By Ian Lemke
Despite officially disbanding in 1992 and reuniting only for their most recent album in 1997, Razor has still been making appearances at the odd festival since then. In the last two years however, founding guitarist Dave Carlo explains that the boys are officially back, and kicking things into high gear once again.
“There is a greatly renewed enthusiasm for performing live since our new drummer (Rider Johnson) joined. He has brought back the fun for me in particular,” says Carlo. This enthusiasm will bring with it a new album, titled Cycle of Contempt, to be recorded early 2017.
“The concept artwork is complete and many of the songs are written, but there is some more work to be done yet,” says a tight-lipped Carlo.
Those Razor fans unwilling to wait can quell their hunger with an imminent live album via High Roller Records and Relapse, set for release in the coming months. Dubbed Osaka Saikou, or Osaka Awesome, the recordings are from concerts prior to Carlo’s oral cancer diagnosis in 2011.
Far from letting his illness hold him back, Carlo expects Razor’s best years are still ahead of them, due to an audience rejuvenated by the internet age and social media in particular.
“If you asked me 10 years ago, I probably would have said that performing alongside so many great bands over the years would have been my personal highlights…”
“Looking back from where I am now, I’d have to say that we are still working on it.”
In the meantime, Razor are game to play any and all gigs that meet their “current performance requirements.”
“We want to play only well attended events, it doesn’t matter if they are larger or small. The important thing is to play in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and excitement. With the line-up for Calgary Metalfest, it goes without saying that this will be a historical event in Canadian metal.”
“For an event like that, Razor has to be there!
Whenever a classic band reunites, there’s always an air of scepticism.
“How many original members?”
“Is it going to suck?”
And ultimately, “What’s the point?”
But when Sacrifice reformed in 2006, it was uniquely genuine. For starters, the entire classic line-up was involved: the same four guys that appear on all four pre-breakup albums save for 1993’s Apocalypse Inside, which features a different drummer. To boot — “Right now, Sacrifice is unsigned,” notes guitarist/vocalist Rob Urbinati.
Clearly not a cash-grab from a label trying to capitalize on the band’s cult-appeal, Sacrifice’s authentic motives explain their relatively minimal output since their reunion. 2009’s well-received The Ones I Condemn remains the band’s only original release of the 21st century, though a gritty rendition of Rush’s “Anthem” made its way onto a split with Propaghandi in 2010.
“Because we aren’t a touring band, there isn’t any pressure to release an average bunch of songs. As a fan, I would prefer to hear nothing than a sub-par album released for the sake of touring.”
And since the band is free to pick their battles, they keep their gigs to around three per year, making each performance memorable for both them and their fans.
“It is never lost on us, how fortunate we are to still be able to play shows and be able to perform at a high level.”
Despite making their mark in the ‘80s, Urbinati describes their 2006 comeback show as a career highlight.
“I’ll never forget how it felt to be up on stage again with these guys who I grew up with, we went through some of the best and worst times of our lives together. Looking out in the crowd, seeing so many old friends, new ones, people that travelled a very long way, everyone with a smile on their face. That hour and a half made up for any hardships that we endured in the past.”
When Exciter played Calgary for Noctis Fest in 2013, we were watching an extremely tight cover band: guitarist John Ricci being the only original member, Kenny Winter’s stand-alone vocals a very different stage dynamic than Dan Bheeler’s shrieking from atop the drum riser that gave the trio their edge in the ‘80s. But not long after that performance, differences among members would drive Ricci out of the band; at which point the non-original members considered wearing the Exciter banner anyways.
“The whole world freaked out,” notes Ricci, who at that point had resigned to take a year off to clear his head.
“They got emails from other bands we know, people in the media, promoters, saying ‘you guys are nuts.’ In the end, they started bickering amongst each other. Now there’s no band.”
Ricci’s sabbatical didn’t last long before Bheeler and original bassist Alan Johnson approached him for a proper reunion.
“I said, ‘Look, give me a week to think about this, I’m not really sure.’ After a week… I made my decision; I called them up, and said. ‘Okay you guys.’”
Now for Exciter, the ancient balance is restored. The three share song-writing duties like before, minus the squabbling that previously came with young musicians exploding into stardom.
“All of a sudden we are getting fan mail from all over the world,” recalls Ricci of those formulative early days. “We have other record companies offering us deals, it’s going to get to your head, you know what I mean?”
But with age comes maturity, and Exciter’s cooler heads have allowed them to appreciate their steady flow of gigs and even start digging into a new album.
“The first gig we ever did when we got back together was a South American mini tour. And we are on the plane, flying to South America, and I turn to Dan and say ‘something is wrong.’ And he says ‘what?’ And I say ‘I’m actually happy.’”
The highest hurdle for Canadian bands is cracking markets outside of the Great White North, but Annihilator have the opposite dilemma. Since forming in ’84 and soldiering on under the tutelage of guitarist and songwriter Jeff Waters, who has commanded a revolving door of musicians (Metal Archives lists almost 40 past musicians, live and recorded), the underdogs of Canadian thrash have always felt like foreigners within their own borders.
As Waters describes it: “It’s not a comeback if we came back to Canada or the States ’cause we never really got big here.”
However, a loyal European and Japanese fan base have kept Waters and co. in business for their 30-plus years and 15 full-length albums, the most recent of which was 2015’s Suicide Society, where Waters returned to vocal duty once more.
“It’s a blessing, I’m not religious but that word seems to suit, a blessing (to have) a cult following that is always going to be there for us. If we don’t screw it up.”
This following has had Annihilator’s back throughout their haphazard history, though this support differs slightly with each release. Each of the first four records has a different vocalist, and each, and every one since then has had different reception from audiences. “(The fans) will like one album or one singer or maybe two in a row, and then they’ll hit one where ‘oh, Waters made a change’ or ‘this guy left’…or ‘I just don’t like it,'” observes Waters, laughing.
Regardless, Annihilator are still going strong, and may be poised to finally breakthrough in their home country.
“We played Quebec City in 2011 and that wasn’t even on a big record for Annihilator, and it wasn’t even released in North America and we sold out, in 12 minutes, 2,000 tickets.”
Here in Western Canada, the band will be performing a 75 minute headlining set at Calgary Metal Fest, their first performance in Western Canada since 1993. Waters is thrilled to headline a set opened by bands that influenced him during his teen years.
“The guys that you mentioned before were bands that when I was in high school, when I was a teenager, late teens, I was going to see as a fan! [They] were huge influences of mine for sure.”
Watch a Historic Night of Canadian Metal with Exciter, Sacrifice, Annihilator, and Razor, topped off by a “Last Call” performance by Calgary’s Gatekrashör, on Saturday, September 17th at Flames Central. Tickets are $89 in advance. Also take a trip through ’80s Canadian metal history with Shrapnel editor Sarah Kitteringham’s interviews with the bands as they reflect on that headbangin’ era.AB, Alberta, Annihilator, Calgary Metalfest, Exciter, Flames Central, Razor, Sacrifice