Even when you have a strong desire to have some features happening with musicians whose works have been worshipped by thousands of people worldwide (and of course by yours truly), it’s never an established thing… In the present case, it has been a while I wanted to do a feature covering the EXECUTIONER, XECUTIONER, early OBITUARY days ending with "The End Complete" record regarding the 180° change of musical direction adopted by this bunch after this album followed a couple of years later by new records certainly closer in sound to their earlier efforts but completely washed up in terms of inspiration and effectiveness. With that idea in mind I got in touch with drummer Donald Tardy and presented him the questions but despite his cheap promises to do the interview, he never did anything. At this point I thought it was a dead issue until the day I’ve heard they were playing in Paris during early 2005. My friend Malek Baali (also drummer for the French Doom act RISING DUST) took this opportunity to enter into the battle and approach Tardy to do the long awaited job. But while one would think in depth / precise questions about their early days would passionate any musician around, instead Mr Tardy just acted like he was doing another interview on an endless list, giving insipid / cheap answers. Despite this fact, I still feel there’s something to learn through this feature – at least in the questions – especially regarding the EXECUTIONER / XECUTIONER days, enjoy!
So when did the band EXECUTIONER start exactly considering that the single was issued during 1985?
“We wrote it in 1985, I was 15 years old, and we literally got money from our parents to try and go record it at an 8 tracks studio. So during 1985 it was officially started.”
But was it really the first outfit that you and your brother were involved with?
“It was the first, I was 15 years old… first thing I’ve ever tried. John was 17.”
Do you recall how and when you and your brother, John, discovered Metal back at the time? What were the records / bands that impressed you badly at first?
“Well obviously like most kids, METALLICA I think, in 1985, maybe… something like this, but then when I heard HELLHAMMER, I knew right away, that’s exactly, that’s heavy, Heavy Metal, I knew that it was gonna change the scene, change the minds of most Metalheads you know?!”
So how did you hook up with Trevor Peres (rhythm guitar) and eventually a bassist and another guitar player to form EXECUTIONER? Did you go through some line up changes before settling with this first line up?
“I grew up and met Trevor simply because we lived in the same neighbourhood. That’s just coincidence. I moved to Brandon, Florida, in 1980, and Trevor moved there like in 1978, so we were kids, 11 years old, 12 years old, I think when I met Trevor. That’s how I met Trevor. The other ones were Florida friends that we just started to try practice. We went through a couple line ups. The first bass player’s name was Jerome Grable, he was our bass player for a little while, and also Daniel Tucker. Guitar player wise, we went through a dude named Jerry Tidwell and a dude named Mark Vito before it was Allen and Trevor finally as our guitar players.”
When did Jerome Grable (bass) and Jerry Tidwell (lead guitar) enter the picture exactly?
“Then, it was early on, very early on. 1985 it was Jerome, and by 1986, it was Daniel, because Daniel recorded “Slowly We Rot” with us.”
Were you guys influenced, when you started, by Florida Metal precursors such as MANTAS / DEATH, NASTY SAVAGE, AVATAR / SAVATAGE, SIREN not necessarily musically, just because of the fact that they were opening doors for other bands?
“Absolutely, you know, we were young fans of those bands, SAVATAGE, NASTY SAVAGE, definitely, we got good opportunities playing and opening for them at a very young age. So absolutely it was a big influence.”
But while you were starting probably by late ’84 or so, there was that new wave of Florida’s acts such as R.A.V.A.G.E. (later known as ATHEIST), MASSACRE, CYANIDE, POWERSURGE, MORBID ANGEL and a few others starting out as well, what were your views on that new burgeoning scene and were you in touch with those acts?
“We were. We were friends with ATHEIST and every band that was coming from Tampa, but I was so young it’s not like I was hanging out in bars meeting these bands. I was just a young drummer learning how to play, so I was watching all the acts that I could, so absolutely we were in touch with them.”
Would you say by the way, that seeing bands like MORBID ANGEL, R.A.V.A.G.E., HELLWITCH (even if they were from the Gainesville area) already going for the heavier side of things back in ’85 (and of course DEATH) influenced EXECUTIONER after the single was issued to become heavier?
“Nah, I don’t think so. I think we, I had no idea at that time, when I wrote “Slowly We Rot”, I had no idea about other Florida bands that might have been writing music like me. I was influenced like most other people, by HELLHAMMER / CELTIC FROST, SLAYER and METALLICA, so I didn’t try to change my ways because of bands around me. We stayed with what we thought we were good at.”
So how did the whole thing with the 7” come in the picture? How did you manage to finance that 7”yourselves?
“Our parents helped us, that’s one thing, we were so young, we were still in high school, so our parents gave us money and we went to a studio and recorded, and they paid for everything.”
I understand that the two songs that appeared on the 7” (‘Metal Up Your Ass’ and ‘Syco-Pathic Mind’) were taken from a four song demo, is that correct? If so, what were the other tracks on that demo and how did they sound like?
“I think it was more like six songs… it was a six songs demo that it came from. We took those two songs to make it on, to press to vinyl. So yeah, we recorded six songs. Yeah I remember the names of all of them. One was ‘Go To Hell’, one was ‘Syco-Pathic Minds’, one was ‘Death Slaughter’, and they all sounded the same, you know we had that young METALLICA type trying to be, learning our Metal. They all sounded, you know, close to what you hear with ‘Metal Up Your Ass’.”
So that demo was recorded at the Morrisound studios with Rick Miller as producer. What do you recall from that session at a time when this studio hadn’t yet become the internationally known place it became a few years later?
“It was an 8 track studio, meaning literally only eight channels. Nowadays we have 17 channels on just my drums when we record and most studios have 72 track boards. This was a true eight track studio, so there was only three mics on my drums, a mic on an amp etc and for John. And there were no such thing as punching it out. If you mess up, you start over. No fixing things back then. That’s good memories.”
The material on the 7” had nothing in common with Death or even Thrash Metal, the two songs having more in common with Power / Speed Metal than with Thrash Metal in fact, do you agree with that?
“I guess, yeah !(laughs)”
How many copies were precisely pressed? Were they all sold in the Florida area considering that I’ve never seen any reviews of it or adverts to order it in fanzines / magazines back then?
“I don’t know how many we pressed, but it was literally only a couple dozen, maybe a hundred, a hundred fifty, and we only sold them in high school, and then maybe later, if there was leftovers, friends in Florida. We were just kids in high school, we never had like mailorder or P.O. box or anything like this. Friends bought it.”
How many originals did you have written at that point exactly? Do you recall some song titles?
“That was it, the six that we recorded, that was the only ones we had so far. Other than that we played like METALLICA songs, SLAYER songs, SAVATAGE and NASTY SAVAGE cover tunes. So, as originals that was the only six we ever wrote.”
Let’s talk a bit more about the cover stuff then
“Hum yeah, it was obviously SLAYER, METALLICA, NASTY SAVAGE, SAVATAGE. ‘City Beneath The Surface’ by SAVATAGE, we played ‘Unchained Angel’ by NASTY SAVAGE, we played three METALLICA songs, of course, like everybody ‘Seek And Destroy’, ‘No Remorse’ and something else, SLAYER was ‘Die By The Sword’ and something else obviously. Yeah ‘Black Magic’ like everybody else.”
Were you gigging quite a lot during 1985? Was it mainly in the Brandon area or did you manage to play also in Tampa which was certainly the hottest Metal place in the whole state?
“No. Not in 1985, I was only 15. In ’86 we started playing some shows throughout Tampa, but nothing big… Maybe somebody house party, but we were too young, we were still writing music then. 1986 / 1987 is when it started really happening.”
At which point did you go through some line up changes which led to the departure of Trevor from the band?
“I don’t know. I can’t even remember the time that Trevor wasn’t in the band, honestly. Maybe six weeks, maybe two months of stupid kid fights, maybe me and Trevor may have had an argument. I honestly don’t know what it was about, but that’s such a small point, it was such a little time.”
For which reasons did he return?
“We were friends, we had a fight probably.”
If I’m correct he was replaced by ex-MASSACRE guitarist, Allen West (who had been fired because of drug problems). Do you recall how he was recruited?
“No, Allen was already in the band, Trevor and Allen were the guitar players. Once Trevor wasn’t there we actually recorded ‘Find The Arise’ and ‘Like The Dead’ with a dude named J.P. Chartier.” (sorry dude, but Trevor was playing at first with Jerry NOT with Allen – Laurent)
How about Jerry Tidwell, as he was also replaced by ex-MASSACRE guitarist J.P. Chartier by early 1986 probably? Was it because the new stuff started to sound too heavy for Jerry at that point?
“No, Jerry you know, same as Jerome, we were in high school, they had other interests, they weren’t focused on really being in this band, so, it had nothing to do with their style or anything like that, it’s just new band, that’s how we evolved. Jerry still plays guitar, but I don’t know.”
One of the most important bills you were part of (despite the poor turnout) was the festival that took place at the Rock City (beach), Tampa on 5/25/86 as you played on the first day. What do you recall from that two days festival where MORBID ANGEL headlined both days?
“Hum, I remember it was an outdoor festival that was extremely sunny and beautiful one minute, and then towards the end of one of the days it was so windy, the tent on the stage blew completely off, and I… I don’t remember our show (laughs), this is so long ago, 20 years ago. Hum, it was cool, for especially ’86 or ’87, or whenever it was, it was a very cool thing to see happening, because now that place is a resort, it’s a hotel, you would never be allowed to do a show like that anymore.”
So that leads us to the famous two song demo recorded during 1986 (late ’86 I believe) with ‘Find The Arise’ and ‘Like The Dead’, again recorded at the Morrisound studios with Rick Miller as producer, how did that go? I guess Miller must have been surprised by the immense style change between his previous recording for the first demo and this new demo
“Yeah! That was an 8 track recording also at the old Morrisound, where the old building was.” (now call this an answer if you want, but as for myself I call this cow shit! I guess those guys are too cool nowadays to care about in depth interviews… – Laurent)
How did that come that you didn’t release it officially according to what Trevor said back in ‘89? Still you were selling it as I remember it stated in a Violent Noize article
“We didn’t release it because we were still so young and we had no record label that even knew who we were yet. So, once again we were still in this recording because we were coming up with cool songs and we wanted to record it, so that’s why it didn’t get released.”
The material on this demo had nothing in common with the previous stuff, so at which point did the change happen and why? Did you throw away all the stuff you had written until that point and wrote a bunch of new stuff?
“We didn’t turn anything away, we just all of a sudden started becoming heavier, and that’s the music… that’s the first time that we started trying to do… a heavier type style, and those were the first two songs we ever wrote. Same with John. John changed overnight, he went from trying to sing into… all of a sudden he just realized he can do some singing in a heavier way and he did it, and it was an immediate change.”
Did John use effects on his voice to get such a growling one?
“No! Just like always he still doesn’t use any effects except for the one you hear, like a delay. But no effects. He just changed overnight. He went from trying to sing to where he realized he can growl. He can do it loud.”
The two songs were also included on the “Raging Death” album on Godly Records, a newly founded label lead by Violent Noize scribes, Marty Eger and Borivoj Krgin (now of Blabbermouth fame), alongside BETRAYEL, R.A.V.A.G.E., SADUS and stuff. Do you remember how this opportunity (to make your first vinyl appearance) happened?
“Borivoj made it happen. Borivoj heard it and he liked it and he asked us if he could put it on a compilation. That’s what happened. That was it, we had no contract with him or anything, he just liked the music.”
This label was part of the underground scene which had started a couple years earlier with fanzines giving coverage to bands like XECUTIONER, tape trading was also another important part of this underground scene and it helped a lot of bands to build a fanbase which was the case for SLAYER, METALLICA, DEATH etc… Were you aware of this whole movement? I remember that there was a couple of XECUTIONER rehearsals from 1987 (featuring newer material other than the demo stuff) which were around
“I wasn’t familiar with really any of the scene that long ago, I was more, just focused on us and our music, so there was no realizing that the scene was happening. I think at the time you’re just a kid playing music that you love, and that’s what I was doing.”
So, would you say this compilation brought a lot to the band in terms of exposure and stuff? Do you think it increased people’s interest in the band?
“Yeah. Yes absolutely, we got our album contract because of that, thanks to the compilation.”
So, at which point have you shortened the bandname and opted for XECUTIONER? Was it mainly because you guys didn’t want to be mistaken with the totally crappy Boston Speed / Thrash act called EXECUTIONER who had issued a couple of albums? I mean on this album you appeared as XECUTIONER
“Yes. We changed it because the record label said there’s already a band from Boston named this, you need another name.”
During 1987, when the local (Florida) Thrash scene was expanding, you had the opportunity to play much more, opening for other local bands, some on the same level as you guys (NOCTURNUS, ATHEIST…) and some being bigger like NASTY SAVAGE, DEATH… What do you recall from that era? Was there a good atmosphere within the scene?
“Yeah it was a great atmosphere… hmm NASTY SAVAGE was one of our biggest heroes, I mean that’s the coolest band, when I was a kid, locally, so to open for them and to play with NOCTURNUS and that, it was the beginning of a Metal scene in Florida, and that was good being a part of it.”
Mentioning NASTY SAVAGE lead me to ask you about the efforts that this old band were doing by helping out newer acts as much as they could, ATHEIST and XECUTIONER especially it seems… Is that correct? After all Nasty Ronnie was already thanked on your debut 7”
“Yes, that’s correct. They helped us out by letting us open for them, they supported the local scene just like we were opening for ‘em, we were looking up after open for bands like that and SAVATAGE.”
During 1987, Jerome was replaced by Daniel Tucker, a friend of Trevor. How did that come up? For a kinda new band you had already gone through a bunch of line up changes
“Jerome was just… he wasn’t a Metalhead, you know, he had other interests in his life than music, and the rest of us were very committed, so that’s how that happened. And Daniel just came in because he was a friend of a friend probably.”
So, if I’m correct you were offered an album deal by Godly Records (around early 1988 or so) and you went on to sign with them. Does that mean that it was the only offer you got at the time? I remember that New Renaissance had showed interest as well and while they weren’t the best label around they still had better distro than Godly
“Yeah, Godly didn’t sign with us, we didn’t sign anything. Godly and Borivoj simply said, I really can’t do anything for you except for putting those two songs on this album and hoping that somebody will come up and see it. And that’s what happened. It was a stepping stone.” (well more cow shit here. I perfectly recall an interview with one of those dudes for Metal Forces mag back in ’89 when “Slowly We Rot” had been issued when they mentioned that they had signed a deal with Godly records at first but then Roadrunner came into the picture and got the entire deal so unless the journalist who conducted this wrote crap… – Laurent)
During the first part of 1988 the band changed for OBITUARY, how did that come? Does that mean that with XECUTIONER you were still confused with that Boston act?
“Yeah. The label said Boston EXECUTIONER, change your name.” (thanks to Donald’s large I.Q., we still don’t know why they went from EXECUTIONER to XECUTIONER then – Laurent)
During mid 1988 the band recorded eight tracks for the first album to be issued on Godly Records, the material being recorded by Scott Burns this time. Would you say that his work fitted the band’s sound better than Rick Miller’s?
“Rick Miller actually started the recording of “Slowly We Rot” with us… halfway through one of his parents was ill and he had to leave… literally physically, leave town, so Scott came in, finished it with us. So, there was no comparison, they actually both worked together on that album, so it was a collaboration of both of ‘em. Scott was a brand new kid too.”
Who financed that recording considering the fact that there’s few chances that the tiny Godly Records didn’t have the funds to put you in studio?
“Yeah, Godly had no part of it obviously. Godly was only to help us get that compilation out. This was Roadrunner, well this was us still paying for the first six songs, we signed with Roadrunner and we in fact went and recorded four more songs for “Slowly We Rot” and it became a 12 songs album. So that’s exactly how that happened.”
Roadracer’s famous A & R, Monte Conner, still asked for more material to be put on your first album and you returned into the studio during March ’89 with Scott to record four more tracks, ‘Bloodsoaked’, ‘Deadly Intentions’, ‘Intoxicated’ and ‘Suffocation’. Was it a choice you totally agreed on considering that you had 12 tracks in total which could be maybe too long for an album, even if your songs were rather short on this album?
“Yeah, nah that was ok with everybody, you know, Roadrunner wanted a little bit longer album and we said yes to it. So we already had new material, four new songs, we said ‘you know, let’s go record these’.”
Which mix did you prefer between the two, as a difference could be noticed while listening closely to the album?
“I don’t know. I think they both sound great. I don’t have a preference for either one. I honestly can’t remember which was which, if you play them for me. I don’t know I think they both sound pretty close, we went to the same studio, so we got the same sound.”
The debut album “Slowly We Rot” was released during mid 1989 and while the world had already witnessed the release of a bunch of deathly albums but “Slowly We Rot” was a snap in the face with John’s vocals being deathlier than ever, putting Death Metal on another level, not forgetting the ultra heavy CELTIC FROST like rhythms and that pounding drumming. How did you see the album back then and how do you see it nowadays?
“I think I see it then just like I do now, it was an amazing album for the year, and it was an amazing album for how young we were, and it was an amazing album… once again, it was only an eight tracks studio even back then and that’s unheard of people. If you made a band go and record eight tracks nowadays, they wouldn’t know what to do. And that what made that album so heavy. And of course yes, John’s voice. This opinion is my opinion, John’s voice was heavier and more brutal than anyone has ever heard, so it was a start to a new beginning of how heavy it can get, you know?!"
I understand that POSSESSED had become a big influence on you guys at that point, mainly because of their unpredictability, but still that’s an aspect that couldn’t be really found on the four song session. Was it really the case?
“It didn’t influence us, no we were fans. “Seven Churches” was a great album, so we were fans of POSSESSED, but I don’t necessarily say that I changed my music style because of them.”
Talking about POSSESSED, would you say that Jeff Becerra were one of – if not the major influence for John to come up with that grizzly type of growling?
“I can’t answer that, John’s got to answer that. I don’t think so. I think John learned how to sing on his own. I think John figured it out, that sounds cool, not because of POSSESSED, but because he was learning how to become brutal.”
Do you recall how you reacted when you soon after heard that the album was selling real well and you were propelled into the league team alongside bands like DEATH, MORBID ANGEL, SEPULTURA (who had issued their major release “Beneath The Remains” at the same time as “Slowly We Rot”) etc…? Would you admit that it was definitely a case of being at the right place at the right time – which doesn’t take anything away to your talent at having penned 12 shredders?
“I would agree with that. We were at a good place at a great time of Metal, and kids learning what METALLICA Metal means and what real Death Metal means. So yeah, we were one of those bands that were lucky to be doing it at that time of the world in the Metal scene. So yes, I would say were really lucky.”
I remember back then that there was talks about having a lyric sheet on the album but apparently it didn’t happen because of cost factors and things like that but how could that happen anyway considering that was no real lyrics for the material on this album?
“Costs had nothing to do with it, we would never have printed it anyway, John didn’t have real lyrics, he was still just weird and doing his own thing, so we never even considered putting lyrics because there weren’t any.”
What happened to material such as ‘Silent Aggression’, ‘The Ritual’ or ‘Rot & Bleed’ as they weren’t included on the debut album? Did you rename them eventually?
“Never heard of those titles.” (more cow shit if needed! One time guitarist J.P. Chartier mentioned them on an interview conducted by Borivoj Krgin for Violent Noize ‘zine back in 1987… I seriously doubt J.P. came up with those titles all of a sudden just for the interview – Laurent)
How come that ‘Find The Arise’ and ‘Like The Dead’ didn’t find their place on “Slowly We Rot” considering that they had started the buzz for the band and they were becoming old at that point but still were used on “Cause Of Death” – ‘Like The Dead’ appearing on the picture disc version as bonus track?
“It didn’t appear on the first album because it was already on an album in our minds, and the reason we put it on “Cause Of Death” is because we re-recorded it, that’s different recordings of the sounds because we wanted to, really. There’s no other reason except that we wanted to re-record ‘em again.”
Next thing concerns the well known thing with Daniel Tucker supposedly being missing during 1989 but at the end it was more or less a joke thing and he got replaced by ex-HELLWITCH member Frank Watkins. So, what happened exactly with Daniel as he had been in the band for like two years?
“Yeah, it was just weird. It’s not like we played a joke on people, it just was silly how it happened because his bass guitar and his amplifier were still at my house and for weeks, he never called, he didn’t come to practice and he didn’t call to get his stuff or tell us anything. So I don’t know, I think he just was a weird pal.”
How come that you had to get somebody from the Ft Lauderdale / Miami area to replace Daniel when there was so many musicians in the Tampa music scene? Did you try out other people besides Frank?
“Nope. Frank saw one of our shows when we were playing, I think that was in St Pete… It was in St Pete, Frank saw our show and he came up to us, we were friends ever since, and he got the gig, we didn’t try out anybody. First and only one.”
Strangely enough, the band didn’t tour at all in support of this album, how come? I understand that members in the band (including John) weren’t too hot to tour at that time
“This was 1987 (no it was 1989 – Laurent), we were still in high school, what band goes out on tour in High school? We were still going to school right? I didn’t even own a car yet, so… We didn’t tour because we were still young.”
Aside from playing shows in Florida the band still managed to go to Mexico for one show and being one of the first Death Metal bands ever to play there at the time (MORBID ANGEL / NOCTURNUS playing there a year later only) and also appeared at the Milwaukee Metal Fest at the end of 1989. What do you recall from those first two shows outside Florida, those being quite special events?
“It was very special, Mexico is cool because we had no idea what to expect, and that was just a really cool gig for us to get out and play in front of non-American and non-Floridian people because we were so young. And Milwaukee Metal Fest was where we flew to a show and actually perform without our own equipment and you know, just went there and played a gig, it was the first one, so it was pretty cool.” (it was actually the third Milwaukee Metalfest – Laurent)
At which point did you part ways with Allen? I’m not sure but I think he had already left the band when you played Milwaukee from what I remember vaguely… what happened with Allen? I understand there was some health issues or something going on with his family
“No, his wife was having a baby. So he was getting to have a son and we were leaving and he couldn’t leave because his wife was having a baby. His son is now 16 years old.”
During the Spring of 1990 the band entered the studio to record a second album, which is always a crucial point for any band. Would you say that you were definitely much more ready this second time for the recording? How long did it take to come up with the new material?
“I don’t know how long it took, I can’t really remember how long we wrote for it. We usually write for a good half a year. But I honestly don’t know how long. I guess we were more prepared because we had new equipment (laughs), better guitars and new drums. So, we were organized. We’ve always been an organized band. So yeah, we were ready.”
So as it’s well known, you were joined by ex-AGENT STEEL, DEATH guitarist James Murphy while you were in the studio… Do you remember how it happened back then? It seems from what was said back then that you already had an eye on him before he joined DEATH by early 1990?
“No, we didn’t have an eye on him until we needed him, a person to play some solos on the album, that’s all. James got in the band because Allen couldn’t be in the band at the time because he was having a baby and we were about to be busy and he couldn’t leave home yet.”
If he didn’t have showed up, did you have an idea of who could have done the lead parts? Were you thinking of having Allen doing them?
“I don’t know what we would have done because it worked out this way. Allen wrote that album with us. A lot of people don’t think that Allen was part of “Cause Of Death”, but Allen wrote the song ‘Cause Of Death’. So, that’s just a little bit of knowledge for people that don’t know that. Allen left after we wrote the album, so we were just finished with an album in the studio without solos, so that’s where James came in.”
George Emmanuel aka Trey Azagthoth was mentioned at one point to lay down those leads, is that correct?
So looking back, how do you really view this choice because as much as James is good, his leads in my opinion never really fitted OBITUARY’s material completely comparing to the extremely basic / raw lead playing delivered by Allen on “Slowly We Rot” which sounded at the end much more effective?
“I wish Allen was on that album, I wish there were no change in the band ever, but it is what it is. I don’t regret having James on the album because he was a good guitar player, he did a good job at what we asked him to do. But you know, it was obviously way different without Allen and it felt much better once he came back.”
Was it really extremely clear right from the start that James could lose his position at any moment if Allen was ready to come back because when he left by early 1991 (and joined CANCER) he seemed kinda disappointed with the way things ended up?
“Maybe it wasn’t clear from the beginning, but we were friends, me and Allen, before the band and it was simply just doing which is getting Allen back in the band when he was ready, and that was, there was no question, it doesn’t matter what guitar player was there, he would have been replaced back to Allen.”
For “Cause Of Death” you did use Scott again at a time when more and more Death and Thrash Metal acts were using his services. How did you view this whole thing considering that you were in the wagon of bands that used him earlier on and the whole thing ended up rather sadly as the whole thing was labelled trendy at the end and bands turned their back on the Morrisound and on Scott?
“We simply use Scott because we live right next to the Morrisound and Scott is a great producer, and we know that we make great albums with him. I didn’t care what happened in between our albums, I didn’t care how many albums were about to happen with Scott, we simply knew that going to Morrisound is what makes us comfortable and how we record great albums and that’s all we worried about.”
Would you say that “Cause Of Death” is a superior album comparing to “Slowly We Rot” or just a different album if you put in perspectives that the songs were longer at a whole (sometimes way too long with over drawn parts like in ‘Turned Inside Out’)? There were those leads which added a different flavour to the whole thing and there was the introduction of what I call “happy” riffs like on ‘Body Bag’ which as far as I’m concerned sounded desperately awful, so how do you view this album now?
“I personally cannot compare “Cause Of Death” to “Slowly We Rot" because “Slowly We Rot" was written in such a strange way when we wrote six songs or eight songs, then we’re back and we recorded four more few years later, I was much younger. “Cause Of Death”, we wrote it all at one time, so, I personally can’t compare the two. I like “Slowly We Rot" for what it was, and I also like “Cause Of Death” because it was a pure project, you know a pure album right from the beginning, start to finish.”
After all, just like many other bands, don’t you think that you had lost on this second album that essence, energy, raw sound that most of the debut albums possess? But maybe at the same time you wanted to expand your audience rather than just sticking with pure savage Death Metal by introducing those long parts and stuff?
“No. To make it simple no, I would never think that we lost any, we always gain something on an album which is just better musicians, better band members and better sound adding, so, that’s how it was with “Cause Of Death”.”
How did that CELTIC FROST cover of ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ come into the picture? It was in all honesty a bit too predictable as a choice considering the similarities between both band songwritingwise?
“Pure coincidence! We were just fans of the music and that’s the song that we… we were finished in the studio that day, so everybody was done, it was going time to close up, and Scott still had tape left there, we had still reel to reel leftover, so he hit record, and we were in the jam and that sounded so cool we said ‘Man let’s record it!’. That’s all, it is pure coincidence.”
Is it correct that there was a mix up between the cover used on “Cause Of Death” and a SEPULTURA one? I never found out the truth behind this… if it was false rumours or
“I don’t think it was a mix up, it’s simply that Monte (Conner) showed us the picture the same time he showed Max (Cavalera / SEPULTURA). Both bands said ‘That’s awesome, I want that for my album!’. It happens to be that maybe a week before, a day before, an hour before we said it first. That’s all.”
This time the band with a revamped line up started some serious and intensive touring, the first tour being a U.S. tour supporting SACRED REICH during the summer of 1990 where you hit classic places… What do you recall from that first touring experience? I mean you entered the touring game with something serious here
“It was a great tour for us, we were seven people in a little van with the trailer behind, so that’s what I remember from the tour, us having to live in a trailer for seven weeks I think it was, and opening for SACRED REICH which we were huge fans of, so great memories.”
Did the tour go well despite the fact that numerous tours were happening during that summer including the famous NAPALM DEATH / SEPULTURA / SICK OF IT ALL tour?
“The intendancy was good and we had a great response for our first tour. We just had as good as response as SACRED REICH fans made it up for OBITUARY, so it was great. Great response.”
Within 10 days after that tour was over, you were back on tour (late August 1990), but this time in Europe for the first time with MORGOTH and DEMOLITION HAMMER as guests for a seven week adventure throughout the continent which included an unreal bunch of dates in Germany, U.K. and Holland mainly. How did that go as a whole?
“It went great, it was three bands sharing a bus, I think there was 20 of us on a bus and there was maybe like only 18 bunks, some people didn’t even had places to sleep. And there was a lot of shows and it goes 44 shows with like four days off or something crazy, so a long crazy tour, but all in all it was awesome, good intendancy and for us, the first time in Europe, we realized that there was European fans that just loved us, loved this band so it was a great beginning.”
If you recall, what was the average crowd size on that tour? I myself attended the Belgium gig and it was pretty well crowded
“I don’t remember the numbers, I have no idea, especially back then because nowadays 700 is okay for us, but back then maybe 500, we were very happy but I don’t remember the numbers.”
By mid November, just three weeks after the end of that European tour, you were back on a U.S. tour. This time as support along with SADUS for SEPULTURA where you hit even more places than on the previous summer one. Was it as a whole a better tour than the SACRED REICH one? Would you say that it was a better bill considering the musical nature of the two other acts?
“Yeah it was a better tour! More people, bigger crowds and just us and SEPULTURA were a really good team, that was an amazing bill, that was a great show for kids to come out and see young OBITUARY and young SEPULTURA, it was a great tour.”
Death Metal was getting at its peak in the U.S. at that point (late 1990), so how did you feel about the recognition that this music (which had started back in late ’83 with SLAYER, HELLHAMMER, MANTAS, POSSESSED) was finally getting?
“I was glad to be a part of it I guess. OBITUARY was very lucky to be a band in the early ‘90s and I’m glad that at the end of our history when I’m long gone, that I would be… kids would say I was in a band that started it all with SLAYER and with CELTIC FROST, I think that’s great.”
But of course while it was getting recognized as a force in the Metal genre, the trend was starting and hundreds of bands were popping up everyday at that point and quickly killed the genre with Black Metal taking the spot instead by 1993. How did you view all this?
“I don’t really know how I did it, I just knew OBITUARY somehow was getting bigger and we were realizing that there’s fans everywhere on the world that wants more from us, so we knew, just write more music.”
So how did you feel after that intensive touring back then? I mean it was a totally new experience for you guys
“It was cool, we enjoyed it. There’s nothing better than getting on stage and play in front of friends, so for the band it’s our dream, for sure.”
By early 1991, Allen West was back in the band, Murphy joining U.K.’s CANCER, and you were back on road by the Spring of 1991 with a new bunch of European dates, the band playing mainly festival dates or bigger places such as The Marquee in London. What do you recall of that three week stint? I mean there was the Dynamo fest, Rock Hard fest etc and it was definitely the first time you were playing in front of so many people
“It was cool, it was the realization that… the progression of fans that were starting to show up and to realize who OBITUARY was, was an amazing feeling for a young band. So we were hungry to just let whatever happen happens, play in festivals, write more music and let’s get albums and let’s get more fans.”
By the way during early February 1991 tragedy struck ATHEIST with Roger Patterson being killed in a car accident… How did you feel about this when it happened? Were you close to them? A few years later it was another genius musician who disappeared, Charlie “Chuck” Schuldiner… How did you feel about this?
“I wasn’t very close to them. I was friends with them, I knew Roger so it was obviously very sad and tragic. I can’t say much more than that besides it was a tragedy. That was a terrible loss. Chuck was a huge influence to me, he was even more an influence to every other band on this earth, so to know that you’re never gonna hear another DEATH song, that’s so sad, because I think he was a special unbelievable dude. He had a voice unlike most people, and his songs’ style was definitely unlike a lot of people, so he’s gonna be missed.”
The rest of 1991 was mainly spent writing new material with a few shows in between. Was it hard to come up with new stuff at that point for the third album?
“No, we’ve never had problems writing music, we’re always full of ideas, and that’s the easy part writing, it’s living on the road and making it to the shows and getting the album to sell is the hard part, the writing was the easy part for the band.”
At which point did you get former POSSESSED, FORBIDDEN (amongst others) manager Debbie Abono managing the band? How did that happen?
“I don‘t know. I think we were on tour with SEPULTURA and they were managed by somebody who knew Debbie and we met her and we decided to give it a shot.”
Have you considered to use another producer than Scott Burns for that next album “The End Complete” ?
“Nope. “The End Complete”, that was with Scott? (laughs) We never questioned it. We’ve always stuck with what we knew we like and kept us comfortable: Morrisound and Scott.”
There was talks to have former BLIZZARD / POSSESSED singer, Jeff Becerra (who had been severely injured in between) to do some backing vocals on “The End Complete” but it didn’t happen. Was it a false rumor or…? Tell us all about this
“We tried but it didn’t…it just… we wanted it to happen but it didn’t happen, so…it would have been cool, because of schedules and everything else, he couldn’t do it, we tried, but he couldn’t. It didn’t work”
This new album was for some people… I wouldn’t say if it was many or not (including myself) a huge disappointment as the material simply didn’t have that raw / ripping energy that the first album had, as many riffs sounded really weak in our ears with the exception of an Allen West penned tune (‘Back To One’). How do you view this album? I know that many people bought it in the first place but sold it quickly after
“I have many friends that tell me that’s their favorite album. For a long time it had been my favorite album until “Back From The Dead”, so that’s one man’s opinion.”
More tours followed during 1992, starting with a huge European one as co-headliner with NAPALM DEATH (DISMEMBER being guests) and a huge U.S. tour with AGNOSTIC FRONT. Would you say that your crowds had increased at this point?
“Yeah, I think we stayed as busy as we could as a band and that’s all we focused on, touring as much as we could. And we thought it’ll be a great tour with NAPALM DEATH and OBITUARY, it’ll be a big tour and we did it, just try to promote ourselves as well as we could.”
Was it hard for John to keep up with that heavy schedule vocalwise?
“No! John never has had problems with his voice, even if we play 17 shows in a row, with no days off John has always been ok.”
1994 saw the band being back with a new record (“World Demise”) but it was a new OBITUARY as you had opted for a different approach, without going further. Why did you change your musical direction so much comparing to how you had started?
“I personally don’t think we changed at all. Maybe we had different ideas for beginnings of songs and stuff, but the heart of that album, it’s still an OBITUARY record, in my mind there’s no question, it’s still as heavy as it ever was and as raw as it ever was.” (haha, progression when you hit us, everything can happen, even being as blind as possible to not be able to see the huge departure between their debut album and the later stuff – Laurent)
Out of the three first albums, which one did the best sellingwise?
““The End Complete”. It was the best selling t-shirt also on Blue Grape merchandise for Roadrunner for a long time. It was the very best selling shirt and it was our best selling album.”
How would you like to end up that features which focused mainly on the early days of the band?
“I think it just goes to show that it was a coincidence. I moved to Tampa, Florida at one time in 1980, and at the same time Trevor Peres was moving to Florida, and we met each other and we became friends and I loved play drums so he thought ‘Man if I could play guitar this would be great’. So it’s just got to show that man, we were a lucky band to get together at that time at such a young age. Looking back at it now, that was more… it was just as much as a friendship relationship as it was us trying to be a successful band. We were more successful at being friends that’s what makes us such a good band to my opinion. It’s not about playing good on stage, it’s all about playing good on stage but it’s not only about that, it’s about living together for 23 hours off the stage that makes it important.”
Conducted and transcripted: Malek Baali