Conceived way back in 1982, San Francisco’s Death Angel were always looked upon as the babies of the thrash scene due to their age – ex-drummer Andy Galeon was just 10 years old at the time! Fast forward a few decades they are considered one of the scene’s most consistent bands and with a hard-working ethic at their core. They’ve seen a few line-up changes over the years but this line-up has been solid for the last ten. HRH spoke to original guitarist Rob Cavestany as the band prepared to release their newest opus…
Hi Rob! First off, you’re about to release Humanicide, your 9th studio album. Every band says their latest is their finest work – how do you think this album stands out from the rest of Death Angel’s back catalogue?
I don’t know if it’s that much about wanting this album to stand out from the rest of our back catalogue. Actually I would want it to fit in with our catalogue and represent where we are in this moment of time, as all of our records obviously do. And I think that we’re constantly evolving in some ways but still trying to represent our original identity at the same time. So we did our best to do that on this record, too. We incorporated some new vibes and new ideas as well, trying to push the envelope, yet still have our own recognisable sound. So yeah, I’d prefer if this record actually fits in with our catalogue, rather than stand out from it.
How was the writing process for the new record? With such a constant high-quality output in your careers, does the song writing process get easier or harder?
The writing process for this record mostly came from entirely new ideas. Some came from riff tapes and recordings I had here and there, and I have notes of various concepts and things like that. I looked at some of these ideas to get inspired and certain parts of the songs were born that way. But mostly the musical material was written just in the moment, whatever kind of vibe I was going with on that day or that window of time where I got into a creative space and started to write. I would just follow an entire mood all the way through to the completion of a song, or at least pretty close to it. Next I would make demos in my home studio with just guitar and either a click or sometimes beats that I would programme if I had an idea for them. Then I would get those demos over to Will (Carol, drums) – Will would listen for a while before we’d meet up at our rehearsal studio, where we’d jam on the stuff to get an organic feel from being together in the room and talking about the parts, beats and arrangements. Then I’d record Will and put that together, start playing around with it and then get that to the rest of the guys. Damian (Sisson, bass) would then get in there, recording some bass. And then once I got some drums, guitar and bass, it’s enough to get this to Mark (Osegueda, vocals), so he can start working on the lyrics and melodies. That’s basically how we construct, that’s kind of our formula for most of the songs. Mark will take it from there and feed off the music, come up with some lyrics and bounce it back and forth with me until we are finally producing the song in the studio with Jason and therefore making the actual album.
Asking if the process gets easier or harder: that all depends on what day I’m trying to do some work (laughs). Some days it happens really easily, and some days it’s being difficult and that’s just kind of a weird cosmic thing that probably has a lot to do with other circumstances. What mood I’m in or what other things are going on in life around that day. It just simply flows some days and doesn’t wanna flow as much on other days.
There are certainly some curveballs on the album. One song that stands out is Revelation Song. How did that come about?
Yeah, that song came about definitely based on the hard groove that’s happening throughout that song. It just keeps pounding and keeps the pulse – I really wanted to write a song like this with that exact groove and tempo in mind. I had a note about it and I finally got around to working on it, and I recall this song coming about really quickly. The music just came together and this is kinda one of these songs that feels like it wrote itself in a way. I love it when that happens, of course. And to top it off, when I heard Mark’s ideas, I was so stoked by the combination of the music, the lyrics and vocals. That is part of what happens when Mark and I collaborate on a song.
Death Angel’s style has always been a mixture of loose riffing and precision thrash, how important is it to incorporate these styles to keep the listener coming back for more?
I like that: a mixture of loose riffing and precision thrash. Yeah, I can dig that! Well, I mean it’s important to incorporate these styles in our music, at least to represent our sound and our identity and what fans of our music have come to expect from our style, from the records we put out to the music we play. So, it’s only important in that matter really, it just is what it is. That just happens to be the style of our music and the kinda thing we like to play. And I can imagine that it would be something that might keep it interesting because you don’t know what’s coming next and it’s not as predictable but, yeah, you can lock into it and figure it out and go with it at the same time. So yes, these are definitely elements that we like incorporating into our sound.
What lyrical themes are explored on the album, and how did you come up with the title Humanicide?
There are a number of lyrical themes explored on this album, you know, it’s not a tight concept album or something like that. But at the same time there is a loosely based concept that goes with the title of the album, ‘Humanicide’. In some ways you could look at ‘Humanicide’ as showing various points of views and aspects of examples of the human race doing themselves wrong. It points out emotions of anger and frustration that are being vented out through the music and lyrics, whilst expressing problems in society and problems with relations of everything from governments in the world to human relations on a one-on-one basis. Personal relationships all the way to political relationships. All these ideas are embraced in various points of view within the album. Most of them are from an angry and frustrated points of view, which definitely goes with the style of the music. But there are also some songs that are kinda looking at things with a positive outlook and with a hopeful flavour, pushing towards unity and believing that it’s not all necessarily doomed. But for the most part it’s pointing out the impending doom of ‘Humanicide’ (laughs)! The album title ‘Humanicide’ is based on the song title ‘Humanicide’ and Mark came up with that one, so I can’t exactly say how that came to be. But I can say that when I saw that song with that title sitting right at the top, I loved it immediately and it was easy for me to see that that was a good choice for the album title.
Live shows have always been a big part of the band. Which songs off the new album are you looking forward to playing the most?
I can’t really say at this time which songs off the new album I am looking forward to playing the most, but we are going to play the opening song ‘Humanicide’ and I envision that to be an important part of our set. And ‘I Came For Blood’ will be coming at you live! ‘The Pack’; I can see that song at outdoor festivals in the summer time with the crowd just chanting along. It’s got a crowd-chant feel to it, for sure. And who knows what. I mean right now all the songs are so new to us that we’re just beginning to get into our tour rehearsals where we’re gonna try out new stuff and see what might make its way into the set, and what songs we will play that we didn’t play at first. So it’s an exciting time musically.
Thrash is still very healthy in 2019. What do you think it is about Death Angel that makes you so relevant after all these years?
Staying relevant after all these years… that’s another thing that needs to come naturally, because you can’t really try to do that kinda thing. You just are what you are, so if you’re relevant – then you’re relevant and if you’re not – you’re not. That’s how it is. I mean if I really think about it, one of the ways (we say relevant) would be our choice of producer. Working with Jason Suecof takes us in the direction of the modern sound, because he produces a lot of newer bands, definitely newer then us. He’s got his pulse on the cutting edge of the metal scene so that will cross over into our vibe when we’re working with him. Also you know, just listening to stuff that’s out there and checking out what’s up, picking through it, seeing what you like. And it’s not necessarily just metal that I’m getting influenced by… just keeping your eyes and ears open and not being too close-minded about letting things work their way in. So with that all happening you get that (hopefully) good combination of some newer elements that keep you relevant, so to speak, and your old school elements, that make you who you are in the first place.
There are other albums coming out this year from other veteran thrash acts – Overkill, Flotsam & Jetsam, Sacred Reich, Coroner, Megadeth amongst them – why do you think people are still hungry for 80’s thrash bands?
Of all these thrash acts that you name putting records out this year, so far I see that we’re the only guys from the Bay Area doing it… that’s interesting. But yeah, we’re in good company with a lot of these bands of course, our brethren from the 80s! So, why are people still hungry for 80s thrash bands? Well for one thing the 80s thrash style is somewhat of a timeless music. I mean the fashion aspect of things – or the lack thereof I could say (laughs) – comes and goes. But the music itself has a timeless quality to it that goes with high energy and the youthful vigour that even the non-youthful people may still remember. Or it ignites a flame within them. I think that’s the reason why the music stays alive. And then on top of that specific bands of this genre do still exist that totally fucking kick ass, live and in the studio.
Death Angel reformed back in 2001 after playing Chuck Billy’s benefit gig. Did you think even back then that 6 albums after that the band would still be touring the world 18 years later?
To be perfectly honest, when we did the Chuck Billy Thrash of the Titans benefit gig in 2001, when we reformed for that show, our entire intent was to just play that one show, for Chuck and for the cause. That was it. I did not think that we were going to be touring 18 years later. Much less even later that year!
Crowds nowadays are a lot different to those in the 80’s. Do you think the passion for metal is even stronger now as it was back then?
I mean, that’s a tough question because the passion for metal back in the 80s when metal was huge and new and fresh – that’s hard to beat. It’s hard to beat anything when it’s new and fresh, and just something that people haven’t experienced before. So, I mean after decades of it, the surprise wears thin, bro (laughs). Also the shock value wears thin after it has happened, plus all of the other shit that has happened since then. Back then it was easier to shock people and to offend people and be rebellious, the true essence of it. It’s hard to beat that nowadays, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. There are people that still have the full-on passion and feel the music and the vibe the same way as it was felt back then. There is definitely tons of people who do nowadays, even young people that are hopefully gonna carry the torch on! So it is killer now, and it was killer then.
So Death Angel have been asked to curate a thrash festival, with 3 old school and 3 new school bands on the bill as well as yourselves?
Okay, so we’re putting together a thrash festival – then we’ve gotta have three old school and three new school bands, as well as Death Angel on the bill. Then let’s have Slayer, Exodus, Sepultura, Children Of Bodom, Revocation and Havok.
Finally, following the release of the album what are your plans for the band?
Following the release of the new album on May 31st we’ll actually be playing our first show of our European tour that same day. That tour goes on throughout the summer, we’ll be doing festivals in Europe and shows in between the festivals. We’ll basically be touring for the rest of the year and probably next year – who knows what the year after that. But we’re definitely known to tour heavily and we’re excited to bring the new music around the world. So, let the games begin!
Death Angel released their 9th album ‘Humanicide’ via Nuclear Blast on 31st May 2019
Questions : Neil ‘Not’ Coggins
Listen to Neil every week on Hard Rock Hell Radio – Tuesdays 12pm for the C60 Mixtape Show and Sundays 5pm for Full Metal Racket