Death Angel's Mark Osegueda: "Music brings people together. It crosses genres, racial lines"
Death Angel was formed in 1982 by four cousins who were inspired by the new wave of British heavy metal. After releasing a demo called Heavy Metal Insanity, the band enlisted its roadie, another cousin, Mark Osegueda, to be its singer -- just in time to open for the then-up-and-coming Megadeth. From there, the outfit went on to become one of the most respected thrash acts of the era.
As the band was preparing to hit the road in support of its third album, 1990's Act III, for a slot on the Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, Death Angel was involved in a tour-bus crash that critically injured drummer Andy Galeon, sidelining him for the better part of a year and ultimately leading to the breakup of the band the following year. In 2001, Death Angel re-formed with most of the original lineup and released a series of albums that helped re-establish it as a powerful thrash act, returning to prominence in time to capitalize on the new wave of thrash.
The classic lineup split again in 2008, with bassist Dennis Pepa and drummer Galeon departing, leaving founding guitarist Rob Cavestany and Osegueda to put together a new band for the release of 2010's Relentless Retribution, and its followup, The Dream Calls for Blood in 2013. We recently spoke with Osegueda about the new record, how Death Angel came to work with Rodrigo y Gabriela, and more.
Westword: You recorded your new album, The Dream Calls for Blood, in Sanford, Florida, with Jason Suecof at Audiohammer Studios, where you recorded your previous album. Why did you choose to repeat recording there and working with him?
Mark Osegueda: We were so fond of how Relentless Retribution turned out, and we knew going into the writing of this record that we were going to carry on the same aggressive nature in the music but knock it up another level in terms of that aggressiveness. We liked Jason's production so much and the relationship we established with him the last time, we assumed it could only be stronger the second time, and that proved to be the case. We got in there, and we were much more comfortable with each other. We knew what to expect from each other, and we went in with a batch of songs we felt were a lot stronger than the last record, which we were pretty damned proud of. The end result surpassed our expectations.
On the new album, you have talked about how you felt it was more melodic but also had that aggression. What is it about that combination of sounds, as it seems to contrast some, that you like to have in your music?
It's an absolute contrast, but I think that's defined us throughout our career. You're constantly growing as an artist, and if you're not, you might as well stop; you've hit your peak. I don't think we have, and this record points that out. More than ever, we've found a perfect marriage of aggression and melody without sacrificing either.
Do find that to be the case in both the music and the vocals?
I think that's for the whole thing, and in the structure, my voice, definitely. The last record was really balls-out aggressive. With this one, I knew going into it that I wanted to keep the aggressive nature, but before we went into the studio to record, we did the 25th anniversary tour for the re-release of The Ultra-Violence.
Re-learning those songs and playing them live, I re-discovered this kind of higher-pitched scream and clear scream and clear melodic singing that I did on The Ultra-Violence back then that made me think, "Huh, I should do more of this on the new record." I incorporated that, and I think we finally hit the nail on the head with it. I'm very comfortable singing the stuff, and it was fun re-learning that style of singing and melding it with the new aggressive approach to vocals that I have as well.
For your last record, how did you come to work with Rodrigo y Gabriela on "Claws In So Deep" on Relentless Retribution?
Oh, that's pretty interesting. Rob [Cavestany] had been a fan of theirs, and he has quite a few of their CDs. Then we did some of those Anthrax and Testament shows, and that was great. Prior to that, we had done some European shows with Testament, and Rob was talking to Alex Skolnick, and he was mentioning how he was going on tour with Alex Skolnick Trio and Rodrigo y Gabriela. Rob was mentioning how much he loved them, and Alex said, "Oh you should get in touch with them. They love metal. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you."
Alex gave Rob Rodrigo's email, and Rob sent him an email out of the blue, and Rodrigo hit him back within a day telling Rob telling him how much he loved Death Angel, and this record and that record. Rob was blown away, and he put Rob on the list to go see them when they played up in Oakland. They met backstage, and Rob said he had a great conversation, and they exchanged numbers, and always stayed in contact.
When he mentioned we were writing the new record to him, he kept mentioning, jokingly, "I want to write something for the new record." I guess, to us, we thought he was joking, but he meant it. Then he kept saying, "Rob, when are you going to let me write this piece?" Finally, Rob said, "If you're serious, here you go; we need a bridge between these two songs."
Rob gave him the keys they were in, and that was it. Next thing you know, about a month later, he came back and presented us with the finished copy of it. We were all blow away. Music brings people together, that's for damned sure, and it crosses genres, racial lines, language lines, everything.
Death Angel is often hailed as one of the most important thrash bands in the history of the genre. Since you came back, did you find that the community was still there strongly for you?
When we first came back, people were definitely interested, but I think it was more of a nostalgia thing. Once we started releasing more and more material, people realized we meant business. Then we had a whole other hiccup when we lost Dennis [Pepa] and Andy [Galeon], eventually.
Then we had to win people over again with the newer line-up. It took a lot of work, and I think the majority of the work for the last three years was touring for Relentless Retribution with the new line-up. It worked in our favor because, live, we became a force to be reckoned with, and people saw that, and we not only won the respect of a lot of people who had written us off but also people who had not heard of us and just saw us live at those shows.
That's very strange, though fairly common, that people would write off a band like yours.
You lose a couple of original members. I've seen it happens many times. That just means if you come back, you better come back stronger, and prove to these people that you mean it. I, for one, have always loved a good challenge, so it was right up my alley.
You've obviously been playing with Rob since the beginning and Ted for more than a decade now. How did you meet Damien Sisson and Will Carroll?
I've known Rob my entire life because we're cousins. Ted [Aguilar], I actually knew him from the '80s, as well. He was in local bands back in San Francisco with one in particular called Warfare D.C. with Will Carroll, who was the drummer for that band. I've known them since then. When we reformed the band in 2001, Ted joined the band. Will has been playing throughout the Bay Area for years in many different bands, whether it be thrash or not. He was in Ulysses Siren for a while. He was in one of the line-ups for Vicious Rumors for a while. He was in Machinehead touring for a while. He's a journeyman of the Bay Area.
Damien, I didn't meet until later in the 2000s. He was younger than us, but just a powerhouse of a bassist. Word just gets out, and there were some younger bands out there playing, and I kept hearing about this bassist, and I would check him out live and could tell he knew what he was doing. When things started heading south with Dennis, or looked like they were heading in that direction, I was putting my feelers out, and he was one of the first people that came to mind.
In other interviews you've spoken to pushing Will in a different direction than he had been playing before. What do you think he brings to the band that maybe your other drummers didn't?
I think Will has a much more aggressive thrash style of playing drums, versus Andy, who was much more groove-based, power-hitting, rock-based drummer. Will is just a balls-out thrash drummer. It brought a turbo-charged material. Rob's writing faster material, and Damien can play pretty much anything, so it brought a whole new technical aspect to the band. We've always considered ourselves a technical band because thrash is a technical type of music, but we've definitely pushed the envelope for us, and I think we're comfortable in how we pushed it, and I think we're going to keep pushing that envelope.
You've spoken to the fact that you still have this young anger in you that has driven or informed your music in some way. What still makes you angry in a way that is productive?
Luckily, the style of music I play is the perfect release to take out this aggression. You know, I don't have to look too far about things that piss me off. A lot of it could be the state of the world today and the things going on with world leaders in different countries -- that pisses me off. But also just being someone my age still pursuing his dream, it's definitely not all candy and cake. While I see friends I went to high school with definitely went far beyond me, but it doesn't necessarily make them happier, and it's not what I want, but I've made a lot of sacrifices in my life to continue doing what I love to do, and those are things that I guess a lot of people wouldn't do to make sure they can do this.
Sometimes it pisses you off, the sacrifices I've had to make, and the personal loss I've had from being on the road, and trying to maintain relationships at home, and relationships with friends and loved ones. A lot of that falls by the wayside when you set your mind on being a musician. You've got to take the good with the bad and a lot of the times the bad is trying to maintain personal contact with friends and loved ones.
It's like a frustration that builds up but you have this outlet for that.
It's a great outlet for that. It keeps me sane!