Interview with Tony, Mal, and Thomas of Annihilate the Hero
Interview and live pictures by Michael F. Coles. Interview conducted on 6/1/09
Coroner, Rush, Macabre, Birdflesh, Venom, Maruta, and Annihilate the Hero; just a few band names in Metal that have something in common besides playing Metal (well, with the exception of Rush). Each band consists of 3 band members, and each band member in my opinion is a "master" (one can always learn more, even if one is a "master" in my book) at their instrument of choice. Up there with Macabre and Birdflesh, Annihilate the Hero are easily one of my favorite 3 piece bands to see live. Although I think the main reason I love Macabre and Birdflesh so much is due to their "gimmick" per se, ATH have only one; their music. They may not run around wearing costumes like Birdflesh, or have that special morbid feel that Macabre can express in a live setting, but once one sees ATH play live, one knows they are serious at what they do best! Play a technical, yet catchy brand of Metal that one can not help but bang ones head to! The one thing I urge the listener to due if one decides to check this band out is to be sure that you give it a few listens, or you may be missing out on their musical objective. On my final note, there is also a video on their myspace page that is worth checking out for sure.
The Outcast: Who has the final say in the lyrics? Do you all contribute or do you let Thomas handle all of the lyrics?
Tony: Thomas usually does 99% of the lyric work. Mal and I throw in a phrase or word here and there, but usually Thomas takes care of it. He does most of the singing/screaming so it's his playground.
The Outcast: So what comes first Thomas, the music or the lyrics? Is the music written by everyone?
Thomas: The music always comes first, and then I will just kind of phrase here and there until the song gets more and more developed. Then I will write lyrics to what ever kind of phrasing I decided on, and once we are in what could be the final stages of the song (but only there is no real final stage to an ATH song, ha, ha!), its just kind of called good enough at that point. Things will always change in all due time. Here lately in the last few years, the arrangements have been more of a team effort between me and Mal, although Tony is just kinda one of those bass players that is like a "Mac-Truck." He doesn't do much writing, but he holds everything together which I think is one of the things every band needs. These days I bring all of the riffs to the table, but Mal as a guitar player himself really helps out with quality control. Such as if a riff is happy sounding or sounds like another band, or is too close to something we have done before. He can spot those things out a mile away, so I can throw it out before it does any more damage. Mal also can re-write a riff in his head so we can come back to it without over usage as well. Used to, I would just bring an entire song to the table already done, but it's a lot better the way we do it now, we cover more ground in our songs.
The Outcast: What exactly does Betrothing Dejection mean and why did you choose this name as the title of your latest release?
Tony: Betrothing Dejection means: To be tied to dark/terrible things. Betrothing Dejection was the name of the band Thomas and Mal (Justin Malinee) were in before Mal joined ATH. We didn't want the name/idea of it to die. Thomas and I started ATH, but he still was in B.D. with Mal. Then as members dropped out of ATH, Mal joined and we merged the 2 bands. Mal learned all the ATH material and I learned all the B.D. material. So we just naturally wanted to let people have all the music that we could produce, and B.D. was our latest studio album.
Thomas: We are Betrothing Dejection!! We just kept the name Annihilate the Hero because it means a lot more to us. We have achieved a lot more under this name which is the reasoning behind naming our last album Betrothing Dejection, because we want everyone to make that connection.
The Outcast: The cover for B.D. is an interesting cover. Where did you get this picture? Do you know if this picture has a title, and if so, did it reflect your albums title?
Tony: The Album art was done by a friend of Mal's (named Mike? I think that was the dude's name). He asked for the lyrics, so Thomas typed them out for him and gave a description of what he was going for lyrically. I don't know if it has a name. Betrothing Dejection is about Serial Killers. The cover of the album has a man holding a dead bird. Serial killers typically start killing animals when they are young, so it's like the beginning of a serial killers dark journey.
The Outcast: What made you all decide on making this a concept album based on serial killers?
Thomas: I have gone through times in my life where I obsessed over that kind of shit. I want to get inside of their heads and see what makes them tick. When I was recording the vocals on B.D., it was just one of those times, so it made it easy for me to produce the lyrical content.
The Outcast: How important are the lyrics to you? How much time do you spend on the lyrics opposed to the music?
Thomas: The music is more important to me than the lyrics, so I spend more time on the music. I'm not saying the lyrics aren't important, because they are, I just don't spend much time on the lyrics. Actually, I usually finish them up in the studio most of the time. Lyrics are a very important part of our music, but its just one of those things that is better when they are not forced out of me. As a matter of fact, if you're ever at one of our shows and we are playing a new song that hasn't been recorded yet, there is a good chance that I'm making a bunch of shit up as I go.
The Outcast: That's pretty funny. I did that with El Pecado at times, who's going to understand Mexican Death Metal anyway? What fascinates you about serial killers? Is there one that stands out for you more than others?
Thomas: What's going on in their mind while they are sitting at home watching T.V. is more interesting to me than when they are killing someone. Handy man Ed Gein of course (stands out the most). Though he killed only a few people, he is a perfect example of a true American psychopath. The shit he did wasn't for attention, he was truly sick.
The Outcast: What do you think separates A.T.H. from other bands that play this style of music?
Tony: I think it's our longevity. All of us have been in other bands, then as time went by those bands fell apart, but the three of us have kept going. Hell, I've been in a band since I started driving. Then we found each other and formed ATH. The three of us all have music in our veins. Playing music for a living is what we all want to do with our lives. We have all dedicated TONS of time and energy to learning our craft, listening to music, reading about it, dreaming about it, etc... So it was only natural for us to keep on going. We will never stop.
Thomas: Well, I can't really see our band from the outside in. I just know that we truly love playing music; from the live shows, to the writing, to the recording. Just as Metallica and many others before us, we are not in it for the hairspray, the makeup, girl pant removers, or whatever, ha, ha!! Just look at how many bands come and go in Southern Illinois. Every single member must be in it for the right reasons if they want the longevity that we have shown, and that is the reason why we are a three piece. Being a trio wasn't in the plans, that's just what happened. Being in a metal band is a brutal thing. If you play Metal, you're obviously not doing it for the money because that doesn't exist in the real world. If you're in a true Metal band, then I don't have to tell you that there is zero respect. Only the strong survive in this genre, and will always be fueled by the blood of the weak. We don't really plan to write certain types of songs, it's just that this type of music pours out of us when we are around each other. My advice is that if it does not feel natural to write heavy music and you have to ask someone if it sounds heavy, or you have to tune down to drop Z- to write what is the elusion of a heavy riff, then you are playing the wrong type of music. That's what the problem is; the chemistry that gives birth to Nu-Metal, or as we say in Southern Illinois "poser metal."
Mal: I think we have a more technically sound approach and a nice broad range of influences.
The Outcast: I feel that most people who do not pay attention to A.T.H. music might pass you off as just another Metal-Core band if they only listen to A.T.H. once. Although you might have some of the Metal-Core influence, I feel your music is more Metal than Core. What do you think?
Thomas: I Agree, and I think that the true metal heads will understand that Metal is also a state of mind as well as music, and that's the state of mind that ATH is in. Writing us off as just another Metal-Core band is a common mistake made by the untrained ear.
Mal: I definitely agree. I think the bulk of our sound comes from Thrash and Death Metal, with bits of newer "core" type stuff mixed in.
Tony: As a band we all listen to a crazy amount of stuff. One of the first real bands all of us listened to was Metallica ...And Justice for All specifically. Then like most people do, we all branched out into different types of Metal; Progressive, Hardcore, Power Metal, Doom, Metal-core., etc. When I think of Metal-Core, I think of bands like Poison the Well, Unearth, All That Remains, and bands like that. I like all those bands, so I don't think it's such a bad thing that people say we are Metal-Core. I would say personally that we have more of a Death Metal influence though, but as long as they don't say we are Nu-Metal I'm ok with just about any of the 10,000 names people have made up for Metal these days.
The Outcast: In my opinion, your vocals Thomas do have that Metal-Core influence, but I will agree with Tony on the feel, as I feel it is closer comparable to a Death Metal vocal style. Am I completely off in assuming so?
Thomas: Not completely, but what my vocals sound like and what I'm influenced by are not always the same thing though. In the beginning of ATH, my vocals kinda had that mid range Hard-Core sound, and in Betrothing Dejection (the band), I kind of had somewhat of a Death Metal sound. When the two bands emerged, I did a little bit of everything, but we think my vocals sound better when I lean more toward our Death Metal roots. We also think it fits the new music better, which is very important to us. Fitting the music isn't what a lot of people consider these days. You have got to choose your vocal style wisely and it has to agree with your music style or you're going to end up with an album called "Graveyard Classics."
The Outcast: I must compliment your clean vocal style. Having been a Death and Black metal vocalist when I played in El Pecado and past bands, I know how difficult it can be to do both. The only 2 vocalists I feel that do it right using both styles in almost every song is Mikael A. from Opeth and Noah from Bleed the Sky. What are the deciding factors on where and which songs you choose to do both in? No offense to you, but me being me, I'm very pleased you keep the clean vocal style to a minimum and do not over use it in every song like other bands do who choose to do both. Your opinion on my opinion?
Thomas: I would like to try and keep my vocals at about 10% clean and about 90% shred, but I kinda just let the riffs guide me and I just clean sing when the music calls for it, which just so happens to be not very often. There is no vocal plan for me. It's like a true blues guitarist of the vocal world; I just do what feels right at the time. In other words, I don't really have vocals on the mind when we are putting a song together, unlike the vocalists that I think you are referring to when you say "other bands." They are only trying to make 13 year old girls wet.
The Outcast: Have you guys ever thought about releasing an ATH album with just your clean vocal style like Opeth has done at one point in time? I've heard some of your acoustic stuff and I feel it would be a neat voyage to do for yourselves more so than for the ATH fans.
Thomas: I've thought about that before, but I don't know if it would be a good idea at this point because we don't have the respect like Opeth does. I have converted many of our songs into acoustic songs, but I think if I did anything with them it would be under my name in a solo setting or under a different band name if in a full band setting. I don't want to make a bad decision and release something like St. Anger.
The Outcast: Mal, you started playing guitar for ATH and then went to drums when their drummer quit. I am very pleased you went to drums due to not knowing how good you were on drums. What came first, drums or guitar? Although there is more of a responsibility playing drums than guitar in my opinion (especially breaking such a kit down!), which do you prefer playing? Not to kiss your ass, but you are in my top five of best drummers that I have ever heard or have seen play live. How I choose favorite drummers is how they utilize their kit and how technical they are. When did you start playing drums and who are your influences drumming wise? How about guitar?
Mal: I started playing guitar when I was 5, taking lessons. Around age 11 or 12, I was good enough to play by ear, so I quit the lessons. By that time, I had picked up the drums (which all started around age 9, going to the middle school band room after school.). I still love to play guitar, and I still consider myself good at it, but I know I'm a better drummer than guitarist. I definitely prefer playing drums in the band setting. My biggest influence is, and has been for a long time, Mike Portnoy. As with ALL other Metal drummers, you've got to give props to Lars Ulrich, Charlie Benante, Vinnie Paul, Dave Lombardo, etc. I also definitely like a lot of the newer drummers that are really pushing the boundaries of speed and technicality (Tim Yeung, Derek Roddy, etc)...honorable mention goes to Marco Minnemann. As for guitar, I really don't write much music, so I really don't have influences, just players I enjoy to hear play.
The Outcast: Who are some of your musical influences?
Mal: My musical influences really correlate with what I'm listening to during our writing periods. Right now, it's some of the newer Death Metal bands like; The Faceless, Necrophagist, and Whitechapel. I've also been on a huge Anthrax kick. As far as all-time influences, for me it doesn't get any bigger than Metallica and Dream Theater.
The Outcast: Thomas, being you are not an original member, were you always the vocalist for ATH, or did you just start off playing guitar?
Thomas: Stay with me here, this gets complicated. I replaced the singer in the band "Collapse" not "ATH", which is how I met Jason (old drummer), Aaron (original guitarist), and Tony. All the while Mal and I had a Death Metal band called "Betrothing Dejection" in which I played guitar and did vocals. So at this point I'm in two bands. I recorded vocals on a six song demo for these guys and then we decided to start from scratch and rename the band after a song that I wrote called Annihilate the Hero. We decided to press the 6 song and release it under my vision that is "ATH." Soon Aaron quit, and no offence to him, that was the 1st best thing that happened to this band. So I moved to guitar and vocals rather than just vocals, because at that point in time I was getting pretty bored and thought I would have to choose between the two bands. Then the 2nd best ATH decision was made by adding Mal as our 2nd guitarist, so we just put Betrothing Dejection and its music on the shelf. We washed our hands of all the old ATH material and our 2002 "self titled" album and I became the full time guitar/singer song writer for one band again. We thought about changing the name, but before we could do that I received a call from Mal saying that we were opening for Superjoint Ritual next month, so we couldn't change our name now. And why should we? This is something that I came up with anyway. So we put out our 2nd CD in 2004 "One Reason to Hate" with the new line up: Tony, Mal, Jason, and my self. We continued to land big shows, playing with Hate Breed, Pissing Razors, Chimara, God Forbid, Hemlock, etc. Then no offence to Jason, who I'm still friends with, but the 3rd best thing that happed to ATH was when Jason quit, because that was another kick in the ass and voice that said "get your shit together" and because we could finally put Mal back on the drums where he belongs. This was also the transition back into Betrothing Dejection. We took all of our BD songs back off the shelf and emerged them with our ATH songs under the ATH name, and washed our hands of our 2nd album "One Reason to Hate." Since then we have released "Images of Disgust" (My personal favorite!! - Mike) and "Betrothing Dejection." We will soon record our 5th album, which hands down will be our best yet.
Tony: When we went into the studio, we found out that there was a band already with the name Collapse. One of our songs we had just finished mixing was called Annihilate the Hero. The engineer that we were working with at the time said "You know what you have to name the band don't you?" and we said "What?" He said; "Annihilate the Hero." So we thought it over for a while and we decided that it actually was the way to go, so we did it.
The Outcast: So what does ATH mean to all of you?
Thomas: To me ATH is more of a symbol of a lot of great opportunities that we have been able to take advantage of, let downs and a bunch of shit that we have to go through just to get our music heard. To Tony I think it means we have replaced our heroes with ourselves. And to Mal, I'm not real sure, but I would imagine its closer to what I'm thinking, because at this point me and Mal have been writing music together for 12 to 13 years. I don't think we will ever change the name, and as you now know, you were referring to Collapse, because Tony was more of a great addition to Betrothing Dejection rather then me and Mal being an addition to ATH as far as the music is concerned. But this band is a beast of its own and will not survive without all three of us feeding it.
Tony: Like the lyrics in the band, the name is open to interpretation. When I was growing up I thought James Hetfield of Metallica was the coolest dude ever. I totally had him on a pedestal. I thought that I could never be like that dude. As I grew up I realized that yes, he does have talent, but so does everyone else in one way or another. That all of us have to see the good and potential in ourselves and replace our idols with ourselves. Effectively; annihilating our heroes and replacing them with ourselves
Mal: What Thomas said.
The Outcast: What do you all hope to find after your life has ceased?
Mal: It sounds cliché, but I'm really not worried about that right now. I'm just working on what I can while I'm here. I'll ponder that stuff when I'm old.
Tony: I really hope that there is reincarnation. I want to rest from the hardships that life dishes out, then be reborn as someone else. I'd like to believe that we can retain some subconscious knowledge that we learned in past lives as we go through more learning all the way. Then maybe reach enlightenment at some point. I also think that at some point, even being enlightened, we would thirst for the learning that we had gone through to reach this enlightenment and choose to start over again. Maybe this time we could help others along on the way.
The Outcast: What are your opinions on religion? Do your lyrics ever touch on this subject or do you feel it is overdone?
Thomas: I was not raised in a religious house hold. My dad served 3 tours in Vietnam fighting for the USMC, so he had his own take on God. My mom I think believes in a higher power of some sort. Religion is something I don't usually think about because it gives me anxiety attacks. That shit is so weird; I could go on and on about it, so let's just say music is my religion for now. So with that being said, I don't really ever talk about religion because I don't really know a whole lot about it and I'm not really moved by it. And hell yes I feel it's over done!
Tony: People need to believe in something. I know folks that are the happiest they possibly can be when they have communed with "GOD." If it's not God, its music, or art, or their job, or a team they are a part of. Over all, it's a good thing if it's not taken to extremes. When people start pushing their beliefs on others; whether it's Christianity or Satanism and everything in between, that's the point where it turns bad. As long as a person is happy with their own personal understanding of "GOD" and are not hurting anyone else, I say do what you want. You can smear yourself with peanut butter and chant Henry Rollins poetry while your dog watches the cat say grace over the fancy feast. If it gets your head right, go for it!
Mal: I generally stray from this topic, largely because I feel uneducated in the many, many facets of it. Similar to the response to the last question, I'm not concerning myself with that at this point in my life. I'm not going to look for religion; I don't need it right now. We'll see what happens later in life.
The Outcast: What are your beliefs on Satan and God? Do you feel that they are actual beings?
Thomas: I feel like it is kind of a way to keep some kind of balance or control over us; to keep us in line. But to me there are so many holes in the subject that the only line I feel like I'm in is the one that leads to a gas chamber. I'm just like everyone else really. Whether they say it or not, we don't have a fucking clue if they are actual beings. Does a bear shit in the woods?
Tony: This is something I struggle with daily. Honestly it depends on when you ask me. Some times I really feel like they are a part of this crazy circus we all live in, and sometimes I don't. I really have no idea. Like I said, there are times when I am positive that GOD has helped me, then there are times when I'm like; "Or was that just a coincidence?" (Some things are not a coincidence brother!! - Mike)
Mal: See response to the above question.
The Outcast: Do you think Jesus Christ existed and is who he says he is (The Christ)?
Thomas: I think it was probably a real guy, and I think some shit went down, but I'm not really sure what.
Tony: I think it's possible that he really was alive. Was he the saviour of man? Hell I don't know.
Mal: See response to the above question.
The Outcast: Mikael from Opeth, among other Metal icons, claim that Metal is indeed the devils music. Do you think Heavy Metal is indeed the devils music?
Thomas: The devil is certainly one of the words used to make the subject Metal have more of an edge, because it is supposed to be evil and have some kind of shock factor. I love Opeth, so don't get me wrong, but Marilyn Manson says the same shit and I think his music is GAY. I would like to describe Metal as energy, and I'm pretty sure the beast that is Annihilate the Hero could swallow those characters whole.
Tony: It can definitely be a dark force that is for sure. If I didn't have Metal as an outlet in my life, I don't know what I would do. It helps me personally to get out the frustrations and anger that I have locked away inside. If some want to call that the devil's music, then so be it. It does deal with some evil shit. Murder, Rape, War, etc... But that is unfortunately part of life.
Mal: Not to me. There are a ton of Metal bands out there singing about positive things, yet are still heavy as hell. I really don't draw any lines between Metal and a religious affiliation.
The Outcast: Do you think that by listening to brutal music and absorbing lyrics that may be considered negative could influence someone's state of mind in a negative matter?
Mal: Actually, yeah I do, but it's more about the person than the music (I'm assuming this question relates to Metal bands being sued by parents of children who committed suicide and things of that nature). These people that have done these things have troubles much deeper than the music they like. There are millions of Metal fans who haven't crossed that line.
Thomas: Oh, those people are fucked up to begin with. Ed Gein didn't listen to Metal music and he ate dead peoples dicks and ass holes and shit. I do believe that Metal is a driving force kinda like audio whiskey; it will enhance your mood.
Tony: Possibly. Everyone has a dark side to them. When some people get upset they say and think things like; "Darn it, my dad won't let me go to the drive in with Denise tonight because I got a C on my report card. That sure ticks me off!" Then you have the opposite side of the spectrum where a kid has been abused everyday of his life and all he wants to do is rage on the fuckers who did bad shit to him. The lyrics in Metal have the potential to influence people, but I think that if someone is thinking Cannibal Corpse type thoughts they would have thought them without Metal.
The Outcast: What do you all hope to get across with ATH? What do you want the listener to leave with after listening to your music? Or is ATH merely for entertainment purposes?
Thomas: That we are alive right now, but we are all going to die at anytime, and this is no shit! As I get older, I'm paying closer attention to the reality which surrounds me, and that is fucking true Metal! I want people to feel whatever it is we are feeling at that time and I hope people think of our music as more than just entertainment because we sure as hell do! THIS IS OUR RELIGION!!
Tony: I want everybody that listens to ATH to feel great when the disc, or show, is over. I love the connection that happens when we are rockin' and the crowd is rockin'. The energy that goes back and forth is phenomenal! It's a HUGE release to me personally. I want our fans to come into the show ready for war and when they leave feel as though they have exercised their demons. I want kids to be driving around in their cars and smashing the steering wheel with their fist when their favorite part hits on the disc. I want people to get together and party their asses off. Smokin', drinkin', (or not, if they choose so) and having a great time enjoying their lives.
Mal: I feel that we are trying to convey more musically invoked reactions than lyrical. We aren't a lyrically themed band (political, religious, vegetarian, etc.). As far as what I want the listener to leave with, I'd say a sore neck is near the top of that list. Also, I'd like to think people walk away knowing they heard music that the creators put great thought and care into and can feel our love of the music.
The Outcast: I'm glad to see you all have made it this far with this line-up. It is the best line up Tony has ever performed with in my opinion (besides with El Pecado, ha, ha!!), with no disrespect towards any past members. You three are a force to be reckoned with, I just wish the right people would see you play live!! Any closing words?
Mal: I agree with your assessment. As for closing words, I guess I'd just like to thank the people that actually care enough about what we're doing to read this.
Thomas: NO WAY FUCKERS!!
Tony: Thanks for the interview. Cheers!!