Like many others, I got into the Bay Area thrash metal band Death Angel all the way back in 1990, after seeing their videos for “Seemingly Endless Time” and “A Room with a View” on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. Those cuts were from their most successful album to date, Act III. Of course, two other now-classics preceded it: The Ultra-Violence and Frolic Through the Park. But as the touring cycle for Act III was nearing its end, a bus accident left then drummer Andy Galeon unable to perform. This led to the band’s members going their separate ways and a decade-long hiatus, before they finally reformed in 2001 for a benefit concert for Testament’s Chuck Billy. The band eventually replaced its rhythm section and has managed to release two acclaimed albums in recent years, The Art of Dying (2004) and Killing Season (2008).
Now in 2010, the trend of consistent releases continues with the excellent all-out thrasher, Relentless Retribution (review), an album that retains the heart and soul of Death Angel and further solidifies the band within the standing of modern thrash metal.
Throughout Death Angel’s career, Mark Osegueda has been its voice and force. Though he usually opts for more of a clean, melodic vocal style, Relentless Retribution finds him with a meaner, aggressive style, one that fits the self-proclaimed “most aggressive Death Angel album since The Ultra-Violence.” I recently had the privilege to talk with Osegueda about Death Angel’s history, the new album and much more.
This is a band that played its first show on a bill with Megadeth in 1984, a veteran act that deserves the attention. Read on, thrash metal fans!
LIVE METAL: With Relentless Retribution, this makes three studio albums in the last six years or so from the band. Do you regret the long downtime that the band had previously and are you trying to make up for lost time now?
MARK OSEGUEDA: I can’t say I regret the major downtime, the 10 or 11 years we were separated. I think we needed it to happen, to tell you the truth. My biggest regret is the downtime between The Art of Dying and Killing Season—that was a four-year span between that. That’s probably my biggest regret. Now that with this one, with the lineup we have now, we can start releasing albums consistently, much more consistently that we could before, which I’m pretty excited about. The goal is to release one once a year, unless for some reason one’s just a smashing success and we have to tour for two years [laughs].
I would compare—not your style necessarily—but the route you’re going with your sound, maybe similar to Exodus. You seem to be trying to stay current with the musical styles rather than playing like retro-thrash material or something like that. Would you believe that’s an accurate statement? If so, why was this decision made?
The ironic thing is that I can see the styles that you’re speaking of, and the interesting thing is that the decision was made because this type of writing, a great deal of it, was the strength of the new players and what we did when we got (drummer) Will (Carroll) and (bassist) Damien (Sissom) in. We toured with them a lot, to find out their strengths. So when (guitarist) Robby (Cavestany) started writing the riffs for this album, he was really writing his style of riffing but trying to put it to the strengths of Will’s type of drumming, which is a much different type of style than Andy (Galeon)’s. Andy’s was more of a groove-based, rock kind of playing, where Will’s is much more of a thrash style of drumming. So I think that’s where the inspiration for the writing did come.
And Rob might have had some influence from some of the more modern-day bands, being that for a while in the last couple of years he was giving guitar lessons. And a lot of students would bring in younger bands that Rob would teach them how to play their riffs. So some of them he actually thought were not so good, and others he actually opened an ear to and was like “Wow, these guys are actually really good!.” So that might have influenced it a bit, as well.
That leads into my next question. How do you think this recent thrash metal revival has affected Death Angel? It can only be good, right?
Oh … in a huge, huge way. We’re very excited about it, to tell you the truth. And I think it’s definitely still on the upswing. Especially with the “Big Four” shows that happened, and Exodus and Testament, and us, and Metallica releasing new material … And this whole slew of younger thrash bands coming out … I think hopefully in the long run, or short run even, it’s gonna make for much better tours, more well-rounded packages. Hopefully it’s just gonna expand the market for everyone.
Speaking of the “Big Four” shows, I take it you’re a huge fan and were really excited to see that?
Oh yeah. I was really excited and definitely for more ways than one. I think it was cool for them getting together, and it does bring a huge amount of exposure to this style of music in general. But I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to see any of the shows—I’ve seen some YouTube footage and that’s about it.
Death Angel has always been kind of grouped with bands like we mentioned—Exodus, Testament, Kreator—those types of bands. Were those the bands coming up that you saw as your peers? Or was it Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer and those guys? Who were your peers then as opposed to now?
I think when we were coming up our peers were definitely Testament, Exodus, and I can say that Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer to a certain degree, but they were also bands that we hugely looked up to. And of course, Exodus Bonded by Blood-era was just like … They were gods here in the Bay Area. And then when we really started getting forward, our peers were more like Forbidden, Testament, Vio-Lence, bands like that. And definitely Kreator and Destruction, as well.
And nowadays I’d say it’s all of ‘em [laughs]. We’re all peers!
Lets’ get into the new album a little bit here, Relentless Retribution. What is the meaning of the title? Is this kind of a statement from the band like you were saying? Death Angel is gonna just keep cranking out albums and moving on.
Yeah, absolutely. Basically, me and Rob had to go through a lot in the last few years, putting together the new lineup and writing this album. And unfortunately we got to see some sides of people that were very close to us that weren’t the most positive. And for us, as well—this album was a big triumph for Rob and me, and this was kind of our retribution to those people, as well. And for us, we’re fortunate enough to have music be a part of our lives—it’s kind of like our sonic retribution to them and we don’t have to take it out in other ways. [laughs]
How as it working with Jason (Suecof) on this album? Was there that first moment or a moment in general where you just kind of like, “Wow!.” You just realized that this is the guy and this is why is he known as one of the current top metal producers.
Oh yeah, and he’s a madman, too—he’s an absolute loon. But he’s great, he’s great. And definitely being in the studio with him, it was one of the more interesting times I’ve ever had recording an album. He is just so spot-on and so sharp. He’s very lighthearted, and he keeps the studio vibe in a very lighthearted manner. And me and him, we’re kind of wired the same way, so we hit it off immediately. He’s got an amazing ear, and just when he walks into the zone, it’s undeniable that it’s who he is and why.
So was there a huge difference with Jason than with previous producers? I’ve never been in a recording studio. So what is the biggest difference? How can a certain producer make a band better on an album?
It’s focusing on your strengths and giving you what you want from when we sit down and meet with the guy and try to tell him what we want to get out of this album. We’ve been blessed enough with the last couple of albums. We’ve gotten to work with some amazing producers who bring out the best in us. We got to work with Nick (Raskulinecz) on the last album, and he was just phenomenal, and Jason. I think Jason also brought out some of the most searing lead work out of Rob ever.
And when we sat down with him doing pre-production, we said wanted the most aggressive Death Angel album in years and we wanted him to focus on that. And he told me that he was going to bring out some of the most aggressive vocals that have ever been brought out of me and I think he did that. It’s just bringing out the best in the band you’re working with, and he’s just great at that.
Plus, I had an awful lot to get off my chest. And with us, we can’t help but gear towards melody. Me and Rob, we love melodic music, so vocally we’re always gonna be a little more melodic than the other thrash bands. And that’s just the type of music we like. [laughs] We’re never gonna be all growling, because for one, I can’t do it, and two, it’s not the type of singing that I’m particularly fond of.
I probably got into Death Angel back when a lot of your other fans did, back with Act III. That was when your videos, “A Room with a View” and “Seemingly Endless Time” were both in heavy rotation on Headbanger’s Ball. Looking back, would you say that was the height of the band’s career? What was your fondest memory of that time period?
Yeah, that was definitely our largest and most successful album to date and quite an era to be a part of. I’d say the fondest memory of that was probably just the whole touring cycle. We got to do a world tour, headlining with Forbidden, a major tour throughout the States and Europe. So it was just an amazing tour—production, we had our own stage setup, our own lights … It was just a different era. And right now we’re clawing our way back to hopefully that size, if not bigger, again. But we’re doing it kind of on our own terms and we’re just a little wiser than we were back then. [laughs]
Do you think that Headbanger’s Ball had a direct effect on the success of that album? And with Headbanger’s Ball at 3 a.m. in the morning now—and obviously there’s the Internet and YouTube— but how much harder is it now? Was MTV that huge of a help to you back in the day?
Of course it was back in the day, definitely. Especially in the States, because the States is always influenced by television in general and there wasn’t much of a market for videos on the Internet back then. So people definitely tuned into that. Especially people into metal because you could never find it anywhere, soHeadbanger’s Ball was a blessing.
And nowadays, you do have things like YouTube and what not, and becauseHeadbanger’s Ball is on so late on MTV2, it’s not as influential as it was once. The Internet has become kind of the king when it comes to marketing a band.
So, it’s a completely different era, but the Internet is the best marketing tool ever for a band.
I guess what I’m saying is that without Headbanger’s Ball, I never would have heard you guys. And now, if your band had just come out today, I wouldn’t know what to look for on YouTube. Do you see what I’m saying?
Oh yeah, it was huge. It was one of the biggest things for metal and was just phenomenal. And it definitely helped us in a huge way … in a huge way. And I’m glad to have been a part of that, as well. [laughs]
I’m talking more about this album than your new one [laughs], but would there ever be a possibility of performing Act III, or any of your albums on tour (in their entirety), i.e. Slayer, Megadeth, Testament—the album tours these bands are doing right now?
There’s been talk of it. But we’re gonna tour for this record for sure and do a well-rounded set, but there’s definitely some talk of it. And we’ll probably wait for these bands to play out their albums for a while. And when people least expect it, we’ll probably come back and do something on future tours. Definitely. Yeah, definitely.
What is the biggest difference from when you guys were a thrash band starting out to being a thrash band playing today? Other than the Internet and all these things we have talked about.
I think now more than ever touring is more important than it ever was. And it can make or break a band. The thing is now is to stay pretty much on the road consistently and in people’s faces. Because unfortunately a lot of people’s attention spans have shrunk due to the Internet because people are so used to immediate gratification [laughs]. So you gotta kind of stay in people’s faces. It’s a blessing for us because one thing Death Angel has always been is a live band anyway. So we just want to get on the road constantly. So I think that’s the major, major difference.
As far as your fan base, have you noticed lots of new faces coming in or is it mainly this core group that’s been with you through the years?
It’s kind of crazy, actually. I’ve definitely noticed an expansion of our fan base. At shows, the face of the fans has changed dramatically in the last three years. Where before it was a lot of the people that supported us back in the day—our hardcore fans. Now you look up front and it’s a lot of young teenagers wearing the kind of stuff we used to wear when we were 15 or 16. So it’s incredible. It’s incredible to see it growing, and it’s a blessing— it’s definitely a blessing.
So the album, Relentless Retribution is due out September 14 in the States, September 3 in Europe. Just kind of give us an outline of Death Angel’s touring schedule and everything else coming up.
We just finished touring with Soilwork about two and a half weeks ago. The second week of October we go to South America for the first time ever. We’re doing about two and a half weeks in South America. And then November and December, we’re going back to Europe with Kreator, Exodus, Death Angel and Suicidal Angels [“Thrash Fest”]—like 25 shows out in Europe. And then in the end of January through February, we’re probably going to do a headlining tour of the States. And that will bring us through March, and March we’ll go out to Eastern Europe for the first time and we’re gonna do a bunch of shows in Eastern Europe that we’ve never done. And then that’ll bring us into the summer festivals in Europe. So we’re planning on touring nonstop, and while we’re on the road, we’re gonna be writing for the next album. So when we’re done with the touring cycle, we’re trying to turn this stuff and get right back in the recording studio.
Alright Mark, you’ve answered my questions. Is there anything else you wanna throw out there?
Thanks for the support and the new album comes out September 14. And check it out, it’s probably the most aggressive Death Angel album since The Ultra-Violence. And we’re gonna be touring nonstop, so if you have a chance to see Death Angel live—it’s one thing that I’ve said before—is that we’ve always been a live band and we’ll definitely leave an impression. So come check it out.