Fast forward some thirty-plus years later, news of the bands’ re-formation caught the Metal world by surprise, followed swiftly by their announcement for Bloodstock Open Air Festival (for what should have been 2020’s event) and a new album in the works.
Now with the album in it’s final stages, and a re-configured booking for Bloodstock next month, we would be lying if we didn’t list Vio-Lence as one of the most anticipated bands’ on the festival’s roster.
Frontman, Sean Killian took some time to give his own perspective on the bands’ rise and abrupt demise, his illness, and the circumstances behind their decision to re-form, record a new album, and start touring once again.
OD – Well, it feels great to know that Vio-Lence are back! Can you talk me through the decision to get back to writing for this new album?
KILLIAN – Well, Phil [Demmel] had just left Machine Head, and after doing some Slayer shows in Gary’s [Holt] absence, there was this period of time when he wasn’t doing anything. This was around the time that I was starting to feel better after my surgery. (Sean was diagnosed with stage four liver cirrhosis, in 2017)
So, really, it wasn’t a million miles away from when we played at the ‘Thrash of the Titans’, Chuck Billy benefit show in San Francisco back in 2001. Phil contacted me back them asking me to get involved. We played that show and that then turned into more shows.
So, the same kind of thing happened this time around, with us talking in January about doing one show in April to start with. Phil asked me: “Are you gonna be healthy enough to do this?” and I figured I’d have four months to recover, so we booked that show, and it sold out almost straight away! We just put it up online, and Phil announced that tickets were on sale.
A lot of people were pissed that they couldn’t get tickets [Laughing].
Because of the reaction, we decided to do a second show, which was a Sunday matinee performance, and we had to announce in advance that the tickets were gonna be on sale at a certain day/time – to give everyone an even chance to get them. That show sold out in just under four minutes!
Then, we started getting loads of calls for shows like Mario from the Alcatraz Festival in Belgium, and then we did a few shows with Sacred Reich in Arizona; which was awesome.
OD – So, when did you guys make the decision to take a good swing at doing a proper comeback?
KILLIAN – It was after that show in Arizona when Phil and I really started to talk about it because we’re the guys that wrote ‘Eternal Nightmare‘. We talked about who would be involved and made the decision that if we do this, we’ve gotta be sharp, you know? We have to be tight…on it… spending time in the studio, and really putting in 100%.
It took some time…about eight months or so, to get things up and running with regards to schedules, but when it began to take shape, and we were vibing off each other in the studio, writing new songs, and lyrics, etc., everything felt really natural from start to finish. The album is currently in the mixing stages, and we’re really happy with the way it all came out.
OD – With regards to sound, can we expect something similar to ‘Eternal Nightmare‘, with regards to keeping that “old-school” vibe?
KILLIAN – All I can say is that it’s very much a Vio-Lence album. It doesn’t sound like ‘Eternal Nightmare‘, or even, ‘Nothing To Gain‘, per se, but it’s 100% Vio-Lence.
OD – Obviously, the industry has changed dramatically since then. Were you feeling a little nervous about releasing new music, or did it just feel like the right thing to do?
KILLIAN – For me, it felt so right. I not only left Vio-Lence back in ’93 after ‘Nothing To Gain‘ came out, but I left the industry altogether! The whole industry was just disgusting, in my opinion.
Back then, you had to have lawyers for just about everything, and then there were the record company people dictating to us what they wanted us to sound like, and everything else in between.
It seemed to me that there was very little control over the actual music that we were writing. It really left a bad taste in my mouth. I was done with it all.
Now, we’re in a much better position because we haven’t released any music in the last thirty-plus years, and also, the music industry is a totally different beast from the way it was back in the early ’90s.
OD – Of course, Vio-Lence now has a deal with Metal Blade Records…
KILLIAN – Yeah, that’s been a huge part of feeling good about things. Especially since they’ve been around for so long. Working with Metal Blade is a key for us because they’ve been around since Thrash Metal began. When we decided to go with Metal Blade, I watched a great documentary about Brian Slagel, and the labels’ history, etc. I knew that we were in great hands.
I’ve actually not yet met Brian yet! Phil was in contact with him. I’ve been in touch with the other people working for the label, and they are really great people to work with. They are very focused and know exactly what to do with this album. Right now we’re getting the artwork finished-up, and all the marketing stuff in line, so it’s a really exciting time for us.
OD – Can you shed some light on any material for the new EP, as all we’ve heard to date is a teaser track called, ‘Flesh from Bone’,?
KILLIAN – Well, the album is gonna be called ‘Let The World Burn‘, which is one of the faster tracks on the album. Overall, there’s a good blend of stuff going on, not only on this track, but on the other songs also. It’s all 100% Thrash Metal!
OD – How many tracks are gonna be on this release?
KILLIAN – There’s a total of five tracks on this release. Five brand-new songs.
OD – You’ve all been working with producer Juan [Urteaga], and have commented on the fact that he’s been pushing you guys, “to the limited” in order to achieve, “maximum intensity“, can you give me an example of how he’s been working with the band to achieve this?
KILLIAN – Well, he was really digging deep with all of us, in order to get the best out of us. Like, I’d be doing my vocal lines and he’s in the booth saying: “Come on, man, I know you can do better than that. You gotta get more aggro. I want to you sound like you’re about to kill somebody!” [Laughing]
Also when we were doing the drums’ we were all saying to Perry [Strickland, Drums]: ‘That sounds great“, he [Juan] was like: “No…it doesn’t you can do better, c’mon. Dig deep!” He really pushed Perry a lot! [Laughing]
OD – Obviously, the pandemic has been a hindrance for so many in the creative industry. Has there been a released date decided for the EP in light of this, and if so, when will that be?
KILLIAN – If anything, it gave us time to work on stuff. All we were doing was writing because we didn’t need to rehearse for shows. When there are dates booked then most of that time is used to work on the setlist, and get it all super tight. So, we really just got stuck into writing new material.
OD – Has there been any new material other than the stuff that’s been recorded?
KILLIAN – Yeah, a few bits here and there. We’re just working away on things and getting tight for the upcoming shows we have booked, which includes Bloodstock in the UK. When we get to rehearsal, we don’t have a setlist or anything like that, we just turn up and are like: “Okay, what do we want to do today?”
OD – So, it really sounds like things are in a comfortable place for Vio-Lence right now?
KILLIAN – Yeah, we’re not under any kind of pressure right now. Back in the day, it was just tour, write, record, repeat. We weren’t built for the stress we were experiencing at that age. Now, we’re a lot older and have a very different outlook on things.
Also, like I said, having a good label behind us is a huge part of just being able to work on the creative side of things, instead of worrying and stressing out over the business stuff.
OD – Coming from the Bay Area, and being a part of that very special scene that paved the way for a genre that took the world by storm, do you feel that Vio-Lence missed some opportunities that may have resulted in a very different outcome?
KILLIAN – Oh, yes for sure! We became really frustrated and made some bad decisions in the past. One of which was separating our relationship with Debbie Obono [former manager for Vio-Lence, Exodus, Forbidden, Possessed].
That was a bad move on our behalf. I’ll just put it down to us being young and stupid. [Laughing] We created an awkward situation, and it didn’t work out well for us, and if I could go back and do things differently… I would.
We also never had the opportunity to get to Europe, and that’s something that we really missed out on. We really want to change that this time around. The reaction that we got from the Alcatraz Festival back in 2019 was incredible, so, we’re hoping that we’ll get some more of that reaction when we venture into the rest of Europe, and the UK.
OD – With the band’s new lineup now in place, have you had a chance to bash everything out together and if so, was there an instant connection between you all?
KILLIAN – Yeah, to be honest, we’ve been rehearsing consistently. We don’t follow any Government rules, and we never will. We’re just – ‘Vio-Lence‘.
OD – Can you share any information as to when we can see a release date for the album?
KILLIAN – Well, at the moment, we’re looking at early 2022. Perhaps around February. We’re looking to get a single out before that. I’m not the best person to ask, as I’m just the guy that screams into a microphone. [Laughing]. I just listen to what the people at the label tell us to do when it comes to stuff like that. They know best.
OD – When you see so many of your peers from the Bay Area still crushing it today some thirty-plus years later, and doing it so well, does it give you hope that despite the changes in trends and fads, the Bay Area Thrash scene is stronger than ever?
KILLIAN – Yeah, there’s something really special about the scene here. Recently, Phil was playing a show with his cover band project, ‘The Merkins‘, and it was at this 5th Anniversary event for a bike club. Chuck Billy [Testament] was there, I was there, Mark [Osegueda, Death Angel] and we just had a blast. We were doing Black Sabbath, KISS, and Judas Priest covers… it was just so spontaneous, and awesome. A typical gathering of Bay Area folks, just rippin’ it up.
I’m not so much a singer, I’m more of a hardcore, ‘belt it out‘ kinda guy. Mark has got some incredible range. It was such a killer day. Just friends catching-up, and hanging out. We all help each other out. Like, when Chuck was sick, when I was sick, and now Tom [Hunting] Exodus. We just show up, and help out.
Also, I’ve gotta say, when I listen to Metal these days, there’s just something about the sound of the bands that came from the Bay Area. I guess you can include Slayer and Megadeth in there because they were here a lot back in those days.
We have our own sound you know? There’s a very specific sound from the Bay Area. Although a lot of the bands’ have a very different vibe and sound, there’s just something so familiar about the vibe. It’s the Bay Area vibe. A lot of bands try to replicate the Bay Area sound, and they just can’t do it. It’s very unique.
There’s just something about this group of people. We all influenced each other and helped each other rise to the top. We [Vio-Lence] have our own sound, as do Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, etc. but we’re all part of the same DNA. So, when you hear these new albums coming out from these bands’ they instantly have their own identity and don’t sound like the rest of the stuff that’s happening in Metal.
OD – Having had your surgery back in 2018, are you feeling excited now about the future, not only for the band but in general. Do you have a different outlook on life now?
KILLIAN – So, I worry less about stuff these days. I never want to be on my deathbed and regret not doing stuff. I also don’t want the pinnacle of my life to be just me being a slave to the grind, and working myself to the bone without following my interests or dreams.
I want to be able to say: “I’ve done most of what I set out to do and probably more than most people“. I’ve made some changes in my life, and getting back into Vio-Lence is one of them. It was when Phil left Machine Head, that’s when I started thinking: “I should give him a call, and see does he want to get things happening again“. I just gave it a shot, and I’m so glad I did because things really worked out.
I never want to have any regrets about decisions in my life. I’ve been to hell and back, and all I could do when I was really sick was just listen to my Doctor, and hope that everything worked out.
The last thing I wanted during that time was to be stressed out during what could have been the last few months of my life. I didn’t want to be stressed out on anxiety meds about dying.
I got to the point where I found a calmness of sorts, and I just thought to myself: “whatever’s gonna happen, is gonna happen“. I’ve just got to be positive, and hope for the best. When I reached that point, I stopped looking back, and then started looking forward, asking myself the question: “What do I want to do with my life?”
We’re a band that likes playing anywhere! Festivals to small clubs, where there’s no security, and it’s just a sweatbox [Laughing]. All of it is incredible, and I’m so grateful that I get to do this again.
Sean Killian – vocals
Perry Strickland – drums
Christian Olde Wolbers – bass
Bobby Gustafson – guitars
Phil Demmel -guitars
Vio-Lence will be taking to the stage at Bloodstock Open Air for their exclusive debut UK performance on August 14th. Tickets are now on sale but selling fast, get yours here.
Stay up to date with all the latest news, feature interviews, reviews, competitions, and much more by choosing any of our official links here.