With a sizzling new album out and a Grammy nomination under their belts, Death Angel are on an all-time high and there’s no doubt that they’ve earned every last bit of success and respect given to them.
Guitarist, Ted Aguilar greets us with a smile as we settle down for a catch up on all things Death Angel.
OD – We’ll start with the recent news of your long, long overdue Grammy nomination. Looking at your past and what you have been through as a band, and personally, to where you are today, besides the obvious, did you find this to be a personal honour of sorts?
TED – It was an overwhelming experience. We grew up watching the Grammys and out of all the bands to be floating around the world we happened to be one of ‘The five‘. Candlemass, Tool, Killswitch Engage, I Prevail and us [Death Angel].
Still being nominated was a win for us and just having our name sitting there next to Tool was very cool to see.
OD – Did you notice a spike in online interest after the news broke?
TED – Yeah totally. We’re trying to pay more attention these days as more people are gravitating towards that as their main source of information and entertainment these days. We’ve actually brought a videographer with us on the EU/UK run of dates to get as much content up online, as possible.
We’re still trying to see what works and what doesn’t with regards to the content. There are some things are sticking a little more than others. But ever since we started bringing our videographer out with us, we’ve noticed a big jump in our online figures, which is awesome.
OD – You’ve been touring ‘Humanicide’ now for a while, with every album, Death Angel push it a little more. Do you feel that the bands sound is evolving more towards a darker, heavier sound?
TED – Yeah, it’s not intentional. We just write it, record it and it’s only when we get it back from being mastered and mixed, and we’re putting together the tracklisting, that’s when we realise what kind of vibe the album has.
We’ve never said to ourselves; “We need to make a really dark and heavy album“. We just do what we do and that’s the way it has always worked for us. For example, once the “Evil Divide” touring cycle was done, we start with a completely clean slate and a blank canvas.
If you look at it this way, writing an album is almost like catching a moment in time. It’s a snapshot of that moment we’re going through. I guess when you look at tracks like ‘Immortal Behated‘ and ‘Agressor‘ has its dark moments but also some uplifting moments as found in ‘I Came for Blood‘.
It’s hard to explain it but it’s only when I get the final product that I get the overall feeling from the album. This is because while we’re writing, things are always changing and then when we’re in the studio recording, we’re always trying to push the envelope and make things as best as possible, so our heads are in a creative space, rather than reviewing the overall vibe of the music.
OD – Of all the years that you have known the guys in both Testament and Exodus, finally you are all on the same tour. Would you agree that collectively, this tour contains the nuts and bolts of the true, pure Bay Area thrash scene and would you ever consider a side project with some of the other guys down the line?
TED – Possibly. I know that there are already existing projects with Mark (Osegueda – Vocals) doing Metal Allegiance and sometimes a few of the guys from the other bands will jump in for live shows here and there.
The Bay Area scene can be very incestuous at times with bands members from different bands jamming together and having a laugh. It’s like a sort of gang-bang of side projects [Laughing].
OD – I assume that this tour will be continuing through different continents going forward?
TED – Yeah, this tour [Bay Area Strikes Back!] is the first of many tours with this package and to be honest, it just feels like home.
Compared to other tours that we’ve done in the past. Everyone knows each other there, some of our crew works with, and has worked in the past with all the bands on this bill.
It’s not like that awkward first show of the tour where nobody really knows each other and it’s just like: “Hey, nice to meet you,” etc… and you’re trying to figure out who’s who, what you can and can’t do, people’s personalities and stuff like that. With this tour, it’s like; “Go do your thing guys, break a leg! Enjoy” [Laughing]
OD – When you think back to Ruthies Inn and when the whole genre was about to go off like an atom bomb, did you ever think for one moment that it would be as big as it has become?
TED – I think Thrash is the most timeless genre within metal as a whole. Back then it was more friendly competition if anything else, and now that we are all older and have families etc, we’re just stoked to still be able to do this.
We all really respect each other and give each other support. I was watching Exodus and Testament on stage, the other night and the other guys from both bands will be checking us out and we’re all just one collective.
We have a very special bond with each other and we have a long history, one that we all fought for and will continue to do so for as long as we physically can. Let’s just say there’s something in the Bay Area water! [Laughing] It’s hard to explain but it’s proven it’s power over the decades.
To answer your question, I never thought Thrash metal would be as big as it has become. Not until Metallica started headlining Arenas back in the day, that’s when we all were just like; “Holy Shit! This is becoming huge!”
Metallica opened the doors for all the other Thrash bands during that era and all the labels starting coming and checking out the bands. We got on to the Geffen label, Exodus was on Capital and Testament were on Atlantic. It was a very exciting time, that’s for sure.
OD – I discovered a recent article to which Rob [Cavestany – Guitars] gave a little insight into the making of ‘Act III’, for me that album is just such a diverse and artistically challenging album. What are your thoughts on the LP?
TED – That’s actually my favourite Death Angel album! I remember sitting on the tour bus a while back and asking Rob about how that album came to together and he just said; “That was a moment in time.” It was very hard to capture that moment again.
For Act III, the label just kept putting the pressure on the guys and demanding more and more.
OD – Obviously you came into Death Angel after Act III, but do you think that that experience had a profound effect on the way Death Angel writes and records music today?
TED – Well, yes it had a major effect on the way the band was writing not only back then but also today. Rob is the main songwriter in the band, and that experience with Geffen made him focus on the strength of his songwriting rather than just churning out song after song if you know what I mean. It also opened his eyes to producing because now Rob co-produces all of our records. So, after Act III, Rob had a big learning curve. He was like; “So, this is how you’re supposed to work? Well, I’m taking that and applying it to ALL the albums I do moving forward from now on“.
OD – I was lucky enough to attend the Thrash of The Titans show back in 2001 at the Maritime Hall. I believe I’m correct in saying that was the first time Death Angel had been on stage together in almost a decade. Would you agree that this show was an important catalyst to move things forward to where you are today?
TED – That was my very first gig with Death Angel. That gig was just so special. It totally reignited the band and got us back on track.
You have to remember Death Angel was NEVER going to reunite prior to that show. They were DONE.
They ended on a high note and they just wanted to move on. But then again, somethings can instigate a change of heart. Chuck [Billy – Testament vocalist] getting diagnosed with Cancer was that huge moment that ran deep into the Bay Area scene.
It was actually Chuck that made the call asking for us to do the show. He called Rob first and was like; “Hey man, I need you to do this for me. Can you do me a solid?”
So, Rob talked to everyone and at the time including Gus [Pepa – ex Death Angel guitarist] who was living in the Philippines and he told Rob that he wasn’t doing music anymore and gave us his blessing to continue. That’s when Rob gave me a call and my journey with Death Angel began.
OD – Were you shitting yourself when you got on stage?
TED – Hell Yes! We only had two rehearsals! [Laughing] There’s no doubt that show will go down in history because of what it was for and who was there. It was a day I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.
OD – It’s already been five years since ‘Thrashumentary’ was released and so much has happened since. Are there any plans to continue the story or release the story of Death Angel in the other media format, perhaps a book?
TED – Yeah, we had to stop! So much has happened since that came out. We’ve touched upon the bands’ beginning, up until ‘Relentless Retribution‘ (2010) so, we’ve got “The Dream Calls for Blood‘ (2013), ‘The Evil Divide‘ (2016) and now ‘Humanicide‘ (2019) and we’ve been documenting as much as we can, so who knows where all of this will end up. We’ll just have to wait and see what we’re gonna do with it all.
OD – You’ve performed in venues all over the world, but is there anywhere, in particular, that remains very special to you after all of this time?
TED – There’s a lot of places I still want to play, but when Death Angel went back to Holland back in 2002 we played a show at the Efenaar in Eindhoven the night before Dynamo Festival and it was sold out.
This was my very first international performance, not only with Death Angel but my first ever outside of America. I always remember the guys telling me that Holland is awesome and when it got to showtime, the place was fucking packed to the gills. [Laughing]
We went on stage at midnight and people were just losing their fucking minds. I had never played a show like that before, with people chanting and singing. We played for over two hours and it was hot as hell. We did a bunch of songs from the first three albums and it was amazing. That”s when the hairs stuck up on the back of my neck. Awesome show.
OD – Finally, can you tell us what album made the biggest impact on you from last year?
TED – I was talking about this with someone the other day. I’m not sure if the album came out last year but I discovered it last year. It’s George Ezra (2018) and the album is called ‘Staying at Tamara’s‘. There’s also this other guy called Jerry Cinnamon and he’s got this album called ‘Erratic Cinematic‘, both of those albums are not metal, just really good music, good songwriting.
Since this interview took place Death Angel drummer Will Carroll has sadly contracted the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and is currently in hospital in America. With respect to Will and family’s privacy, Overdrive offers our heartfelt regards and hope that he recuperates very soon.
Death Angel’s latest album ‘Humanicide‘ is out NOW via Nuclear Blast. Get your copy here.