Interview: Death Angel
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Death Angel has been at thrash metal’s forefront for thirty years. Beginning its tenure in 1980s San Francisco by opening shows for the likes of Metallica, Exodus and Slayer, the band has gone onto release eight studio albums, their latest – The Evil Divide – dropping at the end of May. But according to Death Angel’s lead guitarist and founder Rob Cavestany, as the band goes making albums has been getting more difficult. “The factors of why it gets harder are not creative factors,” Rob explains. “It’s just circumstances surrounding the rest of your life; the time and responsibilities that didn’t exist when we were making music as kids. “We were teenagers when we first started. What responsibilities do you have when you’re a teenager? Homework. So the rest of it’s just hanging out, laughing and playing and just fucking having a blast! Luckily we spent a lot of time doing something productive, which was hanging out in the garage working on music. “But these days with writing, creatively it’s still the same kind of trip; I just love to write, I love to play music and create, but now you have to do it within the realm of real-life. That’s the part that gets crunchy because I end up having to work on music into the wee hours of the morning because that’s the only time available. So then I’m not getting enough sleep because I have to get up early and take my kid to school and run around and do shit and try to write in between, then go to rehearsal. So yeah, that makes things a little more challenging and exhausting. “As well as the fact that the way I write music is much more advanced. I think our song-writing is much more developed, which means it takes a lot longer intricately focusing, dissecting and working on parts, so it makes it take much more time and focus as opposed to just throwing shit together and there you have it!” But not only has Death Angel’s writing been getting more and more intricate since its early days: unlike many ‘80s metal bands, it is also getting heavier and heavier, peaking at 2013’s The Dream Calls for Blood. “With the last two albums – [2010’s] Relentless Retribution and The Dream Calls for Blood – there was definitely a focus on heaviness, aggressiveness and brutality. And a lot of that had to do with the line-up change that happened when our original drummer and bass player left the band; that’s the fucking rhythm section right there! “So all of a sudden, we were set to do another album and it was going to have a new drummer and a new bass player, and I just knew the obvious, which was that we were going to be mercilessly critiqued by the naysayers who were going to say we should have just hung it up at that point. You know that’s gonna happen! “But now, when it came to this album, we weren’t really concerned with that. We had felt that we had proven the point and established ourselves with this line-up. We felt that we had earned the respect that we hoped for by touring relentlessly and giving it everything we’ve got, and I guess people saw that to be the case. We felt good about that, so we went into this album with a different kind of confidence and a freedom that we didn’t think we had on the last two albums. So now, this is just a natural heaviness.” The Dream Calls for Blood received critical and fan acclaim upon its release three years ago, so for Death Angel, following it up was a massive undertaking. “I was very pleased with the way that Dream Calls for Blood was received and because of that you have the pressure of following it up. And you’re trying to push that out of your mind so you can just write organically and freely without thinking, but at the same time I can’t lie and say that you don’t feel that. “So I knew it was going to be a fucking challenge and with that in mind, we tried to just do the best we could possibly do. And that’s basically what I thought would have to happen in order for it to be possible and to compete with our last album. The only thing that was in our mind-set was ‘Let’s out-do the last album.’ “We could never have done this album any sooner than the way we did it, because we wouldn’t have been prepared, technically or emotionally, to express it. When you lay it out and record, you have to be in a certain headspace, and we were there. I’m just really glad it went down that way.” Death Angel are hitting the road to promote The Evil Divide in September, supporting follow classic thrashers Slayer and Anthrax on a tour across the US. “Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel, that’s a fucking insane bill right there! That line-up is gonna destroy, we’re so fucking excited. It’s definitely the biggest North American tour we’ve ever done to date, so that’s amazing for us and it’s gonna be fucking killer. “And there you have three bands from the old-school era – original bands of the thrash scene – but we all come from three different major cities. Death Angel’s from the San Francisco Bay Area in northern California, Slayer are from Los Angeles so they’re six hours south of us, and of course you have Anthrax from New York and the east coast.” Death Angel and Slayer are bands with history together; despite Slayer hailing from Los Angeles, the two would share the stage frequently in the San Francisco Bay Area. “We’re all coming from different spots, but with that Bay Area scene, Slayer gets lumped in there a lot because they played San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley a lot. So just for all the die-hards that are gonna go ‘What the fuck are you talking about man?!’, Slayer were the LA contribution to the Bay Area sound. “But there were parties! Friday or Saturday night you’d go from one show to the next and do all the after-parties. All the bands would be hanging out and you’d be gaining a lot of street knowledge and a lot of musical knowledge all at once while you’re going wild partying your ass off! And we were getting beer! They were giving it to us when we weren’t allowed to even drink yet. “It was just a fucking blast, it was a very amazing time and I think we were very fortunate to be in that moment. It’s something that can never be recreated. It was new, it was cutting edge and it was just fucking insane.” And while there have been no official announcements that Death Angel will be bringing this unique brand of Californian thrash to the shores of Blighty yet, there are definitely plans in the works. “We may even be able to get there before the end of the year,” says Rob. “Our cycle for this record begins with the Slayer/Anthrax/Death Angel tour from September through to the end of October. It’ll end by November, so it’s quite possible we’ll be out in the UK for November/December. We’re booking shows as we speak, the announcements haven’t been made yet because we’re still in the process. We could be there by November but if not, shortly thereafter.” The upcoming Death Angel UK shows are events not to be missed, but in the six months between now and that tour, at least we will have one of 2016’s best thrash albums to tide us over. Read Rob talk about late Megadeth drummer Nick Menza and the two’s cancelled side-project here. Death Angel’s brand new album, The Evil Divide, is available physically and digitally now via Nuclear Blast Records. Read our review of the album here. Death Angel will be touring the UK in November and December 2016.