The story of Satan (the band, not everyone’s favorite fallen angel) is one of the best comebacks in the whole history of metal: after decades of dormancy Satan has returned better than ever couple of years ago. Album after album they are going from strength to strength, and their third album in their new phase entitled Cruel Magic is here to prove to everybody that Satan is here to stay. We have meet the band to get to know all we could about this…
Satan has returned with one more offering Cruel Magic so please could you present your latest work from your point of view to readers of Metal Sound?
Okay, well we spent two and a half years on these songs, from the first germ of an idea to the final mix & mastering. That’s way longer than it’s taken previously but it couldn’t be avoided. We usually begin by going over each other’s demos & memos to decide what to go forward with and what to bin. On this occasion it quickly became clear that two of the ideas we’d chosen were going nowhere, and Brian pointed out that much of the music was so fast he didn’t think he’d be able to do anything with it. He asked if I had anything at mid-pace tempo – something he could really get his teeth into. Well I didn’t, none of us did but it made me pause to take stock and consider his point. To cut a long story short, that is how the song ‘Ophidian’ came into being. I’m grateful that Brian spoke up because the vocal on this track is one of his finest moments ever. I think from that point onwards we became much more focused on getting the best vocal arrangements and four of the songs got major overhauls to facilitate this. In contrast to all of that, once we knew we had the arrangements nailed, the recording itself was done pretty quickly.
Could you compare your latest offering Cruel Magic with last two issues Life Sentence and Atom by Atom: what does it bring new and fresh?
Well this time we wanted to try to recapture some of the wild abandon we had displayed on ‘Court in the Act’. We felt that the only thing missing from our later output was some of that roughness, the nervous energy. The feeling that something could go wrong at any moment. Just five blokes playing in a band together. I think we certainly got that and yes, there are audible mistakes. Also the sound is pretty much un-enhanced by any production techniques other than clever mic placement so that everything sounds already finished during the recording/playback stage. There are far less backing vocals & harmonies because we spent longer on writing the best lead vocal lines we possibly could. And Brian (God bless him) sings them so well! This is Brian Ross’s finest hour.
Moreover, Cruel Magic is your debut record done for Metal Blade Records so since this is quite a huge company what do you expect? I think that you have found a perfect record label for Satan…
Absolutely. As you may know Metal Blade released Court In The Act in the U.S way back in 1984. They are part of our past. So our previous recording contract with Listenable had ended with the release of ”Atom By Atom“ and once we‘d finished the touring schedule at the end of 2016 we started thinking about whether to renew with Listenable or look for something else. I think if we’d been given the choice of any label in the metal market we’d all have picked Metal Blade but they seemed to have gotten so big now that we didn’t even know how to approach them. Anyway we decided to get busy writing music and making demos then about six months later we took on a new manager from the U.S and the first thing he said to us was ”which label do guys want to go with?“ and of course we said Metal Blade. He said ”Okay leave that to me“. The next thing we knew we were being offered a three album deal with excellent terms! It’s all pretty exciting, the label gave us a schedule of exactly how everything would unfold this year prior to releasing the new record, including an official music video which Satan has never done in the past. It looks like the touring schedule will also be bigger and better this time.
Since there are already two songs for the checking on YouTube how do you feel about the reaction of the people who follows and likes the band? Is there a song that could present the new album in the best way?
Yes I believe the track I mentioned ‘Ophidian’ would be that song. It has a mood to it which is something not found on either of the previous two releases. It’s a departure for us in that the tempo and groove are very controlled (for us!). Most of our compositions end up as rollercoasters – played at suicidal speed. This song stands as an island of stark simplicity in the middle of an otherwise crazy riffing orgy – in the same way that the Megadeth song ‘Peace Sells…’ stood out on that album. For many people it’s the song that defines that album and I think that ‘Ophidian’ will be that song for us.
Once again you have already well-known figure on a cover of the album. So, what would you like to express by it this time? Does it have any links with the lyrical concept when it comes to Cruel Magic?
Cruel Magic (the song) and Cruel Magic (the album title) have two different concepts if you can get your head around that. The song is describing the idea of using Witchcraft as a weapon. A means of destroying or wreaking vengeance upon an adversary. This was common practice in older times, particularly in it’s African form – Voodoo. Now we gave this idea to our friend, the artist Eliran Kantor and figured he would come up with something around that theme – we never suggest or tell him what to paint, he is very much an artist with his own ideas as well as his renowned drawing skill. Anyway, I half expected it to be something like, say the Judge looking like a Witch Doctor etc. But he took the two words ‘Cruel Magic’ and turned the meaning onto it’s head. So what you see on the cover is plainly a scene from Puritan times with the Judge playing the part of Witchfinder General. Yes the common theme is still Witchcraft (or magic), only that in this scenario it is the ‘Witches’ who are being subjected to cruelty. Of course most of these ‘Witches’ were innocent young women being persecuted in the name of God. If they survived the drowning pool it meant they must be a witch and they were duly burned at the stake. If they drowned then they were ‘innocent’ and given a Christian burial. I mentioned above that a lot of our subject themes are about injustice, and I cannot think of a more extreme case of justice gone wrong than these Witch Trials that actually happened three hundred years ago.
Well, Satan has definitely returned so could you tell us are you preparing some new shows here and there during the autumn and have you done some shows on festivals during this summer time?
So far it’s been a quiet year for live shows because of the focus on getting the new album ready. We’ve already played festivals in Poland, Holland, Germany, and we are about to play South Troopers festival in Marseille together with Diamond Head in a few weeks. From there we go to the U.S to begin a 12 date tour beginning in San Diego and ending in Philadelphia. We have one week off then four shows in Germany and a festival in Athens. And next April we will headline KIT 2019!
Since Satan was quite active during 80s could you compare 80s scene and metal movement with present times? I mean, is it now better or easier for the band to play and record albums?
I’d say the biggest difference between the two eras is that in the 80s the aim was always to get the biggest and sound possible on a record. It wasn’t easy to get that, especially when you are just metal kids with no experience in the business. We’d always strive to make the band sound bigger and better than we really were. But we always failed. Whereas nowadays, with modern recording it’s the easiest thing in the world to get your band to sound huge and have any errors corrected by computer. But it’s so common now that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. It doesn’t stand out because everyone else is doing it. And honestly, it doesn’t sound real. It’s not easy now to go into a studio and come out with something that sounds real. Raw. Spontaneous. The whole paradigm has shifted 180 degrees since the 80s! I found that more and more I’ve been craving to hear something simple that sounded like you were in a rehearsal room with the band. I brought it up with the other members of Satan and it seemed everyone was feeling a similar way. We were determined to reflect that feeling on the new Satan record.
How many versions and edition of Cruel Magic you are planning to publish though Metal Blade? I mean aside of regular CD are there going to be some LP editions am I correct?
Oh yes there will be at least six different 12” vinyl formats, plus a double vinyl box set with gatefold sleeve and a bonus LP consisting of demos from ‘Cruel Magic’ demos from ‘Life Sentence’ a new re-recording of Key To Oblivion with Brian singing, plus two other unreleased tracks.
And the last questions for now how did you chosse to make re-union if I am correct there were some demands and offers from wacken at that time?
Yes, we did play at Wacken open air in 1984 which was 100% a nostalgia trip for us all. I’m convinced that was down to the power of the internet. At the time Youtube was really taking off and there seemed to be a lot of Satan videos being posted which were simply the audio tracks from ‘Court in the Act’ with a still-shot of the cover art. I guess it may have been older fans that posted this stuff originally but the views & comments were growing so fast that it became obvious there was a burgeoning new Metal scene with a younger audience. The offer from Wacken came out of the blue. Brian had been suggesting that we do something like this for a couple of years but I was sceptical about the credibility of the band, and we hadn’t played together since the 80s. But now we had a concrete offer to play a big festival. What we didn’t have was a drummer! Sean had injured his right ankle so badly that he didn’t know if he would even walk again, let alone play drums. So we ended up playing the show with Phil Brewis (of Blitzkrieg) on drums.
Then nothing more happened until 2011 when we got to play Keep it True fest. This time we were able to play with Sean who had learned to play the bass drum with his LEFT leg! It somehow felt different to Wacken, like it really was Satan – all five of us. KIT was so amazing we wanted to do more. And crucially I felt we actually had something to offer in the current market. We all had a bunch of cool new ideas to work on so it grew from there really
I would like to thank you for the interview and I wish you best of luck!
Thank you so much!
- Answers by Russell Tippins
- Interview by Marko Miranovic