With only two full length albums and a demo California’s HOLY TERROR quickly took the underground of the 80s by storm! "Terror And Submission" and "Mind Wars" are exceptional unique Thrash classics that easily stood the test of time and therefore should be owned by every fan of this genre. Laci contact original guitarist Mike Alvord for a trip through glorious times…
Hello Mike! Thanks a lot for your reply. Because HOLY TERROR is / was one of the best Thrash acts I want to do an in depth interview with you, all right? Do you still like giving interviews about HOLY TERROR?
"Hello! As for giving interviews, it’s been a long time. I don’t mind giving interviews, I just find it quite amazing that people still came about the HOLY TERROR legacy. It has been about 16 years since HOLY TERROR broke up and people are still showing interest."
When, by whom and how was HOLY TERROR established? Did you know each other earlier?
"HOLY TERROR was Kurt’s brain child. As far as I know he had a vision of HOLY TERROR long before the band formed. He is originally from Seattle and he decided to come to LA to put a band together. I am not sure how he got involved with AGENT STEEL, but after some time he started to form HOLY TERROR. He was friends with Floyd who was playing with another band (I can’t remember their name) and Kurt originally wanted Juan Garcia (also from AGENT STEEL) to be the second guiarist in HOLY TERROR. At about the same time I was jamming with Jack Schwartz. Jack and I were childhood friends. Jack had just left DARK ANGEL and I was just jamming with some friends but they were moving more in the direction of DEF LEPPARD and I wanted to go heavier. Kurt, Floyd and Jack jammed a few times together and Juan declined the invite to join. Jack mentioned me and Kurt agreed to give me a try. I was rather inferior musically at the time. I was about 18 and Kurt and Floyd were several years older and had much more experience. Where I lacked musically Kurt felt I definitely made up for it with enthusiasm. After a couple months of practicing in a spare room at Jack’s house the four piece was set. We then started looking for a singer. Some aweful people tried out. After about a dozen try outs, we started to realize it was going to be more difficult than we thought. We also were starting to out grow the home rehersal site so we found a warehouse to rent in North Hollywood. One night during rehersal in the pouring rain a guy showed up on a bicycle. He was none other than Keith Deen. Kurt instantly knew he wanted Keith. In fact, Kurt had to go to Keith’s house and convince him to join. The band was now complete.”
Kurt Kilfelt came from AGENT STEEL, your original drummer has played in DARK ANGEL, but did you also play in bands before you joined HOLY TERROR or was HOLY TERROR you first band?
"Not many people know this but I played with Jack in DARK ANGEL for a very short time. Probably about two weeks or so. It was more just jamming with them than actually being an actual member. I did play in several bands before HOLY TERROR. Nothing of any notariety. One of the bands was called BLACK WIDOW and we were on Metal Massacre III. It was a horrible song. I think a reviewer said Metal Blade must had been scrapping the bottom of the barrel to find BLACK WIDOW. They were right. I was only 16 at the time, but that’s no excuse.”
Did you have some member changes at the beginning of the band? When did you complete your line up? Was it hard to find the suitable members for the establishing of a Thrash band?
"There was only one change. After about 9 months, Kurt kicked Jack out of the band and a month or so later we found Joe Mitchell. When I left the band in 1989, they played a few gigs as a 4 piece.”
How often did you rehearse? How were your rehearsals? Do you still remember about your rehearsal room?
"We rehearsed a lot. Four days a week from about 7pm to midnight or later. Our rehearsal studio was a cool place to hang out too. We rented a 500 sqft warehouse. We cover the walls with movie posters, had a couch, and a small office. The best thing about the warehouse was being able to keep our gear set up. We just walk in, plug in and jam. On the weekends a bunch of people would also come down to watch us play.”
How many demos did you record and which songs were on them? Did you take part in compilations, like Metal Massacre, Beyond Metal Zone etc.? Did the demos draw the fans attention to the band?
"We only recorded 1 demo. It was recorded in March of 1986. It was a 3 song demo (‘Black Plague’, ‘Distant Calling’ and ‘Guardians Of The Netherworld’). We sent it out to a bunch of magazines and fanzines in Europe. Mark Palmer with Under One Flag heard about it from Metal Hammer. We signed a deal in Europe long before we got a US deal. The reviews were pretty decent but they weren’t great.”
You have released two albums and in my opinion they are classics. Please tell us detailed about them! Where, with whom, in which studio were the albums recorded, by whom were the songs and lyrics written, who were the main songcomposers, what were the lyrics all about, what do you think about the songs, sound, cover etc.?
"Terror and Submission" was recorded at this studio located in the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California. The setting was beautiful. I can’t remember the name of the studio. Unfortunately the setting was so relaxed, that I am afraid the record shows the comfort we had there. "Terror and Submission" is too polished. We were much rawer then the album at our shows. Plus the studio engineer did not have any Thrash (or even Heavy Metal) experience. As a result the music sounds slower and more passive than we really wanted. Kurt wrote all of the songs except for one. I wrote the music and lyrics for ‘Tomorrow’s End’. I believe that Kurt had much of the music written even before HOLY TERROR was a band. "Mind Wars" was a completely different story. It was much more of a band collaboration even though Kurt wrote most of the music. Keith wrote lyrics for several of the songs including both songs that I wrote the music for. The music was much faster which mirrors our live shows. We recorded it at Music Grinder Studios in Hollywood. The studio was more state of the art, but the location was more commercial. We were very determined to produce a better record than the first. It’s not that we didn’t like "Terror and Submission", it’s just we felt it didn’t adequately represent the band. We actually considered ourselves as a more diverse band then your average Thrash band. In recording "Mind Wars", we cranked out the songs pretty quickly. We had just gotten off tour and we were very well rehearsed.”
Are there similarities and differences between the albums?
"As I mentioned in your previous question, "Mind Wars" represented the band in more of its truer form. We were rolling as a machine by the time we went in to record "Mind Wars". With "Terror & Submission" we were still getting to know each other and we didn’t have much of a direction at the time. I still enjoy listening to both records. They hold their own when compared to similar bands of the time. There wasn’t (and still isn’t a guitarist) in the genre that can compare to Kurt. His melodies and solos are so distinct and advanced. HOLY TERROR had greater things to come before the collapse in 1989.”
The voice of Keith Deen was melodious, he has rather sung, than he has scream or howled. I mean, his voice wasn’t typical of Thrash Metal, was it?
"Keith’s voice is amazing! His musical background came from greats like THE WHO’s Roger Daltrey and LED ZEPPELIN’s Robert Plant. He could scream as good if not better than most and out sung any other Metal singer around. Besides Kurt’s melodies, I think Keith really made HOLY TERROR stand out from the rest. Keith never heard Speed or Thrash Metal when he joined HOLY TERROR. I think he really liked the fact that all of us were into a wide range of music and had similar interests in a lot of the older Rock bands like LED ZEPPELIN, JIMI HENDRIX, THE WHO, etc.”
Let’s talk a little bit about the name of the band… How would you interpret it and to what does it refer? Is it in connection with the holy war? Was a content or message behind the name?
"Interpretation is definitely open for debate. Kurt thought of the name so he should really be the one to answer the question. However, there is a clear meaning that was taken from the 1950s. Parents used to call their kids Holy Terrors if they acted up or got into mischief. Obviously there are also a lot of religious connotations that can be discussed about the name.”
Do you agree with war in the name of god? In the Middle ages there’s been a lot of crusades…
"Debating the need for war is something that can be argued for eternity. Both sides of the argument seem to be able to justify their side. Personally, I would rather be for peace then war. However, there are obvious reasons to justify going to war. For example if a country is invaded by another I believe the country being invaded has every right to fight for its independence and freedom. Fighting in the name of God seems to be a bit hypocritical, but I would imagine that some would be able to justify the need.”
When speaking about holy terror, what do you think about 9/11/2001? How would you stop terrorism?
"I am not in any position to recommend ideas for stopping terrorism. I feel for all the families and friends of the 9/11 victims and I supported the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, I do not support the war in Iraq. The question I have for my government is why stop the search for bin Laden and divert all our resources to Iraq, a country who clearly had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. It is very interesting though how the name “Holy Terror” relates to these particular historical events. Clearly Osama bin Laden views this as a “Holy War” and I believe Bush looks at it the same way, although he could never admit it publicly.”
Have you had problems with your name? Your logo was odd too…
"I don’t recall any problems with the name. I actually think it is one of the more unique names in the Metal scene.”
As far as I know you came from Los Angeles… How was the Thrash scene of your town? Were you in connection / friendship with SLAYER or DARK ANGEL? Did you know e. g. ARMORED SAINT? Did you support each other? Tell us please detailed about this period!
"I wasn’t very involved in the local Metal scene in LA. At the time I was into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. There were a couple local record stores that carried everything from ANGEL WITCH to TYGERS OF PAN TANG. I used to go to OZ Records a lot. Brian Slagel from Metal Blade Records worked there for a while. That’s how my old band got asked to be on Metal Massacre III. I was fortunate enough to see some cool early shows like the "Kill’em All For One" Tour with RAVEN and METALLICA. I was also a big fan of CIRITH UNGOL.”
What kind of fanzines were there at that time? What do you think about fanzines? Do you often read them? In your opinion, do fanzines play an important role in the scene?
"There weren’t very many fanzines that made their way to LA. The most popular magazine at the time that I used to read was Kerrang.”
Although from Los Angeles have come very good Thrash bands I would say the centres of the American Thrash scene were the Bay Area and New York / New Jersey. Do you agree with my statement? Were there similarities and differences between the Bay Area, New York and Californian Thrash bands? I think the Bay Area bands were very technical and the Californian and New York ones were rather brutal…
"It’s all timing and being in the right place at the right time. In LA there was a lot of competition with other styles of music. Glam Rock and Punk Rock were pretty big in LA. I think LA is a more trendy place than SF and NY. Unfortunately the trend in LA, at the time of Metal, was moving more towards bands like MÖTLEY CRÜE than SLAYER.”
In your opinion, where’s the difference and similarity between the American and European Thrash scene? In your opinion which European Thrash bands were the greatest ones? Did you often come to Europe?
"I think the European scene was more accepting of heavier music than the states. As LA was more "trendy” than SF, the states as a whole was more "trendy” than Europe. I wasn’t a big fan of Thrash Metal. Like I said before, I was more into the NWOBHM. I liked RAVEN, MOTÖRHEAD, TYGERS OF PAN TANG, ANGEL WITCH, TRUST (France), and of course JUDAS PRIEST and IRON MAIDEN. I was also a big fan of early SCORPIONS with Uli Roth. It was difficult to get started in LA as a Metal band. We signed our first record deal with Under One Flag and toured Europe long before we inked and American deal.”
In 1988 you have toured in Europe with D. R. I. and HOLY MOSES… Do you remember those gigs? How were you received by the fans? With which bands did you still play besides the mentioned ones?
"That tour was incredible. I think it really gave a sense that the scene was alive and well. It was sort of strange, we were received very well. Something we didn’t experience in the early days playing locally in LA. People were singing along with our songs and were shouting out requests. We toured around in a red van and only brought our guitars. We borrowed DRI’s amps and drums. Joe may have brought his own snare, I don’t remember. I think we played something like 28 shows in 31 days.”
During the European tour you’ve had problems and you quit the band… What happened? They have played some shows as a 4 piece band, haven’t they?
"When "Mind Wars" came out it got great reviews. I think Metal Forces gave it a 98 out of 100. We had better reviews than the new releases of TESTAMENT and SLAYER at the time. We started another European tour with EXODUS and NUCLEAR ASSAULT. The tour was going great until the bullshit of business worked its way into the tour. Before "Mind Wars" was recorded, we signed a multi-deal with Road Racer in the states. Under One Flag had us for "Terror And Submission" and "Mind Wars", but the next 3 LPs were to be distributed by Road Racer’s European sister company. Under One Flag wasn’t very happy. They proceeded to pull us off the tour. Contractually I don’t think they had a right, so all hell broke lose. I felt all was lost and we should just pack it up and go home. Kurt and the others wanted to fight to stay on. Nonetheless, I decided to leave. Kurt told me if I left, it was for good.”
I think after your departure HOLY TERROR splitted up… When and why did the band split up? What did you do after the split-up? Are you in connection with the other members? What do they do nowadays? Are they still in the Metal scene or have they had enough of it?
"I think they did play a few gigs as a four piece. They soon disbanded and Kurt, Floyd and Joe moved to Seatlle. I am not sure what happened to Keith. I am not in contact with any of the members. I only know what I read on the web site that Scott Lambert put together in honor of HOLY TERROR (http://holyterrorwttn.tripod.com) I still play, but not with anyone. I do most of my recordings on my G5 Apple Macintosh. I still have the urge to play with band again, just the right momment hasn’t presented itself. It’s also difficult when you work a "regular” everyday job. I am currently working on a full length HOLY TERROR DVD. It will have videos from 3 different live shows from 1988 and various other goodies.”
A lot of Thrash bands have disbanded after releasing one or two albums, like ATROPHY, HEATHEN, BLIND ILLUSION, POWERMAD, VIKING, DETENTE, ZOETROPE, EXHORDER etc. Why? Why was Thrash Metal not in fashion anymore?
"It’s tough being in a band. There are a lot of different personalities your have to deal with. Touring is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Most bands maintain some sort of paying job when they are not touring in order to support themselves. It becomes frustrating. Some people (such as myself) begin to get disillusioned and give up. In the beginning HOLY TERROR was moving forward very rapidly. Then we started taking steps backward instead of forward. There is a lot of sacrifice that comes with being in a band. If you are not willing to sacrifice it all you don’t have a chance. Even if you sacrifice it all you still might not make it. Thrash Metal as with most Metal is not a very commercially viable genre of music and is not accepted by the masses.”
There was only one famous Thrash band: METALLICA. But I think their black album was commercial shit… Why did METALLICA change their style? Why did they spit on their past? Did you like or do you like them? What do you think about their career?
"I think METALLICA just got caught up in the hype. As they grew larger they realized that they needed to appeal to greater numbers of people in order to keep the machine growing. By the time "And Justice For All" came out, I think they really saw the potential for commercial success with the song ‘One’. Who knows why they sold out. Was it for money? Quite possible. "Ride The Lightning" in my opinion is one of the best Metal albums ever!”
After many years of silence bands like NUCLEAR ASSAULT, MORDRED, DEATH ANGEL, EXODUS, NASTY SAVAGE etc. have returned. What do you think about it? What kind of motivation was behind these reunions? Did you listen to the comeback albums of these bands?
"I haven’t heard any come back albums. As for the motivation, I think once you are in a band you always have that drive to play. I think it’s great that bands reunite. There is something very primitive and natural about playing music. There is also a tremendous rush playing for a live audience.”
Did you never think about reforming HOLY TERROR?
"Reform? Is there a desire? I am not sure we ever got big enough to call for a reunion. I wouldn’t be opposed to it, I just don’t know how many people would come see us play.” (well, there have been several superfluous reunions of bands that were a lot less popular than HOLY TERROR was, so… – Frank)
I very often visit your website and in my opinion it’s a very good one. Do you often visit the website too? Do you read the guestbook?
"I think Scott has done a tremendous job with the web site. I am quite honored that someone would take the time and effort to put something together on behalf of HOLY TERROR. I do visit it often and read the guestbook regularly. That’s how I was able to get in touch with you.”
What do you think about the downloading of music? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the internet?
"I am all for downloading music. That is how Metal really began. Do you remember METALLICA’s demo? If it wasn’t for peer to peer sharing, they would have never have made it. I am also a big fan of such things as iTunes. Unfortunately nowadays it seems that there are only a few good songs on an album. Years ago, every song was great on albums from bands like LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH, JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, DEEP PURPLE, even early METALLICA releases. I think that drove people to buy the records in the first place. But why spend $15 US on two or three good songs when you can download or buy just the songs you want? If bands would put out quality material people would still be buying.” (I doubt that! Too many bands, too many labels, too little money – Frank)
Was HOLY TERROR a mainstream or an underground band? Were you successful? What does it mean for you to be underground? What do you think about trends and the mainstream?
"Completely underground. We actually did quite well in Europe. I think between the 2 albums, we sold about 100,000 copies. Unfortunately in the states we weren’t as successful. The underground movement is very important. I think it breads creativity and originality. I think it is extremely difficult to stay focused as you get caught up in the mainstream. Look at bands like IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST. "Sad Wings Of Destiny" was a great album. Even "Breaking The Law" had a few good songs, but as one or two hits get some commercial exposure, I think bands begin to get greedy. It is a difficult situation. You struggle as an underground band for so many years and once you begin to get some recognition you just run with it. I do think bands need to remember what got them there in the first place. IRON MAIDEN has done a pretty good job of staying true, but as members come and go, so do influences. Have you seen the MAIDEN DVD "The Early Years?” It’s brilliant."
Do you often listen to the HOLY TERROR albums nowadays too? What kind of experiences do occur to you if you listen to them?
"I have both HOLY TERROR albums and a bunch of live recordings in my iPod, so I managed to hear a couple HOLY TERROR songs a day."
How would you characterize the HOLY TERROR members personally? Did you get along well with each other? Who was your best friend from the band?
"Since I was originally from LA, I had a lot of friends I hung out with. So, when we weren’t on tour or practicing I spent a lot of time with my friends from my childhood. I think everyone in the band did get along quite well. Kurt and I were pretty close, but we were also very different. On the road Keith and I hung out quite a bit. All of our personalities were very different. Keith was very funny. He could have been a stand up comedian. He was like the "class clown” of the band. Floyd was very quiet. He lived alone and reminded me a lot like John Paul Jones of LED ZEPPELIN. Quiet but musically brilliant. Joe lived in Hollywood which was further than anyone else. The rest of us lived in the San Fernando Valley. Joe had a longtime girlfriend and spent much of his time with her when we weren’t on the road. Kurt and I were very different. He too had a long time girlfirend that he lived with and I was living at home with my mother. He had motorcycles, old cars, etc. His house was sort of the central hang out. Everyone spent a lot of time hanging out at HOLY TERROR Central. I was also into sports and spent a lot of time with different friends playing basketball and roller hockey.”
Which HOLY TERROR songs are your favourite ones?
"’Alpha Omega’ and ‘Judas Reward’."
When did you decide to be a musician? Why did you become a guitarist? How and when did you get in touch with the Metal scene?
"When I was 12 my sister took me to see KISS. From that moment on I knew I wanted to be in a band. The guitar was just sort of a natural choice. Although Gene Simmons was my favorite, I loved Jimmy Page and Michael Schenker.”
What kind of guitars and amplifiers did you / do you use? Who were / are your favourite guitarists?
"In the band I played a white Gibson Flying V. One of my favorite guitarists was and is Michael Schenker. I also played through Marshall stacks. I still have the V but none of the amps. I have a Roland Jazz Chorus but rarely use it. I also have a couple acoustic guitars a Takamine 6-string and an Ovation 12-string. I also have a 1970 Fender Telecaster. Most of my music is channeled through GarageBand on my Macintosh G5.”
Are you a family man? How many children do you have? What do you do in your free time? Are you a fan of Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Kings or Raiders?
"I am a big Dodgers fan. But recently management has done some pretty ugly things with the team. I also like the Lakers but I do not like Kobe Bryant. I think he destroyed the team. I hate the Raiders but love the Pittsburgh Steelers. I watch a bit of hockey but am very turned off by the lockout and cancellation of the season. I don’t find it very interesting talking about my personal life outside of music.”
Mike, I hope my questions weren’t boring, thank you very much for your answers. What do you want to say to our readers at the end of this chat? Please, close the interview…
"Your questions weren’t boring at all. But it did take me some time in answering them all. Sorry for the delay. Remember "Speed Kills!”
Interview: László Dávid