on it in the meantime?
"Thank you very much! For us it was like an old debt, not to the fans but to ourselves. We were so close to do it in 1992! However, after the reunion we weren’t so sure about recording an album, but the support of the bangers made us think it more seriously. Then we started making new stuff, but it wasn’t easy at all. Usually I compose a first version of a song and record it in my computer. Then I show it to the band. But it took time and many arguments to achieve the right style. That and other personal problems delayed the project over and over again. I could say that album is made of blood and tears… real suffering! Hahaha! But now we’re very happy and satisfied with the result. The reaction of the Chilean fans have been really great. And we have read some good reviews and even some best-of-the-whatever nominations."
I was actually pretty surprised that no old ATOMIC AGGRESSOR songs made it on the album… Does that mean that you weren’t satisfied with the band’s old stuff any longer?
"No, we love the old stuff, but we were tired of always playing the same songs. We wanted to take one step forward and follow the story at the point we left in the early ’90s, keeping the style we used to play in 1991. We didn’t want to sound like a new band or like a band that copies itself. Anyway, the song ‘Sights Of Suffering’ has some very old riffs from the 90s and the vinyl version includes an old song called ‘Twilight Spectres’ as a bonus track."
To me the album perfectly re-captures the vibe of MORBID ANGEL’s "Altars Of Madness" and it is nowadays definitely closer to bands like SADISTIC INTENT or COFFIN TEXTS than to the more South American style of your early days… Kinda like a deathlier version of old POSSESSED or old SLAYER, with the already mentioned MORBID ANGEL overtones. Is that a comparison that you would agree with?
"We have always said and accepted that our main influences are POSSESSED and old MORBID ANGEL. And early SLAYER is also a big undeniable source of inspiration. But from my point of view the album is maybe closer to “Abominations Of Desolation” and “Seven Churches” rather than “Altars Of Madness”. Anyway, we’re far from doing a tribute to MORBID ANGEL here. It was never our intention. I think there are a lot of Thrash Metal riffs in our music, mixed with the feeling of early Death Metal. Maybe Alejandro’s voice is similar to David Vincent’s voice and that’s why some people relates our album to “Altars…”."
Would you say that your musical influences have changed over the years quite a bit or have you just improved so much as musicians that ATOMIC AGGRESSOR sounds so much better nowadays?
"Our main influences haven’t changed, but our musical background have grown a lot after so many years. We have also improved a little our musical skills. Julio and Álvaro have been a great contribution on this matter. Besides, the 2000s are very different to the 1980s in Chile. In the beginning you wouldn’t believe the kind of equipment we had. Now we have decent musical instruments and there are lots of technical resources available to achieve a better sound for bands like us."
What bands / releases made the biggest impression on you over the last couple of years?
"Some of my current favorites are PERDITION TEMPLE, VORUM, DEGIAL, DEAD CONGREGATION, MAVETH, PROSANCTUS INFERI, the first album of TRIBULATION, etc. And here in Chile there are some killer bands like PRAISE THE FLAME, ANCIENT CRYPTS, FORCE OF DARKNESS, etc."
What kind of activities are planned in support of the album’s release now? Any shows or even tours coming up?
"Now we are on tour in Chile. We have dates in many cities until April. After that we’re trying to go a little further, but nothing is clear yet. We would love to do some gigs in Europe or the United States."
Ok, that’s all for now. If we should have forgotten to discuss anything of importance, feel free to mention it here now… The last words are yours. Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview and all the best!
"Thanks for the interview and your words about our album. And thanks to everyone who have supported us in the last years. Stay brutal and stay underground!"
Pics: Javier Arce (live), Jorge Cadenas (studio), Cecilia Verdugo (old)
Interview: Frank Stöver