For Death Angel, 2012 has been an interesting year. Whilst the year has not seen a new album from the Bay Area thrashers, it has seen the 25th anniversary of their influential debut album, The Ultra-Violence. Celebrating this anniversary, the band re-issued the long since out of print album, following it up with full performances of the album across the US and Europe.
Part of this celebration has included being part of the Metalfest festival tour across Europe. Whilst still essentially a collection of separate individual festivals, to the band it was almost like another package tour, as guitarist Ted Aguilar comments; "It felt weird because there were lots of the same bands just in different cities. It felt like a tour, it didn't feel like festivals. But, y'know, they were good festivals, the one in Lorelei, Germany was good. But to me it felt more like a tour than an actual festival. To me festivals are more like Hellfest or Graspop... Hellfest will have different bands, and then Graspop will have totally different bands. But Metalfest felt more like a package tour."
"We did all the Metalfests, and Megadeth was on one of them, and Kreator was on another." Ted adds further; "But the majority of the Metalfests we did with Fear Factory, they were on pretty much all of them with us, In Extremo, Ensiferum, all of these other bands."
Just like any package tour, the Metalfest machine was not without its rumours and drama. Whilst Death Angel were not involved in any of it themselves, they found themselves involved in the aftermath of a Megadeth set cut short in Zadar, Croatia. The band, originally scheduled to play in the afternoon and only for 45 minutes, ultimately found themselves closing the entire festival to a unexpectedly huge crowd by the Adriatic sea.
"When we got there we supposed to get on at 4, then they moved it because I guess... well we didn't know what was going on, something going on in the Megadeth camp, we had no idea." the guitarist begins to explain; "We were just told 'Well you're meant to go on at 2 or 7... but now you're going on at 4, and now you're going on at 8'. Then all of a sudden we're going on at 10:30 or something. So we're all getting ready to go on, and then suddenly Megadeth cut their set short so we were all 'Uh oh', so we just hurried up and got on stage. We had an amazing time – we were surprised that the crowd was still there, the amount of people that stayed was just as much as for Megadeth. That made us have a good time. We got to play a little longer than our normal set time. It was great, probably one of my favourites, that Croatia show."
“ Some people say we ended up headlining over Megadeth, which is kinda trippy ”
- Ted Aguilar
The reasons for Megadeth's cut set have been subject to a variety of rumours, and Death Angel knew very little as they were getting ready to play; "We found out when Megadeth were breaking down, somebody in the audience threw a rock at Dave Mustaine and Dave Mustaine cut the set. I don't know why they threw it, I don't know if it was pissed off fans or what went on. All we knew is they went on, they played for a half hour, got a rock thrown at them and cut their set short. It sucked because I was watching Megadeth, and they were on fire that day, and I was hoping they would play a little longer – and I didn't get to see Holy Wars, y'know? I was kind of bummed – but I got to see them at Hellfest."
Still, the result is certainly something – nobody would've expected Death Angel to ever have headlined over Megadeth. Well, sorta.
"It looked like that," Ted smiles; "We were supposed to close the festival, but some people say we ended up headlining over Megadeth, which is kinda trippy – it was cool! The only thing that didn't make it feel like we were headlining is that we didn't have the lighting, we didn't have the production, but in a sense yeah, it felt like we were headlining."
Ted himself joined Death Angel when the band reformed in '01. Originally reforming for the now legendary Thrash of the Titans benefit concert for Chuck Billy of Testament and the late Chuck Schuldiner of Death, not everyone in the classic line-up of the band were into reforming. Ted, an old friend and fan of the band from far back in the '80s, was invited to replace original guitarist Gus Pepa. Since that one concert, he has stayed with the band ever since for the band's subsequent albums The Art of Dying, Killing Season and Relentless Retribution. The band's celebration of their debut's 25th anniversary means just as much to him as it does the band's founding members, though – after all, he was there when the album was first released.
"I remember when that album came out and I remember being at the show where they had the video shoot." he recalls; "It was 1987, I believe it was either July 7th or July 14th, I could be mixing it up. But it was Death Angel, Vio-lence and the band Betrayal from Southern California. I remember that show really well because I was the first one in line. I bought my ticket and I remember they played Voracious Souls twice. They played an amazing show that night, it was really raw. I remember getting The Ultra-Violence... holy shit, I remember getting the demo! Then I got the record, and was like holy shit!"
"By that point I was just playing in local bands, along with our drummer Will." he continues, referring to current Death Angel drummer Will Carroll; "We started a band of our own, did some shows. We had the first wave which was Metallica, Exodus, etc. and then the second wave which is probably Death Angel, Vio-lence, Forbidden... then there were a lot of third wave thrash bands that me and Will's band kinda fell into. But after third wave, thrash pretty much died out, with the whole grunge thing. It didn't make it go away, it just made it more underground. Way more underground than it had ever been."
“ We cannot recreate that moment in time ”
- Ted Aguilar
Having been a fan of the band back then, and a member of the band now, gives Ted a unique perspective of the band's debut – though his own opinion of the album is perhaps similar to many thrash fans; "It's really raw, aggressive, the riffs, the songs are good... and there's melody, y'know when you listen to Voracious Souls, there's really good vocal melodies where as a lot of thrash bands just screamed. Death Angel incorporated a lot of melody, and a lot of thrash bands didn't have that. Death Angel always had melody. That's what made Death Angel stick out in the very beginning."
The Ultra-Violence isn't without its critics, though. After all, the album was released in the '80s and by today's standards, its production is less than stellar. However, the band are very firm about the chances of a re-recording; "Never! Never! Well... never say never, but we are 99.99999% certain that's not going to happen. We cannot recreate that moment in time. Of course in that album there are lots of imperfections, the production is probably not as good as the production today, but there's something about it. If you re-record it, people are always going to compare it to that. We just want to leave it the way it is. I don't like it when bands re-record stuff, I hear it and think 'Yeah, the production is good, but the playing is different'. You can't replicate the feeling, the headspace, the time, the whole vibe of it. I don't see ourselves re-recording any album."
This hasn't stopped the band from trying to replicate that album live – not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. The band already play much of the album in their regular sets, but their 2012 tour saw the band play rarities – including the album's title track in full; "The Ultra-Violence – the instrumental itself – is very challenging, it's over ten minutes long, and there's a lot of parts so it is challenging but it is good too because it keeps you on your toes. We've played Kill as One before, it's something we're familiar with, and then we get to The Ultra-Violence and it's like okay this is new, it's fresh, it keeps us on our toes... then after that, Mistress of Pain, ah a breath of fresh air! Okay so what's after that... Final Death?!? Final Death hasn't been played since Frolic In The Park. Ever since Death Angel got back together, Final Death hasn't been played. Now that we get to do the whole album in its entirety, perfect timing."
“ The goal is to make it more full-on thrash, but who knows? ”
- Ted Aguilar
Whilst 2012 might have been a year for reflection and nostalgia for Death Angel, this coming year will see the band in a totally different mode. Now that the tour cycle for Relentless Retribution is coming to a close, the band will start to work on a new album; "When we come off of this tour, we'll take a little break and then go into our rehearsal room and start writing. Every now and then, if we have time on this tour, we'll write. Lay down a few riffs here and there. Right now we're about six songs in, no lyrics yet but Mark is working on lyrics for these songs. It's hard to say, as of right now the music is sounding like a progression from Relentless Retribution, but things can change when Mark's vocals come in, songs evolve."
"The goal is to make it more full-on thrash, but who knows?" Ted comments on the direction of the next album; "Towards the end of this album, Rob might be more in that mood of writing acoustic songs that fit the album, can't say yes, can't say no. I think Death Angel is the type of band that we can throw in those types of songs, have mellow songs mixed with the aggressive songs. It has been proven on all our albums."
We'll have to wait and see if Death Angel can produce a worthy successor to Relentless Retribution, but in the meantime, we can always go back in time and remember what made the band so exciting in the first place.
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