Interview with John Ricci, Marc and Rik Charron
by Marco
from the magazine Sweet Suffering. (made during BYH 2000)
Used under permission.

We met John, Rik and Marc from  in the backstage area of the Bang Your Head festival during the Demons & Wizards gig. 's show was one of the highlights of BYH 2000 and the new album “Blood Of Tyrants” is a must buy for every serious metalhead! It fucking smokes! The guys were really kind and released a very interesting interview... sit down, get a beer, relax and… enjoy! :)
Hail to ! I’m Marco from Sweet Suffering, which is an online heavy metal magazine.

John: What country?

Well, it’s German-based but we have contributors from all over the world... I’m Italian but there are also contributors from Greece, France, Holland and many other countries. I’d like to tell you we are honoured to interview ! I received the promotional copy of your latest CD, “Blood of Tyrants” and it’s is definitely great, amazing, excellent!!!! One of the best pieces of metal I’ve listened to in the last years. I head banged like a maniac in my bedroom with this album! Fucking great!!!

John: Hahahaha, thank you!

I’d like to ask you … what happened between the release of your previous album “The Dark Command” and the recordings of the new songs, which spirit did you have in composing and recording the new material?

John: Well, we just wanted to write a more aggressive album from “The Dark Command”, and something more straight-ahead because with “The Dark Command” we experimented a little bit with different tempos and ideas, but, you know, I discussed with the band and this time we chose to make a straight-ahead heavy metal album, like a classic  album. Because I think that’s missing in today’s music. You know, a lot of bands don’t want to sound heavy and play aggressive music because they think they would be less popular and sell less records if they played that way, but I think the opposite. I think we’re filling that void. And therefore we came up with all the musical ideas for “Blood of Tyrants”. We actually wrote more songs but we picked the 10 best ones, and these are the ones that appear on the album. So, if there’s a message within “Blood of Tyrants” it’s like “ is a metal band, and we’re here to stay, and we’re going to continue for a long time to come”.

How would you compare your early stuff like for example “HM Maniac” or “Violence & Force” with this new album? I mean, do you think this is the best album ever written by , are you satisfied with this new album as a passport for a new generation of listeners?

John: Well, I have high expectations for this album; because with every album we try to write better music and appeal to a bigger audience without changing our style and our roots, and I know this is difficult to do, but I think people see that there’s a real solid core to , there’s dedication and emotion behind the music, and I think they really appreciate that… And I think that’s why when we come to Europe and people experience  live in concert, sometimes for the first time, there are always dedicated hardcore  fans seeing the band live.

So, what do you think about bands such as, for example, Judas Priest; they released their most powerful and brutal album of their career, “Jugulator”; they didn’t turn weaker like many other bands, trying to play something different from metal, they bring onward their vision of heavy metal adding a brutal component to their music. I noticed there’s a more brutal approach concerning vocals on your last album.. Your singer reminds me of Rob Halford, sometimes, and UDO, for example on the song “Martial Law”…

John: Well, you know, once we wrote “Martial Law”, for example, and we picked the vocal style that should be used for the song… after we listened to it, we thought... that’s very kind of UDO-ish… I mean, Jacques Belanger has such a versatile voice, you know sometimes he sounds like Rob Halford, sometimes he may sound like UDO... but I mean, it’s because that’s the way the melody went... we were not purposely trying to sound like UDO.

Of course I didn’t want to say this!

John: No, but I mean .. even us, we were even surprised when we sat down and we listened to it, we thought “Oh God, maybe people around the world are going to think we’re trying to sound like Accept, or UDO”, but there were no intentions, the melody and therefore the song turned out that way and, you know, actually today – I don’t want to say that was the main reason – but we didn’t play “Martial Law” thinking maybe UDO would be listening to us (UDO played some hours after ), hahaha, you know .. “Hey! Those guys ripped me off !!!!” Ahahaha (everyone laughs).

Actually, “Martial Law” is one of my favourite tracks on “Blood of Tyrants”, with “Brutal Warning” and “Predator”: PRE - DA - TOR!!!! Ahh, what a great song!!!

John: Well, if we come back, hopefully, later this year, if we do headline shows or play with another band, and we can do a longer set, we’re going to throw in all those songs that we didn’t play today (due to the amount of minutes available for our show at BYH).

You played some classics such as “Black Witch”, “Stand Up And Fight”, “HM Maniac”, “Violence & Force”, and only few songs from your new album: “Brutal Warning”, “Rule With An Iron Fist”, “Blood of Tyrants”, “Battle Cry” (actually this one was used as intro), “Intruders”, so when you will be headliner will you play the whole “Blood of Tyrants” album?

John: I don’t think we will ever play the whole album... probably a lot more from the album, but we want to mix in the old and new material.

Yeah, well, I was thinking the new album is quite short, about 35 minutes, and it would be a blast if you decided to play all the songs, since they’re all great anthems! I also wanted to ask you something about the lyrics written for the new songs .. I don’t think classic metal needs high concepts, I mean, for example “Predator” or “Weapons of Mass Destruction”... the titles explain themselves pretty well... anyway, I think the lyrics are very important for classic metal; we all know the sensation of power when the vocalists scream certain words or pieces of lyrics.. So, who composed the lyrics for “Blood of Tyrants” and could you give me a brief track by track description?

John: I wrote the lyrics, but I don’t want to go track by track because there’s a running theme, you know, war and destruction, we’re trying to get rid of the blood and we’re trying to get rid of tyrants by getting the blood of tyrants .. You know, our world leaders, present and future, they make us a world-war, but we’re trying to make a world living in harmony, so every song has a message, and that’s “get rid of the blood of tyrants”, “stop the unnecessary violence throughout the world”, but at the same time it’s tied in with the fantasy. I mean, that topic is not fantasy but we’re treating it as a fantasy theme, and also the war and destruction concept falls into the aggression of the music. You know, with  we always had those two topics .. even when Dan Beehler was writing lyrics, he came up with “Stand Up and Fight” or “War World III”.. satanic stuff or war and destruction.. and that’s only because it fits the aggression of the music, you know.

Yeah. Another question: did you already plan other European tour dates so far?

Rik: Well, right now we’re just waiting to see the responses from the album, which will be out on July 3rd, and then with Osmose we’ll see what the tour plans will be; right now we’d like to come back, but at this point I don’t know exactly what Osmose has planned for us.

Are there any countries you haven’t played yet, that you would like to visit if the sales of “Blood of Tyrants” are good enough to allow a big tour?

Rik: Well, Athens in Greece would be nice to visit, Rome, Barcelona would be a nice place to go..

John: All the big places, hahaha

Marc: Russia! I want to check out that place someday…Scandinavia, but I heard that metal is kinda dead up there... is it true?

Well, in Sweden for example metal music is alive and kicking, but they’re becoming a bit too trendy – at least this is what a friend from Sweden told me – there are many young listeners of heavy metal music that follow trends, you know, whimpy power speed with keyboards. Not your kind of power speed! Yours is 80s style speed metal, I’m talking about stuff more in the vein of Stratovarius, Rhapsody… I personally prefer a different approach... bands like Omen, Liege Lord, Savage Grace, You – !!!, Manilla Road. In my opinion speed metal with keyboards is not metal at all!!!! Anyway, I’m talking too much about me, hahaha, let’s ask you some more questions. In your opinion, which were the best and the worst moments in ’s history?

John: I think the highlight of the band’s career was when we toured with Accept in 198..March of 1985 I think it was, we did all large arenas right throughout Europe and I thought “0k, yes, this is it, I’ve made it”, because we played in front of 9-10 thousand people every night, so I would say that was the height .. Biggest disappointment .. well, I think we just made some bad business decisions in the middle eighties and we lost our ground .. you know, anyway it’s just too late to go back .. but actually I think there was not a specific “bad” time for .

Yeah, I see. About the topic “80s metal versus nowadays metal”, in your opinion which elements are missing in the actual metal scene that were present in the eighties? Do you think we have lost some of the true heavy metal spirit which permeated the 80s or do you think we only need some good albums like yours, for a true resurrection of our music?

Rik: Well, what I think it’s missing in the heavy metal scene is more straightforward bands; everybody’s trying to get more technical, a lot of guitar riffs, every 3rd or 4th bar they change a riff. I like a more straightforward approach like the 80s metal, take Iron Maiden that was basically the most progressive metal out there at the time.. Judas Priest was pretty well straightforward...  has always been straightforward … and that’s basically what I like the best, I think that’s what the scene is missing right now.

Marc: There’s also an interesting comment a fan told me today; he said, there’s a lot of bands here at the festival, they play music, you know, but there’s only a few bands that actually have power, and  is one of those acts! It’s more they fancy technical things and I think they’re about to run out of ideas. It’s almost so, everything is expected to sound this way, now, but – you know – a little refreshment might be in order.

Yeah, exactly!

Rik: …. too many people are trying to get too technical!

Yes, I think they’re not focusing on the real meaning of heavy metal music... they’re thinking about difficult passages, progressive structures and riffs, but who likes metal wants to see bands like !

Marc: Technical guitar players just put those Bach partitions of violin pieces, all those Bach pieces, and Vivaldi, and all those other guys... you know, I say, just put it down, and forget about that stuff, just play from the heart, drop all that shit – it was written 3 hundred years ago and it’s classical music! It’s a good way to learn your modes and your scales and all that exotic style but there comes the point when you just have to start to figure out on your own and stop copying the violin partitions, you know …

I agree perfectly about it! (This guy Rules!!!!) And... talking about your favourite albums .. you mentioned AC/DC before, which are your favourite 5 metal albums of all time?

John: Ok, yeah…
1) Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath
2) Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? – Megadeth
3) Unleashed in the East – Judas Priest
4) Ace Of Spades – Motorhead
5) Vulgar Display of Power – Pantera

Marc: Well, that question’s always hard, you know .. I really like the 3 first Metallica albums, but I like so many albums that I couldn’t live without and I can’t rate them on a 1 to 5 scale, it’s too hard to do. The first 3 Metallica albums, Rust in Peace from Megadeth, AC/DC’s Back in Black – it’s not really metal but it’s a great hard-rockin’ album, you know – there are so many great ones to choose only five... hehehe

And if I ask you the same question tomorrow probably you’ll name different ones..

Mark: Yeah, I’ll have something else in mind, it all depends on how you’re feeling right now, you know, hehehe

Another question, about this festival: what do you think about the bill of this festival and about the audience, the guys that head banged to your music today; what was your impression about the reaction of the people to the new tracks and the overall show?

John: The reaction was overwhelming; we knew we were going to do well because we were well prepared for the show, but even the brand new songs that they (the audience) never heard, within 2 or 3 minutes of the song, they were singing along with us! You know, they never heard the songs before, like “Brutal Warning” but the time the second verse came in, and the second chorus, they were singing along …

Well, yeah, actually I really don’t think all of them had a promotional copy of the album, hehehehe

John: No, no, hehehe

I knew the songs already, that’s why I screamed like hell, hehehe

John: Hahahahaha! And the same happened when we played the title track “Blood of Tyrants”, everybody were singing along and they never heard the song before, so maybe that’s a good sign. And as far as the bands chosen for BYH, I think they chose a wide range of different metal... old school styles here, you know, so I think today and tomorrow it’s a big representation of classic metal making a big comeback.

Yeah, I agree, and tomorrow in my opinion it will be even better with bands such as Jag Panzer.. do you like them, by the way?

John: Yeah, they’re a good band, yes.

About the production of the album... I think it’s really old fashioned, I feel like listening to a vinyl from the 80s, it’s something special and different from other bands that have a crystal clear sound; in my opinion this element adds energy and power to the songs.

Marc: Oh, you know, that’s what differentiates good old fashioned analog and digital. We originally went to one of those state-of-the-art digital studios and we weren’t satisfied with the sound, it was too perfect, too clean, so we went back to the old way, just analog. ’s sound requires analog technology, with digital you’re not going to get the sound  needs.

The roughness!

Marc: The rough! It’s dirty, it’s rough, you know … it’s like a “garage sound”.
John: If we polish the sound too much the aggression and the heaviness are gone, you know.
Rik: Every time we make an album, we try to make it sound almost what the fans are going to hear on stage when we’re playing live, so what you get on the album is pretty close to what you’re going to hear live.
John: That’s why we don’t sound much different live, we played in the studio almost as we play live, and that’s how we get that very natural little mistakes happening sometimes, it’s not perfect, but I think that’s what heavy metal is, you can’t polish it too much.

Which musicians influenced you more heavily, I mean, about the way you play your own instrument.

John: I don’t think I have favourites, but I would say Tony Iommi, he’s a big influence on me. He’s like the riff-master. You know, the way he comes out with his riffs, album after album, and they’re classic Black Sabbath riffs, so I think I get my inspiration from him, he never seems to run out of ideas. It’s hard not to repeat yourself in heavy metal, especially when you’re playing straightforward music like we play, but Tony Iommi always comes out with great ideas, so I’d say Tony Iommi for me.

Marc: Cliff Burton, you know, Black Sabbath was a little before my times, hehehe, no offense to John (laughing) and Rik, so I grew up more into the old Metallica stuff, like Cliff Burton, and Frank Bello from Anthrax. I was also influenced by classical music a lot but... it’s hard to say, there’s not really a particular bass player that I picked as a model, because I never wanted to be somebody else, I want to be myself, that’s it. Gene Simmons of course, I mean, I think he’s underestimated as a bass player, if you listen to his tracks real close, he’s got some great stuff happening, especially on earlier albums.

Yeah, I agree! I don’t think he’s just a showman, I’m a bass player too (I suck bad if you ask) but I like his bass lines a lot.

Marc: Yeah! I think Gene Simmons is a good bass player to start off and study, and he’s got some simple basic patterns, sometimes there are little scales and stuff like that, I think he was a good one when I started off playing.

Thanks Mark! And what about your favourite drummers, Rik?

Rik: I don’t really have a favourite, but some of my influences were Peter Criss of Kiss, Clive Burr, the original drummer for Iron Maiden .. I even like Stewart Copeland of The Police, the way he plays... and Buddy Rich! I just tried to incorporate all these styles and what I got was my own style.

Ok, this is the last question. To end this interview, would you like to tell something to the Sweet Suffering readers? There are many true metalheads reading our magazine!

John: Go on and buy “Blood of Tyrants”, the new album, it’s classic speed-power metal, you’ll not be disappointed; and for the metal fans that have never heard of , it will make them  fans once they hear the sound!


P.S. We would like to thank Nicolas from Osmose Productions for making this interview possible.