INTERVIEW: Rob Cavestany – Death Angel

Since 1982, DEATH ANGEL have been among an elite few in the thrash metal circuit. With a career spanning over three decades, the Bay Area quintet have consistently refined their sound to keep ahead of the pack, and now in 2016, the band are ready to bring forth the headbanging with album number eight, The Evil Divide. On the week of the record’s release (read our review here), we spoke to founding member Rob Cavestany to talk about the record, their inspiration, whilst reflecting on their lengthy career and how the thrash metal scene has developed.

It’s been three years since The Dream Calls For Blood, your new album, The Evil Divide, is out on Friday (may 27th). What can fans expect from the record?

Rob: They can expect DEATH ANGEL in their finest hour! We are quite excited about this record, we are very confident that we’ve created and released the most powerful record we have ever made. Of course people will say that’s what people say about their new album, as they well should because you should believe in it, but I have a very special feeling about this album.

So in the three years since your last record, how has the band progressed?

Rob: Well, very much so in a natural and organic way but we spent a lot of time together. We tour a lot, we are in the studio a lot, and we all live in the Bay Area so we’re friends and we’re practically neighbours! I look at it as you spend that amount of time together and work so intensively together that you’re either going to get sick of each other or you’re going to grow together. Fortunately, it’s been growing together! It reflects in our music and in our vibe when we hang and when we play, I was really excited to capture this vibe on the new record.

You’ve just mentioned about friendships, how did that help the recording process?

Rob: It helps incredibly, at least for us it does, and for me especially. I’m a real sensitive and vibey person so if I’m in a good mood and the chemistry is happening then the magic can flow and the greater it is! If not it can absolutely stifle me and I can’t just relax and let it all out. I think it’s the same thing collectively with the band so it’s a really nice position to be in with the band these days.

Prior to the record’s release you’ve dropped a good number of singles, what’s been the early reception to that?

Rob: It’s been amazing! Of course anytime you release anything, each song that would come out even a teaser or a snippet, you are very curious to what the reaction is going to be and it absolutely means everything to me. I know there are some artists that take the attitude of whatever, they just do what they like to do and if people like it they like it, and if they don’t they don’t really care because they are just making their art. Or they are doing it for themselves, I guess I can respect it if someone truly feels that way but maybe I’m not a true artist after all these decades because I don’t feel that way! I feel that way halfway and the other half is that I want people to like it! I want our fans to be satisfied, especially the fans that have been following you and supporting you, and I want new people to be turned onto it. So I’m hoping for the best and I’ve seen nothing but killer reviews so far! I mean REALLY killer so it is really awesome man, it feels great.

Through and through the record is just your style, it’s a really aggressive album, a perfect summary of thrash metal. What influences did you bring when you were writing the album?

Rob: Honestly, the core of my musical influences have been the same since discovering music and throughout the years of listening to music. Nowadays, over the last decade or more, most of the people I grew up worshipping, they are either dead or they’ve put out the classic music that is like the bible for me as far as what makes up the core of what I listen to musically. As far as newer things, truth be told when it comes to metal, thrash and metal there are new bands that I respect and I think there are good newer bands but I’m not influenced musically by them. It’s just I’m influenced by the originals and it’s hard to find originality these days and in metal especially. So other influences are just coming in from the fringe of other things I hear that are not metal probably, a lot of it not even rock. Mainly the influences of writing these days comes from life experience, not so much from a musical thing. It’s not like I hear something and go “I want to write a song that sounds like that band”, it’s more so you experience things that you go through in your personal life and life on the road with the band is another huge one. I tour a lot and travelling the landscapes of places that you go that you’re not used to seeing and the different people and the energy of the crowd. All of that put together, I just try to soak it in and soak in the emotions of it and when I sit down to write I’m just thinking about these things and these feelings, these images. It just manifests into music.

I guess that’s the best way for inspiration really, your own experiences?

Rob: I guess so and especially at the latter stages, you kind of can’t get there without experience or time put in because in the early days I imagine it was more of a musical influence mixed in with your excitement and the fun you’re having, the discovery of the music scene. You’re discovering bands and it’s directly influencing your writing, it’s like when you first hear METALLICA you’re like “I’ve got to write a song like that! That was insane, that was so heavy and so fast” and every other thing that becomes new to your ears as you discover you deliberately incorporate it into your sound. I can picture doing that back then, after a while you just get used to all the music you know and listen to and at that point it shifts. Your inspiration and the thing that drives you and causes you to be creative evolves and shifts, so that other stuff is in the background. It starts coming from a deeper place hence the songs that get deeper.

So would you say it’s easier to write now than compared to the early days?

Rob: That’s a good question! Not really, I don’t think it is easier at all but it is more rewarding and I think the songs come out much better because the craftsmanship and the strategy and the way in which I’m dissecting and arranging and focusing on all the little nuances, the bridges and the transitions of parts. The ebb and flow of the song is taken into consideration, I’m writing that way, as where before we sort of just threw the songs together. We’d get lucky when the arrangement and stuff would happen right, it was an educated guess! A lot of it was just luck and things falling into place whereby a lot of the material when I look back and listen to our earlier albums I can see the high points, where I really like where the magic happened, but I can see a lot of it where it was just thrown together and not well thought out and it was cool, at the time it worked, especially for our age. We got a lot of “these guys are good for how young they are” so that was maybe a little bit of an excuse to the lack of more craftier song-writing. I just think it’s evolved in a much better cohesive writing all the way around. With that, it takes much more time, much more focus and in that case I guess it’s harder. In the case of harder, I have to point out I love it! I love writing, I love crafting, I love the countless hours working at music. I’m a workaholic so although it’s hard technically and it takes many more hours, I do enjoy it.

I think that’s the most important thing really isn’t it, as long as you enjoy it…

Rob: Definitely! In fact I enjoy it more these days.

With your career spanning over thirty years you really have seen thrash develop into what it is today. We touched upon it a bit earlier, do you think the current thrash metal scene is in a good place?

Rob: I think it is in a good place, it seems to be in a better place than it was some years ago where it was practically non-existent, but I suppose it has always lived underground. It’s certainly not what it was in its heyday when it was cutting edge and a new thing on the scene. But what is? When something is first happening and it’s something that the kids are discovering and it’s made by the youth for the youth, you can’t beat it. It’s the flavour of the month. Then after a while, there’s a new flavour of the month. It happens to everything, music, fashion, whatever it may be. Then things kind of retro around at some point in time. But at least with the style of thrash, even though it came, it went, it came back, it’s not really a trendy thing. It will always be there, it’s slightly underground and it will always be that way.

It seems with thrash it didn’t really embrace new innovations, it really just stuck to it’s roots. Do you think that’s why it’s always remained popular in the underground?

Rob: I do think so, just what you said, it doesn’t lose its street cred or its integrity because it’s one of those things that’s kind of a lifestyle thing. To me, out of the styles of metal I see it at street level. So when it is at street level it is for the people, the masses. It’s not in any way a shiny object that attracts you and then deceives you. It’s just what it is, straight up. There’s a lot of people that live that kind of lifestyle, it attaches itself to not only the sound but a way of living your life. It’s pure rock and roll, it can never die! I hope. But for the people that play it, some of the originals that play it and play it well, they are all doing good these days. I’m talking about SLAYER, ANTHRAX, EXODUS, us, TESTAMENT, KREATOR, OVERKILL. Everybody as far as I know are putting out fucking killer albums, even now. So there you have it, the music isn’t really trendy but it’s solid.

It does seem especially over the last couple of years that a lot of the classic thrash bands are releasing albums. I think that proves testament to that scene. That the first wave bands are still as relevant today as they were 30 years ago…

Rob: Yeah man, I guess it’s one of those things like I said, it goes with the mindset of the style of music and the kind of people that play it, they are of that mindset so they are just really into music. With that said, people are hopefully still hungry to make it and make it count. To make it have a lot of fire that it needs, it needs hunger and fire. It’s a music of aggression and frustration and desperation all put together. There’s a lot of that going around these days so it’s easy to tap into for that kind of vibe, that pissed off vibe. It’s definitely there for us! I can’t speak for the rest, certainly for us there’s plenty for us to tap into for that kind of fuel.

And really my last question for you is that with the album out on Friday (May 27th), I can imagine we can see DEATH ANGEL in Europe in the not too distant future. What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Rob: Actually tomorrow (May 26th), we are celebrating the record release. It comes out Friday but tomorrow afternoon we are going to celebrate by doing something we have never done, we are going to play a free performance at this place called Amoeba Music which is like basically the most legendary record shop that still exists. It’s in the heart of San Francisco, the whole band has shopped there since we were kids and it’s going to be exciting to play to our Bay Area fans. A free show to unleash the album and we’re going to play nothing but new songs, nobody knows that yet! It’s kind of ballsy, we’ve never played any of these new songs before so we are pushing ourselves to the challenge to unleash the new album in that way. Then actually we are going to go into some serious deep rehearsals over the next couple of months and just come out on the touring cycle with a really strong tour which is the tour with SLAYER and ANTHRAX. A North American tour for eight weeks, that kicks off in September. That’s the opening door into our world tour for this record, I’m sure we will be on your side of the pond as soon as possible!

Well I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to Distorted Sound, best of luck with the release of the album!

Rob: Thank you for having me, thanks!

The Evil Divide is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.

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