Considering all the hype that is connected to the regained interest in oldschool Thrash Metal and the big bunch of recently released records I suppose it must be pretty difficult for a fan of the genre to decide which album is really worth spending money on and which isn’t… No matter if it’s established acts like EXODUS, DESTRUCTION, KREATOR or TESTAMENT or fresh blood like BONDED BY BLOOD, MUNICIPAL WASTE, WARBRINGER, VIOLATOR, GAMA BOMB or MANTIC RITUAL – none of them comes any close to the class of "The Ones I Condemn", the brilliant comeback album by Canada’s SACRIFICE! The band has re-united in their original line-up and not only managed to live up to the high expectations, they were even able to top them! So I guess it’s needless to say that we had to get in touch with singer / guitarist Rob Urbinati once more for a fresh interview… Enjoy!
Greetings Rob, hope you’re doing fine these days?! It’s great to have you guys back after such a long time… The last SACRIFICE album "Apocalypse Inside" already dates back to 1993, so how does it feel to play SACRIFICE material again after so many years?
"Hi Frank, nice to do another interview with you. Everything has been great over here in Toronto. After so many years, it almost feels like none have past since SACRIFICE stopped in 1993. Everytime we get together, you look around and although we are a lot older, we still see each other as the kids that first got together in 1984. It feels great to be releasing new material, and playing again."
What have you guys all been up to ever since "Apocalypse Inside" came out? Were you all still involved in any bands or did some of you maybe even quit the music business completely as well?
"None of us quit playing completely. I released a CD with my band INTERZONE in 2000 (which I highly recommend to any SACRIFICE fan – Frank), Joe was in a few bands in Detroit (WALLS OF JERICHO, TRUST DENIED and a few others), Gus released a couple of CDs with a Punk band called the 3TARDS, and Scott has been playing classic Rock and Jazz."
What actually lead to the band’s reunion, who was the driving force behind it and was it difficult to get all original members back together for it?
"Mainly local promoter Noel Peters (Inertia Entertainment), and also Armando Pereira from Marquee Records. Noel had asked me about it over the years and finally made it really easy for us to get back together despite the distance we live from each other."
I could imagine that you all not necessarily stayed in touch with each other over the last couple of years, and that you probably even live in different areas nowadays, so when and how did you manage to get in touch with each other again?
"Joe lives in Detroit now, but we have always kept in touch… Scott lives in Vancouver but has kept in touch. Gus we lost contact with for a while but we all got back around 2001 or so. Everyone managed to forget things in the past and just got along like we always did."
How much influence did the Marquee Records re-releases of "Torment In Fire", "Forward To Termination" and "Soldiers Of Misfortune" actually have on the reunion? I could imagine that they increased / regained the interest in SACRIFICE a lot again, didn’t they?
"Yes, a great deal. I don’t think we realized that we still had that many fans around the world."
When you were contacted by Marquee Records for the very first time, did you honestly expect the re-releases to turn out that impressive in terms of the packaging, bonus discs etc.?
"We talked for a very long time before we agreed with Marquee doing the re-releases, but Armando had great ideas. He knows the only way to beat bootleg CDs is to make your product way better that they could ever create. Also just speaking as a Metal fan, I hate it when bands re-release their catalog with no extras. Marquee went all out with the extras."
By the way, what is the reason that "Apocalypse Inside" was not re-released (yet) as well?
"The reason is we signed an awful contract for that album. Hopefully Marquee will eventually do the re-release."
When you all had agreed on a reunion, was it planned to do a brandnew album right from the start or was the original idea first and foremost to go out and play the old stuff again?
"The idea was just to get together for one show. It took a while for us to be able to play the songs again after so long apart, but the whole process was fun."
Did you play any shows before you started writing new material? If so, please tell us about them. Were you satisfied the way they turned out, what reactions did you get from the crowds etc.?
"The only show we played before we started writing was our reunion show in Toronto, 2006. The crowd was great, probably the best and most memorable show we have ever played. The feeling in the building was awesome. Everyone was glad to see us back on stage it seemed and welcomed us back better than we had ever hoped."
So, when did you really start writing for the new album and how did you actually do that? Did you all meet at a rehearsal place again where you started to jam or was it more the modern way, that each one of you was collecting his personal ideas, then recording them at home and finally sending them to the other members?
"I have never been as creative as I have been in the past few years, and I ended up writing pretty much the whole album. We have never written this way before, but it worked this time. I left it up to everyone else to work out their own parts and everyone trusted me to produce it. The band members were encouraging with the songs so I just kept going. Knowing how we all play together was instrumental in putting it down as well, I had the four of us in mind as it was all put into songs. Basically SACRIFICE let me become a control freak for this one!"
Was it all brand new stuff that you used or did you have any unused SACRIFICE riff ideas or something that you reworked for the new songs now?
"There might have been one or two riffs that I had for a while, but basically everything was written for this album."
Was it clear right from the start that a new SACRIFICE album would be released through Marquee Records again or have you shopped the final product around to other companies as well?
"A few other companies were interested. We did not want to go with a big label since we aren’t going to tour, and the other small labels don’t seem to put the same passion into it as Marquee. Big labels are great if you want to get exposure, but they rob you blind today, and rob you deaf, dumb and blind for tomorrow."
How long did it take you to write the new songs, when and where did you start recording them and how much time did you spend in the studio, incl. mix?
"It took about 2 years to get the album written and rehearsed, although we don’t rehearse even ¼ the amount we used to. At the same time, we are seasoned musicians in our 40s and it doesn’t take us as long to get it together. I have played Thrash Metal my whole life, I know what works and what doesn’t. The recording and mixing was over 3 months, but that was not a constant 3 months. It was a day here and there."
Did you have to face any problems during the writing and / or recording process? Tell us a bit about the studio and the engineer… who chose the studio and for what reasons / experiences?
"Some friends of ours in a band called REDEEMER were recording in a studio near my home, Rouge Valley Studio, so I wanted to check it out. The engineer, Darius Szczepaniak and us got along great right from the beginning and he knows Metal. We talked about recording without triggers, samples, computer drum editing software, click tracks, and going in with lots of mics on the drums and making the recording sound human, like a real band, not a computer edited emotionless recording. Darius was totally receptive to this, and seemed almost relieved that finally a band was still willing to record this way."
Usually when singers grow older they have difficulties in singing some of the stuff they recorded in their early days, especially if it’s that extreme… A good example for that probably is SLAYER’s Tom Araya who has problems in performing his high screams these days… In your case I didn’t notice anything like that, so was it still easy for you sound as pissed of as ever?
"I am 42 now, and I am pretty satisfied with my vocal execution. In 1985 I sure didn’t think I would be able to do this in 2009. I still look to Cronos for inspiration, haha!! Like Tom Araya, I have a bit of trouble with my screams from our first album, but I had trouble with those in about 1988. At the same time though, I feel that my vocals are more like "Torment In Fire" now, just without as much screaming. They have the same lower tone… listening back now, I am not too fond of my performance on "Soldiers Of Misfortune". I love the album, just wish I spent more time on the vocals. With "The Ones I Condemn“, I really took my time recapturing my lower tones I had when I was younger and I don’t think there is any question about sounding as pissed off as ever."
I was totally suprised when I heard the new record for the very first time that you managed to stay true so much to your musical roots, yet that the whole record sounds so incredibly fresh and tight… Was it difficult for you to get into the right "oldschool" mood again, avoiding any modern outside influences?
"None. The only thing we had to find was a direction. Armando from Marquee once said to me, for a new SACRIFICE album, no one should mention the phrase "new elements“, and we agreed. We wanted to put ourselves back to the time when Thrash was brutal and uncompromising. Albums like "Darkness Descends“, "Seven Churches“, "Infernal Overkill“, "Hell Awaits“, "Morbid Tales“. "Forward To Termination“, before bands saw METALLICA get big and try and soften their sound. The Thrash that would influence early Death Metal. There isn’t really anything that hits as hard as that stuff did back then, so it isn’t really difficult to exclusively hold onto your early influences if you want to do that."
Do you still listen to the same music these days that had influenced your writing when SACRIFICE originally started out? Any new bands that you enjoy in the same way?
"Our influences starting out were VENOM, SLAYER, MAIDEN, PRIEST, MERCYFUL FATE, SABBATH, THIN LIZZY, RUSH, TROUBLE, and they remain my favorite bands pretty much. Of course I enjoy some newer bands since then…ENTOMBED, DISMEMBER, MESHUGGAH, UNLEASHED, CARCASS, ARCH EENEMY, OPETH, BEHEMOTH, SATYRICON, STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, ZYKLON, are some of my favorites since the demise and reanimation of SACRIFICE. It seems that music affects you most in youth though."
Please tell us a little bit about the lyrical content of the album in general and who you’d like to address the album’s title "The Ones I Condemn" to in particular?
"Some of the lyrical content was inspired by the death of friends of ours, some of it deals with revenge and retribution, events in our personal lives and events happening around the world. The title track was initally inspired by personal events, but became a much more broad spectrum of condemned."
How did you manage to convince SLAUGHTER’s Dave Hewson to join you in the studio to do co-vocals on ‘The Devil’s Martyr’? What is he up to these days?
"Anyone who knows Canadian Thrash history, is aware of SLAUGHTER, their importance, how influential they were and still are. Dave lives in the same area of Toronto as me, we don’t get together as much as we should but keep in contact. I told Dave this album won’t be Scarborough Metal enough if he isn’t on it and that was enough to convice him! He came down and did vocals on the song with me and is probably the most extreme song on the CD. It definately recalls the days of "Torment In Fire“ and "Strappado“."
There’s also some additional guitar work from Jed Simon on that same song… I’m not really familiar with his name, so could you introduce him to us and what made you invite him to the studio as well?
"Jed Simon is also an old Canadian Thrash Metal relic with the rest of us. He played in an awesome band called ARMOROS in the 80s (aaaargh… stupid me! – Frank), but most would probably recognize him from his work as the incredibly tight rhythm guitarist in STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, ZIMMERS HOLE and most recently, TENET. He put down some great whammy bar tradeoffs with me and he won the battle haha."
Musically I still notice some very well hidden, yet very obvious old SLAYER overtones in your music (for example the wellknown ‘Hell Awaits’ opening section in ‘The Great Wall’ or the opening of ‘Tetragrammaton’ etc.)… so, is SLAYER still a big influences on your music? Do you like their new records in the same way as their classic stuff?
"Show No Mercy", "Haunting The Chapel", "Hell Awaits" were some of the biggest influences on me. SLAYER is a band that I will always like mainly because I know what I am getting… fast, well executed Thrash Metal. They have remained pretty true to their sound for over 25 years and although they might not ever record another "Reign In Blood“, I still like them a lot. They deserve honour and respect. I hate when I hear people say… SLAYER sucks now, their new stuff is crap… it doesn’t sound much different to me. Metal needs to start showing more respect to the early bands that influenced everyone. You don’t hear blues fans saying, "that new Buddy Guy album sucks, he isn’t as good as he used to be“. They are just happy they get new music from one of the masters."
Would you agree that also DESTRUCTION and EXODUS pretty much shaped the SACRIFICE sound?
"EXODUS was a huge influence and DESTRUCTION maybe a bit too. We always admired Mike’s riffs, people compare myself with Schmier a lot vocally."
You had posted ‘The Great Wall’ as an album teaser on your myspace site www.myspace.com/sacrificecanada not too long ago… tell us about the reactions you were getting on it? Did you also receive any negative feedback?
"The reaction was incredible. One comment we kept hearing was, “Finally, an old school band got it right!“. Most bands that reunite don’t come back this heavy, fast and pissed off. Anything negative came from kids who think Thrash begins and ends with Bay Area Thrash. This is an album that can only be fully understood by those that know Thrash from 1984 to 1987… before the genre was polluted with money. Nothing wrong with Bay Area at all, but there was more to Thrash than that. POSSESSED was Bay Area but did not have that sound."
For the limited edition of "The Ones I Condemn" you also have re-recorded versions of the old SACRIFICE classics ‘Burned At The Stake’ and ‘The Entity’ as well as the RUSH cover ‘Anthem’… Who’s idea was it to re-record those two songs of yours in particular and what can you tell us about the RUSH cover… I know that RUSH is a favorite band of yours (same here!), yet it’s a rather unusual choice for a Thrash Metal act to cover one of their songs, isn’t it?
"Unfortunately the cover of ‘Anthem’ did not make the special edition, but will be released at some point. That came about at rehearsal one day, I started playing it with Gus and the vocals are some of Geddy’s heaviest…“Wonders in the world they wrought“ sounded right with me doing vocals. RUSH is a band thats influence helped our tremendous improvement from "Torment In Fire“ to "Forward To Termination“. Definitely an odd choice of cover for a Thrash band yes, but it worked."
An ad from Marquee Records says something about 5 additional tracks on that limited edition, so what else is on there?
"The 2 re-recordings of ‘The Entity’ and ‘Burned At The Stake’, and some live tracks from our reunion show in 2006. A version of ‘The Devil’s Martyr’ with just my vocals on it. The booklet is very SACRIFICE with a photo collage in the centre."
Who was responsible for the cover art of "The Ones I Condemn" and is there any connection to one of the songs on the album in any way?
"Michael "Roz“ Rosner, was the artist for our cover. We really love his body paint artwork, and our friend Kurt Bachman asked if he would work with us. Roz was awesome to work, we explained that we didn’t want something that would explicitly explain our album title, but in some way to get one of his models to express it. He did two photo shoots for it and we chose the one you see. You can check out more of his visionary work at www.eyelevelstudio.com. Roz definitely has defined his own style."
Will you do a tour in support of the album? Have you maybe already received any offers for European festival shows?
"We will not be touring, but it is a definite possiblilty that we will play a European festival in 2010. We haven’t decided yet which we will play next year."
Ok Rob, I guess this should do it for now… all the best for you guys and the new album in particular. The last words are yours!
"Thanks very much Frank, great to do another interview after all these years for Voices From The Darkside!!! To our fans, thanks for your support over the years and hope you enjoy "THe Ones I Condemn".“