Vio-Lence is a name that is synonymous with the Bay Area Thrash movement in the mid to late 1980s. The band’s debut album, Eternal Nightmare (1988) and subsequent release, Oppressing the Masses (1990), are justifiably masterpieces in the thrash metal world. Vio-Lence had a sound and a feel of a straight out metal band, but with more of a punk overtone. The band also gained respect lyrically, with amazing songs penned by vocalist Sean Killian, including tracks such as ‘Serial Killer’, ‘World in a World’, ‘Subterfuge’, ‘Liquid Courage’, ‘Calling in the Coroner’ and ‘Oppressing the Masses’. To have Vio-Lence finally in Australia, and on the same bill as the almighty Sacred Reich is unbelievable, and is a metal show not to be missed.
I was fortunate to catch up with founding lead guitarist Phil Demmel to discuss all things Vio-Lence, their history, the up and coming tour and the reunion.
Phil how did the reunion of Vio-Lence come about?
“Well we did a few songs at a fundraiser to support Sean (Killian, vocalist) for his transplant in 2018. This was an even to raise some funds and the whole Bay Area helped us out, and basically, fast forward a year, I quit Machine Head and I got a text from Sean saying that he wanted us to do some shows. You know I didn’t think I was going to see him alive again, and so was like wow lets go for it. I wanted to make sure he was healthy and knew what he was getting in to so we booked a couple of show and we under shot it, played a small venue and yeah. We were so nervous. But we got it together and rehearsed and it was insane, like 1986 again, no barricade or back drop and just t-shirts. This is literally how it came about!”
I have read that the bands recent shows have been going down extremely well, how have you seen them?
“It’s a lot of fun. Once we started practising it took me back to being in my senior year in high school, you know 34 years ago. Some of the songs I wrote were not too long after I left high school. It was great to hear these songs again. It is insane that there is still a demand. To have this third go round is a blessing, and one that really shouldn’t have been possible, so we are just happy to be playing as a band again.”
What should Australian audiences expect from the tour in February?
“Probably almost everybody hasn’t seen us before. You may have seen old footage online and recent shows and not much more. But there are not a lot of dynamics to what we do, it is just on ten thrash metal that is full on with no down time. That’s what people should expect because that’s what’s coming.”
Has it been difficult, finding the chemistry within the band again?
“During the rehearsals it really came back quickly. Some of the members hadn’t played seriously in a while and so it was finding confidence again. The main concern was Sean, and we needed to know he was okay. We wanted to make sure that the endurance was there and it is. We all got the same charge out of the material, so we are all pumped and we are back. It has brought back the innocence and naivety to the music, and this is great and this is the chemistry, you know. Just guys thrashing out.”
I know Sean battled serious sickness a few years back, and you did touch on this. But how is he going now?
“Yeah, he has been getting some therapy and it is working out. He is also taking care of himself. His scares are healing, from the massive procedure, but the liver has taken, and it is just a matter of the body getting back to where it was. If you looked at him a year and half ago, he was on his last legs, but it is remarkable to see him come back and do this. This reunion is about the band but you know, I think mainly about Sean and his recovery.”
Is there any chance of another album now that the band is working together again?
“We have talked about it. I have been busy with some other stuff. I am not ready I don’t think to broch music with these guys again, yet, we’ll cross this road once we have some more shows under our belt.”
Looking back to 1988 and The Bay Area, why did Vio-Lence stand out in your opinion? My two favourite Bay Area Bands are Vio-Lence and Forbidden.
“I think it was just us going for it on stage, it was all about the live show and the ferocity. There is no dynamics with us, it is just us smashing the place. We were all addicted to Slayer and you know this got under our skin, so it was us just playing the music we liked to hear and I think this was what people liked, no agenda, no big vision, just playin.”
I actually listened again to Eternal Nightmare last night, ahead of this interview, and it still sounds fresh, and listening to a lot of the other metal that is around at the moment, very relevant, what do you put that down to?
“I don’t know, I really don’t know. There is a thrash resurgence going on and there a lot of young fans who look like the fans of the scene in the 80’s. You know we have always been that underground band and we weren’t as big as those other bands and I liken it to this and what I said before, there was no big plan or road map, we just played music ewe liked to hear.”
Do you have any final message for your Australian Vio-Lence fans a head of the tour next February?
“I never ever thought that Viol-Lence would be playing in Australia. I am so thrilled and excited to be bringing this band to one of my favourite placed to tour and I have been talking up the Australian fans to the band. It is going to be great fun, five guys thrashing on a stage!”
It was an absolute pleasure to talk with Phil and to discuss Vio-Lence. I know Phil has had an amazing career in Machine Head but I really didn’t want to focus on MH in the interview. It is actually a shame that Vio-Lence have played second fiddle to Machine Head for some time, as they were pioneers, and released albums that are quite underrated. These debut shows of Vio-Lence in Australia in February 2020 are going to be killer and any metal head worth their “mettle” will be there.
Interview by Mark Snedden
Sacred Reich – Australian Tour 2020
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