Metal bands have been addressing end-of-the-world anxiety since the inception of the genre, but on the new Death Angel album, Humanicide, the legendary thrash quintet puts a fresh twist on some old concerns. Rather than focus on doomsday scenarios, the band directs its attention toward our species’ unfortunate tendency to cling to destructive behaviors.
On the album-opening title track, vocalist Mark Osegueda laments the “global denial” preventing us from choosing a different path. Over a locomotive thrash riff courtesy of guitarist and main songwriter Rob Cavestany, Osegueda pierces the air with one of his signature throat-scraping screams, declaring that “all hope is looooooooost.” Conversely, however, the mood in camp Death Angel is the most upbeat it’s been in a long time, as Cavestany told Heavy Consequence.
Key figures in the second wave of Bay Area thrash that took the world by storm in the ‘80s, Death Angel have now been together twice as long and put out twice as many albums in their second incarnation than their classic era. When we recently caught up with Cavestany, he reflected on both the present and the past.
On how the recording of Humanicide reflected the recent dynamics within the band
For Mark and me, we’re kind of in a better place than we were, especially [from 2013—16] in The Dream Calls for Blood era and going into The Evil Divide. So that translates more into a free-flowing and somewhat enjoyable experience. When I hear this record now — I’m listening to it in retrospect, because it’s already beyond the time that we were inside of creating it — I can hear that we just sound more free, a bit more relaxed and not so tense about stuff. So that’s translating into more of a variety. There’s a lot of textures and different kinds of sounds that are outside of straight-up thrash. We allowed those things to creep into the creativity moreso this time, and I’m glad.
More and more, we don’t have as much of a chip on our shoulder or something to prove from when the band survived the major lineup change before [2010’s] Relentless Retribution. Lyrically, we’re looking at stuff that’s happening to the human race and the situations around the world between people, politically and otherwise. That’s enough to infuriate you to the point of writing some brutal metal lyrics. [Laughs.]
On Humanicide tackling global issues more than previous albums
One of the reasons that we’re putting more of a focus into that, as far as the aggression and the angst feeling in the record, is because — thankfully — we’re in somewhat of a better place personally. [When that happens, that enables] you to turn towards the macro picture instead of just what’s happening to you individually in your life. But there’s some of that in the record, too. There are double-meaning songs, where you think the song is about this obvious [external subject], but there’s actually a root of that that’s coming from something more personal, [only] it’s disguised inside of the lyric.
On how he and Mark Osegueda have maintained a bond since Death Angel re-formed in 2001
We’re just f*ckin’ stubborn. [Laughs] But no, some of it might have something to do with how we did spend a lot of time apart. There was practically a decade where we barely saw each other and were barely in communication. Whereas [founding drummer] Andy [Galeon] and Den [founding bassist Dennis Pepa] were together that entire time. That’s more time to get sick of each other. [Laughs.] Mark and I just have a bond with our vision, goals, and common dream that we’ve [held onto]. We must really need each other to make it happen.
On everyone being related in the classic Death Angel lineup
It is a unique position. To us, it was the norm. When you’re in it, you can’t see what’s happening and it doesn’t seem odd or different. That was the magic of when we were younger, with all of us being cousins. We were all basically kids at that time—
On being kids when the band started
You look at things from the point of view of a gang of little kids. We couldn’t really consider the future very far, and we weren’t thinking of any of the professional things surrounding the fact that we just wanted to make music and have fun. But life happens. Look around out there and show me many how many bands have the same lineup from that long ago. It’s nearly impossible. So many factors have to be in place over so much time for it to stay [consistent]. It’s a bummer because it was such the glue to our relationship and, now that we’re not in the band together, it’s completely estranged my relationship with Andy and Dennis.
We’re totally disconnected at this point. And it’s because they’re not in the band at this point and I still am. This was the thing that we were about. And when we remove that element, our existence without it is just awkward to this day. With [founding rhythm guitarist] Gus [Pepa], however, it’s been longer with him because he wasn’t part of when we got back together again. We did two more records with Andy and Dennis, but Gus was already out by that point. He had moved on to a point where I totally hang out with Gus all the time these days. He’s totally cool with hangin’ out while I’m working on Death Angel stuff and he comes to our shows. Somehow, it worked out that way.
On it being 10 years now that he’s been distant from Andy and Dennis
Our kids are grown up and they hardly know each other. I thought that they were going to be another version of us, but it just didn’t work out that way.
On whether he sees Andy and Dennis at family functions
Barely. It’s turned into one of these things, like where they say, “You only see each other at weddings and funerals.” And we don’t even see each other at every wedding. [Laughs.] I’ve caught up with those dudes here and there. It’s not like we’re completely, 100% estranged. But it’s just kind of a drag because you can tell how awkward the conversation is. This is our fourth record now after those dudes have been out of the band. I’ve seen Andy how many times and he’s never even once mentioned anything to me about any of our new records.
On whether he feels Andy and Dennis are still emotionally invested in the band
They can never drop their emotional investment in the band. They were in the original lineup for three albums. We did so much together. The experiences we had together that of course they feel a part of it. I can’t speak for them, but I don’t see how you could ever take this band from my heart and soul even if I wasn’t in it anymore. I could never detach myself from my feelings.
On the effect current drummer Will Carroll and bassist Damien Sisson have had on the band
This lineup has been around longer than the original lineup, so that’s saying something. They have very different styles than Andy and Den. Of course, when you switch something up in the ingredients like that, it takes you a minute to get used to it, but I’ve definitely come to love the chemistry we have. When they started touring with us for Relentless Retribution, we compressed a massive amount of shows in a small period of time. That’s the only way you’re going to get there.
Now it feels like we’ve been together forever, and at this point I can hardly picture any adjustments that had to be made. I’m sure there were adjustments happening in [my] mind as it was going on, but everyone’s really cool with each other personally. We’re really good friends. But [the change] did something to give a shiny new feel to the old car.
On whether he writes music with the current lineup in mind
It somewhat directs some of the styles of the songs. Will’s playing makes it push towards a heavier sound, because he’s totally into metal, and thrash so much so. I like a lot of different kinds of music, so I bring some different shit to Will that he wouldn’t usually play. But in the end we find this middle ground of a sound that neither of us was expecting to happen. I’m not a big death metal fan, but [Will] totally is. That’s killer. I want the combination of things. I want a little push and pull to happen.
Our thanks to Rob Cavestany for taking the time to speak with us. Pick up Death Angel’s new album, Humanicide, at various outlets here.