One of the biggest laughs I had during the last couple of years was when I saw in trendy mags (when they were covering MACHINE HEAD line-up changes) that none of those "experienced journalists" were able to point out that one of the latest MACHINE HEAD recruits at the time, Ahrue Luster, had a very interesting musical past, being part in the late 80s / early 90s of PESTILENCE and later on THE HORDE OF TORMENT following a bandname change. How cool is that huh?! Anyway for those who think that DARK ANGEL had nothing to offer after "Leave Scars", I recommend them to check out this long forgotten four piece as they were delivering good Thrash Metal the way DARK ANGEL sounded like circa "Darkness Descends" with touches of SLAYER and DESTRUCTION, catchy, intense and ripping! With the help of their former manager, Marco Barbieri, I managed to get in touch with original guitarist Ahrue and with his help got other guitarist Scott Savich involved as well.
PESTILENCE was originally born out of the ashes of the Las Vegas outfit STRIKNEIN which featured you on guitar and Kevin Leonard (bass / vocals), so first of all what can you tell us us about STRIKNEIN? I mean did you record something like demos with that act which was supposedly a Thrash act?
Ahrue: "It was my first band that played all originals. We never made a demo. We only played one show. Two of the members were really lazy so they were replaced by Joey Capabianca and Scott "Savage" Savich. We figured it was pretty much a new band so we gave it a new name."
Was STRIKNEIN your first band experience for both of you or….?
Ahrue: "Before we were STRIKNEIN we just jammed on covers and we didn’t have a name. It was all of our first band experience."
So like you said, by late ’86 / early ’87 you recruited Joey Capobianco as drummer and Scott Savich on guitar and changed the bandname for PESTILENCE, how did you recruit them?
Ahrue: "They were both friends of mine and they were both Metalheads."
Scott: "I had been playing guitar for about three years but I did not take lessons or anything. PESTILENCE was the first band I was ever in. I was best friends with Ahrue, Kevin and the other guys in STRIKNEIN so I had been to a lot of their practices and was familiar with their music. I’d always have to hang out at their practice on a Friday night waiting for them to finish so we could go out and drink."
By the way are you a relative to Ken Savich who was seen in LÄÄZ ROCKIT and later on in SINDROME in the ’90s?
Scott: "Yes, he’s my brother and he got me into playing guitar when I was 14 or 15. He moved to S.F. after visiting me there and saw how cool it was and joined LÄÄZ ROCKIT afterwards."
It looks like that you came up with a bunch of songs in a short period of time as you managed to play local shows a few months later with the likes of SACRED REICH, NO FX, CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER, WEHRMACHT… Would you say that the four of you clicked right away to come up so fast with original material?
Ahrue: "I wrote all the music, three of the songs we were already doing with STRIKNEIN so it wasn’t hard to come up with more. I think we only played six songs at our first show."
Scott: "Sure, we clicked together really quickly. Ahrue and Kevin had a lot of material already written and with Ahrue being a song-writing machine we had plenty of songs."
This said, did you include covers in your early gigs or none at all?
Ahrue: "Sometimes we would for a joke but nothing serious. One time we played ‘Tequila’ and one time we opened the show with ‘Hellion’ by JUDAS PRIEST."
Scott: "Just one that I can think of which was that song ‘Tequila’, with double bass and ten times the speed, of course."
Was it easy to get gigs in that area considering that Nevada as a whole has never been considered as a hot spot for Thrash Metal (and for Metal as a whole) and how did those gigs with those somewhat bigger bands at the time go?
Ahrue: "Kids in Vegas were starved for music so it was always easy to play. The Punk and the Metal scene were the same because both styles incorporated mosh pits. A lot of times we would all just gather in the desert and somebody would bring a generator. There would be 300 to 400 people that would show up to watch Punk and Metal bands play together."
Scott: "We played a lot of shows in the desert with generators for power as most bands in Vegas did. If a bigger band came to town it wasn’t too hard to play with them since there were only a few Thrash bands in Vegas. We had made friends with some of the bigger bands, like SACRED REICH and even played with them a few times in Arizona."
There was a couple of other Thrash / Crossover acts in your area back then such as VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER, RIGHTEOUS PIGS, PAPSMEAR, 5150… Was it a scene where everybody helped each other or…?
Ahrue: "Yes, very much so. All of the Punk and Metal bands hung out at the same parties with each other and were very supportive. We had to be, because the bands were who set up the shows, we all had to cooperate to keep the scene alive."
Scott: "Everyone helped each other. All of our best friends were in those bands. Kevin’s brother was even in VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER. I don’t think anyone from VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER went on any further. Mitch from RIGHTEOUS PIGS is in NAPALM DEATH and Joe Caper, the singer, is still playing in Vegas. The singer from PAPSMEAR, Tony, is still playing in California and James the guitarist from 5150 is still playing in Texas I think."
By the summer of ’87 you had entered a local 24 track studio (R.M.S.) to record your first demo titled "Infected", a four tracker which included as bonus three live songs. Looking back, what do you think of that first effort? Was it an easy job to cut this one since I suppose it was your first studio experience?
Ahrue: "I am still proud of that demo. I know it was early in my career. I was very inexperienced but I feel that we accomplished a lot with that demo. In fact I’m still doing an interview about it almost 15 years later. How many people can say that about thier first effort?!"
Scott: "Even listening to that tape today I still think it’s pretty good stuff. The production could have been a lot better but the music is great and for our ages I thought we were all pretty good musicians as well. It wasn’t very hard and the engineer was helpful. I think it might have sounded better if we recorded in a smaller studio instead of some huge professional place which was just overkill for the type of thing we were doing. But we didn’t know very much about recording so it was a good learning experience."
This demo got spread extremely fast and received great reviews in fanzines / mags around including one from the Metal guru Borivoj Krgin in Metal Forces. Does that mean that you were aware at the time of the importance of the underground scene as a whole with the tape trading and fanzines network?
Ahrue: "I still talk to Borivoj. I think tape trading back then was a lot more importent and a bigger scene than it is now. I totally appreciated the fact that our demo reached a lot of people through the mail. I would even go as far as to say it helped my career to get to the point that it is today. I think we sold over 10,000 copies of that demo."
Scott: "We were involved in tape trading and the fanzine network for years so we did now it was the best way to get our music out. I have no idea how many tapes were sold but we still sold them up until we broke up so it’s got to be a pretty big number."
From that point PESTILENCE was compared particularly to DARK ANGEL circa "Darkness Descends" mainly because Kevin’s voice was somewhat similar to Don Doty’s voice and the musical approach was quite similar…
Ahrue: "DARK ANGEL and SLAYER were our favorite bands at the time and SLAYER is still my all time favorite band. When you are in your early stages of creative developement, your first instinct is to copy your influences. I will admit, we wanted to sound like a cross between DARK ANGEL and SLAYER."
Scott: "I didn’t care especially since we did have a similar sound, although our sound changed fairly soon afterwards. At that point SLAYER was absolutely an influence. SLAYER ruled back then."
The four songs were all extremely fast (at least for the time) and it seems slower tempos at that point had no place in the band…
Ahrue: "We were young and felt the need for speed, we wanted to be on 10 all of the time. It’s like the first time you fuck a chick, you just fuck like a rabbit, then as you get older, you find that it’s more satisfying to both when you learn when to go fast and when to go slow, when to be hard and when to be soft."
Scott: "The fast songs were fun to play and exciting to hear. But we did like to have a slow heavy part in most songs which was good for the pit during live shows. It was great to see people going crazy during the fast stuff then we’d break into a slow heavy part where everyone would slowly mosh (I hate to use that word) in a circle. I don’t think people do the circle stuff much anymore which is too bad cuz that was really cool looking and a lot more fun than getting your face stepped on."
In ’87/’88 the Dutch PESTILENCE had two demos out already but no deal yet if I remember correctly, so were you aware of their existence or even of the German PESTILENCE who released a split LP around that time also?
Ahrue: "Yes, there where actually three other PESTILENCEs that we knew of, we felt that we were the best so we decided not to change our name."
Scott: "I don’t think we knew about them until shortly before they were signed."
So by late January ’89 the band decided to move to the Bay Area to join the horde of talented Thrash bands around. So what made you go for that move and why did you choose that area particularly?
Ahrue: "At that time, Metal was hot in the Bay Area, we thought that we would have a better chance there then we did in Vegas. It was easy to be the top band in Vegas, we needed a bigger challenge."
Scott: "That was the Thrash capital. We wanted to be where the action was and where we could play a lot more shows and get our tapes to more people. Plus most record companies were looking in the Bay Area for bands to sign, not in Vegas."
Before you moved you had your second demo "Product Of A Sick Mind" recorded at the R.M.S. studio again and the material was somewhat sounding different from "Infected" since this time it featured slower mid paced parts. Was it a case of musical "progression" or were you kind of fed up to be called "DARK ANGEL on speed"?
Ahrue: "It was my first signs of musical maturity for sure. But I was still greatly influenced by what was around me. "Product…" also had hints of Bay Area sound because I started listening to VIO-LENCE, FORBIDDEN, TESTAMENT and DEATH ANGEL."
Scott: "We just wanted more variety in our music. Also, our influences changed and those were incorporated into our music as well."
I understand you knew your manager Marco Barbieri (who’s now working for Century Media / Nuclear Blast U.S.) before you moved to S.F. right?
Scott: "Yeah, we knew him from Vegas. Although I can’t even remember how we met. I’m sure Kevin would remember that, even the exact day and hour. He may have actually lived there already since he was going to school in that area, Stockton CA I believe."
Within a three month time you managed to play with most of the Bay Area acts who were around and more (POWERMAD, SACRED REICH, DARK ANGEL) – probably more shows in that period of time than you ever played in Nevada previously – how did you manage to get on those bills so fast? Was it because you had hooked with Marco Barbieri as your manager right away when you moved?
Ahrue: "It had partly to do with Marco but it was also because we were well recieved by the Bay Area Metal scene by both fans and other bands."
Scott: "Marco helped a lot and worked really hard at getting us good shows. We also became friends with some of the local Bay Area bands like FORBIDDEN and VIO-LENCE and met contacts at clubs through them. They helped a lot. Especially FORBIDDEN, those guys were really cool and pretty much showed us the ropes. After we got to a certain level, it wasn’t too hard to get good shows. If PANTERA came to town we could get that show since we were like the standard supporting act for bigger bands. Although PANTERA’s bus broke down on the way to that show so we never actually got to play with them. Stupid bus!"
Did you get accepted right away as a new Bay Area band even if you weren’t originally from there?
Ahrue: "Yes, most of the people we met were very friendly and welcomed us into the scene."
Scott: "Yeah. Everyone was very cool. It was pretty much an instantaneous acceptance in to the scene. People just loved fast, heavy music back then so we fit right in."
Would you say that the newer material (the "Product…" demo) was better accepted than the earlier material since the material was closer to what was going on in the Bay Area at the time?
Ahrue: "I don’t know, I think it was because they were better songs and we were better musicians then we were on "Infected"."
Scott: "Absolutely. While people did like the first demo everyone loved the newer stuff a lot more and that tape helped us get a lot of fans and bigger shows."
By June ’89 you decided to change your name for THE HORDE OF TORMENT to avoid confusion with the Dutch outfit particularly and the "Product…" demo was issued under that new moniker with a killer packaging and artwork done by Paul Stottler who was known for his previous work with SACRED REICH. Did that demo get an even better response right away than the first?
Ahrue: "I think it got a better responce, but honestly, I don’t remember."
Scott: "That demo was received very well and sold extremely well. I think the cover helped a lot too. It was a much better cover than our first demo which was a few drops of “White Out” on a piece of paper. I know I used to buy records based on how cool the cover looked and I think a lot of other people did the same."
At that point, was the band the one and only focus for all of you, hoping to make a career there on the footprints of the likes of FORBIDDEN, VIO-LENCE, MORDRED… did you still have daily jobs?
Ahrue: "We were all very poor then. A lot of times we didn’t know where our next meal would come from. The only thing that mattered was the music, I still feel the same way."
Scott: "We did have jobs but mostly part time so that we could focus on the band. At one point we all worked in the same deli as sandwich technicians. We all lived together and practiced every day in the house we rented for hours and hours."
Was it easy for you to become friends with the other bands around as I always have noticed you were on the thanks list of numerous Bay Area albums? Is there some bands out there who made life hard for you at the time for some reasons?
Ahrue: "Most of the bigger bands were very friendly but there were some unsigned bands that didn’t like the fact that we came in and made such an impact within a few months. They would talk shit but that’s all they could do."
Scott: "It was very easy to make friends with those other bands. We liked their music and they liked ours. We had a pretty good fan base which helped us to get shows supporting the bigger bands. Any problems we had were with other bands at the same level as us. You know, there’d be conflicts as to who gets to headline a show and stuff like that."
At which point did CMFT records from U.K. entered the picture and how?
Ahrue: "It was so long ago, I don’t remember."
Scott: "Umm, you know, I don’t even know about that one. Did we have something put out through CMFT?"
Yeah the "Product.." demo issued as an EP… But do you think you’ve gained something to have that demo released on vinyl on their label as demo series (along with XYSTER, LEPROCY etc etc…) especially with such the generic cover they used for all that series?
Ahrue: "Who knows, maybe, I don’t remember."
Next thing (in 1990) was the release of your two demos on one album titled "Product…" as well on SA Bucher records from France which was a tiny label with almost no international distribution. So how did you end up signing with them first?
Ahrue: "I don’t remember any of that stuff."
Scott: "I believe that was all Marco’s doing. He set up that whole thing. I don’t remember the specifics of the deal, we were just happy to have our music get out to more people."
Does that mean that you had no other good label offers despite the quality of the two demos and the fact that Thrash Metal was still at its peak?
Ahrue: "We had some interest from Roadrunner back then but they ended up passing on us."
Scott: "I remember we did have an offer from some label which I can’t remember. It wasn’t for very much money so we didn’t go with it. Looking back now I do think we should have gone with that offer. We did have some contacts in some other bigger labels and they showed some interest but never enough to offer us anything."
How come that you decided to use the demo material on that LP and not use maybe newer material or at least re-record the whole thing?
Ahrue: "They didn’t give us any money to record." (Not too bad for somebody who doesn’t remember any of that stuff huh?! – Laurent)
Scott: "As far as I know Marco and Bucher Records made that deal and they just wanted to release the demo stuff. But now that you mention it, it probably would have been a good idea to record new songs. I wonder if it’s too late. Oh wait, I actually have a tape of a whole demo that was never released. Maybe they would want to put that out. (laughs)"
Do you have an idea if that "album" did good since certain people were maybe hesitant in buying it if they already owned the demos?
Scott: "I don’t know the exact number that were sold but I do know that it sold a lot. I think it sold in a lot of places where people hadn’t heard of us yet. It sold a lot in Europe more so than in the U.S."
In ’90 the four of you guys appeared on the "Twisted Into Form" record from FORBIDDEN doing backing vocals. It seems you were extremely close to those guy in particular right?
Ahrue: "I am still friends with Craig Locicero. We are fans of the same football team and we meet at football games. I also go to his house and play video games."
Scott: "Right. FORBIDDEN helped us more than anyone else and they were great friends. We sang on their record and they sang on one of our demos. I lived with Craig from FORBIDDEN for a while and I even appeared in their video as the main character, a drugged out guy killing himself with drugs or something. That was a blast doing that video although I don’t even have a copy of it. So if you have one, send it to me!!"
Did you mainly spend 1990 playing around and writing new material as nothing was heard from the band except that you had recorded a new demo "Inherit The Sin" by the end of that year?
Scott: "That’s pretty much it. Just playing and writing and drinking."
Ahrue: "Yes, and getting a new drummer."
Talking about that, what happened with Joey as he was replaced by Tim Vincent? How did you hook up with him?
Ahrue: "Tim Vincent was in a Rock band called SLEAZE before he joined HORDE OF TORMENT. He wanted to be in a Metal band but playing Rock gave him good meter. That’s what we were looking for that Joey lacked. We parted ways with Joey because he had an attitude problem and poor work ethics. In addition, his meter was very bad and he was uncreative. I had to come up with most of the drum parts."
That new demo was again issued as a 12" on SA Bucher records titled "Inherit…", released in 1991 and the material was a departure from the earlier more speedier stuff as the three songs was mostly mid paced. How come such a musical change considering that PESTILENCE had started as a Speedcore outfit?
Ahrue: "We were young and very impressionable, I think the Bay Area sound had a very big influence on us."
Scott: "Our personal tastes had drifted from the speedier stuff to more mid-paced music and we enjoyed playing that more so than super sonic riffs."
Do you know how many copies of that 12" were pressed because there wasn’t many copies around even in France and to this day it’s an item who is not seen so often but still not a rarety either?
Ahrue:"No I don’t…"
Scott: "I have no idea. To tell you truth I didn’t even know until now that there was a 12” of that demo. Damn, I don’t even have one of those!"
After it was released, what happened with the band as we never heard again for you guys?
Ahrue: "We ended up breaking up like many bands do when you achieve everything you can as an unsigned band but you can’t seem to get to the next level."
Scott: "We wanted to move in to a different direction, more of a BLACK SABBATH type of style. So we wrote a bunch of new materiel and started looking for a new singer. We tried out a lot of singers and did eventually find one. But the day that we were going to tell him he was in the band he fell off of a building during a parade in San Francisco and died. That pretty much put a damper on things. Basically, Kevin left and moved back to Vegas. Ahrue and I kept going and started a new band with Ahrue singing and another friend, Mike, from Vegas on bass."
Even if you’re not originally from that cult Metal area, do you have an explanation why that once huge musical movement there suddenly died at a fast pace, VIO-LENCE and FORBIDDEN remaining the only bands active for a few further years?
Ahrue: "The whole Funk movement took over the scene, also the Omni, the Stone and One Step Beyond which were the three main clubs to play at, all shut down."
Scott: "As far as I can tell the Thrash scene in the Bay Area died at the emergence of that Rock / Funk crap. There were bands like PRIMUS, FUNGO MUNGO and countless others who pretty much took over the whole scene. Even MORDRED turned into a Funk band. Girls liked to dance at those shows. So where the girls went, the guys followed. I blame it all on Funk!"
Can you tell us what the four of you guys did after the split exactly? Did some of you move back to Nevada or…?
Ahrue: "Kevin moved back to Vegas, Scott moved to Chicago for a girl, Tim went on to own a movie special effects company in Hollywood and I moved to New York for a year, then moved back to the Bay Area. I joined with Craig Locicero to form MAN MADE GOD then left to join MACHINE HEAD and now I am currently working on a new yet untitled project in Sacramento."
Scott: "Kevin did move back to Vegas and has been in a few different bands since then. He’s currently playing guitar in a band which he’s pretty happy about. Ahrue and I kept playing under the name PULSE and released one demo with the highlight of that being the song ‘Grudge Fuck’. I eventually decided to quit and move to Chicago where my family lived and played with one band out there. Ahrue kept playing for a while then eventually ended up in MACHINE HEAD. As for the five or so drummers we went through I have no idea what they ended up doing."
So MAN MADE GOD was formed by Craig and Steve, two ex-FORBIDDEN members…
Ahrue: "I was one of the founding members of MAN MADE GOD. In fact, I came up with the name."
Did you join MACHINE HEAD right after MAN MADE GOD to replace Logan Mader or….? How did that happen?
Ahrue: "They asked me to try out so I did, I liked it and they liked how I played."
To be honest I was once again surprised – and disapointed – to see a member from an old traditional Thrash / Speed act joining that type of bands (MAN MADE GOD and MACHINE HEAD) because the material has nothing in common with what you had started playing and cannot even be considered as an extension just like it was the likes with many Bay Area musicians who followed the same path rather than staying true to their original sound / songwriting. How do you feel about that comment considering that it’s something many old timers regret?
Ahrue: "Most people grow musically as they mature as human beings. To be honest with you, I love all kinds of music, I could never go back to playing the music that I did when I was younger, it didn’t have enough diversity. If you restrict yourself and only listen to one style of music, you are missing out on a lot that life has to offer."
Scott: "I’m sure all of us would have loved to keep playing as THE HORDE OF TORMENT but as the scene died so did the fan base and if no one is around to listen to your music you have to move on. I can’t speak for Ahrue but I’m sure he just wanted to play music and went with the opportunities that were presented to him. Besides, everyone’s musical tastes change and with that so does the music you play."
Scott, did you follow what Ahrue did with MACHINE HEAD etc., as it seems he was the only one who achieved a certain degree of recognition out of the four members?
Scott: "Yeah. I did go see him when he came to Chicago and hung out with him after the show. I was glad he kept playing and went on to bigger things. I thought that SABBATH cover they did was really good."
Ahrue, not so long ago you left or were fired from MACHINE HEAD and got replaced temporarely by Phil Demmel (TECHNOCRACY / VIO-LENCE) and you’re in the process of forming your own band, what kind of musical direction are you gonna follow with this one?
Ahrue: "I left MACHINE HEAD. It would be a good idea for you in future interviews to other people to do your reaserch and get your facts straight before asking questions like that. I’m working on a new project in Sacramento California that is going to be even more melodic than, THE BURNING RED, I think you will like it alot." (Well dude considering the fact that I don’t care about crap like MACHINE HEAD or any of that type of shit and in fact neither else does here, so I couldn’t care less about being right when I ask questions about shitty outfits. I ONLY get my facts right when I do cover REAL Metal acts, plain and simple – Laurent)
Can we expect you to return for some reasons to a songwriting style / musical approach similar to the PESTILENCE / THE HORDE OF TORMENT early days?
Ahrue: "I have already past that stage in my life, I have no desire to go back. The music was very one dimentional and amaturish. I can’t see how anyone could listen to it for long periods of time." (How cool is that type of attitude! Well if you dislike the type of music that you used to write / play so much, you simply should have never approached METAL in the first place, and the same goes for tons of other Thrash acts from the ’80s, FUCK that shit! – Laurent)
When you toured with MACHINE HEAD, were you sometimes approached by some people who knew that you had been in the legendary PESTILENCE / HORDE OF TORMENT outfit since that connexion was never mentioned in magazines?
Ahrue: "The connection was never made because no one cares about that, maybe one or two people came up to me during the intire time that I was in MACHINE HEAD."
How do you feel when you hear that there’s still interest going on for the material you wrote 14 years ago?
Ahrue: "I think it’s kind of cool but I think these people are living in the past and should explore new things. New bands etc. I believe it’s good to have your feet rooted in the past, your mind and heart in the present and your eyes on the future."
Scott: "I think it’s pretty fucking cool. That’s good music, as well as other music from the same era. I still listen to it often including other bands like FORBIDDEN, VIO-LENCE, DEATH ANGEL, SLAYER and all those other bands so I can see why other people still like it. Besides, all of those old bands blow away any of these new bands out now. I did not expect doing an interview so many years later. But it’s very cool indeed."
Even if HORDE OF TORMENT never had the same impact that many other old Thrash bands had, especially because of the lack of recordings, do you think sometimes about doing a reunion show just for the fun?
Ahrue: "We are all in contact and have joked about it but I don’t think it will ever happen because we all live so far away."
Scott: "Some friends have actually mentioned it because they would like to see it, especially my finacé, she would love to see me play. And as for me, I think it would be great! It’d be cool to have a show in the Bay Area with DEATH ANGEL, FORBIDDEN, VIO-LENCE, THE HORDE OF TORMENT and some other old local bands. It’d be just like one show, a long time ago with that line up, that ended up in a riot with cops, tear gas and all that good stuff. (It happened in Hayward, CA on May 19th 1990 – Laurent)"
Anything to add? Would you be also into doing more interviews about those days if somebody ask for it?
Ahrue: "Thank you to anyone who has enjoyed the PESTILENCE / HORDE OF TORMENT demos over the years. The old PESTILENCE / HORDE OF TORMENT days gave birth to many fond memories, but that’s what it is, memories… I would like to put that part of my life to rest so I don’t think I will be doing anymore interviews concerning PESTILENCE / HORDE OF TORMENT. My mind and heart are busy with the music that I am creating in the present."
Scott: "Sure. I’d love to. Some people don’t like interviews but I think they’re pretty cool."
Now lucky folks, here’s a possibility for you to get some of the material that this band has issued ten years ago for a very cheap price:
"Product Of A Sick Mind" Demo – $3, "Inherit The Sin" Demo – $3, "Product Of… / Infected" LP – $5. All items payable to Marco Barbieri, P.O. Box 480275, Los Angeles, CA 90048, USA. Note: All orders overseas must add $2 per item for postage.
THE HORDE OF TORMENT discography:
Product Of A Sick Mind (EP, C.M.F.T.)
Product Of A Sick Mind (LP, SA Bucher)
Inherit The Sin (EP, SA Bucher)