Satan – Relishing True Metal

Wednesday, 11th November 2015

The essence of heavy metal: demo recordings, tape trading, gig swapping, specialty radio shows, which morphed into new record labels specializing in the craft – has a lot of UK roots. Black Sabbath and Judas Priest during the 1970’s inspired legions, along with a punk scene, to pick up instruments and begin their own waves. Soon we would all know about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal through acts like Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Raven, Saxon, and hundreds of others small and mid-size groups championing a heavier sound.

During the end of the main movement for the mid-80’s, many would know about a group called Satan through their 1983 debut album Court in the Act through progressively fast, tight riffing, twin guitar harmonies, and the majestic range of vocalist Brian Ross. Thankfully given just appreciation decades after its initial release because of the historical value (and metal legions who dig deeper into the movements they love), reunion talks for festival appearances would catapult that lineup back into the international landscape. Subsequent studio records like Life Sentence and this year’s Atom by Atom keep those youthful ideals firm (lively production, less computerized studio tricks) are giving metal followers young and old more Satan material to treasure.

Getting guitarist Steve Ramsey on the line for a chat, prepare to learn more about how Brian Ross came to be Satan’s vocalist, the initial crucifying many of the major metal press outlets gave to Court in the Act, as well as how the band balances out the pluses and minuses of the internet as well as their burgeoning touring opportunities while maintaining full-time careers outside of the band.

Dead Rhetoric: Your two brief tours of North America in the spring and fall of last year were smashing successes – how do you feel things went overall and did you see a good cross-section of metal heads who have an undying love for NWOBHM?

Steve Ramsey: Yeah, it’s very surprising to us. Right from when we started back in 2011 playing the first show, we were so surprised how many young people were in the audience. We expected it to be like a really old crowd. It was all young people around the front, and strangely a lot of girls! Back in the old days no girls used to come to any of the gigs. They all knew every lyric of Court in the Act and they were singing along to every song, it was crazy. When we went to the states we saw that happening again and it was just fantastic. We never dreamed that we would be able to play that music again, and especially over in North America, South America, Japan, and all the stuff that we’ve done. All the shows were so fantastic. I had been in New York a couple of times, but I love the people to play there.

Dead Rhetoric: Life Sentence relaunched Satan – so were there any worries about reaching that same level of quality in the writing and recording of Atom by Atom?

Ramsey: It’s weird, because it was a total different ball game when we wrote the material for Atom by Atom. When we wrote Life Sentence we started getting the first few riffs together we decided that we would make the album that would have been recorded after Court in the Act. We transported ourselves back in time to being nineteen, where we would be as musicians and how we would feel. We had little restrictions on what we would do with the music, to make it sound like that. On the new album it’s just open gates- a bit more progressive and we’ve used a lot more stuff that we’ve learned over the years.

Dead Rhetoric: Are you the type of band who still prefer bashing things out in rehearsal rooms to refine material versus the modern method of trading ideas back and forth through internet files and home studios?

Ramsey: It’s a bit of both. It’s always been a bit of both- some days we come up with a riff, let’s say we are rehearsing for a show. One of us will play a riff, someone else will join in, and then we will discover that this can go with that. We get that back to our home studios and then refine the idea from there. Sometimes it’s just a couple of us getting together and knocking out ideas and putting them down, passing them around the other members of the band and then rehearsing them. Sometimes to a point where the whole song is just totally written, each song has their own individual way of coming to be- there isn’t a set way to do anything. Sometimes it starts with a lyric, sometimes a riff- mainly a riff or a melody line or a title.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the lead breaks, is this something that is worked out ahead of time with Russ Tippins or do you decide on a case by case basis?

Ramsey: Whoever writes the parts sometimes, or if Russ says to me that a part suits my playing that he’s written, and then I would write a part and say that this was for him. Sometimes it’ll be the other way around where I say, ‘I’m taking that one! (laughs). It’s a little bit like that, but it all works out in the end really good.

Dead Rhetoric: What significant albums, live shows, or events did you sense taking place to see the New Wave of British Heavy Metal pushing beyond your country and making a mark on the international landscape during that first wave of the late 70’s to early 80’s?

Ramsey: For me personally. What happened with us, the music was getting into record stores because of course there was no internet back then. So you would go down to your local record store, you would hear something and say, ‘what’s that?’. We were led by that, as far as the press goes this was before Kerrang magazine, I started to get into this music before then. It was word of mouth, one friend would get an album and say, ‘do you know what Lemmy is doing now? He’s got this band called Motörhead’ and we would check that out. Then we would pass it around, somebody would tape it, one of your friends would buy another album and continue the process. For Russ and I as guitarists, when we first started we were going to see bands like Judas Priest, the Scorpions, Motörhead – and we were into a lot of punk stuff as well. Listening to it, the influence of the scene on us was trying to put some of the punk kind of thing into it- the exciting energy into the metal.

As we became better musicians we started getting more progressive- we would listen to Rush and bands like that. The big album for us would have been Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East. I remember me and Russ getting that album and learning every note from start to finish. I was K.K. Downing and he was Glenn Tipton- so that was kind of the thing that formed what we did as a band, that dual guitar thing.

Dead Rhetoric: You got the chance to see Brian Ross perform when you were invited to a special ‘Super Session’ concert at the Dynamo involving members of Mercyful Fate, Jaguar, Tokyo Blade, and Avenger. What circumstances unfolded to convince the other guys that Brian was the right guy to front Satan?

Ramsey: That was actually after Brian was in the band, because I was playing in that. I actually went over with Brian, so I played in that session with the guys from Mercyful Fate. It was before that, I remember going to see Blitzkrieg playing with the original lineup- we were massive fans. I remember thinking what it would be like to have Brian as the singer. And then we heard that Blitzkrieg has split up and he joined another band. We put the word out that we would be interested in having him join our band. I can’t remember what happened but we kind of swapped vocalists- Ian Swift joined Avenger and we got Brian. Everyone says that I managed to do this, but I don’t exactly remember how. This was just unbelievable.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you get the interest from Roadrunner Records as a result of the shows in Holland?

Ramsey: Yeah, we had done shows with Ian Swift over there, started going over there. The interest came after the first show we did at the Dynamo in Holland – we self-financed the release of the single “Kiss of Death”, and we made a 1,000 copies of it. We sold to them a company, a distribution company that was in the back of Sounds magazine from the UK. They used to buy stuff off bands and then it would be sold on to others in Europe- because the scene was starting to pick up across Europe. The guy from the Dynamo club André (Verhuysen) – a record shop in Eindhoven had bought a lot of copies for their shop and sold out. He knew he needed to get us over here because everyone had our record. We sold more copies in Eindhoven back then than we did in Newcastle!

Dead Rhetoric: Even if back during its release Court in the Act didn’t win over writers in the UK (I remember hearing Kerrang magazine giving you a less than favorable review), do you believe that deeper listening and the sands of time have pushed this record into one of the best from that later NWOBHM movement?

Ramsey: Oh, it was terrible! When you go back, we kind of stand out. We stand out now as good, but back then it was possible that standing out made us bad- you know what I mean? We didn’t fit in with what the rest of the bands sounded like. We were a bit different, and that’s why Kerrang! and we got the same kind of off-ish review in Aardschok magazine in Holland. We ended up splitting up, changing our name and doing something else because we thought we were doing something wrong, people didn’t understand what we were doing. Which in hindsight was a mistake. It’s taken 30 years but things are getting much better now.

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