A lot has been happening with Death Angel lately. The Bay Area thrash legends have experienced losing key original members, gained two new replacements, and are about to release their sixth studio album Relentless Retribution on September 14. Talk about a hectic year. During their stop in Philadelphia during their tour with Soilwork, Mutiny Within, Augury and Swashbuckle, guitarist Ted Aguilar took time with us to discuss the recording of their new aggressive album, the fresh energy brought into the band thanks to its new members and what might happen in the future thanks to the “Big Four” concerts.
You’re new album supposedly has a theme that revolves around anger and rage, and cover artwork designer Brent Elliot explained further that the theme was about “betrayal by those close to you and revenge against the deceitful”. What inspired such an emotional and aggressive theme?
A lot of things actually. The band has gone through a lot within the last couple of years, from the last album to now, and it’s just a lot of things in general. Like personal experience and experiences we’ve seen people go through close to us. And the vibe that was surrounding us, there was a lot of negative stuff that happened. Not only with us but are close friends. So we kind of used all that negative energy and just let it flow into our music and lyrics. So we just did that, and it felt so great to have all this built up anger and just having to channel it through music. When we did that, the music came out as brutal as it can and lyrically, Mark [Osegueda, vocals] wrote nine of the lyrics and Rob [Cavestany, guitarist] wrote like three. And when our cover guy, Brent Elliot, did the artwork he actually read the lyrics. Before he even knew the music, he read the lyrics and he felt where we were coming from and drew up the artwork. We were just amazed by it because that artwork totally fits the music that we were writing and recorded. So it’s awesome man!
Yeah. Not a lot of bands seem to focus on the cover artwork anymore. So it’s cool to hear that you guys still put a lot of care in it.
We did. I mean, we’re happy at this point with the album. It’s old school to a sense, but today, and we wanted something like that. We were writing some really fast thrash songs! FAST THRASH! We went back to like, you know how it is when you release your first album, or when a band releases their first album, and the excitement of being in a new band and writing for the first time and recording your album for the first time? That’s the kind of energy we were having. So we just wanted to go that route. That’s what we were feeling at the time. We were happy that it came out that way.
You’ve kind of already touched upon about the changes that have gone on over the past couple of years, including with lineups. Would you say that all those changes in the lineup really helped shape who the band is today? Like with new members Will [Carroll, drummer] and Damien [Sissom, bassist], would you say that they brought in a new aggressiveness?
Exactly! I believe they brought in a new freshness and excitement. Will actually has been in the Bay Area scene for 20 plus years. I mean, he’s played with Vicious Rumors, he’s filled-in in Machine Head, he has a band called Old Grandad and has a Mercyful Fate tribute band called Hail Satan with Damien. So they’re from the thrash scene, and Will is a thrash drummer. He was the number one choice from the get-go… and he was a Death Angel fan back in the day, so it was like when he came in he knew about 90% of the songs. And Damien, it was a no brainer. He’s a world skilled musician and he was from the Bay Area scene for a long time to. So having these two guys brought a lot of freshness and more of the thrash element back into the band, which was missing. A lot of the stuff that we were writing, we were taking advantage of their skills because we knew that they could play thrash. When Rob was writing, he wrote pretty much all the music on this album, when he was starting to write riffs, Will was throwing down the thrash vibe, and we were all like “YEAH! THAT’S IT!” so yeah. It’s a change from the different lineup, but again it was more fresh, more excitement, and more thrash!
Cool! So that’s what we can expect from the new album?
Exactly! More thrash! This album is probably out of all the Death Angel albums the most thrashiest, the most fastest, most double bass since Ultra-Violence!
Wow! That’s a big claim
Well you know, people who have heard it have thought the same.
Well that’s great! You actually mentioned how Will and Damien are both Bay Area musicians. Was that just a fluke, or was it important for you guys to keep that Bay Area feeling?
It just happened to be that. I mean I’ve known Will for 20 plus years. We went to high school together. Our first three bands were together. And when we got Will, I mean he was my first choice, but Mark beat me to the punch! (laughing) And Mark goes “Can Will do it?” and I go ‘He can do it!’ So he’s known me for 20 plus years, he’s known Mark and Rob for just as long. So it was just a comfortable fit. We know each other, we’re from the Bay Area, we know what he can do, and he knows our music. So it was perfect. Same with Damien, we’ve known Damien for not as long as Will but he’s been in the circuit for a while. His playing is unbelievable. When he came in when we lost Sammy [Diosdado, ex-bassist], he learned the songs and the new songs within like three days.
You can’t ask for anything more than that then.
Yeah! So then we started gelling together and writing the album. Everyone was there at every rehearsal doing their part and putting in a lot of hours, and you’ll hear it on the new record.
And I’m already a fan of the last few records, so that’s amazing that it’s heavier.
Yeah it is! I mean nothing against the old records, but it’s the thrashiest since Ultra-Violence.
Well you’ve been playing some new songs lately.
One new song yeah.
Can we expect to hear any on this current tour though?
Yes you will.
Can you give us a little sneak peak at which song you will be playing?
Well, it’s off the new album! (laughing)
I know, but what about some titles! (laughing)
(laughing) Well we’ve been playing a song called ‘River Of Rapture.’ That’s the one we’ve been playing because right now it’s just like we just want to give a sneak preview of it. We don’t want to let all the cats out of the bag. A lot of bands like to play a lot of new songs, but we want to go back to that old-school way of just doing one because with YouTube and everything now-a-days it’s going to spoil all of the fun with all these songs out there. We’re just going to give you one and wait for the new record, so that you can get that excitement like with the old-school, “I CAN’T WAIT!” kind of thing. When bands came around tour and they play a new song, people would go like “That was bad! I can’t wait for the new album!” So that’s the kind of approach we want to do.
Death Angel’s demo Kill As One really made headway back in the day through underground tape trading. Do you see any similarities to tape trading to today’s illegal downloading? Or is illegal downloading much more harmful?
I understand illegal downloading. You’ve got to embrace it. There’s nothing you can do. It’s good for bands who are starting out and want to get their name out there. For bands like Death Angel, Testament, Soilwork, for example, who are putting a lot of money into recording and into the artwork and into releasing the CD, yeah it hurts because people steal it and don’t support the band because the internet is so fast that you can just get it within seconds. Where back in the day with tape trading, you had to make the tape, mail it and wait. So it has that long period of time. But back then, people got the tape and went “Aw this is killer! I can’t wait to get the album!” There is the difference. This generation is brought up differently from when we were brought up. I mean don’t get me wrong, I do download, but I do make purchases. I like the covers, and I want to support the bands. I’m still a fan of metal music, so I like to support the bands, or at least with bands that I like. Every now and then I get caught seeing a cover and thinking ‘Aw this looks pretty bad! I got to buy it!’ and see what it is, but sometimes its good and sometimes it’s not.
I know you weren’t originally in the band when they first recorded Kill As One and Ultraviolence, but you’ve been in the business for a while now. Is there anything you know today that you wish you knew when you first started out?
Umm…it’s not all fun and games man. It’s fun to go out and play to these people, but it’s a business. I mean at the end of the day it’s a business. You’ve just got to be on top of your game. Not only musically but business-ly you got to be on top of your game. There’s a lot of younger bands who are doing that. It’s just evolving with the times basically. No one is like selling 100 thousand records anymore. It’s just evolving with the times and embracing it and just making the smart decisions along the way if you want to have longevity in music. A lot of bands lose sight of that. They think it’s all about playing and what not, but there’s more to it than that. If you want to survive, you got to have your business head on and keep going. It’s all fun and we love playing for the fans, but at the end of the day we’ve gotta pay bills too. Other than that, just have a good head on your shoulders.
Was there any instance that made you realize this?
Well it’s kind of hard to say. People just got to go out there and do it. People who are just starting out in bands or bands garages go “Wow, I’m going out on tour!” and blah blah blah, “This is the life!” Some people go out there and have expectations and some go out there and say “This isn’t what I expected!” It’s kind of hard to say because everyone is different. You just got to go and do it, and see if you can live it. I mean it’s not meant for everybody. Being in a band, touring, it’s not meant for everybody. You’re always on the road a lot, long hours in the recording and rehearsal studio, doing a lot of press. It takes up a lot of time. You got to really love it for one and you got to be really built for it, and hopefully your loved ones back at home, your family and friends, are going to support you on this. It’s hard to say because you just got to have a band go out there and see if they can do it.
Well you haven’t turned back yet then huh?
Not yet. See, there’s a couple of key members, original members that we lost because they had family, a couple of kids, and had to pay mortgages at home, and that’s hard to have to go on the road and not make enough money to support your family. We’ve totally understand that when it comes to family. So we’ve got to keep trucking! Got to keep going. It’s hard losing key members but it’s what you’ve got to do man. Yeah it does suck, but it’s life. Shit happens. Just because two guys in a band don’t want to do it doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t want to do it. We just got to keep going.
So you probably get this question a lot, but the “Big Four” just did a mini tour together for the first time ever. A lot of fans say that you guys should be a part of this as well, that it isn’t right that you, Testament, Exodus and Overkill aren’t included in this. What are your opinions on that?
Flattered, for one. And I understand, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer, I mean they were there before we were. We (Death Angel, Testament, Exodus) were like the second wave, the second coming of thrash. So it makes sense for those four to do it, and hopefully now that metal is on the big swing maybe those bands will learn and go “Wow, we’re on this big tour with all four of us together. How about when we go off on our own tours, let’s take some of the second generation. Let’s pass it along.” I mean we would love to go out with any band. Hopefully it will happen. With the way metal has been resurgent and the way the ‘Big Four’ has made a big impact, hopefully there’ll be packages. I mean look, right now you have Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and Testament (on the American Carnage Tour). Who knows! I mean Metallica has taken out Lamb Of God and Machine Head, hopefully they’ll take us out. Who knows what might happen!? But I think the “Big Four” is a start for more things to come.
Well my friends and I have been saying how we’d love to see Testament, Exodus, Death Angel and Overkill do their own tour together. Like you four alone would be really cool. Is there a possibility for that?
Never say never! There’s always been talks. People have been talking like “Yeah we should!” All talks, but hopefully down the road man. I know we got a new album coming out. Exodus has a new album coming out. Overkill has an album out right? And I believe even Forbidden has a new album coming out!
Yeah, they’re back also!
Yeah! And Testament is writing a new album. So who knows!? I mean right now it’s hard because our schedules are not matching up … Exodus released and album and goes on tour while we are recording a new album. So hopefully one of these days the stars will align and everyone has a free time and we’re like “Hey we’re not doing nothing, lets tour together!” I mean we’re all label mates, but it’s all depending on schedules. Right now we’re on tour and the album is going to be released, while right now Forbidden is in Europe. Testament is about to go on the American Carnage Tour, and Exodus just got back from Europe. See how the schedules aren’t matching?! One of these days I think the, how would you say, the ‘Not So Big Four’ (laughing) will tour together.
You should just call the tour that! (laughing)
‘THE NOT SO BIG FOUR’: Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Forbidden, and possibly Overkill.
Well if you could make it into the ‘Not So Sweet Sixteen’ who would you include?
You know it’s hard because I like all of the bands. Like what I said, when the ‘Big Four’ did it, it’s just going to make thrash even bigger. Like there was a lull in thrash. A lot of death metal and even nu metal took over, but now with the thrash resurgence, like I said, thrash is going to be huge. I mean everyone is releasing albums. Regardless of original members or not, they’re still trucking, and everyone’s excited. And you also got newer bands like Warbringer, Bonded By Blood and Fueled By Fire, all these new thrash bands help keep it alive. So it’s great. Thrash music is going to be good, and in the next couple of years I think thrash is just going to be huge like it was in the 80’s.
Cool. Well then I guess that we’ll just have to wait to see you guys share the same bill with Testament and Exodus on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise!
Yes!!! (laughing) Are you going?!
I wish I could!
Oh man!! It’s Exodus, Testament, Forbidden, Fear Factory, Swashbuckle, Amon Amarth, Obituary, and Raven!!
It’s such a cool show!
It is. See what I mean though about it all coming together? It’s starting. A cruise is just a start! Everyone on one big ship. And if that’s going to be successful, then who knows what might happen after that. It could mean more package tours after that. All these bands may go “Hey! Let’s do tours together!” Who knows?!