Death Angel's Mark Osegueda: "Music brings people together. It crosses genres, racial lines"
Death Angel was formed in 1982 by four cousins who were inspired by the new wave of British heavy metal. After releasing a demo called Heavy Metal Insanity, the band enlisted its roadie, another cousin, Mark Osegueda, to be its singer -- just in time to open for the then-up-and-coming Megadeth. From there, the outfit went on to become one of the most respected thrash acts of the era.
As the band was preparing to hit the road in support of its third album, 1990's Act III, for a slot on the Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, Death Angel was involved in a tour-bus crash that critically injured drummer Andy Galeon, sidelining him for the better part of a year and ultimately leading to the breakup of the band the following year. In 2001, Death Angel re-formed with most of the original lineup and released a series of albums that helped re-establish it as a powerful thrash act, returning to prominence in time to capitalize on the new wave of thrash.
The classic lineup split again in 2008, with bassist Dennis Pepa and drummer Galeon departing, leaving founding guitarist Rob Cavestany and Osegueda to put together a new band for the release of 2010's Relentless Retribution, and its followup, The Dream Calls for Blood in 2013. We recently spoke with Osegueda about the new record, how Death Angel came to work with Rodrigo y Gabriela, and more.
Westword: You recorded your new album, The Dream Calls for Blood, in Sanford, Florida, with Jason Suecof at Audiohammer Studios, where you recorded your previous album. Why did you choose to repeat recording there and working with him?
Mark Osegueda: We were so fond of how Relentless Retribution turned out, and we knew going into the writing of this record that we were going to carry on the same aggressive nature in the music but knock it up another level in terms of that aggressiveness. We liked Jason's production so much and the relationship we established with him the last time, we assumed it could only be stronger the second time, and that proved to be the case. We got in there, and we were much more comfortable with each other. We knew what to expect from each other, and we went in with a batch of songs we felt were a lot stronger than the last record, which we were pretty damned proud of. The end result surpassed our expectations.
On the new album, you have talked about how you felt it was more melodic but also had that aggression. What is it about that combination of sounds, as it seems to contrast some, that you like to have in your music?
It's an absolute contrast, but I think that's defined us throughout our career. You're constantly growing as an artist, and if you're not, you might as well stop; you've hit your peak. I don't think we have, and this record points that out. More than ever, we've found a perfect marriage of aggression and melody without sacrificing either.
Do find that to be the case in both the music and the vocals?
I think that's for the whole thing, and in the structure, my voice, definitely. The last record was really balls-out aggressive. With this one, I knew going into it that I wanted to keep the aggressive nature, but before we went into the studio to record, we did the 25th anniversary tour for the re-release of The Ultra-Violence.
Re-learning those songs and playing them live, I re-discovered this kind of higher-pitched scream and clear scream and clear melodic singing that I did on The Ultra-Violence back then that made me think, "Huh, I should do more of this on the new record." I incorporated that, and I think we finally hit the nail on the head with it. I'm very comfortable singing the stuff, and it was fun re-learning that style of singing and melding it with the new aggressive approach to vocals that I have as well.
For your last record, how did you come to work with Rodrigo y Gabriela on "Claws In So Deep" on Relentless Retribution?
Oh, that's pretty interesting. Rob [Cavestany] had been a fan of theirs, and he has quite a few of their CDs. Then we did some of those Anthrax and Testament shows, and that was great. Prior to that, we had done some European shows with Testament, and Rob was talking to Alex Skolnick, and he was mentioning how he was going on tour with Alex Skolnick Trio and Rodrigo y Gabriela. Rob was mentioning how much he loved them, and Alex said, "Oh you should get in touch with them. They love metal. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you."
Alex gave Rob Rodrigo's email, and Rob sent him an email out of the blue, and Rodrigo hit him back within a day telling Rob telling him how much he loved Death Angel, and this record and that record. Rob was blown away, and he put Rob on the list to go see them when they played up in Oakland. They met backstage, and Rob said he had a great conversation, and they exchanged numbers, and always stayed in contact.
When he mentioned we were writing the new record to him, he kept mentioning, jokingly, "I want to write something for the new record." I guess, to us, we thought he was joking, but he meant it. Then he kept saying, "Rob, when are you going to let me write this piece?" Finally, Rob said, "If you're serious, here you go; we need a bridge between these two songs."
Rob gave him the keys they were in, and that was it. Next thing you know, about a month later, he came back and presented us with the finished copy of it. We were all blow away. Music brings people together, that's for damned sure, and it crosses genres, racial lines, language lines, everything.
Death Angel is often hailed as one of the most important thrash bands in the history of the genre. Since you came back, did you find that the community was still there strongly for you?
When we first came back, people were definitely interested, but I think it was more of a nostalgia thing. Once we started releasing more and more material, people realized we meant business. Then we had a whole other hiccup when we lost Dennis [Pepa] and Andy [Galeon], eventually.
Then we had to win people over again with the newer line-up. It took a lot of work, and I think the majority of the work for the last three years was touring for Relentless Retribution with the new line-up. It worked in our favor because, live, we became a force to be reckoned with, and people saw that, and we not only won the respect of a lot of people who had written us off but also people who had not heard of us and just saw us live at those shows.
That's very strange, though fairly common, that people would write off a band like yours.
You lose a couple of original members. I've seen it happens many times. That just means if you come back, you better come back stronger, and prove to these people that you mean it. I, for one, have always loved a good challenge, so it was right up my alley.
You've obviously been playing with Rob since the beginning and Ted for more than a decade now. How did you meet Damien Sisson and Will Carroll?
I've known Rob my entire life because we're cousins. Ted [Aguilar], I actually knew him from the '80s, as well. He was in local bands back in San Francisco with one in particular called Warfare D.C. with Will Carroll, who was the drummer for that band. I've known them since then. When we reformed the band in 2001, Ted joined the band. Will has been playing throughout the Bay Area for years in many different bands, whether it be thrash or not. He was in Ulysses Siren for a while. He was in one of the line-ups for Vicious Rumors for a while. He was in Machinehead touring for a while. He's a journeyman of the Bay Area.
Damien, I didn't meet until later in the 2000s. He was younger than us, but just a powerhouse of a bassist. Word just gets out, and there were some younger bands out there playing, and I kept hearing about this bassist, and I would check him out live and could tell he knew what he was doing. When things started heading south with Dennis, or looked like they were heading in that direction, I was putting my feelers out, and he was one of the first people that came to mind.
In other interviews you've spoken to pushing Will in a different direction than he had been playing before. What do you think he brings to the band that maybe your other drummers didn't?
I think Will has a much more aggressive thrash style of playing drums, versus Andy, who was much more groove-based, power-hitting, rock-based drummer. Will is just a balls-out thrash drummer. It brought a turbo-charged material. Rob's writing faster material, and Damien can play pretty much anything, so it brought a whole new technical aspect to the band. We've always considered ourselves a technical band because thrash is a technical type of music, but we've definitely pushed the envelope for us, and I think we're comfortable in how we pushed it, and I think we're going to keep pushing that envelope.
You've spoken to the fact that you still have this young anger in you that has driven or informed your music in some way. What still makes you angry in a way that is productive?
Luckily, the style of music I play is the perfect release to take out this aggression. You know, I don't have to look too far about things that piss me off. A lot of it could be the state of the world today and the things going on with world leaders in different countries -- that pisses me off. But also just being someone my age still pursuing his dream, it's definitely not all candy and cake. While I see friends I went to high school with definitely went far beyond me, but it doesn't necessarily make them happier, and it's not what I want, but I've made a lot of sacrifices in my life to continue doing what I love to do, and those are things that I guess a lot of people wouldn't do to make sure they can do this.
Sometimes it pisses you off, the sacrifices I've had to make, and the personal loss I've had from being on the road, and trying to maintain relationships at home, and relationships with friends and loved ones. A lot of that falls by the wayside when you set your mind on being a musician. You've got to take the good with the bad and a lot of the times the bad is trying to maintain personal contact with friends and loved ones.
It's like a frustration that builds up but you have this outlet for that.
It's a great outlet for that. It keeps me sane!
When you recorded the new album you captured the live feel of the music well. Going into recording, did you do it live or did you do that and some tracking?
It wasn't done live, but we knew we wanted that live feel. Ironically enough, I think what helped in that sound and capturing that edge was the amount of touring we did, and then right before we went into the studio, we went back and re-released The Ultra-Violence, and then toured for The Ultra-Violence through North America and Europe, playing the album in its entirety.
Then we took a month off, and went right into the studio. So we had this juggernaut of touring behind us let alone ending with The Ultra-Violence, so if anything that helped inspire the last bit writing -- inspired by our young selves from the music on The Ultra-Violence. So it helped to push us to get the live and urgent sound.
More than that, it's that for the first time this record was written while we were on the road. Rob wrote all the music while we were on the road. A lot of these riffs he wrote right when we'd get off stagep; he'd go to the back of the bus and have his little four-track, still riding the high of the adrenaline rush from stage, so his hand was just on fire. It brought that sense of urgency to the writing in the songs that we get from the live performance.
So does he just play his guitar into that four-track or a computer?
He has a digital four-track that he uses.
When you're writing the songs, is it typically he writes the riff and the words come later?
It's definitely the riffs, and then basic song structure, and they knock 'em out at sound checks and whatnot, and then, after a while, when we get home for a week or so, then they'll start tidying it up and record some versions and get the wave files to me. The lyrics always come last for me. I come up with melody and lyrics at the end of the song. Usually the basic structure is already there. I have to be by myself and listen to a song over and over again, and what the riff brings out in me is the natural melody to hopefully enhance it, and lyrics come last, actually.
When you write lyrics, does imagery come to mind? Is it a reaction that you write down?
It's more a reaction to the riff and as far as lyrics it's more when I hear the melody I usually get subject matter in my head of what I'm already pissed off about.
The album cover that Brent Elliot White did for the new record is really interesting. It has wolves wearing skulls of hooved animals like they're some kind of berserker shamans or something. Is there a significance to that imagery?
It was basically a sister album to Relentless Retribution. Whereas on that album, it was a wolf in sheep's clothing, and it's bursting out from the sheep -- it's, I believe, Irish sheep. The theme is of true colors of people coming out. You think you know someone really well, and when things get hard, you see those true colors. That's kind of what happened with Relentless Retribution when we were writing for that. Kind of overcoming losing original band members and people writing us off as a band, it kind of put us in an odd head space, and we were pretty pissed off about that. So the artwork was based on that, based on the lyrics.
Fast forward to this one, we're taking the side of the wolf. The wolf is the same wolf from the other record, but this time, he's kind of the ravaged survivor of all the bullshit that he's been through. We knew when we were writing the record that it was going to be a sister record to Relentless Retribution -- the much more wicked sister, but a sister, nonetheless. And we knew we wanted to keep the same producer, the same studio, the same cover artist and just take it to the next level.
Why do you feel that Holland is your home away from home?
It's kind of crazy, but Holland is one of the first places we played in 1987 outside of the United States. They were so accepting of us, and embraced us in a huge way. There was some special connection there, and we've never lost our love for that country, and they seem to have never lost their appreciation for us. We've made lifelong friends since 1987, that we stay with after tours and whatnot. It's just a very special place. Maybe it's because we grew together, and how they embrace us makes us all the more appreciative of them and their culture.
What are some things about their culture that you enjoy that is very different from that of the United States?
I just like the fact that people ride bicycles. They don't rely on machinery to get things done. They're also very social, very engaging people. And very warm and jovial. That's how our whole band is as people, and I think that's another reason we hit it off so well back then. They're very free-spirited, as well, as most musicians and artists tend to be, as well. Another glue to our fascination with them.
There are themes death, destruction and going on instinct on your album, and evil, redemption, heaven and hell. You have a song called "Succubus" and "Son of the Morning," which is another name for Lucifer. Is there a particular thread you were following with all of that?
It's about a lot of loss and a lot of surviving and what one goes through emotionally,, surviving. Two of the songs were written about relationships gone wrong. The song "Fallen" is about how certain people deal with their problems, as far as having a need to escape. A lot of people abuse substances and alcohol. It's going through the depths of that and coming out on top of that, beating that, and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
There are also songs about slowly falling into insanity and where the mind can take you when you're going through a lot of traumatic things. So it's about life. "Son of the Morning" is a nod to Lucifer but it's pretty much more my fascination with early heavy metal growing up like "Number of the Beast." It's kind of my nod to writing a song about the Dark Lord because it's heavy metal-sounding. It is what it is because I love metal.
What is it about metal that has always attracted you to it?
It's just a raw energy and the sheer release you get as a fan and as a musician. Just how it grabs you and the sheer power. There's certain songs that when I listen to them make me feel invincible to a certain degree. It's such an amazing feeling that it instills in me, as a listener, let alone knowing that as someone who creates music and can affect someone in the same way. It's beautiful all around.
The title track of the album hints at that. Is there a significance to that?
It's about reaching your goals and reaching your dreams, and how it doesn't come easy, and how a lot of people expect things to just kind of fall at their feet. That's now how it works. You've got to put blood, sweat and tears into it, mainly blood. You're going to come out scarred, but in the long run you're going to appreciate what you've achieved more than ever if you get into the trenches and throw down.
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