Upon the arrival of their debut album in 1987, Death Angel was arguably the youngest band in thrash. A group of Filipino cousins from the San Francisco Bay Area, they began a run of creative, powerful, and adventurous recordings and intense live performances. It all came to a sudden end after a near-fatal bus crash on tour: a mortal blow coming just as the band was gaining some traction.
Now, one reunion, three albums and several line-up changes later, the band has released The Dream Calls for Blood, the perfect evolution from their previous effort, 2010’s Relentless Retribution. We got the chance to speak with lead vocalist Mark Osegueda about the bands activities surrounding their latest opus.
Metal Blast: For the new album, you and the band made the decision to return to the studio where you made Relentless Retribution. What brought you to that decision?
Mark Osegueda: We loved the atmosphere there, but it was beyond the atmosphere. We were very fond of Relentless Retribution, and when we started writing material for this new record we saw that it was still in that same aggressive style. We felt that, with how comfortable we were with [Producer] Jason [Suecof], thinking about the tones he was getting for us, we thought it could only be stronger. All told it surpassed our expectations.
MB: Both Relentless Retribution and the new album are without a doubt the heaviest albums you’ve crafted in your career. How is it that you guys have been able to construct such fast, aggressive, brutal material while many of your contemporaries have, to varying degrees, abandoned thrash and speed metal?
MO: I think with us we kind of went the opposite direction. We got all of the experimentation out while we were young back in the ‘80s; We tried to push the envelope then and maybe pushed it a little too much. When we reformed in 2001 we were writing new material, sort of fishing a bit, not knowing which direction things would go in. Over time we started getting on the same page a lot more. Then we lost a couple of the original members, which in turn brought us two younger players who were very hungry to play, very eager to tour, and were also much more thrash-based players. Will [Carroll] is a much more thrash-styled drummer than Andy [Galleon, former drummer], who was a much more groove-based, almost ‘70s rock kind of drummer. Dennis [Pepa, former bass player] was a much more punk-derived player than Damien [Sisson] is. When Rob [Cavestany] was coming up with the riffs for the new record he was definitely playing off those strengths. So all of that lead to us going back to our thrash roots and coming up with some of the strongest material we’ve written to date.
MB: The new album’s artwork brings back the “Antlered Wolf” from Relentless Retribution. Is he an attempt at a mascot for the band?
MO: For the moment he seems to be! We’ve named him Wolfie, and we don’t know where he lies in our future. But we knew going in that this album would be the sister record to the last one, so that’s why we chose the same studio, same producer, and same artist for the cover. We wanted it to be the wolf kind of down the road a bit from the last time we saw him. He’s a bit more ravaged and a bit of survivor with kind of a bitter streak. He’s definitely got scars.
MB: Speaking of wolves: a lot of your lyrical themes over the last few years have revolved around things like wolves, blood, natural connection and conflict. Are these just cool things to write about or is there a deeper meaning that you’re trying to get through to the listener?
MO: I mean it’s definitely cool because you want to be ambiguous enough but come up with certain themes about real life and kind of tie some cool imagery to it. Everything we write about tends to be about stuff we’re going through at the time. I absolutely love wolves and it sickens me that people in certain states still get to hunt them. But when you get down to it it’s just nature. It’s survival instincts and that’s something you need when you’re in a band; especially one that plays an extreme style of music.
MB: Do you think there’s a connection between Death Angel’s music and what’s going on in the world right now?
MO: Oh absolutely! I tend to write about things that anger me and, unfortunately, a lot of that has to do with the state of the world and people in positions of power. I would like things to change just like anyone else.
MB: I’ve always found that Death Angel’s lyrics have said a lot of the same things that other thrash bands are trying to say, but in a more subtle, metaphorical kind of way. Has that always been the intention?
MO: Absolutely. From Act III on I’d say yes. We’ve definitely matured as songwriters whereas on the first two records we were just kind writing about things that sounded metal. Now, we’re writing about things that affect us directly. We try to be a bit ambiguous about it and throw metaphors in there so the listener can put their own meaning to the song too. We do write about things that are typically touched upon in metal, but we’ve also pushed the envelope as well. For example there are two songs on the new record about break-ups, the end of personal relationships, which is not something that’s normally addressed in thrash.
MB: Has there ever been a fear to address that kind of subject matter?
MO: No and I think that’s one of the things that has always set us apart. I love this type of music because you can instill a sense of invincibility in people. Metal’s done that for me, for sure. But we’ve never been afraid to show a moment of vulnerability as well. I think showing a moment of vulnerability shows a human aspect to you. As long as you overcome that and persevere, that shows strength and garners respect from people.
MB: Do you have a favourite track on the new album?
MO: It’s tough because I’m SO excited about this new record. It’s still so fresh and [my favourites] kind of switch after every rehearsal. Stand-outs right now though, and that’s not taking away from the others, but stand-outs right now are “Left for Dead” right off the bat, the title track, which I think has a great feel to it, and “Caster of Shame” is another one I’m very fond of at the moment as well.
MB: The new line-up has been together for one full, quite extensive, tour. You went to a lot of places that the band had never been to before. What can those fans who saw you for the first time on this last tour expect to see as far as differences this time out?
MO: We’re much more cohesive as a unit for sure. But last tour there was a lot of throwback to the early stuff because of people having not seen us before. This time out we’re going to be focusing on a lot of the newer stuff; We’re really confident in the material from the last couple of records and I’ve actually had people say to me “I might be a freak but I’d love to hear more of the new stuff!”. The response has been overwhelmingly positive to the new stuff so we’re definitely going to do more of that.
MB: Are there any new places that you’ll be visiting this time around?
MO: Nothing too new to start, just a North American run and then a short run in Europe. We’ll be hitting some new territories in the spring and the summer.
MB: Mostly headlining or will you be doing support slots?
MO: What we have lined-up right now is mostly headlining, but the goal for us is to get on more tours. It helps us reach crowds of people who have maybe seen the name, but haven’t seen the band, and may not have come out to see us on our own. That was the case with that last touring run. We were fortunate enough to get that slot on tour with Anthrax and Testament. We garnered so many new fans from that run, it was spectacular.
MB: Obviously guitar technique in thrash has been explained and over-explained, but as one of the most intense singers in the genre, I’ve often wondered how you’ve been able to maintain the finesse and intensity in your vocal performance and execution.
MO: Thank you! I’ve worked hard for many years, but I luckily have a naturally resilient system. In the ‘80s I took six years of vocal lessons, two different techniques and I kind of took things that worked for me and mixed them with a certain amount of things I do wrong [laughs] to see what worked. Other than that I just try to take care of myself, get a lot of sleep on tour, and drink lots of tea and water. But I’m constantly learning, I had to relearn certain things along the way. While touring for the last record there was a lot of aggressive singing that I hadn’t done for quite some time. I would listen to playbacks and hear things that I really needed to work on. I had to do a lot of searching and I found some things that worked. That really helped me with this record as I was able to incorporate a lot of that stuff into the new songs.
MB: I’m going to put you on the spot for just a second, but I’ve got to ask: In your opinion, who’s the better guitar player, Rob Cavestany or Ted Aguilar?
MO: [Laughs] I’m gonna have to go with my man Rob. He’s got that natural rhythm and a natural gift for creating riffs. His lead playing has gotten better and better, and his leads on the new album are some of the best he’s done in this band. Ted’s improving as well but Rob… you come across very few people like that in your lifetime and I’m blessed to have one of them in my band.