DEATH-DEFYING: DEATH DEALER PROUDLY HOISTS HEAVY METAL FLAG WITH SCORCHING SECOND ALBUM HALLOWED GROUND
BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Just in time for Halloween, hard rock heavyweights Death Dealer deliver their second set of frighteningly furious heavy metal, Hallowed Ground, slated to start blowing out the eardrums of their enduring legion of loyalists when it arrives on October 2. With sinister song titles such as “Skull and Crossbones,” “Corruption of Blood,” “K.I.L.L.,” “Séance,” “Total Devastation” and the less-than-subtle “U-666,” the five metal potentates who make up Death Dealer don’t necessarily break new ground with Hallowed Ground so much as they pay homage to the heavy metal masters who laid the foundation for their punishing sound. “The Death Dealer sound is a mighty combination of five very talented, seasoned musicians,” says the group’s guitar god Ross the Boss. “It’s classic heavy metal with the brutal edge of thrash, speed and precision.”
Fans from Frankfort, KY to Frankfurt, Germany, Lima, OH to Lima, Peru, and all hard rock hotspots in between will rejoice in knowing that heavy metal is very much alive and well in the hands of Death Dealer, despite years and years of critics’ attempts to bury the seemingly indestructible genre. “They [critics] would love it to go away,” bassist Mike Davis said of the long-rumored demise of metal in a recent late-night conversation. “But that’s what makes it even that much cooler is that you actually have instruments made of wood with strings that you actually play, and that pisses them off so much. I live for it!” Like zombies on All Hallows’ Eve, heavy metal will never die, just as long as Death Dealer has anything to say about the matter. I have first-hand knowledge of how much Davis lives for rock and roll because, in the interest of full disclosure, he and I have been very close friends since our days working together at The Album Network in the late 90s.
Mike, thanks for calling and it’s good to talk to you as always, my brother.
Ah, anytime is a good time to talk you, man.
So first off, introduce us to your fellow Death Dealer dudes. Tell us who’s in the band and who plays and bashes on what.
Well quite an array of characters, and when I say characters I mean it. On vocals is Sean Peck, a man of a thousand voices, and he plays in a pretty well-known metal band called Cage from San Diego. Also, now he’s doing a project Denner/Sherman with the original guitar players from Mercyful Fate. On the guitar is Ross the Boss (Ross Friedman), who needs no introduction. I know him better from The Dictators, but it seem the whole metal world knows him from Manowar. Stu Marshall, producer-guitarist extraordinaire, from Sydney, Australia. He was kinda the conduit and how I got into the band. He also does Empires of Eden and he had a pretty successful band called Dungeon. And on drums we have Mr. Steve Bolognese. He’s a really, really talented guy and probably one of the top three drummers I’ve played with. First he’s a really super, super sweet guy and funny as hell, and he’s really good. He came from a band called Into Eternity; kind of more from the prog metal scene.
And rumor has it you pluck four strings in the band (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah. And I’ve played with a few guys you might know (laughs).
Yeah, speaking of playing with a few guys, fill us in on your musical life before Death Dealer. What other bands have you laid the foundation for?
Well my first really pro band, and one that is really close to my heart, is a band called Lizzy Borden. I started with the guys in 1983, I think it was, and we had a nice run of about five or six records and then I left the band, but I’m proud to say that they are still jamming and jamming hard today, so cheers to those guys. They’re all still my great friends and I talk to them every now and then. And I played a little bit with this guy Rob Halford from Judas Priest.
Oh, I hear he’s good (laughs).
Yeah, this guy can sing pretty good (laughs). So I joined the Halford band in 2003, and currently as well I play with, probably the closest guys I’ve ever played with, in a band called Dramarama. Undoubtedly you’ve probably heard our hit song (“Anything, Anything”) a few dozen million times…
And never get tired of it.
They are a bunch of great guys. Not a metal band, but a hard rocking band nonetheless.
Yeah, fronted by John Easdale, who in my humble opinion, one of the top shelf songwriters. Unsung is a sorely overused phrase, but man I love some of his solo work as well. We could go on and on about John.
Yeah. Underrated; you could use all those euphemisms with John, and John just prefers not to be in the spotlight which I keep trying to push him in, with his reluctance, but I keep trying to do it.
Well I’m glad he’s still out there and working hard.
Well we do have a new record. Before we stop talking about Dramarama, we do have a new record that is 99.9 percent done and we threaten to have it come out sooner than later.
That’s great news; that’s excellent news! Um, one more background question before we break “ground” on our discussion on Hallowed Ground. Do you like how I did that (laughs)?
I knew it was coming, oh yeah (laughs)!
So Death Dealer’s second album is Hallowed Ground; the one we’ll get into here in a second, but we’ve been close friends for years but I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this question: specifically, do you remember the moment when you first felt you wanted to become a musician? Your proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment? Was there a song that came on the radio, an album that you had, a show that you went to that you walked away from, and that was the seed that sowed where you are today?
Yeah, absolutely, there’s not even a doubt. Way back when I was in junior high school I was, I guess what you would consider a jock. I played every sport pretty well, but I was a baseball player. I really wanted to go to school and play baseball and see what I could do with that. But I met a guy in my seventh grade class; we both ordered a big Beatles lyrics book from a book club. So we became friends and he asked me if I played anything, and I said baseball, and he said, well that’s not what I meant (laughs), so he played guitar and he said, come over to my house and let’s listen to some records and stuff. And then he said, are you interested in playing bass, and I said, well I do love Paul McCartney. So we started messing around with it. So it’s around 1977 or so and ELO came out with Out of the Blue and we went to that concert; my parents took us. So that whole spectacle with the spaceship, and the sound, and ELO, and the strings, and that’s when I put the bat down and picked the bass up for good. So that was the moment; ELO Out of the Blue at Anaheim Stadium.
Okay, let’s dig into this new album. How does Hallowed Ground, which by the way comes out October 2, differ from Death Dealer’s 2013 debut Warmaster?
[With] Warmaster we were all just so excited to get together, and it was kind of the fresh thing and everybody was really excited about playing with everybody else that we just kinda said, screw it, that’s good, let’s throw it out there. We just kinda went with our first intuition with songs, and Peck and Stu Marshall are great together when they write songs and when we all got together everything just seemed to happen. I think it was 70 percent great songs and talent, but 30 percent just exuberance. So Hallowed Ground is a little bit more thought-out. We tried to do more things we wanted to do, with like the acoustic guitars, the orchestration, but not losing that really true metal sound at all.
Yeah, I’d say mission accomplished on all of that, and I’ll get back to the acoustic later in the conversation. Hallowed Ground’s opening salvo is “Gunslinger” which features one minute of epic, classic Western-themed score before we hear Sean’s soaring and roaring vocals come into play. Talk about getting “Gunslinger” together.
Well the album kinda had a previous life. We had almost, not a conceptual, that’s the wrong word, but we did have a theme, I guess is a good word. We were kinda gonna do a little, not a spaghetti Western thing, but we were gonna have a little bit of Western kind of influence in it. We were kinda go that way and “Gunslinger” was gonna be the anthem to that, but we all kinda thought about it again and we all wanted to do it a different way, so we changed it. So “Gunslinger” is kinda the what could have been as far as the theme of the record, but it’s a really great song and it fits right in to what we’re gonna do now with the whole Hallowed Ground thing.
Gotcha! To me, track two, “Break the Silence,” to my ears is classic Judas Maiden meets Iron Priest.
Ah, you know what, I would love to say we were aiming for that, but I mean, whose favorite band isn’t Judas Priest or Iron Maiden? It’s a good song, it’s a simple song, it’s a good hard heavy metal song with a really cool video to back it up.
Yeah, and I should add, a scorching dueling guitar solo as kind of the exclamation point to the sound of those two bands, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, who are certainly close to the top of the list when you’re talking about the sound of this particular song, and certainly the album and band in general. Do you agree?
Absolutely! Yeah, I mean they are the best of the best. People tell me, man, you play like [Iron Maiden bassist] Steve Harris, or I’m sure Peck gets this all the time, Hey, man, that sounds like Rob Halford. Well yeah, I mean they’re the best. And you know, I can vouch for that (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, I think you’ve got a bit of first-hand experience with Mr. Halford.
So yeah. And it’s not like you try to be like Judas Priest or try to be Iron Maiden, but it’s in the blood. My blood is full of Euro-metal, Euro-classic metal, so that’s where it’s gonna go.
Mike, thank you for that segue; man, you sound like a professional or something (laughs).
(Laughs) Rumor has it (laughs).
Either that or you’ve been tapping into my computer and reading my notes.
Hey, rumor has it I know you a little bit, too (laughs). I do my homework, cuz I know you did yours (laughs).
Hey we come prepped, man (laughs)! So I was gonna say that I pulled up a YouTube clip of you guys performing the Manowar staple “Hail and Kill” at a festival in Germany this past July. I’ve often heard it said that European and Latin American heavy metal crowds are more hardcore than American audiences. Some people claim that. I’ll ask you; you’ve been in front of them all. Do you find that to be the case?
Yeah. I mean I would hate to throw rocks and disparage American audiences because I’m sure that there are quite a few people who love and cherish the metal flag as much as Europe and South America, but on a whole it’s much different in Europe and South America. We were blessed to have our first tour ever as an arena tour in Eastern Europe, opening up for the Metal All-Stars. It was quite an experience, and nobody knew us; they knew us individually, but they didn’t know the band, and they’re not just gonna give it to you. You gotta earn it. When we followed up with Western Europe this last summer we did more clubs, theatres and things like that and people had the record and knew more about the band. Again, I hate to disparage other American audiences, but they’re definitely much more passionate about it. They’re much more passionate about the history of it (metal).
And that may go back to what we talking about a second ago, with bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden; that was the segue you gave me. A lot of these bands, and of course we can go on and on about Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and on and on and on. A lot of these bands came from Europe, so it makes sense because European audiences have lived with and loved these bands for a long, long time.
It’s inspiring and it says that there’s a big audience for this type of music and it’s not gonna go away. You just have to do it with passion and do it right.
Pun intended here Mike, but they’ve been sounding the death knell of heavy metal for a long time, haven’t they?
Oh yeah, and they [critics] would love it to go away. But that’s what makes it even that much cooler is that you actually have instruments made of wood with strings that you actually play, and that pisses them off so much. I live for it!
In countless conversations throughout the years, I’ve often argued that for me there is a difference, maybe a big difference, between the terms hard rock and heavy metal. Do you see a distinction between the two?
You know, that’s a good question; you see, you got me thinking on that one. Yes and no. To me there really isn’t. To me there are good songs, whether they be a heavy metal song or a hard rock song. But ask a true metal fan and they’d say, oh there’s a huge difference, and you know, that’s okay; it’s just the way you look at it. But, there is a difference, there is a difference. But when it comes to getting into specifics that would be an individual thing.
Yeah, and I’m not talking about specifics. Again, it’s just a fun conversation/argument to have.
Oh it is. And you know what’s funny is that as the years go by, when I was growing up, there was hard rock. And then now there are so many divisions…
The sub-genres of metal now didn’t exist as terms in those early ancient days, you know, way back in the 70s, 80s (laughs). Right? When I have the conversation, I use bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin as examples of great hard rock bands. But depending on your point of view and what terminology you wanna use, I wouldn’t say those are great heavy metal bands. I would say, and we’ve named a few already, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden are up there, but then you go to the top of the class and I would say Black Sabbath. Although, as you and I know, the nuance in their music, song to song, doesn’t justify them being lumped into just the heavy metal category. But again, just a fun conversation to have.
You know what, that’s the greatest pub conversation in the world. To me, you say heavy metal and the first thing I think of is Black Sabbath. But then you get into Black Sabbath and you say, oh well “Spiral Architect,” how about that? That’s not the heaviest of metal songs.” No, it isn’t, but that’s what made them heavy metal because you could do whatever the hell you wanted to do (laughs).
Yeah. It’s more of an attitude, maybe, than an actual musical box to be placed in.
Yeah, that’s a conversation I love to have because there’s a million bands that could back up each point.
Well speaking of all this, I think you guys sort of address the subject in the aptly named song “The Anthem” and its reoccurring refrain “heavy metal one for all/heavy metal hear the call.”
Yep, it is written as exactly what it’s titled, “The Anthem.” It’s a fun song. It’s not supposed to change politics or create a statement, it’s just like, hey, you know what, let’s have some fun. That’s what that song is for; it’s like, okay this is fun time. It’s like going to McDonald’s (laughs).
And getting the Happy Meal.
Exactly. The Happy Heavy Meal.
And eating it in the playground, dammit (laughs)!
(Laughs) That’s pretty much what it is!
Let me ask you about my favorite track on the album. Knowing me as well as you do, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you to hear that maybe my favorite is the whopping 1:01 long “Llega El Diablo,” which loosely translates to “The Devil Arrives.” What led to the decision to stick this acoustic interlude in the middle of the album?
Back when we were discussing it…Stu and I were talking about…what kind of different things [we could do]…how far we could go. And then I come back to Black Sabbath, as I usually do, and I was like, I don’t know man, I would be thinking third record when you start whipping out the kind of acoustic stuff. But then I was all for whatever he felt was good and that’s kinda when it happened. We just said, you know what, we gonna do stuff like the old school metal. If it sounds good and everybody likes it, s**t, throw it on the record.
You mentioned Black Sabbath and I gotta tell you that when I was listening to the record and this song came up, I immediately thought that it was something that seemingly came out of leftfield, something like (Black Sabbath’s) “Changes.”
Yeah, eaxactly. And there was stuff like “Fluff” and “Laguna Sunrise” and the little interlude (“Don’t Start (Too Late)”) before “Symptom of the Universe.” So it’s like, well hell yeah, s**t, why not?
Is there any other specific song on the album that you’d like to talk about before I wrap with a couple more questions?
Yeah, I just love “U-666.” I love that song because Peck is a great singer, but he’s also a really, really great lyricist. It’s the last song on the record and it’s the beginning of a new conceptual piece that we may hopefully be working on. It’s a little dark, but it’s a great song, great lyrics and I’m fascinated with World War II history and things like that, so that song just really got me.
Give me 20 seconds on the storyline. What’s the lyrical storyline about?
Well basically it’s about a ghost ship from the devil’s Reich. But you know I would have to let Sean really tell you the story. Hopefully it’s gonna be a prelude to something called The Devil’s Reich, but again, I think I’d let Peck take that one.
Fair enough. Well I got a couple more for you, Mike. I know that when you’re not dealing out death, sort of speak, you are dishing out delicious dinners in your role as a fantastic chef.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s my other life, as I always say.
So are there common – sorry (laughs) – ingredients, as it were, that both a chef and musician need to have in their arsenal to be successful?
Yeah, yeah. To me it’s the parallel world of cooking and playing. People ask me, it’s such a random thing, but my brain doesn’t see it that way; my brain sees it as the exact same thing. Notes are notes and they’re out there in space, and it’s up to you to take them and make them cohesive, make them melodic, make them cool and then put them on a record or play them live. And with food it’s the same exact thing. There are just so many ingredients, and it’s up to you to make them exciting, make them fun and make them good. And they’re both kind of like a nightlife kind of gig when you’re in a restaurant or a bar, cooking food. And in my bar, I also play and cook, so it’s kinda like I go to work to play and go to play to work. That’s how it is for me.
I would say that other things that would go hand-in-hand with both professions include passion for what you’re doing, maybe experimentation and I would certainly also add pride in your work, in both cases.
Yeah, absolutely. What you see on The Food Network is not what it’s like to be a chef. It’s like you mop floors, you wash dishes and you chop onions. So that’s where the passion comes in because once you look at a plate you created and it tastes good and somebody says to you, hey, man, this is the greatest dish I ever ate. That’s why you do it. And it’s the same thing for musicians; that’s why you do it because people clap. God knows you’re not making money. You do it for pride in your work, pride in your music and pride in your food. Not the money.
And after all, music and food is life!
There you go!
So where can fans of your music partake in your exquisite cuisine and playing, all under one roof?
I have a little bar that’s called the Love Hate Rock Bar in East Los Angeles, kind of in an industrial area, which all bars and hard rock venues should be. I’m the chef of the kitchen over there. And I also do Sunday jams there with my band Wyett Earp and the Immortals, which is really fun, and we do classic metal. Boy, what a surprise (laughs)! You might hear Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, wow!
Imagine that! Final question for you, and let’s tie your two worlds together here. So put your thinking cap on. If you wanted to name a dish after one of the following song titles on Hallowed Ground, which would it be and what would we see on the plate: your menu of choices are “Plan of Attack,” “K.I.L.L.,” “Total Devastation” or “Skull and Crossbones?”
That’s easy; it would be “K.I.L.L.” because I would probably make a ghost pepper sauce which is so hot that you’d have to wear goggles to make it, and then offer up an array of, say like a burger or wings of something with the “K.I.L.L.” sauce. And if you could take it down, I’d give you your meal for free, plus a shirt (laughs).
And a beer to wash it down?
And a beer to wash it down, yeah.
Alright, cool. Well again, Hallowed Ground is out on October 2. Any shows coming up or are we just looking forward to the record?
Actually we have a great little mini tour coming up. We’re gonna be part of the Motorhead Motorboat (cruise) taking off from Miami on September 28, featuring Slayer, Anthrax, Corrosion of Conformity and numerous other great metal bands. We’ll be on a boat playing a whole bunch of metal from September 28 to October 2, which coincides with the release of the record.
Alright, MD, well thanks again.
Alright, bro. Well thank you, man. Thanks for having me talk a whole bunch of nonsense.
**To hear more audio of my extensive conversation with Mike Davis of Death Dealer, please “LIKE” Facebook.com/CurrentClassics and look for a link to an upcoming episode of my weekly Current Classics podcast. Listen HERE.