Toxik – Heavier Yet Still Cynical

Tuesday, 9th August 2022

Just before online media consumption usurped the old-fashioned in print marketplace, this scribe used to be a co-editor for a few years in the late 90’s/early 2000’s at Snakepit magazine. Unearthing a lot of bands across metal’s history that at the time were long forgotten – or had broken up – Toxik would be one of those acts we covered, interviewing over a few issues drummer Tad Leger, singer Mike Sanders, and guitarist Josh Christian. Pioneers of a technical brand of speed/thrash metal through their first two albums World Circus and Think This, they would arise again in 2013, finally solidifying a killer lineup for their third full-length outing Dis Morta. Taking on a more focused songwriting tact, the progressive nature of the material still pushes parameters rarely heard in the scene – the performances equally breathtaking for those who appreciate the intricate musicianship and superior passion behind the songs.

We got the chance to talk to Josh who brought us up to speed on the ups and downs to arrive at Dis Morta, accolades for latest vocalist Ron Iglesias, the versatility and variety within metal today compared to the first go around, thoughts on influencing multiple generations with their discography, plus an update on his health issues and future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Since reigniting Toxik around 2013, you’ve released a series of EP’s and singles, while shuffling a few lineup changes including working with previous singers Mike Sanders and Charlie Sabin – finally arriving at this third album Dis Morta. How have you handled the ups and downs in trying to reestablish Toxik in this current scene – do you think people understand the challenges that are present to arrive at where you are now with this current lineup?

Josh Christian: Probably not. It has been a challenge. It hasn’t been easy. At the same time, it’s so incremental and it moves so slowly, that you maybe are not aware of how difficult it is until you can stand and look back. That’s like life anyway and speaks to the organic nature of this and how it has happened. Yes, it is a trial, but it got me through some really good things with some really good people. I think there is a natural order that worked itself out, and I have a really solid group of people now to make music with. I don’t know if people understand how difficult it was.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel the recording and songwriting sessions went for Dis Morta – where do you see this record slotting in the catalog versus World Circus and Think This?

Christian: As an older person, age and time are a factor so the writing is affected by that. I more efficiently on a purely personal basis wrote more efficiently than I did on the first two albums, just by virtue of being at this for so much longer. I don’t want to say I’ve mastered my craft, because I don’t think you can ever really master your craft- but I’ve learned a lot along the way and picked up some style tricks, and all the things that go into making a musical personality. That’s present in a way on this record that isn’t present on the first two records. There is a bit of a tradeoff – when you are young and excited, first starting out, there’s a specific kind of energy to that, a feel, a sound. You can’t reproduce that, you can’t recreate that, that’s natural and organic as well.

There are some natural differences I think but having said that the three records come from very similar places, obviously. What we are singing about, all three albums are philosophically aligned, for the most part. We are a little bit harder now, a little heavier, a little more cynical as we’ve become older. Subjects that we are speaking about are similar. I think musically, we are going for a similar sort of final product. On our first couple of records, we really wanted to push ourselves within the genre we are working within, and I feel like we did that again on Dis Morta. Different, but similar, I guess.

Dead Rhetoric: Were there any fears or concerns that Toxik’s current output may not be able to match the cult (or classic) impact of your first two albums? Or is it something you just plow through and push forward, scratching your own creative itch and letting the chips fall where they may?

Christian: A little bit of both. There are times where you think about what your legacy is. Especially for a band like Toxik that has a very specific sort of legacy. We are not a big four band – that’s not who we are. The people who really connected with us, really know our music. We have a real relationship with them, with our fans. I don’t even like the word fans; I prefer the word friends. It may seem contrived, but it’s totally that. The word fan throws me a bit. The people who like us, they are a small but honest group of people. They deserve the best that we can do as a unit. The best music that we can put out. I never thought to stop myself and say, ‘I hope this is as good as’, it has to be the best that it can be. To that end, I feel like that is where we were on the first two albums, we really pushed as much as we could. We hope that the new album as well resonates with the listeners.

Dead Rhetoric: What is it like to work with latest vocalist Ron Iglesias – how do you feel about his abilities not only with the new material but how he is able to interpret the classic Toxik tracks? Did you know about his previous work with Xenophile and Paralysis?

Christian: Yes, I know Ron pretty well. I’ve followed Ron probably for the better part of ten years at this point. To the first part of your question, it’s like working with Chris Cornell or Dio, or any other real singer. Ron is no joke. I have to say, I feel like as a pretty serious composer of music to write music, having someone to work with like Ron – and having someone who can write as Ron writes as well – to have Ron’s voice on my music is insanely gratifying. The guy just kills. It’s very satisfying. He’s a great dude, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer guy in terms of his personality, traveling, we tour so well together.

Our philosophies are pretty aligned – we believe in more or less the same things, so our lyrics have a degree of conviction that maybe a fantasy-based band might not have. It’s interesting because me being older, it’s important to have someone a little younger making the statement, because a message gets old when the guy bringing it to you is also old. Someone younger who embraces that philosophy and still embraces that intensity about it that can convey that, is really important to the authenticity of what we do. Having Ron is amazing, we are super fortunate to have that guy in our band.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you assess your outlook and growth as a guitarist and songwriter over the years?

Christian: I’d certainly like to think that I’ve progressed. That on Dis Morta, that was important to me rather than keeping up with the legacy of the band, the trajectory of Toxik as a unit, me personally as a guitarist I thought it was important for me to step it up as it’s many years later from where we had been as an artist. If you are going to charge more, you better give people what they are paying for. I have worked at perfecting myself more than I could, I don’t think I’ll ever be a master, which is cool.

Songwriting-wise I am pretty happy. I think we delivered a really solid album, start to finish it doesn’t let up. The songwriting is consistent. Even though we stretch things out and do what we are trying to do, we are pushing it. I feel like there is a lot of cohesion. It’ll be even better on the next record, that is the hope.

Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your favorite memories regarding Toxik when it comes to live performances over the years? Have you been happy to hit new territories and countries on this second go around – and surprised by the reactions?

Christian: Yes. There are lots of great memories and we’ve been fortunate as a unit to play with some great bands. I was thinking about that this morning, we’ve played with Dream Theater, Pantera, in their early incarnations with these bands. And then deeper culture bands like Sabbat, Candlemass, Laaz Rockit at their peak. We played with some really cool bands back in the day. And now – we get to go out and play and rub shoulders with our contemporaries, we were more competitive then being younger and establishing ourselves, but now we are elder statesmen. I am friends with the dudes in Flotsam & Jetsam – it’s amazing hanging out with them, kicking it with Death Angel, or Craig L. from Forbidden. I am still a fan – I never lost that, there’s an inner child in me that is a fan in awe of where I am from time to time. It’s a very humbling experience to be talking to the people that I talk to on a fairly regular basis.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences in terms of heavy metal as a genre from your first go around during the 1980’s and 90’s to how the current climate looks? Do you believe there is more support than ever globally for this movement?

Christian: Interesting. I think with the advent of countries like India, there’s potential for a bigger than ever metal audience. There are people in other countries that are taking metal, embracing it, and making it their own. The whole folk metal movement, although it’s cooled off a bit now, it’s great to see indigenous music infusing itself with metal. Metal has always allowed the incorporation of other styles within it. That’s one of the coolest things about what we do – it can include just about anything and still be metal if it’s done tastefully and done well. Obviously there have been some failures when it comes to synthesizing certain styles, for the most part you can do a lot with metal. Metal has grown by the boundaries that are available to it, in that time frame.

Back in the 80’s it was fairly rigid, coming out of the power metal movement. Thrash was sort of an unknown, what Toxik was doing didn’t even have a name back then at the time. There was a Facebook conversation going on recently, and Instagram too, when the term ‘black metal’ was first used. We were really on the front end of something, now we are on a completely different side of the mountain with this. It’s come into its own, there’s so much talent, so much creativity in the genre, it’s so big now. I like a lot of different bands that people would be surprised that I am into, my tastes are wide within metal and outside of it. It’s all so good, so different. The arc of metal has come into its own, and there is a real presence to the genre. Metal might be around for another hundred years.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the tools of the internet and the metal community in general helped bands like yourselves, Anacrusis, Realm, and so forth get a second chance?

Christian: Definitely the internet created an opening for all the bands you just mentioned. All of which I really respect very much. The internet gave us a second chance. And at the risk of sounding arrogant, I feel like we deserve it. This is pretty high-quality stuff that people care about, not just thrown together to make a buck.

Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to be a part of the Massacre Records roster? Has your outlook on the role and responsibilities of what a label does changed from your first go around with Roadracer/Roadrunner?

Christian: Massacre was in our top three choices of who we wanted to sign with. When the bid came in, it was a no brainer. Having said that, the duty of what a record label does now compared to what it used to be is vastly different. I think everybody knows that. It’s not easy, there is not a lot of money in this, not a lot of meat on the bones. A lot of times with a label like Massacre, I feel like they do this almost as much for the love of the music as they do for the business side of it. Which is a big part of why we wanted to work with them.

That’s the reality of it, and we have to pull our weight. We can’t just sit back and take in $100,000 for this record and expect $175,000 for the next one. Those days are long gone. We have to get out there and hustle. Luckily, we have a well-worn brand that people know and people will give us a second listen. We feel that we’ve earned it on this record.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you say your health has been these days, given the numerous heart attacks you’ve had? What frustrates you most regarding the state of health care these days across the United States?

Christian: I feel great, thank you for asking. I feel physically better than I have ever felt in a really, really long time. It took me a while to manage my heart disease, which thankfully I have. The American diet being what it is, and the global diet too, it is a factor for me. I had to really learn my way around my choices and eating, it’s taken a lot of time to get a handle on what I was doing but I am healthy.

As far as what I feel about the medical care in this country. Like everybody else, I can boil it down pretty simply as I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I don’t think it’s the American dream that you work your whole life and lose it because you have heart disease, or have colon cancer, or your wife, your husband, or your child does. You could have one major medical emergency and you could lose everything that you have worked so hard for, based on face value, is wrong. We can get into the nuts and bolts from there and discuss why, that’s where usually the focus gets lost, but the reality is this isn’t serving the people. We have the capacity to administer some amazing care, we have technology on our side, people do come here, there is medical tourism that does come to the United States, it’s only at the top end of it. I try to appeal to people’s own sensibility and patriotism if you will. If you can agree this isn’t the American dream to work your whole life and lose it because of someone had cancer in your family.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the fact that you’ve influenced multiple generations of musicians and fans with your music?

Christian: It’s gratifying. I would be a big fibber if I didn’t say it doesn’t put a big smile on my face that someone tells me that they’ve been listening to my music their whole lives. And it’s by someone who is 40 (laughs). It is a nice thing to happen. There are different degrees. Some people have had a sick parent and they were listening to my record while they were sitting waiting in hospice. As deep as that, or people saying they grew up with this – this was my summer of 1989 record, my high school year. I’ve heard that a lot too.

Every once in a while, I’ll get a mention from somebody who is doing their own thing, creating a name for themselves and they’ll say they were influenced by Toxik. I’m glad I’ve been able to get out there and put music out.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Toxik over the next year or two to support this record? Has work already begun behind the scenes on the next album – and if so, what can the fans expect in terms of the songwriting and style?

Christian: The simple answer of course is world domination. But I have to break it down. We are already working on the next record. We had quite a few songs left over from Dis Morta. It could have been a double album. It may end up being the follow-up, there may be Dis Morta II and then another title. We saw this as sort of a trilogy. We have a three-album deal with Massacre, if they decide they want to do it. Hopefully they will want to. Because we took off as much time as we did, I think it’s important that we be timely with a follow-up to Dis Morta. We will try to have something out in twelve to fourteen months. Make people aware we are present. Maybe take a little more time on the third record, get out there and support the records as much as we can. Tour offers haven’t begun, we would like to tour the states as we haven’t done that in a while, not since King Diamond back in 1990. There is a lot of ground for us to turn, we have plenty to do and hopefully we get a chance to do it all.

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