Anton Reisenegger has been around for ages of course, even if PENTAGRAM hasn’t always been his preferred choice of weapon. They did come back in 2013 though with the impressive "The Malefice" and hopefully he will keep on delivering stuff like that forever. The demos are legendary, and even if the band’s first album has no chance of achieving the same cult status, it will definitely stand the test of time.
Just a few years back you showed no interest in reuniting apart from a few live shows, and you were very clear about not writing new songs. What made you change your mind?
"Well, I never ruled out the possibility of writing new material completely, but I always said that we had to be very careful to make sure it was a true continuation of our old style and sound. When we re-issued our demo material on Cyclone Empire a while ago, interest in the band was re-ignited, so we decided to play a few shows. The vibe within the band was great and we were very tight on stage, so we thought now or never. Unfortunately some things happened that prevented the original line-up to record the album, but that’s another story. The thing is, Juan Pablo Uribe and I got together to write, and we immediately sensed we were on to something, it was like time hadn’t passed at all. Now that people have been able to hear the album, almost everyone agrees that we managed to capture the vibe of the demo material in the new songs."
I’ve listened to the album a lot lately, and it’s very good due to several reasons, but the main thing I would say is that there really are shitloads of great riffs in it. Would you agree this is the album’s biggest strength, or do you see something else as the greatest asset?
"I’ve always thought that the most important thing in a Metal song are the riffs, no matter how simple or complicated, they just have to be good. I do agree that there are some great riffs on the album, but I also think we managed to create a certain atmosphere that differs a lot from most of today’s productions. We didn’t shy away from reverb, we used an old Marshall and so on, so I think the sound, the atmosphere, everything contributes to make it a great album, and we’re very proud of it."
I assume it has been of utmost importance to make this sound like PENTAGRAM and not completely different from the older material. I guess most old bands will claim, when reuniting, that they sound like they did many years before, but in your case it actually is true. The new songs sound a lot like the old, apart from the production of course. How hard and how important has it been to achieve this? Did you have to do anything specific to get into the right state of mind when creating as you obviously have grown a lot since you wrote those early PENTAGRAM songs?
"It was very important for us that the new material sounded like PENTAGRAM, otherwise we might as well have started a new band with a different name. It wasn’t really hard, we didn’t have to take drugs or hold a seance or whatever many of the new bands will tell you, it was just Juan Pablo and me in a room, throwing riffs at each other. The thing is, there is like a set of unwritten rules you have to follow to write a PENTAGRAM song. Certain scales, certain rhythms, certain changes, and thankfully we still had all of that in some dark corner of our minds, so it wasn’t really hard at all. I think what really helped was the fact that we had played those shows, so the old material was really fresh in our minds, and playing those songs live made us realize what the strengths of the old material were."
What were you aiming for production wise anyway? You obviously wanted a better production then on your early stuff while at the same time not going too far away from your roots. I think the most striking thing is how utterly heavy this sounds…
"Well, my approach always was: Let’s make the album that we didn’t get to make in the 80s. There is actually something that happened when I was recording with LOCK UP that made things clear to me. We were setting up a guitar amp and getting sounds, tweaking it to perfection and at some point Shane said: Leave it like that, in the 80s we would have killed for a sound like that. And that is so true, so with PENTAGRAM I didn’t overthink it, but went for what sounded good at first, and it proved to be a good decision. Danny Biggin (CRIMINAL bassist and PENTAGRAM session player), who recorded most of the album, was really helpful in that sense, he really understood that we were going for purity, clarity, but also heaviness and darkness."
The title of the album points to the past. Is there a specific connection between the title and the old song?
"Not really. We wanted a title that kind of encompassed the whole vibe of the album, and I think "The Malefice" does just that, plus it has a great ring to it. You know you’re not going to get any happy shit with a title like that!"
Is there a connection between the title / the themes you occupy yourselves with lyrically, and the album cover? The cover is very interesting by the way. Dark and mysterious, like a Metal album should be, but at the same time a bit different from the rest.
"We used an existing motive. We had actually started working on a completely different idea with a different designer, but I wasn’t too sure about the first drafts, so I started looking for other artists on the internet, and I found this guy Santiago Caruso from Argentina, and I thought his style was perfect for us. He showed me this piece and I immediately said: That’s it! It looks like the album sounds, dark, oppressive, mysterious… There is no direct connection between any of the lyrics on the album and the artwork, but at the same time there is a connection between all of it."
How do you think the album will be received then? Some will remember you of course, but many Metal fans weren’t around, or even born, back when you first made a name for yourself, and perhaps the album will drown amongst the hundreds of albums from new bands that are released every month? After all, for many you will seem like just another newly started band…
"There is that risk obviously, but to be honest, I don’t really care that much. I know we did the best album we could, I know we made the name and the old material justice, and now it’s out of our hands. I know a fair bit about the inside workings of this business, and I know it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to reach a decent status where we can tour and play festivals for decent fees, but at least we gave it a shot. We didn’t get the chance to do an album all those years ago, so the main thing for us was to finally do it and close that chapter. If other doors open, great! Actually I think this is a pretty auspicious time for bands like us, because Metal fans, even the younger ones, are looking to the past, eager to discover where it all started. The real deal, so to speak. We didn’t purposely time it like that, but I think it would have been much worse to release an album in the late 90s / early 00s, if you know what I mean."
The best song on the album in my opinion is, not by far though, ‘The Apparition’. Are you able to pick out favorites yourself?
"’The Apparition’ is definitely a contender, especially because of the vibe of the vocals, that "Hell Awaits" reverb and the overall feeling. I listened back to it about ten times after recording it, and every time I went: ARRGH ARRGH! ‘The Death Of Satan’ is another song I really like because of its riffs and its complex structure, and I really like the POSSESSED vibe on ‘Horror Vacui’, but I honestly have to say I like all the songs on the album because they are all different from each other. If there’s one I don’t like that much anymore it’s ‘Arachnoids’. I thought the riffs were great at first, but sometimes it happens that, during the production process, some songs grow and other are diminished."
‘Spontaneous Combustion’ is another great song, and I always start thinking of SLAYER with the scream early on. Coincidence or a small tribute?
"Well, that’s Schmier from DESTRUCTION doing guest vocals on that one, so you would have to ask him. It’s kind of different, but I think it fits in well with the rest."
I know you are a big SLAYER fan, and you posted some words after Hanneman’s death. He was a big influence on you. What is it about his music, and SLAYER in general, that is so special would you say?
"That’s difficult to put into words. There is obviously the fact that they managed to become one of the biggest Metal bands on the planet playing really extreme stuff, but to me it’s more about the riffs – again, the riffs – Hanneman was just a master at writing killer riffs, with just a few notes he managed to summon up feelings of aggression, darkness and evil… something we try to do with our own riffs, too. Especially the very early SLAYER stuff has got this unexplainable vibe, they were just heads and shoulders above the rest."
Back to the album again. There are several guests here, and while the link to Tomas Lindberg is obvious, how did you get Schmier and Grewe to help you out? And, what exactly has Schmier done on the album?
"I met Mark at a festival a while ago and was very surprised to find out that he was really into our old stuff. When we were doing the album there was this one song, ‘La Fiura’, which, because of its narrative, needed a really high-pitched, blood-curdling scream. I had seen MORGOTH live a couple times after their reunion and had heard Mark doing that kind of thing live, so I basically just asked him and he immediately agreed. Schmier was a different story. We had also met and he had always been very cool to me, because he knew I had been in the scene since the beginning and that I had been corresponding with their old drummer, Tommy. DESTRUCTION were one of our main influences when we started as a band, so I thought it would be cool to have him on the album, plus there was that one track ‘Spontaneous Combustion’, which has a bit of a DESTRUCTION vibe, so I thought having him sing some vocals on it would be perfect. Again, I asked him and he promptly agreed, so he went to a studio near his home and recorded pretty much half the vocals to that song."
The digi CD has newly recorded demo tracks. Those demo tracks have been released quite a few times in the old version, but as limited stuff. You recently posted a warning about overpriced bootlegs on your Facebook site, so was this a motivation for releasing them once again? Giving the interested the opportunity to get them without paying silly amounts? Or was it just about giving them a proper production?
"That’s two different things. We initially wanted to re-record just one or two of the old songs for the album, but when we did, we realized they sounded killer and decided to just record them all again. We just didn’t want to base our first album on songs that were over 20 years old, so we decided to put them on a second disc as a bonus. Regarding the bootlegs, we really didn’t want to re-release the demos again, since they had already been released in two different packages, but if there’s going to be overpriced, low-quality bootlegs out there we thought we might as well re-release them again ourselves, so there’s probably going to be yet another re-issue of that material, both on vinyl and CD."
I’m sure you are aware that re-recording old songs, that to many people are pure classics from way back, is bound to be met with criticism from some. And the same goes for the band reuniting in the first place. How do you feel about that? Do you understand it? Does it feel unfair? Or do you just not care about it perhaps?
"I do understand it, but I think we have all the right to do this, and the first reactions to both the new material and the re-recorded versions have proven us right. You have to understand, our career as a band was aborted really early on for a number of reasons. We were very immature, we were faced with a very hostile environment and it all became just too much for us. There’s people – fans of the band – who have advised us, no, begged us, not to reform and not to record anything new, but I think that’s a very selfish position. If you really like this band you should at least give us a chance."
I have seen people describe you as Death, Thrash and also Black Metal. What is the right description for the new album would you say?
"The thing is, when we started, the term Death Metal was still being defined. POSSESSED were basically a Thrash band, but they had certain attributes that went a step further, leading to the creation of Death Metal. We were in the same kind of situation, we were also a Thrash band, but it is well-known that our style of playing influenced many bands that were pure Death Metal. I think it doesn’t really matter what you call us though, I’m fine with all of those three terms you mention."
When you started the band back in 84/85, were you inspired most by the early extreme Metal bands like VENOM, CELTIC FROST and POSSESSED, or did the local scene mean more? There were already some Metal bands around in Santiago, like MASSAKRE. I guess it was quite hard getting info on foreign bands, which makes me think the local bands inspired you a lot…
"No, first and foremost we were actually inspired by the foreign bands that you mention, plus some more of course. It wasn’t easy to get ahold of that stuff of course, but the tape trading scene was on the rise and we sucked up every recording we could get our hands on, no matter how shitty-sounding the copy was. MASSAKRE were actually an exception in Chile back then, because most of the bands were either playing 70s Hardrock inspired by the likes of DEEP PURPLE, or just covers of bands like VAN HALEN, RIOT, RUSH, TOKYO BLADE, METALLICA and so on. We knew the MASSAKRE guys and we appreciated what they were doing, but we had our own vision and we wanted to pursue it."
You also had your own fanzine back then. Which meant the most to you in the early days; the zine or the band? I would guess the zine helped the band out as well, as you of course got a lot of contacts around the world through it, making it easier to spread the word of the band, right?
"Yeah, the zine was important. It opened up a whole world of new bands for us, but gradually we started feeling that we had to concentrate on the band. I know it may sound ridiculous now, but we actually thought there was some kind of conflict of interests being in a band and writing a fanzine as well. So we eventually decided to stop doing the fanzine and just concentrated on the band. But you’re definitely right in that all the contacts we made helped a lot when it came to spreading our own recordings."
A funny anecdote is that you actually interviewed yourself for the second issue of Blowing Thrash. How hard was it coming up with great questions on that one?
"Haha, I don’t even remember much of that, but I suppose that was one of the things that felt awkward to us and led us to stop editing the zine."
Another anecdote is that you actually used pseudonyms in the early days. I guess HELLHAMMER and VENOM had something to do with that decision, am I right?
"Of course. We felt that our real names didn’t sound Metal enough or whatever, so we did the first demo and the resulting 7" single with pseudonyms, which I found in a "Dicitonary of the Occult" that belonged to my aunt. What most people don’t know though is that we stopped using them because when we showed the single to other people in Chile they didn’t believe it was us!"
What was it like being a youngster in Pinochet’s regime? This is all very far from what Norwegians born after WWII is used to, and I guess you have experienced and seen things we only read about. Did this affect your daily life and your metal life in any way?
"Well, in our daily lives it didn’t affect us that much. You obviously heard about stuff that was supposedly going on, and you would hear about the protests and the riots, but almost the whole media was controlled by the government, so it was hard to know the facts. However, when we started meeting other Metalheads outside the only record shop that was dedicated to Heavy Metal imports, the police started showing up on a regular basis, arresting people and chasing others away. It even went as far as us being labeled a violent gang, which of course was far from the truth, but us kids with black shirts, torn jeans and semi-long hair obviously stood out like a sore thumb, so we had everyone against us, the police, the media, the church, even our own parents. When we started playing shows it got even worse. The police would always show up and shut down the shows. Once they even put the whole crowd on buses and arrested every single one of them. We managed to hide behind the stage curtain so we got away with it."
Two demos were recorded in 87, and those songs have been the core of your discography. Both recorded at local studios. How do you feel about those recordings now, and do you remember how you felt about them at the time they were recorded?
"We were obviously aware of the deficits in the sound department and, to be honest, we weren’t that great players either, but we were still really proud when we had our songs recorded professionally. The thing is, there weren’t any engineers who were familiar with Heavy Metal, let alone the extreme shit we were creating. The guy who recorded our two demos, Álvaro León, came from a completely different background, but he appreciated what we were doing and tried his best to fulfill our vision. But the technical limitations were obviously huge – our first demo was recorded on 8 tracks only!"
A seven inch was also released early on, with the bat in display for the first time. Who came up with the bat, and why hasn’t it been used on the cover of every release?
"A friend called Fernando Mujica, who was the editor of the Insanity fanzine, drew the logo and gave it to me as a birthday present. This was around the time we did our first demo and the opportunity arose to have two songs released as a 7" single, so we decided to use it as the cover. Little did we know it would become the most iconic piece of artwork in all of Chilean Metal! I don’t know why we didn’t use it on every release, but then again, we didn’t get to do many releases so there you go…"
The first era of the band ended in as early as 88 as you were disappointed at the lack of label interest. I know you had an offer from a label called Point Rock, which ended up in nothing in the end. I guess since you called it quits so soon you guys were pretty ambitious? I mean, you could have just gone on releasing demos and rehearsals…
"The Point Rock fiasco definitely hit us hard. I went to Brazil in February 87 to meet the Cavalera brothers, and during a stop in Rio I met this guy who was running a label. I played him the demos and he immediately offered me a contract. I was so desperate and naïve that I accepted right away. When I went back to Chile he suddenly stopped replying to my letters and that was it. But there were a few other reasons for us disbanding. There were some personal problems inside the band, but I think the main reason was that, back then, the crowds used to cover the bands in spit while they were playing on stage. That was very tough and more than a lot of people are prepared to take. But having said all this, you have to keep in mind we were just 18 years old, very confused, in a very hostile environment. Now it’s easy to say why didn’t you just carry on, but at that time it felt like we were climbing the Himalaya or something."
You then tried to breathe life back in the band again in the early nineties, with the ‘White Hell’ song as a result. As it ended so early, was this really a serious attempt at getting PENTAGRAM back on track? Also, was the foundation of CRIMINAL a part of the reason why this comeback was so short lived?
"People keep asking me this and I’m not really sure that song was really meant as an attempt to revive PENTAGRAM. I wrote that song and recorded everything apart from the drums myself, but listening to it now it sounds more like the beginning of something new – CRIMINAL – than the continuation of PENTAGRAM to me."
Sometime during the nineties you moved to Europe. Did this decision have anything to do with your musical career? Perhaps it was easier being a Metalhead in Europe?
"There were a lot of reasons involved. CRIMINAL did very well in South America for a few years, we managed to tour most of the continent, but at some point it seemed like we had hit the roof and there was nowhere to go from there. I was also going through some hard times on a personal level so I just decided I wanted a fresh start. When I left I didn’t even really know if I was going to keep playing music, it was like diving into a black hole, but in the end I’m happy I took that step because it helped me grow up and realize what’s important to me and what’s not."
2001 saw you performing live, a show recorded and released by Picoroco. How did this come about?
"We had just re-released the demos on CD for the first time, also on the Picoroco label, and going through the old photos, the lyrics and so on I suppose made us wonder why things had ended the way they had. Also I was about to move to Europe, so we saw this as pretty much our last chance to ever play together again, so we set up this show, and it was great. It was actually the first time we had a good live sound, and we were very tight because we rehearsed a lot before that show."
Then in 2008 Cyclone Empire released the old tracks once again. Seems the contact with them sparked something in you, making the band more active than in a long time, perhaps more than ever. And of course the new album is released by them also, so you must have hit it off with them. How important has Cyclone Empire been in bringing PENTAGRAM back?
"Yeah, I told Martin Purr, who owns Cyclone Empire and who I knew from my time working for Metal Blade, where he was also still working, that I wanted to re-issue the demos again, as the Picoroco release was already sold-out, and he was immediately interested. Again, dealing with the old material brought up a lot of memories, so we put the word out we might be doing some shows, and the interest was surprisingly there. We played Wacken, which Martin got us, but also a very cool underground festival in Eastern Germany called Hell’s Pleasure, and some other shows in Germany, Holland, London and Oslo. Without that small run of shows we would have never got the idea to reform and record and album, so yeah, you could say the label was instrumental in us getting back together. The feeling during those shows was great, we were playing well, the shows were killer, so I told the guys why not record an album, and here we are now."
2009 saw you touring, playing at Betong in Norway and Wacken amongst others. How do you remember those two shows? The Norwegian crowd is not well known for going crazy, not like what you were used to from Santiago.
"All those shows were very intense. We really didn’t know what to expect, and to actually have some people turn up was already great, but when we saw there were real die-hard PENTAGRAM fans, we were just overwhelmed. Maybe it’s true that the audiences are a bit colder and more distant than in South America, but I still remember those shows as being really intense and people getting totally into it."
2009 was also the year you teamed up with LOCK UP. From what I have read it seems you guys really have a lot of fun together, and I guess it won’t interfere with your work in PENTAGRAM as the other guys in LOCK UP are quite busy with other bands themselves. How did you get this job?
"I met the NAPALM DEATH guys in ’97, when CRIMINAL played with them in Santiago. I already knew they were big fans of PENTAGRAM, and we immediately became friends. When I moved to Europe a few years later one of the first places I visited was Birmingham, where I stayed at the infamous Napalm Towers for a few days, just hanging out and drinking, mainly with Jesse. I kept running into the guys at festivals and so on, and after Jesse died so tragically, Shane told me they were thinking about refloating LOCK UP and that they were considering me as Jesse’s replacement. I felt totally honored and immediately started learning their songs and also writing some of my own, but it took a long while for things actually to fall into place. I don’t think LOCK UP and PENTAGRAM will interfere with each other because neither of the two is constantly touring, so there shouldn’t be a problem."
The change of name came about last year due to respect for the American PENTAGRAM. I know you guys met that band once. Were they aware of your PENTAGRAM?
"I’m not sure Bobby was aware of anything when we met them, haha! No seriously, we hung out with them backstage and I suppose they knew who we were, but the name thing didn’t get mentioned once. At least they didn’t tell us to change our name, haha! But at that time, while both bands were touring, we realized there was some confusion, some people showed up to our shows expecting to see them and so on, so we decided the healthiest thing was to put our designation of origin in our name. After all, most people refer to us as PENTAGRAM from Chile or the Chilean PENTAGRAM anyway."
A split with also legendary MASTER was issued earlier this year. How did this come about, and were you familiar with MASTER when you did the zine back in the eighties?
"When we toured Europe in 2009 we went into a studio and for some reason recorded the whole setlist we were playing at the time, consisting of the two demos of course, but also this one song, ‘Demented’, which we used to play live in the 80s, but never got around to recording. This was actually the last thing we recorded with our original drummer, Eduardo. Cyclone Empire offered us to be a part of their split 7" series "Imperial Anthems" and we thought it was a cool idea, but it took us a while to find an adequate split partner. We asked SACRIFICE, AUTOPSY and a few others, but the timing was never right until MASTER came along. I’m not the biggest MASTER fan, but I respect them a lot and I think it’s a cool package. Too bad the Cyclone Empire in-house designer fucked up the artwork though, because there was supposed to be a photo of the line-up with Eduardo, but there’s nothing we can do about that now."
Your line-up has been quite steady through the years, with you, Uribe and Topelberg present through most of the band’s history. The bass position has been the biggest problem it seems. How well is the current line-up working, and is there anyone from the past you wish was still part of the band?
"Well, we have made a conscious decision to keep the bassist position open because it will make touring much easier. Actually, on the album, my old friend and ex CRIMINAL bassist Juan Francisco played on all the old songs and Danny Biggin, who is the current CRIMINAL bassist and who co-produced and engineered the album, played on the new ones, except for a couple where we had other guests. One of them was Mauricio Peña, the brother of our original bassist Alfredo Peña, who committed suicide a long time ago. And it was really crazy to see Mauricio record, because he looks a lot like his brother, and he’s equally as talented. Maybe if we ever have to get a full-time bassist he could be the right choice."
I read somewhere that you and Uribe wrote 8 songs for the new album in a remarkably short while, so you two must have a really good chemistry. It said in the interview you only used about a weekend. Could that really be correct?
"Absolutely. Juan Pablo was living in Barcelona at that time, and he came over to San Sebastian for like four days or something. We sat down with our guitars and just banged out the riffs. We didn’t plan anything, we didn’t talk about anything, we just did it, and it came out great. We only scrapped one song from that session and I wrote another two on my own a bit later, but basically the main part of the album was written during that one weekend."
You have a radio show as well. What kind of Metal are we talking about, and how did you end up with this job?
"Yeah, the manager of Radio Futuro, which is Chile’s biggest Classic Rock radio station, approached me a few years ago about doing a Metal show. I had the time and the means, so I agreed, and it’s been great. I have absolute freedom to play anything I want, so I play a lot of obscure stuff and I also try and support new Chilean bands as much as I can, but I obviously also play stuff like METALLICA, EXODUS, SEPULTURA, KREATOR, and so on. It’s great, I really enjoy having that connection with the Chilean Metalheads, seeing that I live far away now."
How do you feel about performing S.O.D. songs live with UNITED FORCES? Another anecdote is that S.O.D. was one of the bands you interviewed for Blowing Thrash back in the days, so it must have been a bit strange to suddenly be preparing to play them live alongside Milano and Lilker…
"Well, unfortunately it looks like that’s never going to happen. Danny filled in for Shane at a couple of LOCK UP tours and we’ve become really good friends, and we really enjoy playing together, so when him and Billy had the idea of doing this UNITED FORCES thing he asked Nick and myself if we wanted to do it. We obviously agreed, but I think they were too quick with the announcement before working out the details, and now it went to shit. It’s a pity. I would have really enjoyed playing that stuff."
Will PENTAGRAM be put to rest once again now, or are you aiming for another album in the near future?
"I honestly can’t say right now. The whole process of getting this album done has been so demanding and exhausting I can’t really say for sure if we’re in it for the long run. We are just going to take things one step at a time, wait what the reactions to the album are like, see if there’s any booking enquiries and so on. I would love this to last, but considering our history you can never tell. Speaking of history, by the way, we are just about to finish a book about the history of the band, which is based on interviews with a lot of people from the band’s close circle of friends. It is a very interesting read I think, because it says a lot, not only about the band, but about the country."
The status you have achieved is quite remarkable considering you only released a few songs in the first incarnation of the band. Why do you think PENTAGRAM has been such a respected name in the underground through the years, with several well-known musicians naming you as an influence?
"Because we had such a short existence we didn’t get to fuck it up, haha! Honestly, so many great bands from back then just got worse and worse over the years, but when people think of PENTAGRAM they only think of those two demos, which also had a very defined, a very pure style. I’m really proud that people consider us pioneers of this genre of music."
And finally, do you have any favorites amongst those who have covered you? I noticed you posted DEAD TO THIS WORLD’s version on your Facebook a while back, but there are many more to choose from…
"I really like them all, it’s such a great honor to have another band cover one of your songs, so pointing one out is probably unfair, but the most recent one I heard, by a Chilean band called UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KULTEN, is really great because they added their own twist to the riffs, making them even darker and more dissonant. But again, I love them all. These covers are probably the greatest testimony of the influence we’ve had as a band."
Interview: Steinar Selstø
(originally published in Chronicles # 1)
b/w live pics: Martin DarkSoul