When it comes to nowadays reunion madness, the only great Speed / Thrash band from the 80s to escape it along with SACRIFICE, LIVING DEATH and VIKING up till recently was HOLY TERROR. Sure, grave digging really deep in my memory and collection could bring much more names, but I believe you got the point. As of middle of this year though, there are only three of them left, as HOLY TERROR (surprise, surprise) is back in the saddle again! Well, the numerous failed attempts to bring back the power and the glory of the old days has taught me to accept every new reunion with a huge pinch of salt, but still, regardless of anything (common sense included), I hope. I hope to see again the sparks of that old magic, gone since ages but never forgotten. After all, if CANDLEMASS still can do it, why shouldn’t the others at least try? Isn’t life all about trying and hope? Besides, it’s always great to be back. Back in time or back in some dear place, back with the old friends or back into beloved music. That’s why I always welcome the reunions, even if later they turn into… Well, there’s always hope at least. At the end of the day, these old bands have nothing to do with the modern scene – they are coming from the different era, these people have different values and they still believe that metal isn’t business in the first place, that it’s art. And I’m awfully proud to belong to the same Metal generation, to share its values and to welcome HOLY TERROR mastermind Kurt Kilfelt here in Voices.
Music in general, Heavy Metal in particular and guitar as an instrument to express yourself – have they entered your life exactly in this order? Which of them has given the most sensible shake to little Kurt?
“Well, I started playing the guitar when I was 13 (1973), you can do the math. My mother was a music teacher, so I was raised in a very musical environment. I started playing in bands when I was 15, mostly 70s style rock and Heavy Metal, this was in Seattle (my home town). When I was 19 or so I was playing with Floyd (HOLY TERROR’s bass player), we played mostly covers, etc. I also played the high school dance circuit all over the Pacific Northwest and for a year even played in a top 40 band which paid really good (400$ a week) in 1982. The scene in Seattle at the time wasn’t very good for original material. I used to sit out in my truck during breaks from 5 sets a night and listen to SABBATH and IRON MAIDEN and started to plan my way out of town. Believe it or not, I already had ‘Distant Calling’ and a couple of riffs that would be HOLY TERROR songs at that time. One day, after being on the B list road circuit with a band I had enough. I left my wife and my dog (which I later came back and got) and went to San Diego to stay with a friend of mine. Of course I ran out of money and hated San Diego so I pawned my guitars and drove to LA. The only place I ever heard of was Hollywood, so I slept in my truck and eventually got an apartment. Within a couple of weeks I got in a near fatal car crash that almost wrecked my right hand. I played in a couple of bands, MARTIAL LAW and DECIEVER, but really wanted to start my own band, so I ran an ad for a singer and one of the guys who showed up was John Cyriis. By this time Floyd was down in LA and we had drums and bass as well. This band we called TOXIC SHOK (that’s where I originally got the T and S logo that would be HOLY TERROR’s). Later Floyd wrecked his van and ended up in the hospital and I ran into Cyriis and Juan at a MERCYFUL FATE show at which point I just sort of got the job in AGENT STEEL.”
Have you already had any studio experience by that time?
“I think there’s a DECIEVER recording somewhere that has some riffs of mine and we were playing ‘Evil’s Rising’ and maybe one other like ‘Alpha Omega’ or something. I did some recording before I left Seattle, somewhere there’s a version of ‘Wrathchild’ that was pretty rocking.”
The “Skeptics Apocalypse” album was the only AGENT STEEL record you’ve ever played on, but what a record it was! By the way, wasn’t it just a demo in the first place?
“What happened there was when MEGADETH got signed to Combat Records, the guy who helped them named Jay Jones got to pick 2 other bands. We played a couple of songs for him and us and ABATTOIR (who John used to sing for) were the ones he picked. We went in some shit hole studio from 10 at night until 10 in the morning and recorded “Skeptics…”. I stayed up all night every night (with help of speed) and sort of got a handle on producing. That would be of major help in the future, although that record didn’t sound very good.”
How considerable was your input into writing of those songs? Any good memories associated with writing, recording and touring for that album?
“The only song I wrote on that album was ‘Back To Reign’, but John changed all the vocals and words. I probably helped in some fashion on some other songs but I don`t really remember. You know, at the time I really didn’t like John very much, he called my playing "drunken Schenker leads". Fair enough, I do like my beer, but he was such an impossible prick that after about 10 months and one record I wanted out. You can see that my picture was small on the back. But you see, John tried to get some guy to beat me up at a show at The Dancing Waters in San Pedro, at which point I got beat up by about 5 security guards, but not before I clobbered a couple of them. That was the end of my stint in AGENT STEEL. I did try to get Juan to defect, but I understand that they were getting opportunities for more records and tours.”
You seem to be a quite emotional and hot-tempered person, so I can imagine what it was like to get on in one band with John Cyriis which is also known as not very easy man to get along with
“I do have my moments as far as my temper goes, but the guys that I admired were perfectionists (Blackmore, Schenker, Hendrix) and I’ve been known to get in scuffle every once in a while (I felt like punching John a couple of times), but he was a very paranoid and angry individual. But I knew I wanted out and I had all of the “Terror And Submission” record already written and the name HOLY TERROR and the snake and cross logo although I commissioned the cover from Rick Araluce. When I saw his artwork I was completely blown away. That first cover painting is acually lost.”
What‘s the story of your parting ways with AGENT STEEL? There was some fight at a show involved, whom did you fight and what for?
“What actually happened stared early in the day of that fateful show. As we were playing I kicked a monitor off the stage and before I could leave at the end of the night security confronted me and one guy punched me in the mouth so I grabbed him by the ears and started pounding his head on the cigarette machine. Little did I know there were 3 other guys and a rent cop right behind me. They drug me out kicking and fighting and proceeded to punch and kick the shit out of me. While I was getting beat up I heard some girl going “Kick his ass, kick his ass”. When they finally let me up I jumped in my van, started it up and I figured one of those guys car was the one right in front, so I floored the van and smashed into the car, at which point I heard that same girl say “That’s my car!!” Fucking bitch. They chased me in their car and had already slashed one of my tires, fuckers, but I got away…”
How do you usually recall your time with AGENT STEEL – as a good school before launching your own band or…?
“Overall I’m glad I was in AGENT STEEL, it helped to get a record deal for HOLY TERROR, but for a long time I never told anybody I was in the band at one time.”
How did you like AGENT STEEL on their second album? Was it still a kind of band you would like to be a part of (at least musicwise only)?
“Honestly, they were getting into QUEENSRYCHE and Power Metal. I had really no interest in heading in that direction, I like more hardcore (MOTÖRHEAD, SLAYER and Punk bands like DISCHARGE,etc). I even thought Keith was little too high singing and clear, but he was an amazing talent. So, no, I didn’t want to be in that band.”
Would there be HOLY TERROR if there wasn’t AGENT STEEL?
“Oh yeah, that band was going on for a couple of years in different forms before AGENT STEEL. The way I look at it, I don`t want to be a member of someone elses band. I’m in this strictly for the music and the art statement. Money is something to help get the project off the ground, I’ve self financed every fucking record I’ve ever done, I even sold my car and my motorcycle to pay for “Terror And Submission”. We spent all the upfront money (7000$) on the record. I’ve never seen a fucking penny in royalties and I guess I could care less. Those records are a gift, a product of months even years of work, they are for the people who like that music. One very huge art project from me to you!”
What’s that Colfelt / Kilfelt mess all about? Why did you decide to change your surname a little bit?
“Well, they misspelled my name on “Skeptics…”. I don’t remember what it was, but I changed it because I thought it sounded cooler and it reminded me of Lemmy.”
Is it true that almost all “Terror And Submission” album was written while you were still in AGENT STEEL?
“Almost everything was already written but just didn’t fit in with what AGENT STEEL was doing, although we played ‘Evil Rising’ (which John thought was kind of weird).”
Did you try to include any other songs in AGENT STEEL’s repertoire or were they written for your own upcoming band exclusively? Was any member of AGENT STEEL aware of those songs or maybe even familiar with them?
“You know, Juan was kind of into it and wanted to play some of the material, but in reality it just didn’t fit. He came up to Seattle a couple of months ago and we jammed on ‘Back To Reign’, ‘Debt Of Pain’. We hadn’t played together since January of 85 (kinda crazy).”
Haven’t you tried to talk Juan into joining you in HOLY TERROR?
“We talked, but you know, I moved back to Seattle in 91. The whole band was going to move except Mike who had already quit in 90, so myself, Floyd and Joe moved north and Keith was going to join us. At that time I needed out of LA, I had my oldest son who was one and a half and a giant drug problem, but Keith never came. A year later he came up for a couple of days, he kinda freaked out and took off and we’ve never seen or heard from him again. He’s alive and living in California somewhere.”
Haven’t you tried to sing yourself when HOLY TERROR was born? Who had been singing in the band up to the time Keith was found?
“Yeah, I tried, but I don’t have the range and of course the songs are pretty complicated. We played 2 shows in Seattle in 91 with me singing and then put HOLY TERROR to rest. We wrote a whole record but without Keith it was time to stop.”
It took you some time and effort to talk Keith into sailing under your flag, didn’t it?
“Yeah, I had to go to Keith’s apartment and talk him into it. Neither he nor Joe were familiar with Speed Metal, but I’m a pretty good judge of talent, so I thought Keith was the guy.”
As it was you to write, mix, produce and whatever else to do with HOLY TERROR music, sometimes I wonder if there was any difference for you whom to play with? You see, HOLY TERROR has always been considered your band, you were HOLY TERROR, so would these two albums be any different if recorded with completely different line-up (except for Keith, of course)?
“You know, I don’t see myself like that. I’m a musician first and foremost, the best way I can explain it is I’m like the hub of the wheel and there are many spokes, but the secret is to surround youself with talented people. I’m just doing my job as the leader of the band. I’ve worked with a lot of great musicians and been in a lot of great bands (ZEKE, THE LOADLEVELERS, SHARK CHUM), I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to be part of a lot of classic records.”
How did the other members of the band feel about you being in total control of everything HOLY TERROR related? Weren’t they asking for more democracy? And weren’t you a kind of dictator in HOLY TERROR?
“The more we were on the road the more other guys did and of course the reason “Mind Wars” was such a good record was that there was input from the other members, all I did was point the way and not compomise or wimp out. But as my drug problems got worse and I personally went down, so did the band. I’m sure there is still some anger about that from the other guys, although it’s been a hell of a long time.”
Jack Schwartz got kicked out of HOLY TERROR just a year after being kicked out of DARK ANGEL – a not so enviable career in music, I would say. Was he so hard to work with or what was the problem with him in the first place? Judging by his drumming on “We Have Arrived” he wasn’t the world’s best drummer, that’s evident, but was that the only reason of his getting kicked out of both bands?
“Jack was just kind of a weirdo and of course he smelled bad, but mostly he would slow down after a bit and get tired. I kicked him out but he wouldn’t leave, I had to throw him out of the studio (something I now regret).”
As your label wanted the debut album to be called anything but “Holy Terror”, didn’t they try to make you change the band’s name as well?
“They just didn’t want to have it be the same name as the band, so I chose the name of one of the songs, it also fit with the “T and S” snake and cross thing.”
How long did your first European tour with D.R.I. was and which countries did you play? Did you expect HOLY TERROR to be so well known and received in Europe?
“We went on tour in the fall of 87 with DRI. Our first record was released in Europe only, we started in Begium and played Holland, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, UK, even in Berlin before the wall came down. It was a great experience unlike the second tour which helped to kill the band. We went out with EXODUS and NUCLEAR ASSAULT and 10 days into the tour (this was Jan 89) our singer had talked to a magazine and let slip the fact that we had signed to Roadrunner. This was something we had to do as we had no American deal. Well, the long and the short of it is we got kicked off the tour and left in Switzerland. MFN was nice enough to drive us in the back of a truck with all our stuff and leave us at the airport with no tickets or money or anything (fucking assholes) well believing we had signed contracts. We rented a van and drove to Augsburg after skipping one show, at this point we had a confrontation with MFN’s tour manager. He threatened me with a piece of wood so I punched him in the face (I think there’s more of this story on the website). Anyway it took us about 2 weeks to get home, during that time is when Mike quit. We opened a credit card and it cost 7000 dollars to get home, at that point we had no money and about 3000 dollars worth of tour merch. I admit when I got back I was so pissed off that I really started a very self destructive period of my life. Roadrunner was no help either. I had turned in “Mind Wars” (which I was pretty sure was a masrterpiece) and all they did was complain and I couldn’t believe that they couldn’t get behind the record. After that I got really fed up and angry, eventually we mutually signed out of our deal and I never really shopped around for a new deal.”
The only thing I miss in your second album “Mind Wars” is that charming touch of chaos which was so characteristic of “Terror And Submission” (and on “Mind Wars” it seemed to be left in Keith’s vocals only). Though you, I suppose, tried to get rid of it on purpose, in order to make the album sound more mature and professional, didn’t you?
“I always hoped to make a record better than “Terror And Submission” and I think we did. Part of it was we had actually grown into it as a band, where as the first record we cut with Joe after only 6 weeks in the band.”
Were “Terror And Submission” and “Mind Wars” the brothers, the former would be a kind of restless and wild troublemaker, while its junior brother would be a kind of good boy, neat and polite. Or was he the same bundle of mischief just in disguise maybe?
“It was definitely deliberately a pair of similar concept albums, the third one was supposed to bring it all together. That’s my main goal in 2005-6 is to make the final record of the three. Whether we make one after that we will just have to see, but it will be related and similar, maybe heavier than the first two.”
Keith had quite interesting way of singing – at times it seemed as if his vocals and music had nothing in common, being on two different levels when it comes to rhythm and melody, and the next moment they were in tune with each other just perfectly (‘Blood Of The Saints’ being very good example of it). Was it another one of your personal ideas how HOLY TERROR should sound or this time it was Keith’s own vocal manners exclusively?
“Keith had terrible timing, it was unbelievable how far off he would get. I would sit in the studio and have him do take after take and choose the ones that worked best, but he had an incredible voice and was a very talented guy. The new CD that’s coming out on Candlelight in 2006 has some remixes, some live stuff and a DVD. There’s some stuff on the live CD that’s so far off, but I put it on there anyway because somehow it worked, but it was a constant struggle.”
Do you remember anything interesting from your mid ’88 US tour with D.R.I. (again) and KREATOR? How did you like to play and hang out with German Thrashers?
“Those guys in DRI are very cool and KREATOR as well, although by that tour I was doing huge amounts of speed and heroin and almost anything else I could get my hands on, so I was kind of detached by then. There was a couple of crazy things (well, more than a couple), one was when we were in Germany and a hooker who was incredibly drunk and kind of ugly followed us up to our room, so Keith started jumping on the bed, she bounced in the air and her wig flew off, we all screamed and ran out laughing.”
How many noses have you punched during HOLY TERROR days and your music career in general? ; -)
“Well, Tim, let’s just say more than 10 and less than 30.”
When exactly was the story of HOLY TERROR finished? Was it an easy and quick departure or painful and long agony?
“Very painful and fucked, it never ended the way it should have and when we started doing it again in summer 2005 it was pretty damn depressing. At one point in 91 I shaved my head and walked away, went to every Punk show I could and thrashed everybody that got in my way because you see, from the years 90 through 96 I probably went to jail about 6 or 8 times. I was very unhappy and depressed but I pulled out of it and kept going. Playing this music again is probably the best thing for me, it’s what I do best (play the guitar), so I’m excited.”
Were it the drugs in the first place that caused the end of HOLY TERROR?
“It was lack of money, lack of wanting to do it after getting kicked off that tour and dropped by MFN, then Roadrunner didn`t give shit either. I just couldn`t believe that I handed in a record so much better than so many others and they both kind of went unnoticed. Then with the birth of my son in 89 and the need to get away from the people involved in the drug scene I tried to move the band but it didn`t work, and by then the climate had changed and Seattle has never had a great Metal scene as well.”
What were you doing after HOLY TERROR was no more? Any bands, gigs, studio sessions, records, etc. worth being mentioned?
“Well, we took some of the songs we had written, most of which I didn’t like, shaved them down to Punkrock, changed the name to SHARK CHUM and made a 13 song tape that came out pretty good but was never released. This would be 92. Then I did a studio type industrial band that kind of sucked plus the other guy shot and killed himself, that was the end of that band. Then in 94 I played the bass in ZEKE for a couple of years, playing on a bunch of 7 inches and the “Flattracker” LP. We then made a Punkrock Country record as SHARK CHUM again with a different bass player, that guy went to prison for 3 years or so, then I formed THE LOADLEVELERS and we played probably 80 to 100 shows a year for 7 years and put out 3 records. As you can see, my life has been a bit of a jagged trail but it’s about making good music, isn’t it?”
Have you kept contact to any of your former colleagues from HOLY TERROR? Are you aware of their whereabouts and musical activities after the band’s split?
“Well, Joe still lives in Seattle, he was in both versions of SHARK CHUM and now reformed HOLY TERROR. I talk to Floyd or see him on the road a couple of times a year. In fact, he was up here August and September working on HOLY TERROR with us, he’s like a brother to me. I’m back in touch with Mike via email, he helped put together the DVD. Keith is around but doesn’t want to be found.”
You got your singer through an ad in The Recycler – the paper that is famous for bringing METALLICA together. The same paper, but what a different band story… Anyway, why do you think HOLY TERROR was not destined to become as huge as METALLICA?
“Well, those guys grew up in a city that was not only an industry town but also had a huge Metal scene, whereas my story is I moved from a god forsaken island in the middle of Puget Sound by Seattle and had to go search out my musical destiny. Also we had a crooked manager who fucked over DRI (and probably us too). By the time we had gotten our shit togther there was a huge number of those type of bands, it wasn’t until years went by that our music stood the test of time. And I’m more interested in putting out good records then the music business which is basically fucked. But, my friend, no one ever said life is fair, did they?”
Even if they did, it would have been a lie anyway… So the talent isn’t all it takes, is it?
“Yeah, it’s not just about talent. I think I was the only guy in our band that really wanted to make a job out of the music thing, everyone else went home at the end of the day and I was in that band 7 days a week 24 hours a day for 7 years. There’s also a little bit of luck neccessary to really make it.”
What were the powers that have brought HOLY TERROR back to life recently? Did you miss playing great furious Speed Metal like you used to do in the 80s so much?
“What happened is Joe and I had talked about getting together and playing HOLY TERROR music but I was constantly playing in LOAD LEVELERS, but after a while I was ready to move on and like I said at the core I’m a songwriter and a guitarist. We got together and had a mutual friend Jeff Matz who ironically plays bass in ZEKE, we got together to make a 3 piece power trio and fuck around with some of the HOLY TERROR stuff. Well, Jeff really liked the HOLY TERROR stuff (it’s challenging to play at the very least) and had a friend Matt Fox (ex – BITTER END) which was interesting because the very last HOLY TERROR show was with BITTER END in 92. Anyway Matt is a great player, so we had the wall of sound in place. Then comes the hard part, finding someone to replace Keith and is willing to learn all those old songs. But Jeff’s dad knew a guy who worked at a music store named Aaron Redbird (part Irish and part Native American just like Keith), so he’s been working with us and he’s more gravelly of a singer, but things are coming along. What we’re doing is learning the vault which is 13 of the old songs. When we master that it will point the direction of the new record. The band sounds incredible and I’m having a really good time, that’s important.”
When it comes to the great bands from the eighties, I believe the one and only essential reunion was CANDLEMASS rising from the ashes. Some of the other reformations have brought forth… well, rather good or at least listenable new albums, but quite many of such efforts turned out to be nothing more than a waste of time of the musicians themselves and their old fans. So, aren’t you afraid of turning HOLY TERROR from the cult band of the past into just another one in the nowadays crowd?
“I agree completely. What our objective is is to play the old stuff and go on tour a few times, we will start working on new stuff as we go, but one thing I assure you… If we can’t match the first 2 records I will never let it see the light of day… and that’s a promise. Thanks Tim… Rock On. KK.”