I'm one of those music geeks that loves to fly the flag for tons of bands who I feel never got their just due. Revenant would definitely qualify as one of those kinds of artists. Formed in 1986 in suburban New Jersey, the band specialized in an inimitable style of heavy metal that had the propulsive energy of thrash and the bite of death metal. Revenant only released one studio album during their nine years together, but their demo and EP releases also hold up as excellent sonic documents of the group's unique songwriting.
These days, Revenant's guitarist/vocalist, Henry Veggian, is a Senior Lecturer in the English & Comparative Literature department at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in addition to being a successful author and editor. It's obviously a world away from his time sweating it out at rock clubs, but as you'll find out in my new interview with Veggian below, the Jersey native is still a metalhead at heart.
I always like to start these things off by going back to the musician's childhood.
I didn't see this last question coming. I haven't given an interview in 10 years or so. But I answered countless questions back in the day, and this is the first time I've seen this one. Having been on both sides of an interview, I appreciate it, but I can only say so much...
First some context: my parents are both Italian immigrants. My mother was born in the city of Turin and my father in the Istrian city of Pola, which is no longer part of Italy because it was given to Tito by Churchill after the war. My father and two of his siblings ended up as refugees following WWII, and they applied for asylum in the United States. This took place during the '50s and '60s.
While my immediate family lived in America, I had many relatives in Italy, including all four of my grandparents, and I spent much of my youth in that country. In a sense, I had two childhoods: an Italian childhood (both in Italy and in our home), and another American childhood. This is typical of the children of many immigrants, in which they must navigate two histories, languages, and cultures. Anyhow, flights were cheap in the '70s, and my parents worked all year to afford those TWA tickets. The rest of the family was in Brooklyn because that's where they settled when they arrived in America, but my parents moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey when my dad's job moved out of Manhattan, and I was born shortly thereafter. My extended family was in Brooklyn and I spent a lot of time there and in Staten Island as a kid.
As for my American childhood, it was on the surface that of an unexceptional boy in the Northeast during the late Cold War. I went to school in Bergenfield, a small town along the Hackensack River Valley in Bergen County. I watched television, listened to music, enjoyed sports, and spent much of my early life in and around New York City—mostly visiting family—and in upstate New York, where my parents would spend weekends at an Italian resort, one of those historic places where ethnic people gathered on the weekends. New York City was the capital of the 20th century and, at that time, a very turbulent and innovative space in modern history. It was also a city in economic crisis, a fact that I believe contributed to the illegal economies that also made possible much of the music I would later enjoy and play.
As for me, I would not characterize my youth as a "happy" childhood, but it was a complex and interesting one. I was alienated insofar as I didn't identify with anyone. Yes, my parents were Italian, but unlike other Italian-Americans. Yes, I had friends, hobbies, and so forth, but solitude was my natural mode. If given the choice, half the time I would simply stay in my room and read. Books were the only thing that made any sense. And I had no siblings, and my parents worked hard in order to achieve a modest life in America's middle class, so I was left to my own wits much of the time. I turned inwards.
But you have to live, so I started working my first jobs as a teenager. You had to pull your own weight, so to speak. In all of that, however, I enjoyed a quiet life in which culture and the arts played a role. This was partly due to the fact that my parents both worked in the newspaper industry, and also because they were Italian, and we Italians are devoted to the notion that art is more than mere entertainment. We are responsible for two great cultural empires—Rome and Venice—as well as the Renaissance, after all. So from a young age, I understood that writing was a type of work, too, and that people made many different things—including art—with both their brains and hands.
Were your parents musically inclined?
No, they weren't. Music was something to hear, not perform. In addition, I did not have a single relative, in the U.S. or Italy, who played a musical instrument, or any childhood friends who did so. With that being said, I grew up around music. My father sometimes hummed melodies from old Italian popular songs and when the family got together, and the wine began to flow, it was not unusual to hear someone sing a chorus from an old opera aria or a popular song. My mother listened to Italian pop singers of the '60s and she had an extensive record collection, too. It included albums by Gianni Morandi, Lucio Dalla, Mina, etc. To this day, I still listen to Italian popular music. As a boy I always watched the famous San Remo festival on TV while staying with my grandmother, and my memories of Italy are filled with music, not to mention terror, because I was there in the '70s and saw the Red Brigades phenomenon during the "Anni di Piombo," or the "Years of Lead," firsthand. I remember my grandmother trying to shield my eyes as we walked past a park filled with singing protestors shortly after my grandfather died. Perhaps hearing it, as opposed to looking at it, made that moment an even more powerful memory. So for me the experience of Italian music was always intensely political. Music was not an escape from the world—it was essential to it, and sometimes violently so.
Did they listen to American music at all?
As for the American childhood, my parents were always listening to a local radio station from Paterson, New Jersey named WPAT. It was a station that played contemporary folk, pop, and light rock music. As a kid those songs were always in my ears. To this day I cannot hear a Carpenters song without remembering the kitchen of the house where I grew up.
A side note to the WPAT story—when I was in Revenant, I had a close friend named Brett who played in a local rock band. They were not a metal band, but we were good friends. Anyhow, his mother had worked at WPAT, and one day we visited the place and I met all the DJs I had grown up listening to at home. It was one of the most disorienting experiences of my life because they had the mistaken impression that I was a famous musician, and I was speechless when I heard their voices coming out of human mouths instead of an old radio speaker.
I would also mention three other musical influences. First, I attended a Roman Catholic elementary school when the rituals were still very much driven by song as well as sermon and prayer. In addition to a rigorous Catholic education, I was exposed from an early age to the religion's musical traditions. Much has been written about the sensory ritual of the Catholic Mass (James Joyce's amazing description of it in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man comes to mind, "Will we trample again upon that torn and mangled corpse?"), but I recall our daily religious studies as being very musical. In the second place, I would add that during the 1970s, music was a more public phenomenon in American cultural life.
Teenagers blared car stereos, hippies walked around with guitars, public concerts were a common sight, and there were record stores in every town. It was difficult to grow up in this country during the 1970s and avoid being exposed to different types of music in every way. It was also a particularly fertile time, as new genres emerged. For instance, my parents had friends who listened to electronic dance music like disco when it became popular, and I remember the first hip-hop shows of the early '80s, where I heard artists like Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh perform at a roller skating rink near my house. In sum, music was everywhere, but it was also new kinds of music. Finally, there was The Muppet Show. Some people might laugh, but I watched it religiously for the musical guests. Elton John, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry—I didn't know who they were, but when they performed with the Muppets, it was magic. I was glued to our TV set every Monday night for that broadcast.
You might ask: how the hell did you become a metal musician, when you were surrounded by so many non-metal genres? Well, I don't know, but it would be dishonest to ignore the fact that I was surrounded by music as a child.
Who were some of the bands who got you into music, and when did hard rock and heavy metal come into the picture?
In the beginning, there was AC/DC. I grew up in a predominantly Irish neighborhood. It was mixed, with some older German families, a few Asian and Jewish families, but the vast majority of kids my age were Irish. There was an Irish-American girl a few streets away who was an AC/DC fanatic. She wore the shirts, the patch sewn on her jacket, everything. I used to deliver newspapers in the neighborhood with my friend Mike and I would see her outfits and, well, she stood out. So one day I bought an AC/DC cassette tape. It was Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. At that moment, my life changed forever. I must have been 11 years old, so it was around 1982. After that, I bought every good hard rock album I could find and listened to them incessantly. And when I was in Italy, certain music magazines were shrink-wrapped in a plastic bag because if you bought one the magazine often contained a cassette tape.
I still have my Italian cassette tape of Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast, which I bought in Italy one day while I went to the market with my mother and grandmother. If you took me to that town, I could take you to the exact store where I bought it, because I was in there every week asking for the latest issue to see which tape came with it. And so, I first fell in love with AC/DC, and then branched out to other bands. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and The Doors were all favorites of mine. I was a big Ramones fan, too, and always held on to my love for the unique New York City rock bands. With one exception—KISS. I always hated that band and thought they were overrated.
This coincided with a panic in the mid-'80s, you know, because certain uptight people in government started to grumble about metal, and before you knew it Tipper Gore, Lynne Cheney, and their self-righteous, boring old schoolmarm friends formed the PMRC and had congressional hearings denouncing the music. The hearings backfired, most famously when Frank Zappa showed up and spoke with great eloquence against their crusade, and when John Denver appeared and embarrassed them all. Imagine that—John Denver embarrassing the wives of the U.S. Congress. But the PMRC argument was an effective one: heavy metal was destroying the country's youth. People said the same thing about comic books in the '50s, and video games in the '90s. They were all idiots, so far as I am concerned. But I would say I discovered metal as it became a point of cultural conflict, and that was likely part of its appeal.
You came of age during a rich era for heavy metal in the U.S., especially in the Northeast. Did you start going out to shows at a young age?
I did not get out very often. I had strict parents. They did not fuck around when it came to putting business ahead of pleasure. I didn't understand it then, but I get it now. They had suffered great loss and deprivation during the war and my dad and his siblings thereafter. In our house, it got ugly sometimes. I had a strict curfew. If I came home late, I was indoors the next night. Or two. But they could only hold me down for so long, so when I was around 14, I saw my first arena concert. It was Mötley Crüe at Madison Square Garden. Loudness was the opening act. My dad agreed to take me and a few friends because he was a member of the New York Newspaper Guild, and he had a parking sticker on his car. He parked in one of the Newspaper Guild parking spots outside the Garden, on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, and sat there smoking and reading a book until we came outside after the show. I think he recognized that we had behaved—or that I had behaved—and he loosened up a bit after that, but not by much. And so the next time I asked to go out to a show, he relented, and let me go in a car driven by my friend Keith's mother.
That was my first local show, and it was to see the band Hades. They were a metal band with some thrash numbers. The singer, Alan Tecchio, was not a growler, but he was a very good singer. It was at a small club and a few other local bands, all in a similar style, opened. Let's see, that was in 1985 or so, I believe, and I went to the show with John Pratscher, who founded Revenant, and our good friend Keith Huckins, who played in a number of good bands, most famously in Rorschach. Anyhow, after that, I was sneaking off to shows with them all the time. I saw the Celtic Frost/Voivod tour in 1986, and the opening act was Whiplash, who were local, from the city of Passaic, and I saw Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, and S.O.D., all local bands, etc. If there was a show, I was there. I saw Dark Angel and Possessed at CBGB's in 1986, and Slayer at the old Ritz, on the Reign in Blood tour, with Overkill (another local act), opening the show.
Mind you, I was 15 and the headlining band did not play until midnight at most shows. My parents were not pleased, but even though we argued, I think they sensed that metal was keeping me out of trouble. So long as I did my chores, finished my homework, and didn't come home drunk, they kept the leash a bit longer. So when I asked for guitar lessons around that time, they consented. They saw that although I looked like I had just washed up on some Neanderthal beach, I was respectful and disciplined, to a certain degree. Frankly, I don't think they had much of an idea of what was going on, as they were busy being adults.
Who were more of some of the underground acts you saw during that time?
It would be difficult to name all of the lesser-known New Jersey and New York bands I saw play during that era. Deranged, Snag, Bloodbath, Blood Feast, Demolition Hammer, Prowler, Hodge Podge, etc. There were metal and hardcore bands making demos and playing everywhere in those days. Some have since become legendary—Immolation, Suffocation, Mortician, Ripping Corpse, etc. I remember going to see an early Biohazard show in Brooklyn and a band named White Zombie was the opening act. They opened their set with a cover version of "Tom Sawyer," by Rush. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. One year or so later, their music was all over the radio. It was a crazy time, and what strikes me most about it is that not one of those bands sound like any other. Every band—at least the good ones—was unique in its own way.
There were also old bars and night clubs everywhere at that time. I noted earlier that the region's failing economy played a role, and it did so in this way: as older audiences stopped attending shows, a vacuum was created. Many clubs and bars started booking heavy bands because we drew crowds. The characters who owned or ran many of those places were often suspicious people, to say the least, but that's how it worked. I remember being surprised when we traveled and played in Europe in 1991 and many bars and clubs were subsidized by the state as cultural centers. To me, it was a new idea, because the infrastructure of the scene in NY/NJ existed, at least economically, at the edge of legitimacy.
Before Revenant, you played in a band called Regurgitation that also featured James Plotkin, a wiz musician who went on to play in O.L.D., Khanate, and Lotus Eaters, to name a few bands.
Allow me to correct an error in your question: I did not play in Regurgitation before I played in Revenant. John Pratscher formed Revenant in late 1985, and the original lineup was a trio: me, John, and a drummer named Mike McNiece. Jim asked Mike to play in Regurgitation so Mike and I played in both bands. Jim asked me to play with him and Mike, too, but with the understanding that it was temporary. In fact, I did not own a bass guitar and often borrowed John's bass guitar for rehearsals with Jim and Mike. Mike later left both bands and played in more commercial rock bands, but not before making a demo with Regurgitation and a four-track demo with Revenant. That Revenant demo was five songs. All instrumental. I believe I own the only copy of it in the world.
Oh, wow. I didn't know that.
As for Jim, we lived in the same neighborhood. Remember the AC/DC fan I mentioned above? She lived right around the corner from Jim's house. Anyhow, Jim was a year behind me in high school. I got along with the guy, his parents were nice people and we had common tastes in music, movies, etc. He was disliked by many people, I understood later, but I have a record of ignoring the obvious. And so I played bass guitar on two of his demos until he began making demands that I prepare to play shows with his band, become serious about it, stop dating a girl who was distracting me, etc. The choice was clear: play with John Pratscher, my best friend and a smart guy with wild, ambitious ideas, or play in a joke band with a tempestuous personality who wrote songs about human fluids. So one day, after hearing a bit too much of Jim's crap about it, I confronted him and settled the matter. I am vaguely aware of the fact that he has had a long career as a musician and is admired for his accomplishments, but I have not listened to a single note of his since I was a teenager. That isn't intentional. He's a talented guy and I am sure the music is interesting. I just never bothered with it.
But I would clarify something, so as to avoid this answer becoming personal. Let's take the sociological view, or at least the cliché one. People often speak of the metal scene, which outsiders regard as a "subculture" consisting of "outsiders." Consider the spatial metaphor: there is one big culture and this little one beneath it consisting of people who don't "fit in." This is a completely stupid model, not only because it is lazy, but because it isn't true (it's true insofar as people believe it, but not objectively true). I first began to question the idea of there being "outsiders" during this time, because some kids I knew from my town committed suicide. In fact, there was a string of suicides, but one event—four teenagers died together—drew international attention. Journalists were everywhere, and I got in trouble at home because my father, who read The New York Times, every day, noticed me standing with a group of "troubled kids" in a photo published on the front page. I also remember Donna Gaines, who wrote for the Village Voice, coming around and interviewing people. She later wrote an awful book on the subject. Anyhow, I became suspicious that people used this sociological language about "subcultures" to make judgments and money. That was an important early lesson. Jim and I were perfectly normal teenagers. There was nothing broken or demonic about us in any way, and we had friends from all walks of life. The same could be said for those poor kids who committed suicide, who were driven to that awful choice by serious problems, not defects or faults of their own, let alone any fault associated with music they loved.
What I've since come to understand is that what are called "subcultures" are often miniaturized versions of a mythical "larger" or "dominant" or "mainstream" culture that doesn't exist at all, except as an effective myth. What you have instead are intersecting variants of a local culture, all of them distortions and inversions of one another—the kids on the high school football team, or the Deadheads smoking grass, or the chess club or the nerds, they could all be just as cruel, or polite, or interesting as anyone else. And there is nothing stopping a kid from one scene from moving into another, because the scenes aren't organized hierarchically at all, but rather fluid. People drift in and out of them. And that's what happened between me and Jim in our little backwater. He went one way and I went another.
In 1987, a year after forming, Regurgitation ended up morphing into O.L.D., but without you.
As I explained above, and frankly it bores me to discuss it, Jim simply didn't seem to understand the meaning of the word "temporary." And so I forcefully explained the point to him and that was it. I am afraid my honesty will make me seem like a jerk, so I want to be clear about something. Jim and I were friends for a few years. We had fun, I played some of his music on John's bass guitar, and it ended in disagreement. That's what teenagers do. To my adult ears it seems absurd, but that's how it went down. Don [Crotsley] from the band Nunslaughter contacted me about 15 years ago asking if I could give him permission to release the Regurgitation songs. I told him they weren't my songs and he should talk with Jim because it was all Jim's music. I understand why I was associated with the band, but technically speaking, I was a temporary member—a studio musician, so to speak.
Let's talk about the early lineups of Revenant. At one point you had Paul Ledney playing drums. Most people know him from his work in Profantica, Havohej, and other black metal projects.
There is another misconception here, and that has to do with the notion that Paul was a member of Revenant. As I mentioned above, the first Revenant lineup was John, Mike, and myself. John played bass and sang vocals. That was followed by John McEntee joining the band in 1986 and Joe Fregenti replacing Mike. John asked me to try singing and somehow I got stuck with the job. That lineup lasted through 1987, when Tim joined the band after John Pratscher left. In 1988, Joe left the band, and we tried out two drummers, Bob and Jon, both of whom were recommended to us by our friends in Ripping Corpse. From late 1988 to early 1989, Jon Regan was the drummer of Revenant, and we played shows with him but never recorded anything. He was a good guy and a great drummer. In June of that year my parents briefly separated. I had to find a new job to pay for college, bills, etc. I didn't have as much time for music.
In the meantime, John McEntee was looking for a new drummer. He called one day and said, "I found a guy." So we drove over the Hudson River, up the Saw Mill Parkway, into upstate New York near the border of Connecticut. The town looked exactly like the idyllic New England town in the film Beetlejuice, a place where rich New Yorkers lived when they needed to "get away"—a luxury, but also an excuse. We loaded some amps through the front door of the guy's house and set up in a sunk-in living room with plush carpets while the guy's mom made dinner in a kitchen that seemed as large as the house in which I was raised.
I could not stand the arrangement, and though I found Paul to be a nice guy, he was not nearly what you would call a focused drummer. We rehearsed again, and he seemed to have a basic but not entirely confident grasp of two songs. A week later John informed us we would play those songs onstage at a benefit for a radio station. I showed up expecting the worst, but I thought, "Okay, let's try it." We were awful and we walked offstage before we finished the first song. And that was it. I played with Paul all of three or four times. To suggest he was a member of the band is far too generous a statement. It was more like a brief tryout that ended in embarrassment for everyone. After that, John called me and said he was leaving Revenant. My understanding is they continued to play music, but that could be wrong. So it may be more precise to say that Paul was the first member of Incantation than to say he was a member of Revenant.
After spending the rest of the summer talking things over with Tim, our bassist, we asked Dave Jengo and Will Corcoran to join the band. That lineup—me, Tim, Will, and Dave—was together from 1989 - 1995. So far as I am concerned there were only two official Revenant phases. Phase one included me, John P., Joe F., Mike, Tim, John McEntee, and Jon R. Those were the 1986 to early 1989 lineups. The second lineup was from 1989 - 1995, and never changed members. That's it. Paul is a footnote, at best, because he never really learned the songs. How can one say a person was in a band if that person never learned the songs? Again, let me be clear: it wasn't his fault. He had three rehearsals, at most four or five.
From my perspective, both you and John McEntee seem like the kind of guys who have to lead your own bands. Was that what happened?
Not at all. John and I got along well. We simply had differences in musical ideas. That is not a leadership issue or a personality problem—it's a philosophical one. But since I'm not one to try and control a person, or tell them what to do, I listened to John's ideas and we worked together well. We were both kids who grew up in modest homes, and music gave us something to do. That's a powerful bond. But if you tell me that we are going to be more "brutal" and play with an incompetent drummer who lives hours away in a Tim Burton movie town, I will disagree. John knew I didn't like taking orders. There was some initial tension, but I thought Incantation was a good band and still do. Good for John—he made a career out of his love for metal. When I was studying for my Ph.D. in Pittsburgh, we would see each other at metal shows and catch up. I met his wife, heard about his adventures, asked about his parents, etc. He called me a few years ago to ask about something, and he expressed thanks for getting him into the "scene." I completely rejected the notion that I should be thanked for such a thing. Metal was John's destiny. Everyone can see it—if you believe in such things, you might say the devil would have eventually found and recruited him. I was simply the unwitting messenger, an accidental courier of metal history.
The Distant Eyes 7" that Thrash Records released in 1990 was a huge leap forward for Revenant. What do you attribute that to? That's when I became obsessed with the band.
This is amazing to me. Over the years, I have actively avoided the topic of the band in my professional life. I'm a professor now, a published scholar, and I teach and work at one of the world's best universities. It's an awkward conversation to have at a conference when someone asks if you are the guy with the long hair in the old music video. I say yes, and I love metal, and I never know what the reaction will be. But I'm not embarrassed by the history at all—there is no way to hide something that is all over the internet. But I am a private person in many ways, and most of all I don't care to live in the past. But when I see the word "obsessed" in this question, I'm humbled. And that is also why I create barriers between Revenant Henry and Professor Henry, so I can appreciate it for what it was and so I can savor moments like these, when someone tells one of the band members that the music means something to them. I don't want my current life to spoil that moment, ever.
And so, every so often, someone turns up and finds me, and says something like this, and it means the world. Let me give an example: after we recorded the second 7" for Rage Records, with the song "The Burning Ground" on it, we started receiving letters from the Ukraine. They were from fans who had heard our song about the nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl reactor. It's one of the best songs we ever wrote, so far as I am concerned, because it was memorable and fast and lyrically, well, I put a lot of time into those lyrics. I wanted to render the catastrophe in terms that were not exploitative, or "brutal," but rather approach it in a meaningful way that blended modern history with myth. So I latched onto the Greek legend of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and was punished by them for it, and modernized the story. And then the letters started arriving, and I didn't know how to respond. I was speechless that the song had touched that nerve. These were after all the people who suffered and grew ill and were displaced by the disaster. Perhaps I didn't expect that someone from the Ukraine would ever hear it, and now they were writing us letters.
My point is this: thank you. We never earned much money from our music, but we received something more from fans who "got it." I don't think any of us expected that 30 years ago.
It's my pleasure. I always felt that Revenant deserved more critical acclaim.
As for your point about the Thrash 7" record, yes, you are right, it was a huge leap forward. That record showed we had matured into a more focused metal band. People often don't understand that originality takes time to develop, most often years, and there must be failed attempts along the way.
With that said, the leap happened quickly after Dave and Will joined the band in August/September of 1989. We extensively revised two older songs and included a new one I had written that summer. I had been writing new material, but I hadn't told John or Tim, then John left. One of those songs was "Distant Eyes." So when Dave and Will joined the band that September, it was one of the first songs we rehearsed, but that song really pointed in our new direction. We entered the studio and recorded the three tracks in October, and in November we played our first show in nearly six months, when Revenant and Immolation opened for Napalm Death at Napalm's first ever U.S. show. We only played six songs that night because that was all we knew, but in two months we had rehearsed like crazy so we played them well. We no longer made mistakes. There was more control and discipline. It was like being in a new band. Dave and Will were better musicians and we all got along well because we had all played in the same scene. In fact, I had already known Dave for years—the sound of his '67 Cougar driving past my parents' house was a common noise, as his girlfriend lived around the way.
As for the causes of why our music improved so dramatically in the fall of 1989, there were several. I think one reason was that we had stability in our rehearsal place. Second, we were all older and wiser. Finally, I think we had a strong work ethic. We rehearsed every Tuesday and Thursday night, and much of the day on Saturdays. On other nights we practiced individually or Dave and I would write riffs together, or do other band-related things. The word "chemistry" is overused for such things, but I would say in this case it was literally true. We liked to party, and that was not true of other, earlier versions of the band.
During that time, did you guys have any management, and were labels reaching out to you about signing on for an album?
No, we did not have management, but there was an older man who lived in Monmouth County who took an interest in Revenant and Ripping Corpse. In fact, it was through me and Scott Ruth of Ripping Corpse that he was introduced to Morbid Angel and managed them for many years. I don't know if he still manages them any longer, but he was their manager during their rise to fame. Anyhow, he had been a used car salesman or something along those lines, but he was savvy and charismatic in the manner of a comical B-movie villain. He advised us during those years, but there was never a formal contract. When Ripping Corpse signed their record contract he took them to a seafood restaurant in Atlantic Highlands. He did the same for Revenant, at the same restaurant, when we signed the contract with Nuclear Blast.
He was smart about it: he knew that our two bands could help him grow his cash cow because by that time, in 1990, our 7" had sold through three pressings and we had labels asking to sign us. In addition, he knew that the three bands had known each other for some time. So it was arranged for Revenant and Ripping Corpse to play shows on Morbid Angel's first official Northeast tour in the spring of 1990 (not the aborted "tour" of 1988), about four or five shows in all, in cities like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, etc.
That arrangement all fell apart for us when he placed one of his cronies as our road manager on our European tour in 1991, and the guy left us before the tour ended and used the return plane ticket we'd bought him to meet Morbid Angel and join their tour. It was then that we realized we shouldn't be so quick to trust others. We were not alone in that feeling, but I would not presume to speak for other bands. I for one became aware of the fact that we had been used as a stepping stone for someone else's ambitions. But hey, that's life, but it also played a part in our decision to leave Nuclear Blast Records. It was a decision we took under the advice of one of the label's own employees who had told us the owner was a crook. So within the span of one year—that was in 1992—we cut ties with everyone. We later worked with another manager from New York City, but that was a bad fit and did not last very long. To this day, I believe that the band's final years, during which we made our best music, are directly related to the fact that we did not have "management" or advisors of any kind. Professionally speaking, that was a bad idea. Musically speaking, it worked out well.
Something that helped set Revenant apart from the rest of the bands of the era was the clarity in your vocal delivery. You didn't need a lyric sheet to follow along with what you were singing. How did you come to develop that vocal style?
I didn't develop anything for the first five years or so, and that was the problem. But if you heard us live, it was like listening to a different singer. I have a rough mix of a live record we cobbled together from European shows, and my vocals were excellent. Here is the basic issue: when you sing, you have to sing from your gut. That means you have to relax your gut in order to control your diaphragm. I could not do that well in the studio, and developed bad habits at a young age. I hated singing in the studio, in fact. But if you listen to all the post-Prophecies of a Dying World recordings, my vocals improve. Yes, they are still clear, but there is more range and greater depth to the delivery. It isn't all from the throat. Anyhow, my lack of vocal development initially hurt the band. I accept that.
Revenant signed with Nuclear Blast Records and released its sole studio album, Prophecies of a Dying World, in 1991. Looking over the credits today, I just noticed that Chris Milnes, the singer of Mucky Pup, helped out in the studio.
Sure. I went to high school with his younger brother, John. John and Chris were active in the scene and Revenant played its first show opening for Mucky Pup, in 1987. I developed a long and lasting friendship with Dave Neabore, the bass player on the early Mucky Pup albums, and that friendship lasts to this day because we are both crazy about cinema. Dave and I used to go into Manhattan and watch every art house, independent, foreign, and cult film we could find, hundreds of movies. So Dave kept me close to the guys in Mucky Pup, but it all started in high school. I remember listening to Bathory and Slayer records in the garage where Mucky Pup rehearsed after school, for instance. Anyhow, when we were signed to the label, Chris approached us about recording at a studio in Jersey City. In all honesty, we should not have listened to him. I hated the place but was too nice to say anything about it. The studio was very clean and modern, with large facilities. It even had a front desk. And Chris meant well, but in my opinion every record ever made in that studio sounds awful. That includes the Ripping Corpse record that was made there, to be fair, although that one sounds better than most. To my ear, everything was over-produced. The key to recording metal is to capture its sonic energy, not tame it. Anyhow, Chris was trying to help and I don't blame him for the result. We were simply not ready to have our music refined in that way. It was an expensive disaster.
Well, I love how your vocals were captured on the recordings. How tough was it to track them? Did you have to do a lot of punching in to keep the clarity in your delivery?
I'm beginning to wonder what album you are listening to [laughs]. Yes, there was a lot of punching. Punching the wall, in fact. When I sang live I was loaded with adrenalin and god knows what else. There's a crowd, there's chaos. When we made that record in January of 1991, I was recovering from a terrible car wreck I had had in December. I had been diagnosed with a severe concussion, my leg and head were all stitched up, and I had some serious issues. I wasn't myself. I remember we would record one half of the song's lyrics on one track, and then use a second track to record the other half of the lyrics. I was having trouble keeping track of it all, and not delivering lyrics as I wanted to, and forgetting things. I remember looking through the booth and Chris was discussing it with the band like, "What's up with Hank?" They sent Dave Jengo into the booth and we had a talk. I drank a beer and settled in a bit, but I don't remember much else from it. Between us—and everyone else reading this on the internet—I hate most of that record. It doesn't sound like Revenant. It sounds like a cover band making a valiant but failed attempt at playing our songs. I would also mention the fact that I was 20 years old, and hardly prepared to undertake a project of that complexity. None of us were—most of us had recorded demos in a day or two at most. We were in that studio every day for nearly a week, sometimes all day. It was exhausting, and our preparation, while good, was simply not enough. We were simply too young for it and I wish that we had waited another year or so. I learned an important lesson from the time: don't rush into things and learn to say no to people when necessary.
Again, I totally disagree. I love that album since it had such a unique atmosphere to it. Your vocals sounded different when you would perform live, yes, I agree. But your recorded vocals (especially on the album) were a huge part of why I think the band was so special. I also love Will Corcoran's drum work on the album. It sounds like he busted out some rototoms in some of the songs!
Will was something else. I have a photo of Will, Brandon, and Pete Sandoval together from one of our shows, and it's one of my favorite pictures from that era. I think I gave it to the guys who did the Glorious Times book, and it's in there. Will and other drummers we knew loved talking about drums, drummers, and drumming. That was all Will would do. In fact, he is still that way. If you put on a Rush record, he will explain every beat, every percussive sound, that Neil Peart makes. Hold on, I'm going to go listen to the Prophecies... record. I have a burned copy somewhere...
You're right, the drums sound half-decent even if the performance isn't always perfect (none of us were perfect on that record). I remember it took quite some time to set up the drum microphones for Will's kit. He played a huge Tama drum kit. It was a nice set, visually, with natural light wood color and silver hardware, and Will hit his drums hard. He had quick hands and a good inner clock. In fact, I don't think he ever messed up badly onstage or lost his place in a song, not even once, and we played hundreds of shows. He was like that in his previous band, Lacerated, too. He was the star of the band. I remember joining them onstage one night, before he was in Revenant, to play a Slayer cover, and Will really, really impressed me.
Later still, during our European tour, when we were playing six out of seven nights a week, I would sometimes listen to Will tear through a song and think, "My god, he's a brilliant drummer." When he was good, he was really good, and I think that came from his interest in other musical styles, particularly progressive rock. Rush, Yes, King Crimson, early Genesis—Will loved that stuff. I did, too, but Will was really crazy about it. And he also liked drummers who played hard. It didn't matter if the band was bad, he could spot a good drummer. For instance, he drew my attention to Liberty DeVito, who played drums for Billy Joel. To this day, when I hear a Billy Joel song, I admire the drumming. You can actually tell the guy is attacking the kit. I went to see Billy Joel at an arena once years ago, and it was a different drummer. I could tell the difference, and it wasn't good. Will was right. I feel the same way about the drummer in the Dutch rock band Golden Earring [Cesar Zuiderwijk]. That guy is fantastic.
Anyway, Will dressed how he wanted to dress, he smoked a pipe and drank wine, and he didn't care much for what people thought. He just wanted to play drums and he did it in his own way. He played with style and personality, and added something special to our songs. Brandon Thomas from Ripping Corpse and Dave Witte from Human Remains were the same way with their material. They stamped it with a personal style. Those guys were always talking about drums at shows, I would add. They were like a drum cult.
What kind of response did Prophecies of a Dying World get from the international heavy metal press?
I don't remember much about the response, but I do recall that Kerrang! reviewed it well, I think, saying it was "original" and unlike the more generic metal. I have a box somewhere filled with old magazines and reviews, but I didn't pay them much mind. I would receive them and stash them and ignore them. I do remember that the local press liked us a bit. In 1991 or 1992, we were named the Best Metal Act in the tri-state area by the newspaper that covered the scene, the East Coast Rocker. That meant something to me, I don't know why and I don't know how it happened. I was constantly answering mail, but never read the follow-up reviews.
Were you happy with Nuclear Blast's marketing and publicity efforts? I feel like being on a European label didn't work in your favor. Nuclear Blast is a different animal these days, with a powerful American branch in Los Angeles, but that wasn't the case in 1991.
Every so often we would receive an envelope filled with advertisements they made for our record and others they released. We were with the label for less than two years, remember, and every three to four months they would send us a package filled with ads. I didn't know what we were supposed to do with those ads. Did the label expect us to hand them out at the fucking grocery store? I have no idea.
Beyond that, I would say yes, it seemed to me the label aggressively promoted the band and record. First, one of the tracks from the 7" was included on Death is Just the Beginning Vol I. In that way, the label announced we were on its roster. Second, when we toured in Europe, they sent a lot of t-shirts and merchandise to the promoter, and the label also produced the MTV video of "The Unearthly." They sent a video crew to our show in Hamburg, Germany, where we opened one of two shows we played with Pungent Stench. The crew recorded both sets and the label made the video from that footage. A track from the album ("Spawn") was also included on a later compilation, and the MTV video was re-edited for a VHS video compilation released by Nuclear Blast. So, yes, I would say the promotion was extensive in terms of product release, and there were ads in all the major magazines, as well as some limited tour support. We never saw the U.S. sales numbers, but the European sales numbers were okay. We only saw those figures one time, however, but they suggested a decent reception.
What ended up happening with your deal with the label?
We wanted to make a second album. We sent the label a three-track demo. It included the two songs that were later released by Rage Records. The label didn't like the songs. I didn't understand it: the label asked for heavier material, we sent it, and they said they didn't like it. So I drove over to the fax machine and sent a fax to [label owner] Markus [Staiger] that read, in paraphrase, "Die, go to hell, and bring our contract with you to soak up the blood." It was quite possibly the most offensive, stupid piece of correspondence anyone could have sent, a completely unprofessional idea. I would have loved to have seen his face when he was informed of it [laughs].
So that's what happened—my Italian temper made an appearance. I was not alone in the decision, I would add: my bandmates were upset with the label, too. It's quite possible, however, that they would have handled the communication differently.
The next Revenant record was the Exalted Being 7" that the aforementioned Ed Farshley and Joe Pupo released on their Rage Records label in 1992. Those two songs definitely had more of an urgency to them when compared to the album. Even your vocals come off harsher. Did you consciously try to write and release something heavier?
Yes and no. As I noted above, the label wanted to hear the heavier material we were writing, and "Exalted Being" and "The Burning Ground" were among those tracks. We gave them to Joe and Ed because, hey, they are cool guys and otherwise the recordings would languish.
But the difference between that recording and others was important: we did not track anything. It was a live demo and it finally captured our true sound. It was recorded in a small studio, a really awful place. I remember the owner had guinea pigs and these fat rodents were everywhere. The studio was in a smelly basement, the pipes leaked water, and it was hot and moldy. When it was all over we had no label but we had learned that if we ever went into a studio again, we would avoid tracking as much as possible. I love those two songs by the way, and "Infinite Reality," the third track from that demo, is also excellent. We used to rent a lighting rig and play that song in front of a pulsing wall of strobe lights. We looked like the silhouettes that witnessed creation, and that song was the soundtrack for it.
One more thing about that song. We played it for the first time at a show we opened for Type O Negative. Now, I loved Carnivore, but had not yet heard Type O because their full-length album had not yet come out. There was a huge crowd for that show, about 1,000 people, and when we played that song the place went crazy. After the show, Pete Steele took me aside and asked me, "What the hell was that?" He was an intimidating guy, and it was one of the best compliments I ever had. They played a great set that night and later thanked us on that big record of theirs. I always felt it was because they wanted the opening band to stir up the crowd, and we did, and with those songs in particular.
In the next couple of years the band released two more demos. Did you garner any label interest with the newer material?
Nope, not at all. We actually only released one other demo, by the way, after the Exalted Being demo tape/7" (there was a limited release of that tape). The second had the song "Eclipse" on it. The other release—if that's what you mean by "two more"—did not see the light of day until 2001, when we posthumously released the Overman EP in a limited edition of 300 copies. I don't remember the other track. We were lepers by that point. We'd blown our shot.
How often were you guys playing out during that time? I don't recall seeing you live in the mid-'90s.
We played often, and by my estimate Revenant played somewhere around 100 or more shows between 1989 - 1994. I would say about 40 - 50 of the shows were out of state or overseas, the rest in the NY/NJ area. For example, we played about a half-dozen shows in Providence, Rhode Island, between 1991 - 1994, and the same could be said for Buffalo, Pittsburgh, etc. I always loved playing in Providence, because it was Lovecraft's town and the place was still something of a dump back then. We played shows wherever and whenever we could, but they weren't all well-attended or advertised. We loved to travel, hang out with bands, and have fun. I remember weekends when Revenant and Ripping Corpse would load up the two vans we had and we would go play in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, or Virginia and Philadelphia, and it was great. But as time wore on I think we started to wonder if it would last, but there were lots of memorable shows during the later years. I remember a fantastic weeknight show in Providence with Vital Remains, another good one with Suffocation in Buffalo, and another when we completely blew Overkill off the stage in New Jersey.
We also had a habit of going to local bars after rehearsal, drinking a few beers, and then walking onstage and playing songs. I remember when Dave and I were playing in Whiplash in the spring of 1993, we would rehearse at a bar in Clifton in the late afternoon. We would eat, go rehearse with Revenant, and then go out to a bar and play again. Sometimes we would play covers, or try out new Revenant songs. One night we walked onstage at that bar in Clifton and played "The New Paganism." The people who were there may be the only ones who ever heard that song outside of the band. It was a very, very fast song. I have a four-track recording of it somewhere, and I remember noticing the look of shock on people's faces while I sang into the microphone. We played the one song and left the stage. It was not a planned gig. In fact, it was open mic night sometimes at those places, and drunk idiots would go onstage and play Metallica covers, badly. Then we would walk up there and destroy everyone's hearing and night. It was great.
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1995 saw Revenant end its run. What led to the band's split?
I really don't know. I know what decision I made, however. Tim had begun drifting toward Florida, where he would later end up in Hateplow with Phil from Malevolent Creation. We had a tradition of hanging out with those guys down there in the winter because our friend Dave had a house in Fort Lauderdale. We would drive down, hang out with Pat from Hellwitch, or Phil and his crew, and Tim started talking about moving there. Anyhow, I could tell everyone was looking around for something new, and I was, too. My thing was school. I had dropped in and out of college for several years, worked odd jobs, but in 1992 or so it clicked for me and I started to study properly. By 1994, I wasn't even playing my guitar much any longer, and some of the later Revenant material was written for Dave's guitar only. Anyhow, we recorded what became the Overman EP, which maybe you referred to as a second demo earlier. We recorded six tracks for it and finished four, and about two weeks later I called the other guys and told them I was burned out. We died quietly. In fact, I don't think anyone noticed for years. I like that.
Did you try and start a band after Revenant broke up, or were you over it by that point?
No, I didn't, but we all remained active musically. Hell, I still write metal lyrics in a notebook I keep for that stuff. It's just wired into me, and I don't fight it. I played in a band with two friends in 1995, and we wrote a bunch of songs. I would say the other guys wanted for us to have a sound like Ministry, but it ended up a bit thrashier. It was good. We never played a show or made a proper recording. Dave played in some bands for a time, rock bands with his biker friends. I would go see him play. He's a talented guy and a good singer. Of course, Tim never stopped. He's over there in Sweden as we speak, doing crazy things. My last foray into metal was in 2003, when I recorded backing vocals on Dim Mak's Knives of Ice album. I could not pass on the chance to finally perform on some songs with my old friends from Ripping Corpse. Shaune sent me the tracks and I went to Scott's house one evening. We ran through the songs together and then I met them in the studio. That was an honor and a pleasure. But I would say that in sum, while I still enjoyed making music, the commitment to being in a band was gone.
Tell me about your career in education.
I knew there was something about college that I liked, because it provided a place to think and study without distractions. The independence of schedule and the sense of intellectual rigor appealed to me. But I didn't figure it out until later, when I transferred to Montclair State and started taking classes in English and Philosophy. At some point I had to make a choice. It was either focus only on school, or only on music. I chose to study and devote my energy to education, scholarship, and other academic pursuits, and it was the best choice I ever made. With that being said, I would not want to make it seem as though playing music had been a bad idea. It wasn't, at all.
My father-in-law just retired after a career of being a classics professor at Vassar College, and he's told me how cutthroat academia can be. What has your experience been like so far?
That's interesting. I have a few friends in the Classics Department where I work. They seem like such mellow people. I've also known Larissa Bonfante for many years. Her father was one of the world's great Latin scholars and she is an expert in Etruscan civilization. Her father was still writing books when he was in his late '90s. I hope your father-in-law will do the same.
Well, as to your question, after dealing with so many egos and personalities in the music industry, I found it quite easy to coexist with the incredibly smart people and huge egos one encounters in academia. In fact, I barely notice them. This is because I focus on the work. If you are speaking about particle collisions with a famous physics professor who is a narcissist, just talk about science and narcissism won't be a problem. But the fact is that smart people speak their minds. I like that. When the Founding Fathers wrestled over the first laws of this country, they didn't demure from open and difficult debate. That sort of thing is essential to political democracy, scientific progress, artistic invention, etc. Yes, egos get bruised, and it can become personal—perhaps that is what your father-in-law means. People can become petty, take offense at the slightest things. But those are minor issues when compared to what really turns people against one another: money.
What has happened in the past 25 years or so is that corporate types have taken over the administration of many of our colleges and universities. They've put fundraising and profit-oriented revenue streams like sports ahead of students and faculty, art and science. A new generation of administrators is running our great institutions into the ground, and along the way they are turning people against one another. It's all become very adversarial, but the interpersonal politics have a common cause: the colleges are all making more money, but less of that money is reaching faculty and staff. Administrations, by contrast, are metastasizing at unprecedented rates. Not long ago the MLA reported that 10 administrators are hired in higher education for every new faculty member. A local newspaper reported last month that Duke University—one of the nation's top schools—spends less than 10% of its annual budget on instruction. Consider that for a moment: more than 90% of Duke's budget is spent on something other than its teachers.
Now, of course there is overhead, maintenance, insurance, etc. A school must be economically viable, have competence with its budget and so forth. But the schools are managed more like private companies. Where does the money go? Now, top administrators receive "packages" comparable to those of CEOs at the low end of Fortune 500 companies. Who is paying for that? Taxpayers and parents. For example, the president of our university system received a six-figure raise before she even worked a single day on the job. In the world where I was raised, you had to earn that kind of money. It wasn't handed to you. It had to be justified by a result. Instead, what you have these days in our colleges is a Kafka novel in which strange, aloof beings lord over a vast bureaucratic empire. The managers of consumer society have finally invaded the Ivory Tower, and the invaders brought golden parachutes.
Look, I work at a big school and I see how students and families have to pay more every year while the staff and faculty—the persons who do the actual work— have stagnant wages. It's no wonder, then, that people argue. It's a bad time for many in academia. There are too many unemployed and under-employed students, and when times are tough, the knives come out and the world begins to resemble a bloody Elizabethan drama. It's disgraceful, frankly, that it's come to this. We can do better. Our universities are among the crowning institutional achievements of the Republic. We should do more to protect our public schools from economic predators. Those schools are where we learn to think and create, where we find ways to express ourselves as citizens, scientists, artists, and countless other roles. At the rate things are changing, that won't be an option for many young people. The thought makes me sick, frankly.
Have you ever been recognized at school from your Revenant days?
I joke that we have a quota at the school where I work, and it admits one metalhead every year. Last year, a student walked into my office with a copy of Prophecies... and asked me to sign it. The year before that I spotted a kid wearing a Terrorizer shirt and we struck up a friendship. He's in graduate school now, and a brilliant guy. And two years before that a student walked into my "Introduction to American Literature" class on the first day wearing an Immolation shirt. He later used me as a reference for a job, the management called me, and he got the job. I was very persuasive.
When I started attending college, I didn't have a car. I rode the bus. And when I didn't have bus fare, I walked along a railroad track and through a rich neighborhood. By the time I arrived at classes in my Morbid Angel shirt with the new Immolation demo playing in my headphones, I was pissed. I remember other students looking at me like, "Who let this guy in here?" But I studied hard and I was a good student, and I worked with a chip on my shoulder. My attitude was, "I walked to school along a railroad track. What the fuck did you do today?" So when I see a kid on campus in a Slayer shirt, I immediately go out of my way to let them know that whenever they need to, they are more than welcome to drop into my office and listen to Hell Awaits. Because I've been there, and while it may not be "metal" to say it, sometimes you need a safe harbor to anchor your Viking ship.
Another one of your passions is fishing, and I noticed on Facebook that you even started a website centered on that.
I've always been an angler. My father's people were raised by the sea, and it's in my blood. As a kid I was always sneaking off somewhere to go fishing. There is a metal chapter to this story. Tom Stevens from Nokturnel and Brandon Thomas from Ripping Corpse are also passionate anglers. Tom played in Ripping Corpse for a time, too, and we three started fishing together. Tom lived in Jersey City, so he was closer to me, and we would fish the lakes in the northwest part of the state. He had this one spot where we would go at night after it closed. We would hide his truck in the woods and carry the boat to the lake and launch. We would fish in the dark, by the moonlight. Tom was a smart fisherman and he showed me some techniques I still use to this day, such as "walking the dog" with a Zara Spook, a topwater lure. Tom lives in Texas now, but we still talk. Whenever Brandon and I are fishing, I send Tom photographs.
As for the Bowfin Country website, I've had it for years, and also a Twitter account I use to communicate with other anglers and scientists. It started as part of a book project and the book is sitting in my desk, all 400 pages of it. I travelled all over the country doing research about an ancient fish called a bowfin, and wrote most of the book only to pause the project. I don't know what happened, really. I've been thinking about it lately and wondering if I might finish it. Regardless, I love the history of fishing, the art and the sport of it, and the science it helped me to understand. One summer several years ago, I read every nearly word that Charles Darwin wrote while I was researching the book project I mentioned, and it was one of the happiest summers of my life.
I would put it this way—some primitive part of me was never quite civilized away. I love the outdoors. I fish, I hunt, I camp, I paddle, I hike. I'm a city boy in every way and love the modern world, but if I don't get away from it I start to panic. But I don't see them as polar opposites—they are reciprocating parts of a single whole. We are animals, but this world we've covered in asphalt and fiber optic cables is not the world in which we evolved. I don't necessarily take the Teddy Roosevelt view that nature is "invigorating" (one of his trips killed him, after all) because the "natural world" is a myth. It no longer exists. But there are fewer people out there at the edge of things, and I can be alone. I prefer that sometimes.
Do you still listen to heavy metal?
Of course I do. I love the form. I still attend a show once or twice a year, too, and see old friends. I prefer going to live shows when I can. Last year I went to see Cannibal Corpse play in Durham. I knocked on the door of the bus and [vocalist] George [Fisher] came out. I was wearing a suit jacket and dress clothes—I had just left work—but my beard was long. I must have looked like a hobo who had stolen some nice clothing. I said, "Hi, George." He looked at me and said, in that inimitable gravel voice of his, "I have to take a shit." And he walked off toward the club.
I felt like a ghost. Mind you, we played shows with them, and I've known Alex since I met him in New York, handing out demos, at the first Death shows in the mid-'80s. The band members have stayed at my house. So I kind of shrugged and knocked again. Paul, the drummer, answered. He was on the phone. He looked right through me, raised a finger, and went back inside the main part of the bus. So I realized then they didn't recognize me. I went home, changed into a t-shirt and returned to the club. I was eating a slice of pizza nearby when I noticed one of their roadies. I approached him and asked him to go on the bus and tell Alex that Hank was outside, and to say "Veg."
Within seconds, the band had me on the bus and Paul was apologizing. They simply hadn't recognized me after all these years. So I watched the opening bands, and we caught up, and I had a great time with them after the show. It was like a family reunion. I love Cannibal Corpse. I still laugh when I think about George's reply to me that day. It was priceless. It reminded me why I love the characters in the scene as much as I do, and why I mustered the energy to go to a metal show after a long day at work.
But in between the socializing, I paid careful attention to the bands. Cattle Decapitation was on the tour and they were amazing. Odd-time signatures, very aggressive stage presence, unconventional song structures—their music is fantastic. And I had not seen Cannibal Corpse in some years, and they have changed as a live band. Everything seemed polished, very tight in delivery. And the crowd, well, there were parents there with their kids, and they were all wearing Cannibal Corpse shirts. I never thought I would see the day when a second generation of fans were raised on this music, but there it was.
What other kind of music are you into?
As for other music, I always had diverse tastes. I'm a big PJ Harvey fan, for example. She's brilliant. I love the band Clutch. I own hundreds of hip-hop records. When I was younger I would buy tickets to hear the symphony perform at Carnegie Hall. I love experimental music, political music, music in other languages. All those great Brazilian bands and singers of the '70s—Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil—I own all their records. Good music is good music. It's as close as humans will ever get to an expressive sound that is capable of approximating our combined historical and emotional lives. I'm old enough to remember that popular music changed the modern world, and it wasn't always like the predictable, nostalgic or corporate garbage you hear these days. It was in the streets. That could happen again, perhaps.
If you had to pick one, what would be the Revenant song you would play for someone that you think best encapsulates what the band was about?
"The Burning Ground," but "Exalted Being" would be a close second.
Last question: besides Revenant, which New Jersey metal band deserved to be bigger and why?
There is only one answer to this question, and that is Ripping Corpse. New Jersey produced many famous, great bands in my lifetime, from Bruce Springsteen to The Fugees to Monster Magnet. But in our metal scene, Ripping Corpse was special. They should have been the biggest band of that era and made dozens of classic records. The one official album is brilliant, the demos were pioneering, and the live shows were the best I ever saw. No metal band I ever saw play ever came close to matching them onstage, and I have seen all the great bands. I will never forget the show we played with Ripping Corpse and Morbid Angel in Buffalo, NY, in May of 1990. Ripping Corpse blew everyone off the stage. There was no comparison. Based on musical talent, individual musicianship, and performance ferocity, they were the best band of that era and more than anyone they deserved lasting success.
Now, people might raise an eyebrow and say that's impossible, but the sad fact is that Ripping Corpse did not play out of state as often as we did, so many people never saw them live. Additionally, they did not release as much material as other bands did. Finally, they did not conform to generic expectations. Let's face it—metal can be a conformist genre, like any other. If you aren't "brutal" in a certain way, you aren't "cool." And here was Ripping Corpse singing about things that were off the metal radar, and Scott was a bald-headed madman during a time when it was assumed metal singers should have long hair, Erik and Shaune were using filed down coins to get weird sounds out of their guitar strings, and the band wrote these absolutely crazy songs filled with strange riffs and beats. There was no other band of that era that pushed the boundaries of song structure, tempo, and performance like they did. Some bands of that era—Voivod, Meshuggah, Morbid Angel—were on nearby frequencies. But not like Ripping Corpse, and today when I listen to a great band like Gojira or Cattle Decapitation I hear that Ripping Corpse influence in the weird chords or song arrangements, or the unusual percussion or the unconventional vocals and lyrics. Those younger bands may not know it, but it started with a bunch of maniacs from New Jersey who dared to be different. So I'll restate my case plainly: Ripping Corpse was the most innovative and ferocious band of the time. They changed the game.
Now, some will say there is obvious bias because they were our closest friends and literally our blood brothers. Yes, some of us swore the blood oath with those guys. That's how deep the bond was. But loyalty doesn't necessarily cloud judgment. They were robbed. But resentment does nothing for posterity and the fact that they were robbed by labels and managers cannot be fixed. History passed them over, but history can be wrong. Look at Herman Melville—few people acknowledged Moby Dick for nearly a half-century, then some astute readers were like, "How did we miss this one?" Well, when it comes to the old metal scene, Ripping Corpse was the white whale. And so remember this—they embodied in a unique way what is best in metal: a fierce battle against artistic conformity. It's a battle few bands win, and they won it even if their victory is largely unrecognized.