Latest release: Worlds Torn Asunder (Century Media/EMI)
When it comes to American thrash, most automatically think of San Francisco and the Bay Area where the embryonic scene blossomed in the early 1980s. But Warbringer vocalist John Kevill warns us not to forget the rest of the state, especially West Hollywood where his band is from.
“Metallica… Slayer… they’re Los Angeles bands,” he says. “Slayer was and always is Los Angeles based. Metallica started in LA and moved to San Francisco – so too Megadeth by extension. Agent Steel was from Los Angeles, Dark Angel are from Los Angeles. It’s just too big a city to not have a metal scene! I’m born San Francisco and moved to LA. The whole scene in California is really good, really receptive to thrash metal. It’s awesome.”
Discovered when they were opening for another band in LA, Warbringer has since released three albums and played more than a thousand shows, all the time being hailed as leaders of the so-called “Thrash Revival” along with the likes of Evile and Municipal Waste. Kevill reckons that was merely synchronicity.
“It kind of happened at the same time we happened,” he says. “When we started the band we were from the suburbs north of LA. We didn’t know anyone else playing metal. The closest thing anyone else came was all these bands trying to be Pantera. That was the closest thing to thrash metal. It wasn’t that similar to what we were playing. We just kinda got into this kind of music and we started a band because it was the music we wanted to hear.”
Five years ago the phrase was being bandied about with free abandon as old-school inspired thrashers like Warbringer began springing up around the globe. Kevill doesn’t have much time for such epithets. As he points out, “People never stopped listening to Slayer or anything. That never happened.”
“I think the term ‘thrash revival’ is a little silly. Because death metal started in the late 80s, and if you play death metal today no one calls you a revival band,” he says. “And I think that also (the old) bands, when really young, all wore the denim jackets and high-top sneakers, and there’s now a visually retro nostalgic thing about it, so I think the media jumped all over that and didn’t talk about the riffs or what the songs or the vocals sound like. I think that’s the shittiest thing about the ‘thrash revival’ thing. People only make comparisons to similarities. You look for similarities.”
By way of example, he recalls the early reviews his band got for their debut War Without End, where he his vocals was compared to those of Anthrax.
“I don’t sound anything like Joey Belladonna!” he says with a laugh. “There’s valid comparisons and there’s invalid comparisons. I’ve heard all kinds of comparisons, and sometimes people make comparisons for the sake of making comparisons.”
He does admit, however, that the origins of the two scenes – 80s and 10s – are analogous to one another.
“The very first thrash bands started out in the exact same place. Fresh outta high school, making their first record, full of piss and vinegar wanting to play as hard and as fast as they can. It’s not because of some nostalgia thing. It’s more because people are people. The kind of music that comes out of bands reflects where they are in their lives at that time. When we started out, we were like, ‘Yeah dude, play fast, speed-pick as much as possible!’
Like those bands too, Warbringer has moved on from the ritualistic, primal thrash that fuelled their first album and EP. Kevill only thinks that’s a good thing, but he’s careful not to forget about the legacy of those early days and the fact that a lot of their fans still enjoy their earlier work.
“As far as being in a band and playing tight and everyone’s individual performance, as well as our group performance, we just do it better,” he says of Warbringer’s progression from their formative period. “Some artists will rip on their early work because of that reason. I try to avoid falling into that trap, because I think the reason some people are attached to their early work is because the reason people are into the music isn’t for the spit-shine polish. It’s for the feeling it creates. And creating a feeling in music is not dependent on technical skill or those things. It’s dependent on heart. We always did what we do with full heart. And that’s why people still like the first record. That’s why I still like the first record, even though I don’t particularly like my own vocal style. I can do all of that better, now that I’ve played a thousand shows. And if I couldn’t do it better now, I should hang it up and quit! I’m proud of both our (earlier) records. I think you can see an evolution in the kind of musical ideas that go on, the lyrical ideas, the song structures, but I believe that the core idea of what makes our music annihilate stuff is pretty much the same.”
Kevill’s love and knowledge of thrash is so deep, it’s easy to engage him in discussion on how the bands that inspired Warbringer made those same progressions from the primeval energies of youth to the worldlier, older acts that they are today. He is at pains to explain, however, that it’s not simply a case of making a sweeping overview of the whole genre, or even of a single band’s entire career.
“It depends what record you’re talking about,” he begins, with reference to Metallica. “Case-by-case, record-by-record. I think Justice is a great evolution from where they began on Kill ’em All. St Anger is not! You can call it maturity, I guess. Neither of those records sound like Kill ’em All. But Justice has more in common with the core ideas. But at the end of the day, you can pull off any sort of development if your song writing, ideas and execution are good. Some bands, my favourite records are those raw, thrashier ones, and some thrash bands my favourite records are their least thrashy, more progressive records. Especially that period late 80s – early 90s when they tried to infuse a more progessive element into their song writing. Some of that turned out really well. Like Extreme Aggression and Coma of Souls, I think, are overall better written records than the rawer Kreator stuff. It depends. It’s band by band and record by record, and everyone’s personal opinion.”
Kreator is the one band that Warbringer is most often compared to. Returning to our previous thread about drawing likenesses between bands, Kevill admits that in this case, it’s a valid comparison.
“When I was trying to find a style of vocal in the first place, a dude outta high school, I’d never been in a band, I had to study,” the singer explains. “No one ever starts without study or a point of reference. I could have gravitated to another way, the Testament, Forbidden, Metallica style vocal, but as it turns out I was really drawn to the really rapid fire, German accents or more of a Slayer style. That’s always been an influence. They’re the bands I like. I still listen to these bands. I’m not tired of them yet.”
Nor is he tired of being on the road. For a band that’s been going for less than a decade, Warbringer has done an astounding number of shows. Kevill estimates he’s done more than a thousand performances across the northern hemisphere and never gets tired of it, although he admits that he doesn’t quite remember some of the fun he’s had along the way.
“There’s a lot of great stuff I do remember, and probably a lot of even greater stuff that I just don’t remember!” he says. “We don’t tour sober or anything. That’s not how it’s done. We just did a European festival tour, so that’s what’s really fresh in my mind. It’s a really good feeling when you get off stage and you know the crowd really enjoyed the show, people got into it and you feel like you really performed well.”
He enjoys the experience of new horizons and discoveries that touring offers, even if he’s not too fussed on the journey itself, as he explains.
“I hate the travelling, but I like the travel. For example, we stopped on the way to a festival on some stupidly long drive and we stopped in this small town in Austria at this hotel, but (it was) really just some dude (who) has a spare room, and it’s the most beautiful town ever and we just wake up and take a hike down to the river and it looks like a scene from the Sound of Music. And you see that and you think, ‘Oh well, this really exists in the world!’ That’s cool. And hopefully I can find some stuff like that in Australia. Some great thing that I’ve never seen before. I’m more drawn to the country than the city usually, just because of my background and stuff. Just the different topography of different lands. That’s always really cool for me.”
Australia is the next stop on Warbringer’s global conquest, already on our shores as this story goes online. With three days off in the middle of the tour, he hopes they get the chance to “chill on the beach” between shows: “You don’t normally get three days in a row off to go sight seeing.” Warbringer hasn’t been to Australia before of course, but they have toured with The Berzerker and The Amenta, who filled them in on life Down Under.
“They’ve told us two things,” John Kevill says. “One, nobody drinks Fosters there. And two, watch out for wombats because they’re as dumb as rocks and you can wreck your car if you hit one!”
Warbringer plays the following shows from today:
4/10: Jubilee Hotel, Brisbane QLD
5/10: Bald Faced Stag Hotel, NSW
6/10: Broadmeadow Tennis Club, Newcastle NSW
10/10: The Basment, Canberra ACT
11/10: Amplifier Bar, Perth WA
12/10: Enigma Bar, Adelaide SA
13/10: Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
14/10: The Patch, Wollongong NSW