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Sunday Old School: Criminal

When one door closes, another one opens, right? That's not always the case for musicians, many of whom that find success with one band are unable to repeat it with the next. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, perhaps most famously being Dave Grohl who after the demise of Nirvana achieved fame with Foo Fighters. It's happened in metal too, with today's Sunday Old School lesson demonstrating how Pentagram (now called Pentagram Chile) mainman Anton Reisenegger went from the influential but struggling death metal favourites to form his country's biggest thrash metal group, Criminal.

Criminal was formed in 1991 by Anton Reisenegger and Rodrigo Contreras and were joined in their endeavour by Primate drummer Jose Joaquin Vallejos and bass player Juan Francisco Cueto in the Chilean capital of Santiago. The group were able to make use of Reisenegger's underground cred to gain an instant name for themselves, as evidenced by their very first show being an opening slot for Kreator before they had even recorded a demo. In 1992 however, the band recorded two demos, with the latter, "Forked" earning particular attention and praise internationally.

Two years later, Criminal entered the studio to record their debut full length album, "Victimized," which they released themselves, before BMG caught wind of the record and offered to distribute it, allowing the album to be sold throughout Latin America as well as Japan. This also meant that the group were able to produce music videos for the songs, "Self Destruction" and "Disorder," which would receive regular airplay on MTV in Latin America. The success of the album allowed them to perform outside of Chile and saw them grace stages in Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay, as well as supporting the likes of Motorhead and Bruce Dickinson.

While touring in support of "Victimized," the band split with Jose Joaquin Vallejos and replaced him with Slavery drummer Jimmy Ponce, who made his studio debut with the band on their sophomore album, "Dead Soul." This record has gone on to become a fan favourite and immediately garnered acclaim from critics and fans alike, as well as notice from their peers, which included Napalm Death performing at the release party for "Dead Souls," during which Napalm Death guitarist Mitch Harris joined Criminal on stage to perform the Pentagram song, "Demoniac Possession." The album was also picked up for distribution by Metal Blade, allowing their music to be released in North America and Europe for the first time, and once again, popular music videos were also spawned, this time for the tracks, "Collide," "Victimized" and "Slave Masters."

In 2000, the band released their third album, "Cancer," which received the polar opposite reaction to "Dead Soul," as fans accused Criminal of selling out and trying to make their music more commercial, due to its perceived lack of aggression. After releasing the record, Reisenegger moved to England, where he met Extreme Noise Terror, joining the crust punk icons briefly as a touring guitarist. While on the trek, he struck up a friendship with the band's drummer Zac O'Neil and after showing him some Criminal material, convinced him to take part in a rebirth of the band, which subsequently saw Jimmy Ponce replaced, as well as bassist Juan Francisco Cueto having his place taken by former Cradle of Filth member Robin Eaglestone, though personal differences between the bassist and Reisenegger caused the former to be fired.

As a result of the ejection, all of the bass parts on the new album, "No Gods No Masters," were handled by the Reisenegger and Contreras. The album took its name from an Anarchist movement and marked a return to form somewhat, which was expanded upon when Criminal released their fifth album, "Sicario" only a year later, by which time they had been rejoined by Juan Francisco Cueto. "Sicario" was a critical success and was voted as one of the ten best albums of 2005 by Terrorizer magazine and touring became a much bigger affair, which would lead Cueto to leave the band once more after such pressure.

With Cueto again no longer part of the group, Criminal recruited Englishman Dan Biggin to join the group and hit the road once again, supporting the likes of Megadeth before returning to the studio to record and release their first album in four years, "White Hell." The album once more saw the group receive a positive reaction from fans and the press and the tour in support of the record was hailed just as well, the highlight of which was arguably supporting Metallica at the Santiago Equestrian Club.

While on tour, fans began to notice that Rodrigo Contreras was absent, which was explained by Reisenegger that the co-founder had returned to Chile to take care of personal business and that they hoped his departure was only temporary, though to date, he has not returned to the fold. In his place came Spanish (Basque) guitarist Olmo Cascallar, who performed the album, "Akelarre," released in 2011. This would be the last of Criminal fans would hear for a while, as Reisenegger had also decided to bring back Pentragram, with whom he released the album, "The Malefice" in 2013 and has been touring with sporadically since.

This was by no means the end of Criminal however, as a single, "Intoxicate" was released in 2014, though this was to be the last collaboration with Cascallar, who was replaced by The Outside guitarist and Chilean native, Sergio Klein the next year. The band were also able to write and record a new full length album, "Fear Itself," which was released in 2016 and, as was almost standard by now, received very warm reviews. While Criminal may not be quite as active as before owing to Reisenegger's involvement with Pentagram Chile and the grindcore supergroup Lock Up, fans will surely be happy that one of Chile's most beloved metal bands are still active and still trashing stages worldwide.

Criminal - "Self Destruction"

Criminal - "Collide"

Criminal - "Alma Muerta"

Criminal - "Deconstruction"

Criminal - "Time Bomb"

Criminal - "Incubus"

Criminal - "The Ghost We Summoned"

Criminal - "Animals To Gods"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.

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