AZAG-THOTH… does that fuckin’ band name still ring a bell in your head? Well it better has to as this Death / Thrash act was definitely one of the heaviest / most impressive acts that the United Kingdom has ever created when it comes to extreme Metal! No shit, if you ever wondered what a mixture of early POSSESSED, SLAYER, EXODUS with some Hardcore relents on top of this would give, then AZAG-THOTH is that monstrous beast!!! With only one quickly recorded demo back in 1987, AZAG-THOTH has managed to enter the realms of legendary underground acts. While I had covered the history of that act as much as I could with the help of Shane Embury a few years ago, I recently had the opportunity given (thanks so much to you crazy Evil Malek!) to get in touch with former member / bassist Pete Giles again and it didn’t take me much longer to prepare an interview with him regarding AZAG-THOTH! Make sure to put your hands on that truly cult demo tape before entering the Circle Of Maniacs!
Let’s do a trip into your musical past… When did you start playing bass? What were your influences to start with and how did you become interested in Metal / Hardcore?
“Started playing in 1985, well I say playing, trying to play would be more accurate. I had managed to get some hire purchase and bought this huge Marshall stack and a bass. Obviously at the time I wanted to emulate Cronos from VENOM. So it was this that started the band AZAG-THOTH. In short, getting my shit together. Influences: in ‘85 I was listening to HELLHAMMER, CELTIC FROST, VENOM, EXODUS, METALLICA, SODOM, BATHORY and of course SLAYER. I was also into DEATH and POSSESSED when they were still doing demos. Hardcore didn’t happen for me until ‘86, although in previous years I had seen ENGLISH DOGS and ANTISECT play when they were still good, I hadn’t really caught onto the US Hardcore thing. It wasn’t until I picked the UNITY 7" that things got really interesting for me, managed to track down the first CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER demo and that was it, I was hooked. Of course, I saw SCREAM play in London in ‘85 and they blew my head off also so that is when the interest started to grow.“
Before being involved in AZAG-THOTH during mid ‘87, what were the previous bands you’ve played with? Tell us everything about those previous acts
“Okay, well AZAG-THOTH actually started in ’85 with me on bass, Rich on guitar and Andy on drums. Rich would later do the artwork for the first HARMONY AS ONE 12", “No Elite”. Apart from that I had tried out in a band called ANTICHRIST.”
So you were involved with the ‘hobby’ band called ANTICHRIST but I personally don’t recall having seen your name mentioned with that ‘band’ back then so what’s the truth with this?
“Okay, this was the first band I ever played in, again it had some French guy playing bass called Carl, Rim from AYS, Jason L. and myself on guitar. The only problem was I couldn’t play to save my fuckin’ life. I think I did one rehearsal, and the band did perhaps two before Jason L managed to get HERESY to act as the backing group on the Bailey Brothers compilation (“Diminished Responsibility”).”
Were you a big fan of the U.K. Metal (ONSLAUGHT, SACRILEGE) / crossover (HERESY, RIPCORD, CONCRETE SOX, NAPALM DEATH) scene at that time as the extreme U.K. scene was becoming the next big thing in the underground at least?
“Yes, I wasn’t into RIPCORD as far as I recall, but I used to love the bands you mentioned.”
What about the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene, did you show interest into it when it was reaching its peak by 1981 / 1983? Were you more into the bigger bands than into the underground acts or was it like equal?
“Well the first show I ever went to was MOTÖRHEAD’s Brain Damage Party in ’79 which also culminated in the end of the “Bomber” tour. At this show I saw ANGEL WITCH, GIRLSCHOOL whom I was really into, SAXON and then VARDIS, WHITE SPIRIT and perhaps one other. ’81 was certainly late for me by then I had moved onto VENOM and kept with MOTÖRHEAD. Early gigs I saw at the time were SAXON and RIOT whom I used to fuckin love. In fact, a friend recently played me a couple of their songs and it still sounds good now. I saw MANOWAR, TED NUGENT, ANVIL, TANK, aaahhhhh just so many fuckin’ bands.”
So how did you end up joining Wayne Aston (ex – WARHAMMER) to join AZAG-THOTH in the first place? I understand that it was through an advert placed in Kerrang by Wayne
“Yeah that is right, I was looking for a guitarist to do AZAG-THOTH so I thought ‘well ring this bloke up’, you know how it is, "nothing ventured nothing gained". So, I asked him if would be interested in joining my band. I went up to Telford, and as they say, the rest is history.”
You were shortly after joined by Shane Embury (ex – WARHAMMER / UNSEEN TERROR) on drums as it seems finding the right drummer was impossible back then, is it correct? Did you try out somebody else besides him?
“No, I just didn’t know anybody who could play fast, but also anybody who was interested in playing in a band like that, kind of strange now when you think of how many extreme bands there are now.”
Were you somewhat familiar with the WARHAMMER material that had been released during late 1985 (a demo and rehearsals) or even with UNSEEN TERROR practice recordings as they were definitely the heaviest act in U.K. at that time?
“No I am afraid I was not. I was never into WARHAMMER even when I heard them. The same can’t be said of UNSEEN TERROR.”
How did you end up becoming the vocalist in AZAG-THOTH? Was it an instant choice to come up with growling vocals à la POSSESSED and stuff for that material?
“You know I had been working on my vocals for two years by the time I had found Wayne and Shane. So I suppose I had managed to find a style that suited me, of course the influence came principally from DEATH and POSSESSED.”
So by late July 1987, the “Shredded Flesh” demo was recorded, what do you recall from that session? Where was it recorded as almost nothing is known about that legendary tape?
“I don’t remember so much about it. I know that Dig (Pearson) from Earache was there, I also remember meeting Jim from RIPCORD the day before we recorded, and Ron (Martinez) from FINAL CONFLICT was staying with him. The actual day of recording is a blur, I remember Shane had to play in this drim booth at the end of the recording studio whilst Wayne and I played close to the mixing room. Some time was spent on sorting out the samples which came from Charles Manson, NURSE WITH WOUND and CURRENT 93, both of those bands have been a big influence on my whole musical career. And it was recorded at a place called Rich Bitch in Birmingham, I believe the studio is still there.”
Regarding the material on it, part of it was ultra intense Death / Thrash Metal, very fast and powerful while some songs were crossover influenced, one being a two second tune à la S.O.D., how come that there was this kinda strange mixture? I understand that you were much more into Hardcore à la UNIFORM CHOICE than into Metal at that point
“Yeah I was so much a Metalhead by then, whereas Wayne was dedicated to the cause of Metal much to my consternation. I remember having long arguments with him about what we should call the style of music we played, he always saw it as Death / Thrash Metal, whereas I always saw it as Hardcore Thrash. In the end people like Dig decided that the demo was way too Metal for Earache!!”
Did you have a big hand in the songwriting department as a whole or was it like Wayne did come up with most of the stuff?
“I think the most complicated parts in the songs Wayne came up with, otherwise it was a joint effort in his little bedroom playing through a practise amp.”
I understand that you were taking care of the promotion / selling aspect for that demo tape but there was like no articles in magazines except I believe a review in Kerrang and it was like nearly impossible to order that tape, how come?
“I didn’t even know about the review in Kerrang. At the time I targeted specific people more than magazines. So it was never going to get noticed. Malcom Dome got hold of a copy and tried to get people interested, such as MOTÖRHEAD’s management, but of course nothing happened.”
Do you recall how many copies were sold of that debut effort as a whole since Shades Records was carrying it back then?
“Absolutely no recollection whatsoever. I know I didn’t do many, perhaps 50 were made. But I can’t really be sure.”
If I recall correctly, a gig was played in London, I believe, by AZAG-THOTH… Please give us all the details about that gig… it’s still a mystery today
“Now this is when I get sketchy about what happened. Okay let me give you things I do remember. I remember having to go and pick up Shane and Wayne and then drive them home after the show. A drive from hell, I covered over 600 miles in under 12 hours. The venue was The Castle on the corner of Dalston Junction. We played with a band that had members from AYS. Can’t remember the name though. There were not many people there, perhaps 20 at most. I can’t remember the set, but it would have been close to the demo, I do remember we played this track called ‘Barbarian’ which was a title Wayne had given to one of the new tracks. You see what I mean METAL HEAD!”
That demo did quickly become a favorite among underground fanatics and has reached the legendary status over the years. There was talks by Shane about seeing it being released last year or so but so far nothing has happened, still a bootleg LP has recently been released featuring that demo coupled with the first TERRORIZER demo / rehearsal on the other side, how do you view this? I mean it probably has been done by some die hard Metalhead who was tired of not seeing it being officially released
“Yeah the person who has done it is Don from NUNSLAUGHTER. The TERRORIZER side is awful, you can’t hear anything. Fortunately for me the AZAG-THOTH side sounds identical to the tape. And yes there was talk of it being officially released in Japan, however, since I paid for the recording I was and am reluctant to let go of the original tape, which in theory could be totally remixed again. Shane did tell me that some guy wanted to give £800 for the tape, but I insisted that I saw the money before I let something like that disappear into the aethyr.”
So during the Winter of 1987, Wayne did leave the band as it seems from the reports I saw back then that he wasn’t into playing Hardcore orientated material and choose to start his own band (MORBID JUDGEMENT), so what was the status of AZAG-THOTH at that point?
“The band died. I got hold of a guitar and started teaching myself to play fast.”
Is it correct that you did try to find a new guitarist to replace him and continue as AZAG-THOTH? I understand that Mitch Dickinson (ex – WARHAMMER, HERESY, UNSEEN TEERROR) was asked to replace him?
“I don’t remember that I am afraid. It may well have happened.“
So how did the whole AZAG-THOTH thing end up exactly? Would you say that this band had all the elements to start with to become a much bigger band and achieve a lot more than it did?
“Sadly the band just faded out like a dying flame. One minute it was burning bright the next it was extinguished. And yes I think the band could have been massive. We were one of the first bands to be playing really complicated material alongside blast beats.”
So while AZAG-THOTH were around, you did join UNSEEN TERROR around the summer of 1987 I believe to replace Jed on bass as they had got a record deal with Earache Records, do you recall how it came about?
“I think it was suggested and I said yes.”
Did you manage to rehearse a couple of times with UNSEEN TERROR as I know there was the distance aspect which was a problem, you being based in the London area while the others were based in the Shropshire area?
“Yeah I rehearsed a few times, I used to split my time between rehearsing with AZAG-THOTH and UNSEEN TERROR. Distance had always been a problem. I was the one who was working so it was assumed I could afford to travel all that way every weekend. It was gruelling, and it may have been that, that killed the enthusiasm for the band.”
So the band entered the Rich Bitch studios in September 1987 to record their debut album, “Human Error” but Mitch did play the bass parts apparently because you didn’t know all the songs, is that correct?
“That is correct, and also my bosses would not give me time off, and at that point I had a mortgage to pay so I could not afford to risk losing my job.”
Still you were pictured on the album, how did you view the final product even if you didn’t play on it?
“It almost felt like I was part of it though. Things conspired against me resulting in me not recording the LP, but that didn’t mean I was not a fully integrated part of the band, because I felt, at least, like I was.”
Did you appear on the two tracks that UNSEEN TERROR recorded for the “Diminished Responsibility” compilation LP during early July 1987?
So how come that you weren’t involved anymore with UNSEEN TERROR after the album was recorded? I mean the band recorded a Peel Session during March 1988 but you didn’t play on it and the one and only show UNSEEN TERROR did perform was with Wayne Aston handling the bass?
“I had just had enough of travelling, UNSEEN TERROR taking priority over AZAG-THOTH. Shane had refused to play as fast for AZAG-THOTH as he did for UNSEEN TERROR, and for me that was the final straw.”
Did you part ways with Mitch and Shane in good terms at the end? Was it considered at a later point to work again with them?
“Yeah very much so, as far as I recall. They may tell you different. Wayne and I had a big bust up which nearly came to blows but I don’t recall when that was in terms of at the end or somewhere in the beginning.”
So what have you done from 1988 until like the late ‘90s when you were involved with SCALPLOCK I believe? Which bands have you joined or formed after this?
“Okay, after AZAG-THOTH, I started HARMONY AS ONE then Martin and I did NIGHTSIDE OF EDEN and then TOXICGEN. I joined INSIGHT and then SCALPLOCK and another side project called DEATH OF AN ELECTRIC CITIZEN. And finally I now do two bands, FLYBLOWN and NO TOMORROW which features members from Swedish groups such as MARTYRDOD, SKIT-SYSTEM, AVSKUM, WOLFBRIGADE and BOMBSTRIKE.”
Have you recorded something with FLYBLOWN?
“There is a FLYBLOWN LP called “Genocide-Genocide” which I released and we have split 7" coming out with us and DISCLOSE from Japan. Again I am releasing that on my label On The Verge. We also have a website www.flyblown.co.uk it has MP3s if people are interested in what one old man is doing now.”
How would you describe FLYBLOWN musically speaking? You were recently on the road right?
“FLYBLOWN is a straight down the line crusty Punk band with blast beats and D-Beats. It’s ferocious short and very political and aggressive. But er… no we have not been on tour, I was driving ICTIMS on their European tour.”
Do you still keep an eye on what’s going on in the Metal Scene? I mean a lot have happened since the late ‘80s
“Not at all.”
How do you view what happened in the U.K. Metal / Hardcore scene with all those extreme bands from the mid ‘80s having disappeared with the exception of NAPALM DEATH?
“That is what happens, people change their taste in music, they have a family, for most people a band like the ones we have spoken about are for when you are young. Responsibility for many takes that away, for me it just makes me stronger. I will keep writing material as long as there are people who are interested in playing with me. In the last three weeks I have written the whole of the new FLYBLOWN LP 17 songs and then some more. That kind of production has not faded from life and I don’t think it ever will.”
How do you want to end up that feature?
“I would just like to thank all those people who remain passionate about extreme music and playing extreme music. I just hope that AZAG-THOTH has in someway instilled a feeling of no surrender to the bitter end.”