Hey Dan, hope all is well and you’re in a good mood to talk about your time in SLAVES and INSANE… It took me a couple of years to finally track you guys down, but thanks to High Roller Records, which just re-released remastered editions of your music on CD and vinyl, we can finally talk… How does it feel that there’s still interest in material which you wrote so long ago?
“Hi Frank and thank you. Well I have to be honest… if twenty years ago someone told me that today there would still be attention around INSANE and its music, I would never have believed it and beaten the hell out of him for kidding me. And the band would have never broken up, hahaha. No seriously, I think that’s because INSANE sent a message that somehow is still true today. I mean, it can’t be just for the music, it’s full of new bands coming out every day, making the same shit and some are even pretty good too, INSANE could have been buried forever. Sure thing, this can only make me glad, considering all the sacrifices we made in order to make the whole thing work, but I’m not completely surprised, because “Wait And Pray” touches something more than just making some mess and time proved us right.”
You started out with SLAVES in 2000 as a four piece, with yourself on bass and vocals, Matt Montironi on drums, Luke Perozzi on lead guitar and Michele Santinelli on rhythm guitar… Did anyone of you have any musical experiences before SLAVES already or was it the first band for all four of you?
“Nothing special. Before SLAVES we only had typical teenage experience with nameless bands playing ‘Iron Man’, ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and stuff like that, the regular shit high school kids do. So I would say SLAVES had been the first try to make things for real.”
Your musical influences are pretty obvious and I think it’s safe to say that we not only have to mention SLAYER in general, but “Show No Mercy” in particular. What makes this album so special to you, can you recall how often you listened to it approximately over the years and would you ever incorporate influences from “Hell Awaits”, “Reign In Blood” or even later albums in your songwriting?
“All the SLAYER discography was a big influence, although it wasn’t the only one. Believe it or not, we weren’t following a specific band rather a particular attitude and when we chose the “Show No Mercy” sound as reference it was for an exact purpose, it wasn’t casual. You have to go back to those years, you know, Thrash Metal was in the corner, overwhelmed by Nu Metal from the USA and Epic / Fantasy Power Metal and Death Metal on this side of the Atlantic. Just SLAYER remained the “last samurai” since they had released “God Hates Us All” and they were getting huge global acclaim, but I can assure that in the early 2000s “Show No Mercy” was one of their most underrated albums, maybe because it was a little too melodic or maybe much closer to VENOM – another huge influence for us – than their famous cold cutting sound; I mean it wasn’t considered a “Thrash benchmark” but kinda immature. When you’re reading or listening about SLAYER you were always hearing about “Reign In Blood”,” Season In The Abyss” and “South Of Heaven” plus lots of bands were already trying to sound like those. Personally we always loved going against the stream, so our most natural conclusion was to start from the beginning. But watch out. The biggest mistake is thinking “Wait And Pray” was a simple tribute to “Show No Mercy”.”
Did you ever play any “Show No Mercy” tracks during rehearsals or any other cover songs?
“No, never even thought about that. As I told you before, INSANE never was meant to be a celebration or, even worse, a lame tribute to whoever. We wanted to send a clear message through our album and our point never was “Hey, look how good SLAYER is”. We didn’t give a fuck. The point was “Hey, look! That can be done again”. It was an attempt to deliver an old style approach during the boom of the digital era and show that the old fashioned analog way to make heavy music wasn’t dead yet. I’ll try to explain myself a little better. In our head, our work had to be a signal to the world, that even in those years of digital frenzy where everything was pursuing a soulless synthetic perfection, that way of making music from the guts was still possible. We also got lots of criticism when the album came out for not being personal enough and people kept telling us “you suckers have no own ideas but carbon copy SLAYER!” They didn’t get it wasn’t supposed to have a personality. Or better, it was supposed to have personality in a different way. And now I must say it has much more personality than that huge load of Metal bands of those years all the same following the global trend to depersonalize extreme music. Apparently this message that seems million years far away from now somehow still makes sense today, against all odds. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t wanna play the intellectual fucker or elevate the album, saying it was a kinda social experiment; the album is exactly what you hear in it. You wanna hear SLAYER? Welcome. You wanna read a deeper hidden meaning behind, welcome too. That’s the sense of art. But man, wait a minute, back to your question, we actually we played ‘Shout At The Devil’ once, during a show. It was just to shock the hard-liners and enjoy looking into their dismayed eyes. We always loved making fun of the fundamentalists, whether they are christians, political or Metalheads.”
I find it very fascinating that you use so many elements from “Show No Mercy”, from the riffs to certain drum beats and even the way you sing the lyrics, but you re-arrange all those wellknown stuff differently, so that we get completely new versions. Can you explain us how you approached this way of writing?
“I don’t know, I have to say that composing the songs was the easiest part. Maybe through all previous experiences, in 2003 we had already reached that point of growth in songwriting that allows you to toy with the arrangements the way you please. And of course – musical culture – we had musical studies since we were kids and we also always listened to every kind of music also far away from Metal; so it works like for everything else: the larger culture you have, the easier you can create exactly what you want. Anyway, the real difficulty was to technically manage and obtain the final sound we wanted. I mean finding, recording and working with the specific equipment we were looking for, because that’s not completely up to you.”
To get back to your band history… In 2001 you seem to have had a line-up change, since Mauro Feroci became the new guitar player in SLAVES… I suppose he replaced Michele Santinelli, didn’t he? What happened?
“Ok, I recognize I have to make some order here. Actually Michele Santinelli joined SLAVES in 2003 just for 4-5 months after Mauro Feroci left. He appears in a couple photos, but not such a big relevance in the band’s history. In 2004 we signed with Battle Cry Records and we decided to go on as a three-piece.”
When and where did you record the “4 Demons” demo, that is now featured as bonus material on the SLAVES album re-issue? There’s a picture in the CD booklet which probably was the demo cover, so did you release it on cassette tape, vinyl or CD / CD-R or was it just a digital only release? No matter what, I suppose it wasn’t much spread around, since it’s not even listed on Metal Archives, so did you promote it in any way?
“It must have been in 2001… man… so many years, it’s not so easy to chronologically order those crazy times, because we were doing so many things so fast… I remember it was the first demo we recorded as SLAVES with Mauro and Luca, just a couple days in a local home studio. I drew the 4 demons on the cover myself. But we never published it since self-releasing and self-promoting was not a thing at that time… there was no Facebook, YouTube and even MySpace came out in 2003… not to mention Spotify or all the streaming thing, it was unimaginable. Telling now it seems prehistory and in some way it really was. So we did the only thing we could do – printing some CDs and sending them to record labels, but it didn’t interest anybody, except for a song included in a Black Metal compilation from No Colours Records. Not so surprising since the songs were really raw and somehow incomplete. But it was another useful experience to grow and learn something. I’d say another step forward.”
None of the four featured demo tracks re-surfaced on your albums later on, so weren’t you satisfied with the material or did you just want it to be exclusive?
“No, it has never been a commercial or marketing decision. They were very raw and imperfect, but it was normal. Nobody ever explained to us how to do and not to do things, especially since we were from a little town lost in the middle of the countryside and we had to learn everything just by doing it and failing… all the demos and early recordings were a sort of learning on-the-go. We had the idea to publish them some years later not for their value itself, but because they could make sense giving people a perspective on how we arrived to realize “Wait And Pray”. They are our walk through the valley of shadows and death you know and we wanted to share it with someone who might care.”
In 2001 your debut album came out. According to Metal Archives it was just a self-titled CD-R release and it only had a b/w SLAVES band logo on the cover… What was the additional cover used for that is featured in the CD re-release and why was the album re-titled “Insolent Aggression” now?
“Wow no shit! I can’t even imagine how this came out. Let’s make it clear, regardless of what Metal Archives says I wouldn’t call it our debut album. It was in 2000 and it was my and Matt’s first attempt to compose our own songs, Luca wasn’t even there and I was playing the guitar solos… you can imagine it’s complete trash, personal teenage garbage that has nothing to save. The real SLAVES debut album can be considered “Insolent Aggression” which came out two years later in 2002. It was recorded in a putrid subterranean in one week with a fucking Tascam 80-8 on a ½” tape. As I told you before there was no distro kid at that time… so without any label interested in publishing it, it remained a simple CD in my closet. I think the definition of “debut” is very abstract relating to that time. Anyway the original cover as we conceived it is included now in the High Roller Records edition.”
Did you ever play any live shows as SLAVES? If so, do you recall any cool gigs that you can tell us about?
“We played several shows, but we never went beyond our local scene except for that time we opened for ANCIENT in 2001 near Taranto in southern Italy.”
Why did you end SLAVES in 2002 and restart the band as INSANE right after? If I’m not mistaken, Mauro Feroci wasn’t in the line-up any longer and you continued as a three-piece… tell us about all those changes.
“As I remember it at the beginning of 2003 Mauro Feroci decided to quit the band, just short before entering the studio for the new demo, maybe he was disapponted that nobody gave a fuck about “Insolent Aggression”, but who weren’t. We asked him at least to come with us in the studio, because we could never find another guy in so little time. So he ended up recording the “Fucking Demo”, but was already virtually out of the band. You can imagine we were so frustrated with how things were going and we decided we needed a deep cut with the past to shake our feelings. We entered as SLAVES and exit as something else, so we decided to send that demo as INSANE. After that we went on with Michele Santinelli for a few months but when Battle Cry Records showed up we had already decided to continue as a three-piece.”
In 2003 you released a three-song demo entitled “Fucking Demo” on CD-R. Tell us a bit more about it, like where you recorded it, if you sold copies of it and if you also sent it around to magazines or labels…
“We recorded it in a little semi-pro studio in our hometown that somehow still had a Tascam 85 16-tracks tape recorder and I guess we were the last ones to use it. We called it simply “Fucking Demo”, because we were so pissed off about everything. We again did the only thing we could do, we sent copies to labels and magazines and crossed our fingers.”
Unlike with the “4 Demons” demo, the three songs on “Fucking Demo” (‘Four Magicians’, ‘Sacrificer’ and ‘Death By Command’) all got re-recorded for the INSANE debut album later on, so where you more satisfied with them now than with your SLAVES material?
“From the moment we started, it was a steady maturation process where after every recording experience we immediately had figured out how we could improve our material. It’s hard to explain, as soon as we had taken a step, our heads were already conceiving the next step forward, do you know what I mean? And now we were at that point of self awareness where we felt our songs were really where we wanted them to be. Plus yeah, it was a demo and we decided to record just three songs, but we had almost the entire rest of the album ready. A completely different situation from the “4 Demons” demo.”
In 2004 the demo track ‘Death By Command’ ended up on a compilation CD from the German “Heavy, oder was?!” magazine… how did you get together with them and did you really get the deal with Andy Preisig from Battle Cry Records just because of that compilation appearance?
“After we spread out the “Fucking Demo” everything happend very quickly and almost simultaneously. We were contacted by the magazine to put the song on their compilation and shortly after Battle Cry Records contacted us. I can’t say if it was a consequence or it was just because the label received the demo too. Honestly we were so excited, we didn’t even ask ourselves the question.”
You recorded your debut album “Wait And Pray” not in Italy, but in Vancouver, B.C., Canada… Tell us a bit more about this unusual decision and how you found out about the Greenhouse Studio there. Did you finance the recordings on your own or did Battle Cry Records pay for it?
“We have never received a cent from Battle Cry Records, not even for one copy sold. We always paid for everything by ourselves. I guess for young unknown bands being raped by labels is somehow part of the game. It’s not fair, but that’s how it used to go back then and likely how it goes now. With the benefit of hindsight if at the time we had seen even a single Euro for all our efforts maybe the INSANE story could have proceeded in a different way. But that’s not the point. We were looking for a professional studio that could assure recording on magnetic tape, but in 2004 it wasn’t so easy, because we were too late for the mainstream and too early for the revival. Nowadays we have witnessed a rediscovery of vinyls and all the analog universe, but back in those years it was considered only obsolete garbage. The Greenhouse Studios offered even more. A complete AAD process with analog mixing. Yes, it was expensive enough, but when you have a vision nothing stops you.”
You produced the album on your own, so I suppose you had a clear vision how you wanted it to sound like, so were you satisfied with the engineer Jay Evjen and his assistant engineer Brandon Cherrington?
“Yes, I remember they were cool guys, like all the studio staff. Probably they never worked with such an extreme genre, but they tried really hard to understand what we wanted. They were very capable as well as friendly. Working with them has been very pleasant and made all the adventure quite less stressful.”
The original cover artwork, even though it’s not really what I would call a masterpiece, perfectly captures the mood of what you delivered musically… How much input did you have in the final result of the artist, Daniel Pettorossi?
“Daniel at that time was a friend from the hood, he is a very talented guy, but we asked him to hand draw something very straight, simple and crude, we didn’t give a shit to have a painting to expose at Louvre, we just wanted something iconic, recognizable, something that could catch the eye of an observer and stand out the endless sea of other albums coming out every day. That’s very important for a band out of the unknown that has no notorious name. I guess we hit the target. Like it or not, you notice it at a glance among thousands.”
On April 02, 2005 you had the opportunity to play at the “Keep It True IV” festival in Lauda-Königshofen, Germany. Was that your first gig outside of Italy? How was the response from the crowd? The album was already out at that point of time, wasn’t it?
“Not the first one outside Italy. A couple months before we played in a minor Metal festival at the historic Jailhouse pub in Coventry. But there was no media coverage, so you have to trust my word haha. “Keep It True” was for sure the first – and last – big festival INSANE played. Nobody knew us and the crowd was pretty puzzled. The funny thing is that for the occasion we brought lots of leather clothes, spikes, fake blood and shit, but I clearly remember that somebody woke us up at 9 a.m. saying “you go, soundcheck”. We didn’t even change our outfits, we got on stage wearing our casual clothes and half sleeping. Little by little, as we kept playing thinking it was just a soundcheck, we started to realize that yes, it was actually a soundcheck, but not for us. We WERE the soundcheck! For the bigger bands after us. Damn it man, thrown in the frontline out of the blue! I lived it like a fucking trap… But it’s understandable, we were only considered cannon fodder! Perhaps that explains why we were told that day we seemed slightly awkward and afraid. About the album, we didn’t know if it was already published, because after we sent all the material to the label we never heard from them again.”
Before the most recent High Roller Records re-release, “Wait And Pray” had already been re-released a couple of times before. In 2008 via Witching Metal Records as a limited 12″ black / red vinyl edition, in 2015 via Critical Mass Recordings again on limited red vinyl and in 2020 as a limited cassette edition via Chainsaw Distro. With the ongoing interest in the band, have you never considered to reform and write and record new music? Why did you split up INSANE again after such a short period of time?
“About this Witching Metal Records… I have no idea who the fuck they are. Never talked to them, never knew them. I don’t even consider that an “official” release since nobody ever took the courtesy to contact us for permission or at least just to inform us. All that I’ve vaguely understood is that Battle Cry Records, at one point, decided to sell them not better identified “rights” to print vinyls… pfff… dunno, part of the forementioned rape I guess. Anyway all the following releases (Critical Mass Recordings, Chainsaw Distro and of course High Roller Records) have the full support from me, Matt and Luca and we are really glad of them, but this doesn’t mean we are going to make another album; I know, never say never in life, but honestly I don’t think we could reform INSANE after all this time, even if lots of people always ask us for that. Too many years have passed, things have changed, we have changed, we all are into personal matters and when we splitted up it was for several reasons, outside and inside the band. All that I can say is that probably if someone had not used INSANE like a lemon to squeeze in the beginning, maybe now we would be talking about a completely different situation. But the timestream proceeds only in one direction and at the moment Matt and I are carrying on our mission with our completely different project.”
The High Roller Records CD re-releases both come with an additional slipcase and also new cover artworks… If you put them next to each other you get the whole artwork piece, which is pretty cool, I think. Who had this idea and why wasn’t the original artwork used for the re-releases? High Roller Records are known for re-releases that stay true as much as possible to original versions of an album…
“I know, but this time they came out with this idea and we all found it was brilliant! Finally we could drive a wedge between us and the various unofficial versions of the album that are still around and are plaguing the market (especially the CD version that always made risky and not profitable for interested labels to print a new edition). After all, these new releases totally cover every aspect of the INSANE story and it was worth adding some new graphic content.”
Ok Dan, I think we have covered everything I wanted to know. If you would like to add something I might have forgotten, feel free to do so now. Thanks a lot for taking the time and all the best for you and the rest of the guys.
“I wanna thank you for giving me the opportunity to make some order and shed light on the INSANE story which has been a mysterious object to many people for too long.”