FeaturesSatan – Cleaning Up Earth

Satan – Cleaning Up Earth

Pioneers from the UK in traditional heavy metal, Satan appears to be as active and popular as ever since reuniting over a decade ago. Earth Infernal is the sixth studio platter, another effort chock full of steady anthems, potent melodies, and all the enduring qualities one expects when cranking up the volume to the max. Keeping the proceedings authentic and natural also differs from most modern production values – showcasing the magic that these musicians capture track to track.

In this talk with vocalist Brian Ross, we learn about the making of the record and remote idea development, the planet/atmosphere lyrical themes and concerns, thoughts on the new versus old guard when it comes to traditional, old school heavy metal, plus touring talk and an update on activities regarding Brian’s other band Blitzkrieg.

Dead Rhetoric: Earth Infernal is the sixth and latest Satan studio record. There’s mention in the background bio regarding the extra freedom/time to work on this material due to the pandemic/ lockdown situations that improved the final output. Where do you see the key differences in terms of the songwriting, performances, and attention to detail this go around – and how do you see this album sitting in the discography of the band?

Brian Ross: Obviously, there was a point where we couldn’t get together at all because that wasn’t allowed. It did give us a chance to try out ideas. Russ would come up with ideas, riffs and things, put them on a CD and send them to me. That’s how I got the original ideas, and then we would formulate new ideas from there. We spoke on the phone a lot, but it was a while before we could get together and actually play.

It was a very difficult time, actually. We had a lot more time, but it was a lot more difficult than it would have been under normal circumstances. It’s an experience. I was doing the same exact thing with Blitzkrieg. We are still working on that album. The Satan album, we had some of these ideas before the lockdown. We had been kicking a few ideas around that had been left over from the last album. We hadn’t got them finished, so they weren’t even considered for inclusion on the last album. We went around our business, doing what we do. It’s not for me to say how good or bad the songs or the album is. I personally believe that’s up to the fans. My personal thought on this is, it’s a great album. Whether it’s better or worse, I don’t know – that’s for the fans to say.

Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the record, which songs came the easiest as far as inspiration and completion – and were there any tracks that maybe took a little more refinement and work to come together the way you wanted them to in the end?

Ross: (laughs) All of them! It did take a long time because of the way we were writing. We weren’t in the same room as we would normally be. We would send CD’s or send something through the internet cloud, put our ideas on it, send it back – a lot of backwards and forwards stuff. Some ideas we all liked, some we didn’t. We moved it, and it took forever. Lyrically, I think one of the best ones for me was the single that’s out at the moment “Burning Portrait”. It’s a subject that I’m really interested in. On the last Blitzkrieg album, I did a song about Dorian Gray, who kept a picture in his attic where the picture aged, but he stayed young. I changed the idea a bit for “Burning Portrait” – it’s based on the idea of Dorian Gray but once we got moving on it, it moved away from that – which is what I wanted to do, I didn’t want two songs about the same character. That came together quite easily. The idea of the portrait central to the story of the song, I like that idea.

Dead Rhetoric: You spend a lot of time focusing on the climate crisis and a lack of care for planet Earth this time around for the lyrical themes. Has this always been a concern for the members of Satan, and where do you think the leaders of the world need to put the most attention to for the betterment of society/humanity as a whole in the next few years?

Ross: (laughs) That’s a good question! My concern as a person has always been the state of the planet, the people that live on the planet, and the animals that we share the planet with. And so, I’m an advocate of that kind of thing. Politics, I don’t get involved with – politicians do what they do, and no matter what I say, I’m not going to change their minds. If I could, I would have a lot more time and energy spent on cleaning up the planet. We have made such a mess. It’s not too late, we can still turn it around, we can clean the atmosphere. I don’t think everything is lost. I believe charity begins at home, we need to be taking a good long look at ourselves and what we do as people, do our bit for the planet and the other animals that share our planet with us.

Dead Rhetoric: The band continues to develop these records with an organic, on the floor production – embracing little imperfections that may occur. Discuss the philosophy and outlook behind this – do you believe this helps the band stand out in today’s scene where many digital productions render certain other bands interchangeable?

Ross: Yes, you are absolutely right. We as a band, we want perfection, but perfection of the kind that we like. Sometimes a mistake is made, and it maybe takes the track in a slightly different direction than we were intending to go with. Maybe while we were recording it, something went awry – and we like that sort of thing. Too many bands spend too much time cleaning everything up to the nth degree. And don’t you think that takes away some of the excitement, maybe? Which is why we do this. We don’t always make mistakes, but sometimes we do. There may be a note or two that is slightly out – there is a note on this album that’s out, but it’s interesting. It’s not produced to hell and back. For Satan, that’s the way we like it to be.

Dead Rhetoric: It seems you also put some extra work in terms of the vocal harmonies this time as well – is that true?

Ross: I don’t know. We always have worked on vocal harmonies- Russ is a great singer as well. We have always done it. Maybe it’s not so noticeable on the other albums but they are definitely there.

Dead Rhetoric: Eliran Kantor did the album art again. What do you enjoy most about working with him, and what can you tell us about the cover this time around?

Ross: Basically, we work with him because it’s nice to have someone you work with every time. They know what the band is about, the themes we deal with, they know how the judge our mascot should look. Iron Maiden has Eddie, Blitzkrieg has got the bird, we have the judge. He knows how it is. We look at everything, and we give him all the lyrics that are on the album, and he comes up with a theme. Whatever he comes up with, we go with it, because we trust him to come up with something that fits.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences these days in younger bands performing in the classic, traditional metal style and older acts like yourselves, Saxon, Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang, and so forth who originally developed in the 70’s and 80’s?

Ross: There is a difference, I’m not going to say there isn’t. I think a lot of these young bands, their rendition of the New Wave style, some of them they’ve got it absolutely nailed. Hats off to these guys, they’ve worked hard. The New Wave sound, I don’t think ever existed. It was a way of life, then a natural thing. A lot of the bands back in the day couldn’t play very well. A lot of mistakes were made, recording studios were very basic, that’s all we could afford. What you are hearing is a product of that. Had we had lots of money to spend, the records would have probably sounded a lot better. That’s arguable whether people would have liked that as much, I don’t know.

When I see younger bands playing now, I applaud that. The future of heavy metal should not lie with the likes of Satan, Blitzkrieg, Tygers of Pan Tang, and so on. It should lie with these young bands; they are the future. I am happy to carry on doing what I’m doing, but one day I’m going to stop. I would hate to think that heavy metal would die out with my generation.

Dead Rhetoric: Are you surprised by the longevity of the movement – and the proliferation into a second and third generation of fans across the globe?

Ross: No, not really. To be honest, I never thought of Blitzkrieg or Satan as being New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. All the bands were classic metal in the strain of Judas Priest. I know a lot of people who say Judas Priest are a NWOBHM band, but they were around for years before 1979-80 happened, and that is when people say the wave of British Heavy Metal was invented so to speak. Blitzkrieg were around before that, so was Satan. It’s nice that people put a label on it. We are all proud to be a part of it. There are so many good bands still around from that era. Those bands that are still around still deliver. As long as we keep doing that, I don’t see it ending. I see younger bands giving this a kick, and why not, there is room for everybody.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the band chemistry and relationships between the five of you within Satan? It’s a rare situation to see all the key members still together after this many decades in music – does this speak to the passion and energy you all have for your art?

Ross: Yeah, I think it does. As I am sure you are aware, we spent a lot of time apart. We did Court in the Act, and then we sort of went our separate ways. We couldn’t agree on the direction the band should take. Then when we got back together, to be fair when we separated, we always said at one point we would get back together again and take up the mantle. Years went by, we didn’t get the chance to do it, but we would meet up now and again. Something happened where we were able to get all together. We were still friends. We have been good friends for years. I just love those guys; they are like brothers. When you put the five of us together, something happens, it just clicks. And it works.

Dead Rhetoric: Now that you’ve been back together for four studio albums since 2013, how would you say your audience and following has developed in this latest run for Satan? Do you find a good mixture of younger metalheads and the old school generation who remember you from your early work still supporting you?
Ross: Yes. It’s funny, but in a nice way. Funny as in amusing. I’m in a privileged position, standing up on the stage and looking down at the audience. I get the chance to see an audience in a way that other people don’t. If you are in a band and you look out in an audience, you get to see what an audience cannot see. What you’ll see first of all is a lot more females along the front. The first two or three rows- back in the early days, there were no (females) at all. It has to be said that is great. Metal should be for everybody. All of the younger people are also at the front, about halfway back it starts to integrate with some of the old school followers. Right at the back of the hall, you have the old fans – behind that is other bands. It’s kind of weird how that happens, I love it and it’s great.

We do have a mixture of people that are around from the early days, and younger people who weren’t even born yet when we put out Court in the Act.
Dead Rhetoric: What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed when it comes to the metal music industry?

Ross: I don’t know. I suppose, no disrespect to yourself, or even your profession, but maybe some of the advice that has come from the press has been some of the worst I’ve ever heard. The advice kind of comes in the form of a question. You are called Satan, why don’t you write songs about Satan? I know it’s not exactly advice, but the next part of the question would be. The critics who asked that question, they think we should. That is the whole point, these people have missed the point completely. I may be slightly biased, but the two best band names in the world for heavy metal bands are Satan and Blitzkrieg. The reason why Satan was chosen as the band name is its full embodiment of what is wrong with the planet. It’s not Satan the person, it’s the Satanic behavior, the bad behavior of the human being and the human race as a whole. If you look at the lyrics and songs on all of the Satan albums, they all point out injustice, things that are wrong, etc. When we decided that was going to be the name, we came up with the logo, and if you look at it in the mirror it’s exactly the same forwards and backwards. We don’t need to write songs about the horned man – other people do that.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s left on your personal bucket list to accomplish as a musician – either with Satan, or any other projects, bands, and endeavors at this point in your career?

Ross: I’m fortunate enough to be in two really good bands. Satan and Blitzkrieg take up a lot of my time. I’m also involved in a stage production in which I get to play Alice Cooper. It’s called Alice Cooper’s Nightmare. And that is fantastic. I love to do that in my spare time, Alice is one of my favorite people. I get the chance to play him in a stage show, it’s fabulous.

Bucket list? I’ve pretty much done everything I set out to do. There’s one thing sort of glaring there. When I was a kid, I used to go and watch all of my favorite bands at Newcastle City Hall, in Newcastle. It’s a concert hall, the old Victorian style. I’ve seen Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queensrÿche. I just want to play that place as a musician. I would love to play that place.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s in the pipeline for Satan over the next twelve months once the album comes out? Are you hopeful that you’ll be able to get in some festival dates and small tours across mainland Europe and other parts of the world as countries open up from the pandemic restrictions?

Ross: We are working on that. We initially were going to do an American tour. We set up a tour just as the pandemic was coming through, we spent a fortune on work visas, and when the touring was cancelled, we had to cancel the tour. We did not get our money back. The American embassy couldn’t guarantee that even if we got the visas, we would still be able to get into the country. We want to do a tour in the USA next year. We will do European dates, most of the countries are now opened up, the main countries are. As things progress, we are looking to do some dates in the UK. Funnily enough, we don’t often (tour the UK). We want to play around Europe as much as we can in 2022 to get to America next year.

As it stands, with Blitzkrieg we have a single coming out shortly. We are confident to get out an album by October, November time. And touring the same as we can with Satan, go across Europe as much as possible.

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