Interview with John Ricci
by Timothy Dovgy
from the magazine Ad Arma! Magazine. (made during the summer of 2000)
Used under permission.

It's kinda strange to sit here listening to Heavy Metal Maniac for God-knows-which time but for the first time with a pen in hand and intention in mind to lay some lines of wisdom down on a virgin-like blank list of paper… The tape is rolling on and on and on but no words are coming to break the purity of that list in front of me. No, it's not a kind of record to make a couple or two of dull remarks about. It's rather a kind of record to make you forget all your self-proclaimed-journalist's ambitions altogether and bang your head full force instead. It is music that didn't need a top producer, amazing sound quality or monstrously huge budget, but was and still is shining with amazing songwriting quality and storming with monstrously huge doses of Metal power. It is Metal to sell your soul for. Metal to loose your sleep for. Metal to obtain an eternal sleep for. It wasn't a kind of Metal begging for anyone's "support".
It demanded worship or commanded to leave it's Hell, no other alternatives were available.
So all the more exciting and breathtaking experience was it to receive a bunch of fax pages proudly headed by  logo and scripted by the hand of John Ricci. A mere thought that my own name (let alone the answers to my inquiries) is written on every one of seven pages by the same hand that was raising out of guitar those crushing riffs of Under Attack, Blackwitch, Violence & Force and many other timeless Metal classics simply makes me shiver in some strange exaltation, familiar perhaps solely to Metal fans, and most probably to Metal fans from the 80's only. Could I even dare to dream of anything like this when listening to early albums of  on daily basis years and years ago? Perhaps it reeks of fetishism, I don't know, for me it's just the way of being a Metal fan, at least as it used to be a decade and a half back. I wonder what are the records to bring forth sensations even remotely similar to anything like this these days? And does all this make any sense to the children of the modern metal at all?
Hey, boys and girls, who's your Judas Priest, your Manowar, your Hellhammer? Now, who's your ?
Whoever. As if I really care.
John Ricci, the guitar wizard of mighty , across the ocean and across the years…

You've been playing Metal for about a quarter of a century by now, so what is it that keeps your heart beating for this music for such an unbelievable amount of time?
" is my passion, my dream, heavy metal is my passion, my dream, that is what keeps me going after all these years!"

Looking back, if you had the opportunity to change drastically anything about , what would you like to change in the first place? In the other words, what was the biggest mistake you've ever made with ?
"The biggest mistake I ever made in  is to quit the band in August '85, I still regret it, to this day. Maybe things would be different today, if the original line-up still existed".

There was the demo  recorded back in 1982, but it is rarely mentioned. Was it released officially or just as a kind of "not for sale" promo-tape for Shrapnel Records? Which songs were on it, can you remember?
"The first 'real' demo tape we sent out to Shrapnel was a 4-song demo, which had the song World War III, that is the song which caught Shrapnel's attention, the other 3 songs sounded nothing like  as you know it today".

Heavy Metal Maniac is definitely one of the most prominent Metal jewels of all times. Do you feel anything special towards this legendary longplay?
"When we wrote Heavy Metal Maniac we really didn't know what we were doing, the success of that LP was kind of accidental. In our minds we were trying to write just great heavy metal songs, but in some strange way it came out sounding totally original and ahead of it's time".

The decline of 's triumph and glory is often bound to your leaving the band after US tour with Motorhead and Megadeth in 1985. Your reasons for that decision must have been quite serious then, I suppose. What exactly were they, if you don't mind stirring up once again the happenings of the days so long gone?
"During the Motorhead/Megadeth tour, summer of '85, we got a phone call from our Canadian record co. Banzai Records (Montreal). The president, Michel, offered us a big show at the end of the tour at Verdun Auditorium (a 3000 seat venue). He told us he had arranged a Slayer/ show plus some other smaller bands, and that Slayer would finish the show. Well, this did not sit well with Dan Beehler, Dan told me unless we finish the show we would not play the show at all. I knew this was the wrong decision, I told Dan who cares where we are in the line-up, let's just play! After a couple of days he agreed but it was too late, we had really 'pissed off' Banzai Records, Michel told us to go to hell and that we had ruined his show after all the advertising + promo was done and furthermore, we had lost our record deal in Canada. I was so mad at Dan, I quit the band".

What do you miss the most from those glorious days of 's first trinity of records?
"What I miss about  early days is that we were more respected for our artistic contribution. Now, these days, we trying to prove that we can still do it, play mean, intense metal. We are not a bunch of old timers!"

"The second coming" of in 1990-1993 was undertaken in hard times for your kind of Power/Speed as it was big Death/Doom Metal boom that ruled the scene then. Did it have any impact on your band? Anyway, why did you split-up one more time back then?
"We have never been influenced by any music trends, we always stay focused. In 1993, after our Rage/ tour of Europe, Dan Beehler quit. He told me that he had put enough of his life into , and it was time to move on. I thought he just needed a break, I waited for him for 2 years to change his mind, but he never did and he never came back".

Being sincere to ourselves, the vocals of Dan Beehler were quite weak (if not ridiculous altogether) from the viewpoint of professional singers, but, at the same time, the excellent and overwhelming from the viewpoint of thousands of Metalheads around (me included). In any case, Dan's voice fitted your music just perfectly, so I wonder if there were any chances to draw him back into the band in 1996?
"Dan has completely cut out music out of his life. When we parted ways in '93 he sold his drumkit and wanted nothing to do with music or heavy metal. I think he was really disappointed that  hadn't become a bigtime band. He was very discouraged".

It was actually the new band formed in March '96 with only you left of original classic  line-up, how did you end up calling it  too? Did you consider the idea of taking any other name?
"I never considered using a different name other than . After all, I was the founding member, and a lot of the band's sound and intensity is based around my guitar style. So, when you hear me play guitar, you know it's !"

It's your guitar that determinates the sound of , you are the main songwriter and the only original member of the band. Does it all mean that  is basically YOU then? Are you a kind of dictator in the band, if I may ask?
"YES, you are right, I compose all music, lyrics, arrangements, there is some input from the rest of the band. When the new members of joined the band in March 97, it was agreed that I write the songs and set the musical direction. After all, the guitar playing and sound is the basis of the  spirit, I have been lucky that I was capable of developing my own style over the many years that I have been playing guitar. I do not like change, so when I write songs I take the same approach like I did in the 80's, fast and furious!"

Does the "new"  have anything that the "old" one lacked? Is there something about it that you wish had been the case with the original  as well?
"The new  does not have egos like the old , therefore we get along better, with less tension in the band".

Isn't it a bit frustrating to put your blood, sweat and tears into the creation and recording of every new album, constantly having heard things like "You'll never be able to top or even to come close to your early classics, this is simply not the way things happen, etc, etc…"?
"Negativity does not effect me, the new  has accomplished things that the old  took most of it's career to accomplish. We are a much smoother running machine now and we are writing songs better than ever!"

Twice you left  and twice you rose it up from the ashes. Personally for you this band seem to be much more than just a band you've been playing in, it must be something really special, I guess. So, what's  for you, can you say?
" is my whole livelihood, let's say this  broke up, well, I would pick up the pieces and continue. I think it's the challenge of succeeding that keeps me motivated".

Neither back in 80's nor nowadays you ever share the guitar duties with another guitarist. Is this a question of principle for you or simply the lack of appropriate candidates for the second guitar?
"I do not like playing with another guitarist because it stamps my creativity and overshadow my originality, because it turns into competition instead of working as a unit".

I've heard two completely different stories of your signing with Osmose. Which one of them is real, whose initiative it primarily was — Herve's or your own?
"Herve, the label manager for Osmose, called me one day and wanted to know if we were still together and writing songs. I told him about the new  and that eventually we would seek a record deal. About one year later we signed with Osmose, so they approached us in 96!"

What's your opinion on modern "Happy" Heavy Metal of the likes of Hammerfall, Nocturnal Rites, etc.? It sounds like castrated Metal for me, like Heavy Metal-emulation with no balls of steel. If you compare their stuff to , the power of the latter will crash them to pieces in just a few seconds. So, can you take their sleeky sounds for real Metal after all?
"I have nothing against "Happy heavy metal" because those bands are directed towards a different audience. There are few bands like us, we are true heavy metal, and I think fans really pick up on our loyality for metal through our songwriting and aggression".

The incredible Power of your own sound, where do you think it derives from?
"The power of our music comes from the anger that I have. I feel we should be a much more high profile band, so when I sit down and write guitar riffs I'm really pissed off!"

I'm sorry, but Ritual Death track sounds so much modern to me, that I just can't associate it with the glorious name of  (especially as all the other tracks on The Dark Command have nothing to do with these modern sounds, being all Power and Metal straight ahead). May I hope that it was the result of unsuccessful experiment only and nothing of that kind will ever find it's way to your future albums?
"Ritual Death is a different  song, I really wasn't crazy about it but the rest of the band liked it and when we play shows fans always ask for that song. But I don't think I will write a song like that again".

What should the legions of "Metal Crusaders" expect of your newest offering Blood of Tyrants? And what do you expect to achieve with this album yourselves?
"I wanted to write a straight ahead, bonecrushing disc, because that is what  fans expect plus no other band has the courage to do this. I wanted to stand out as originals of power/speed metal".

Do you have any idea what are Dan and Allan doing these days? How did they like your new albums?
"Dan does not keep in touch with me, he has never commented on the new . Allan calls me once in a while. He liked The Dark Command but he has not heard Blood of Tyrants yet".

Is the present incarnation of  your kind of "everything or nothing" venture? I mean if something goes wrong with it, do you think you'll ever be willing to take another shot?
"If this version of the band fails, or after this disc doesn't go big, we will continue, no matter what!"

Interview by Timothy Dovgy.