The first wave of thrash was something to behold: spawned from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and crossing over into the stripped down world of punk, it produced household names that remain relevant to this day. From bands like Overkill and Anthrax in the east, spanning to the Bay Area movement in the west, it was one of heavy metal’s crowning periods. Despite their lofty origins, many of those bands wandered away from their roots and produced far more accessible and mainstream friendly records (Metallica, Megadeth) while others burnt out entirely, courtesy of numerous line-up changes and sound remodeling (Sepultura, Suicidal Tendencies).
Death Angel has not suffered from this frequent affliction. After returning to metal with the The Art of Dying (2004) after a long split that saw the band part ways from 1991 until 2002, the band has been consistently improving, punctuated by their newest works Relentless Retribution (2010) and The Dream Calls For Blood (2013). They are undoubtedly some of the finest albums the entirety of thrash metal has produced in recent memory, which is a far cry from the majority of the aforementioned old guard, whose best days are a distant memory.
“Man, I just think it’s a friendly, competitive nature,” says Mark Osegueda, Death Angel’s longtime vocalist of the band’s musical incline. “We always try to maintain some sort of individuality and I think it really helps that we’ve streamlined the writing process and the people contributing to the writing.”
Looking at Relentless Retribution as a reference point, he’s absolutely right. That record was highlighted by the debut of new members Damien Sisson (bass) and Will Carroll (drums), who replaced original members Dennis Pepa and Andy Galeon, respectively. Their injection into the group was the start of a noticeable third wind, sending Death Angel on an absolute musical massacre.
“We lost Dennis and Andy and once we put our heads to it, we really, truly had something to prove. We weren’t going to leave as little headway as possible for anyone to disbelieve in our goal,” notes Osegueda.
The band has come a long way from their early days, when they frequently produced and performed erratic and unstructured material. Regardless, Osegueda looks back on that pre-break up era fondly. Holding their debut The Ultra-Violence (1987) in vinyl form in his grubby young hands remains one of his greatest achievements.
“I just think what we’re doing now is so leagues ahead of what we were doing then. It’s a lot more concise and I’m so proud of it, but those records needed to happen to get us to the point where we are today, for sure.”
It’s been a steady progression, but not without hardship. The newer material possesses far more focus in addition to channeling the gritty, hungry foundations of ‘80s thrash — combine that with modern production and Death Angel has crafted their recipe for success. Of course, the old days aren’t without their cherished memories: Osegueda lovingly recalls providing support for Metallica on their Ride the Lightning tour and sharing the stage with Motörhead at the Hammersmith Odeon as highlights. These days, though, Osegueda is completely content with where he is at in his career, holding a no regret policy that’s downright enviable when you consider what “could” have been if the group had stayed together rather than take a break.
“I’m such a firm believer in things happen for a reason. Other than some tongue in cheek regrets, I don’t really have too many more. I really don’t. Things happen how they should have happened.”
Indeed, Osegueda and company – who include the aforementioned alongside Rob Cavestany (guitarist and founding member) and Ted Aguilar (guitarist) – have ridden the highs of the early thrash movement of the 1980s and resurfaced just in time for the genre’s resurgent popularity. It’s a perfect time for Death Angel, who are better than ever.
“The highs back then were absolutely incredible because we were from a place where things were absolutely boiling. Things were literally about to burst,” says Osegueda. “It was such a special time in that era back here in the San Francisco Bay Area with all the bands that came out and everyone going to each others shows and supporting each other while building a friendly rivalry. But, I think that gave everyone their own identity, which was a great. Its a time that’s really hard to duplicate.”
The thrash produced lately has come close, though. There are a plethora of extremely strong new bands on the circuit, including Wisconsin’s Lazarus A.D., Boston’s technical death and thrash metal hybrid Revocation, and Denver’s Havok. The latter happen to be Osegueda’s favourite group, as they utilize all his preferred elements from thrash of old: stripped-down riffs and extended twin solo sections with slight emphasis on melodic vocal styling (albeit much less so on their earlier material).
“A lot of them fall back to the yelling or borderline death metal growl,” he says of the bands that miss the mark. “Don’t get me wrong, I respect death metal very much so but, in thrash, I think that’s what I miss about the original thrash era.”
It’s not a major gripe; during the interview, Osegueda emphasizes that he’s jazzed that there are musicians and fans still into it, especially since Death Angel helped lay the foundations for many of the new bands currently going strong.
“There’s a few that came out and told me over the years that we were a big inspiration and to me, it’s the ultimate honour that we inspired someone in any way to carry on this type of art form and that it lends to them what it lent to me back then and still does to this day. It’s such a beautiful release to play it as a musician and to listen to it as a fan.”
You can hear this influence in the aforementioned Havok, unsigned Amherst act Lich King, and Sweden’s Dr. Living Dead!, who are currently on the High Roller Records roster. The biggest quality that has crossed over is the simplicity and frantic nature prevalent in their earlier work, which was spawned when Death Angel’s members were astonishingly young. In the days of The Ultra-Violence, drummer Andy Galeon was only 14 years old; Osegueda was 18.
“I see why there are younger bands that are playing this type of music because it’s got depth, it’s got technicality, it’s got melody and it’s just a beautiful release,” he enthuses.
With Death Angel going strong, a legion of inspired fans and new acts and seemingly bright future ahead, they are one of the few bands that are right where they want to be. Osegueda noted with a chuckle that this reality surpassed all expectations.
“I would have hoped that we would have had as long as career as possible but I definitely didn’t see myself doing this 20… gosh, almost 30 years later.” He finishes appreciatively, “But I love the fact that I am, believe me.”
See Death Angel perform with Children of Bodom and Týr at the MacEwan Hall Ballroom on Sunday, February 23.
By Brandon McNeil