Closing up his restaurant after a long day of slinging Italian food in his hometown of Cleveland, Blaze Tishko picks up the phone. Blaze is continuing the legacy of his band, In Cold Blood. Blaze’s hardcore resume is monumental.
Legion of Angels truly is labor of dedication. In Cold Blood, four years ago was a battalion of Cleveland legends; members of Integrity, Die Hard, Inmates, etc. (Aaron and Leon Melnick notably). The riffs and song ideas on Legion of Angels had been stewing before that even. Blaze notes that a few had been around 12 years ago, “Some of them I had written or Aaron had written years ago — it just was finally pertinent.” He continues, “Finally, we were either good enough to play them or it finally made sense for the band.”
Tishko explains the genesis of the new album: “This Legion of Angels record, the songs were created by was a combination of Robert Orr, Lenny, and Aaron three or four years ago. It took us a while to manufacture them in the practice space. We entered the studio and we didn’t make it through the recording process as a band. We hit a brick wall, personality conflicts. Basically the band broke up in the studio.
"I had to find avenues to have the music come out. I didn’t want it to come out as a Blaze Tishko solo record — I wanted it to be an actual band.”
Which is then followed by Tishko informing me that he did in fact recorded most of the recording himself. Tishko was left to sift through the ashes and design a record and band that would come out rejuvenated. “I ended up finishing most of it myself except for drums and some rhythm parts, supplied by Robert Orr — but the vast majority was all me. But we didn’t have a singer; so, I had to train myself to yell.”
And there is the biggest change in the In Cold Blood dynamic, Blaze’s voice finally adorning a vocal track. “We have always had someone else. I have never sang for a band ever — this is my first go at it. I was excited to do it even though it was out of necessity.” Blaze resorted to inner discipline, reporting that it took secluding himself in a practice room for six months training his vocals chords and brain “how to yell in time and in key.” Then he had to pick up the guitar and learn to do the two together.
A sentimental aspect of the record, on top of Tishko cultivating this record from the remnants of his band and battling many personal losses, was that it initially was recorded with Bill Korecky. “If you know anything about Mars Recording Compound and Bill Korecky, you know he did probably every metal and hardcore record ever out of Cleveland.”
Spudmonsters, Outface, Face Value, Earth Crisis, Craw, Integrity, Mushroomhead, Disengage, Die Hard, Ringworm; the list is daunting.
But between, In Cold Blood’s implosion and Blaze’s rebirth, Korecky retired. Blaze turned to an old friend and ex-bandmate, Steve Rauckhorst. “Steve used to play bass with Integrity. he ended up getting the soundboard that was used to record For Those Who Fear Tomorrow — it didn’t directly come from bill — it went to someone else. But Steve did purchase the board because of its history. He was a huge fan of all that stuff growing up.”
The record was completed this past April mixing and mastering. Having started recording Legion of Angels in December 2016, the process has been anchoring but invigorating in the end to Tishko.
“It was rough time for me.” In addition to watching his grandmother succumb to dementia, who was his “everything,” the demise of In Cold Blood impacted Blaze hard. “I’ve been in a band with the same guys my whole life. And then, they don’t want to be in a band with me anymore.” That was January 2017. Wounds have mended. “These days, we’re fine. But, it was a tumultuous time. I was going through really rough personal stuff. Band things fell apart on top of family stuff.”
These moments in people’s lives inevitably trigger introspection. “You look in the mirror and wonder ‘what’s wrong with me?’.” Tishko amends that comment. “Ha! Well, some people probably say, “those guys are assholes’. But, I figured I must be a complete dick. In this city there are couple people who are extreme narcissists; no ability to look internally. A friend describes Cleveland as a zombie pit. As soon as someone tries to pull out of the zombie pit someone is pulling on your leg. Maybe that’s why we make interesting music.”
It is no surprise that Tishko, a conjurer of dark tunes and hellish soundscapes, looked to numb the anger. “I looked internally and wondered and drank a lot.” But, Blaze qualifies the action, “I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I was angry at myself. “Fortunately for me, after drinking myself into oblivion for 6-8 months, a friend reached out.” Blaze lauds Integrity vocalist Dwid Hellion. “He actually pulled me out of the doldrums. He convinced me I needed to get out there and do it. He was a huge factor in getting me back to where I needed to be mentally. I am very thankful for him.”
He adds that former In Cold Blood members “all gave me their blessing”. He went to see their band, Inmates, open for Cro-Mags JM a few weeks prior. They also went see Alice Cooper together, hauling a raucous crew in tow on a 40-person party bus. These are the quality relationships Blaze has maintained in Cleveland over the decades. Which is not an easy task. The dynamics of Cleveland’s personalities are harsh. Tishko indulges, “It’s a lot of people who have never been exalted or recognized. You know? Three guys like their 7” and they’re on top of the world. In 1994/95, everyone was super supportive and putting on each other’s shows. Somewhere along the way that went away. It was a lot of egos. I don’t know how anyone gets that way off of this music. And still going to work. If you have play in a hardcore band and have an ego? That’s weird to me. That’s strange.”
The music was born in and should propagate the underground, most of us feel. Not that bands should not strive to be successful or even live off of that music. But to alienate your local peers for not admiring you or kneeling before Zod? That’s ridiculous. Blaze adds, “It is so counterproductive to your success anyway. There is strength in numbers. Look at Seattle — that’s a poopy example cuz the music wasn’t great — but they made themselves known because the scene was the focus. DC and NY did it (in hardcore). Cleveland was like that in the beginning. I miss the camaraderie and every one supporting each other and not nitpicking. There would be four bands on the bill. And dudes are asking, ‘Who is headlining?’ Dude! Who cares?!”
Supporting these beliefs, with the shows now upcoming after the release of Legion of Angels, Blaze gets to snag some young talent and have them support his band. Tishko is excited to gran Fixation for this run of shows. Having known Andrew Kline (Strife, Berthold City; WAR Records who puts out Fixation) a little helped. But Blaze heard the energy and ferocity of Fixation and wanted them to join In Cold Blood. “So, that part is great. I can hear a band I like and be able to take them out for shows. Andrew, I’ve known a little (through the years); but he is out there promoting our record out there in California with lots of stuff going on in his life. And I can’t get dudes in my hometown to do that.” That’s hardcore.
Recently, to hone the new members, In Cold Blood played with All Out War in Poughkeepsie and then Canada. The run with Fixation and Low End starts in Gary, IN on August 28th then moves through Cincinatti, Albany, Philly and finally Brooklyn.
Legion of Angels continues the In Cold Blood sound, with heavy metallic thunder. But the short 1-minute songs are omitted. There lots of mid-tempo parts, kept thriving by rolling drums. The energy is vicious and Blaze’s vocals are seething, no signs he hasn’t done this prior. The sound will make any All Out War and Ringworm fan stoked. When going through the 3, 4, and even 6-minute tracks, the audience has to put this in perspective of the band’s trajectory; and also recall that even Hell on Earth had three 3-minute tracks. Blaze was conscious of this and spent time with the final versions of songs. “I edited it pretty healthy. It still feels longwinded at 30 minutes but I didn’t mess with any content. You can imagine how it was at 40 minutes. There’s one song at 6 minutes. The blueprint was Ride the Lightning. We were trying to challenge ourselves with the writing and the playing.”
“I love it. I’m all about it.” although when discussing the length and trudging of some of these rhythms, Blaze quickly retorts. “I’m excited to go shorter (again)! We’ve already got the next record written. We are chomping at the bit to do the next thing. We are ready to go.”
Do not misconstrue, there certainly are sped up songs, check “No More Lies” beginning, although it recedes into a thrashy stomp in the middle. But when comparing Legion of Angels to Hell on Earth, first record. Well you can hear on that record at the end we were getting tired of that style. It was no secret that Aaron and I like solos and melodic stuff. I want a record to be a journey.
“When we started the band, we wanted to be a backlash against what hardcore was at that particular moment in 1997, hardcore was very metal. And now it has gotten way more metal! But at the time, going from The Age of Quarrel and Negative Approach to Earth Crisis and Snapcase; that was night and day. For us, we started the band more straight forward and stripped and simple.” And Blaze then bounces back from that. “But we got bored pretty quick. We like challenging ourselves. We like playing guitar. A song like “War is Waged” or “Lost in Doubt” (Two of the three minute songs from Hell on Earth) – those songs really don’t fit on the record. So, I would say this is an extension of what we were going to become anyway.”
And that progression is clear. These songs are indulging in the process of songs making. In Cold Blood absolutely still bangs out fast parts and punctuates with dive bombs and rapid solos. But the 6:40 “Slipping into Senility” is a doomy plodding endeavor that crushes the listener while still engaging hardcore patterns. It sits in the middle of Legion of Angels and is followed by three 2 minute songs.
Blaze reflects, “I don’t want to make seven records that will be the same. I want to be a roller coaster. But I also don’t want to make a record with 10 different style songs. So, yeah the next record will be shorter, straightforward simplistic in vein of Hell on Earth, more Infesty.”
Legion of Angels is out now via Fast Break! Records.