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Interview

Satan Guitarist Steve Ramsey On New Album, "Earth Infernal," Skyclad & The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal

Only yesterday, during the introduction to our interview with Tygers Of Pan Tang, we mentioned how important the North East of England was to the British metal scene of the 1980s. There's no need to go through another list, but the eagle eyed among you may have noticed that there was one very important band left out of the introduction when it comes to metal in Tyne and Wear and that would be Satan.

Having formed in 1979, Satan would go on to release one of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal's greatest albums, "Court In The Act" four years later, before laying the name to rest soon after and changing their moniker to Blind Fury. After another album as Satan, "Suspended Sentence," they would once again rechristen themselves, this time to Pariah, before going their separate ways. As always, Satan returned to Earth, first as a one off in 2004 and then again in 2011 and since then, the band with the devilish tag has been on something of a roll, releasing a further three albums.

Tomorrow, the fourth album since their return, "Earth Infernal," will be unleashed via Metal Blade Records and it seems to be the darkest and most gritty offering from the Geordie legends yet. To find out more about what went into this record, we caught up with guitarist Steve Ramsey, who divulged all the info about the themes, art, touring plans and more, as well as what's happening with Skyclad, the folk metal pioneers which he also co-founded. You can read the interview below or listen to it in full at the bottom of the screen.

Diamond Oz: The new album, "Earth Infernal" is out on April 1st. What can you tell me about the title of this record?

Steve Ramsey: The title is about the planet burning, basically. There's no title track but a couple of songs refer to the title. We've observed over the past couple of years, especially in this country, that people were becoming so obsessed with the pandemic and the politics, that they forgot that the planet is on fire, we just thought we'd remind them.

Oz: Yeah, it's not something to ignore. It's cool though, it's like an umbrella term when it comes to the actual songs on this album. Like you said, there's a few tracks that relate to the title.

Steve: Yeah, there's a couple of tracks that relate to it. "Earth We Bequeath" is kind of like a time capsule message for future generations, sort of apologising for what we've done. There's another one, "Twelve Infernal Lords," which is kind of like a horror story but the idea is like this supreme court made up of twelve demon judges, including the guy on our artwork. They're hellbent on destroying the environment by using laws, bending laws, to plant seeds of mistrust and chaos and fucking the planet up.

Oz: The first thing that anyone heard from the album was the single, "Burning Portrait" which is really dark and gritty and I think it sonically conveys the message that you were talking about very well, musically.

Steve: That's a different story altogether that one, but it does kind of lean into what we're talking about. It's like the second part of a song, the first being, "Ascendancy" and then "Burning Portrait" tells the story. "Ascendancy" is about any kind of high powered individual. I mean really, politicians, industrial tycoons, those kinds of people, but it could be about a movie star, sports star, rock star or anybody like that. On their rise to the top they have a lot of good intentions, ideals and optimism, but by the time they get there, they're on the decline and they realise that all their optimism has turned into cynicism or their beliefs have changed because they've followed the money or whatever.

Oz: That sounds like it could be a swipe at Mike Ashley until you remember that he never had any morals! What I meant was, in terms of relating to the album title, is that musically the song is very dark and it reflects the message that this is going to be a heavier album than maybe we've heard before. So, what would you say separates "Earth Infernal" from "Cruel Magic"?

Steve: I think we kind of go on threads when we're writing. I suppose when we were writing "Cruel Magic," those were happier times for us. This one, the lyrics were written during the pandemic. The pandemic was a nightmare because we like to be up playing live, although it gave us more time to tweak the album. We were on a bit of a downer so maybe that comes across a little bit. We were on a high when we wrote "Cruel Magic" because the band was on the ascendancy as it were.

When we made "Cruel Magic," it was the first album where we didn't have any restrictions to curtail any ideas that we had. This one is even more progressive than the last one. There's a lot of things that were part of the music where we were trying to come across a bit different, whereas "Life Sentence" was more of a straight forward metal album. When we wrote "Life Sentence," especially musically, we were trying to write a follow up to "Court In The Act" and I think we're starting a road where we are who we are and not trying to be who we were as kids.

Oz: Satan's a really interesting band in that regard and we'll get into that a little bit later, but before that I'd like to ask about the recording process. Did you all have to record this separately?

Steve: Well, we knocked about a few ideas and eventually get the songs the way we want them. This time we didn't get a lot of rehearsal in, mainly just guitars and drums and we decided to record it like that, put down the guitars and the drums, they're the two things that drive the band. It's weird because a lot of bands say it's the bass and the drums, but in this band it's the riffs and the drummer that drives the band, so we put the bass on after.

We started it in October 2020 and we got a couple of backing tracks down and then we went into the second lockdown, so then it was stopped over the Christmas period. By the time we were able to get back into the studio, our engineer was really sick and he had to go in for some serious surgery, so that held us back. We had a deadline of October 21st to finish the album, we just got it done because most of the recording was done in September and October 2021, which was basically a year later.

Even though the album took us a year to record, if you had up the time in hours or weeks, it would have been about three weeks' work, it just took us a year to complete because of all the misfortune. Our bass player broke his elbow and was out for a few months and then in the middle of recording in September or October, I got COVID, so that was another couple of weeks out. It's almost like being called Satan has kind of cursed us, because every time we try to do something, something tries to stop us. We seem to succeed but it's almost like a strain.

Oz: Something else that I really like about this album is the artwork, which is once again done by Eliran Kantor. He's done a few albums for you now. What is it about his art that you think represents Satan very well?

Steve: Well he was actually recommended to us when we were signed to Listenable, the first album we did for them, "Life Sentence." The boss of the label, Laurent, he said, "I really love this artist, will you check out some of his work and see if you'd be interested in using him for your artwork?" So obviously we had a look at him and he'd done some work for a few bands that we'd heard of, Testament in particular was one of the great bits of artwork that he'd done and we thought, "Yeah. Why not?" We didn't have anyone else in mind.

On the first one, we had the judge in it obviously and we gave him a little idea of what we wanted of what we wanted on the sleeve and when he came back with the sketch he'd done, you realise in his description of what he'd done with the artwork, it was so fantastic, almost as interesting as the artwork itself. He really thought about every little detail and make it like how it would be back in the early eighties. I suppose we should put his description up on our website because it's so fantastic.

By the time we'd got to "Atom By Atom," we'd decided that he was our artist, there was no one else. So we just gave him a couple of song titles and he chose the subject of "Atom By Atom," because it's kind of like about Alzheimer's or dementia, which is relevant to some of us in the band as well as his family. He just came up with the idea based on some of the lyrics. We did the same thing with "Cruel Magic," gave him a couple of song titles and he chose "Cruel Magic" and came up with this idea about the witches, even though the song wasn't particularly about witches. It's about what people think magic is and how people can be destroyed for trying to be creative. The new album, we sent him the title rather than the song and told him what the title was supposed to portray and that was the piece of art that he came up with. You couldn't better it.

Oz: He's got this amazing talent just for tapping into the messages behind the music.

Steve: Yeah, he doesn't just paint a picture. He brings a purpose to it.

Oz: What I like about the work that he's done for Satan in particular is that, like you say, it could very well be the sort of thing Satan would use in the eighties, but it doesn't look dated at all. There's a lot of bands playing old school heavy metal now and they feel like the art has to look like it's come straight from 1982, whereas this reflects the roots very well but it really does portray Satan as it is now. As I mentioned before, Satan is a really interesting band because I think you're one of the very few bands that have done better or been more prolific than in your initial run.

Steve: Yeah, it's crazy. It's kind of like unfinished business, because we should never have split up in the first place. We were kind of led, because we were young, by what people were saying about us at the time but we've realised that now and at least we're getting the second bite of the cherry, as it were, fulfilling all the dreams we had when we were kids in terms of places we can do and things we can do, so it's good.

Oz: Absolutely and I think there's so many bands from that sort of time that reunited or came back for the odd show here and there, and they might have done another album but it's not the same. Whereas with Satan there's so much more to offer on every album you've done since returning.

Steve: We know that just as well as you because when we got back together, we didn't expect to be doing this, not in the slightest. When Laurent from Listenable signed us, he wanted three albums and we just laughed and said, "We'll give you two, but we're only doing one!" That didn't work out!

Oz: Obviously Satan is one of those bands that kind of gets lumped in with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. How do you feel about the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal? Do you feel it helped Satan?

Steve: I don't know. Maybe when young kids were getting on the internet in the early 2000s and looking for that sort of music, we were linked to it and that's how they found us again. I think we've basically been reborn by young kids looking into the past and having a rummage around to see what was there and so it's definitely helped us being linked because of that fact but it was also to our detriment because we didn't fit in at at the time and that's the kind of press we were getting, because we weren't doing the same as everyone else. There's always going to be those bands like us or Praying Mantis that were outcasts along the way, in any genre. I suppose if you trawl through a lot of punk music from the seventies, you'll find a lot of gems in there.

Oz: Definitely. While I've got you, it would be most remiss of me if I didn't bring up something else because of course Satan isn't the only band you're involved in, you've also got a little band called Skyclad. What's going on with Skyclad at the minute? I know you've got a show later on this year in Dublin with Cruachan, but what other plans do you have?

Steve: We kind of did the same thing. We started writing a new album during lockdown. I've got enough music now to record an album, but we're not in a hurry to do anything anymore. When bands have deadlines and they're being hassled by labels and have tours to fulfill, it's different, but with Skyclad we just do what we want. So, we've written some stuff. Kev (Ridley, Skyclad vocalist) decided to do a project on his own. I think he maybe felt a bit left out that we were giving all this time to Satan! (laughs) He sort of got sidetracked by that, so we haven't actually got together and put lyrics to the music, but we've got plenty of ideas and we've started working on them this year. All I can say is that we could end up in the studio this Summer, or it could be next summer! We'll just work on it until we like it.

Oz: Like you said, it's great not having a time limit because art is supposed to be an expression of how you feel and I think when you put a time limit on it then it's not as good as it could be.

Steve: Yeah, in the nineties we released an album every year and not many bands could do that. When you do that and you've got fourteen albums under your belt, it's quite difficult to come up with something remotely interesting! You try not to repeat yourself. It'd be easy to write a big piece of music that I think is fantastic and then go, "It's the same as that one." We've got a lot more stroke with Satan at the minute, because we've got that hunger in us to do all the stuff we would have done.

With Skyclad, it's kind of like, when it comes or when we get enough ideas that we think are good enough, we just put them together one by one and when it makes up the right amount then we go into the studio. We've got a load of gigs coming up this year, the same as Satan, we're very surprised because at the start of the year we had very little but now the offers are coming in thick and fast.

Oz: It's fortunate because with a lot of tours being rescheduled, a lot of places are booked up throughout the year, so to be getting offers for both Satan and Skyclad is fantastic.

Steve: Yeah it is. I think maybe some promoters, didn't confirm the bands, because you have to contract them, so they put festivals on this year and went, "Oh god! Get some bands!" So I think there's a little bit of that going on as well. We've been gutted with Satan because the album comes out on the first of April and we had a three week American tour that's just been cancelled for the third time. In hindsight, maybe Europe would have been a better choice for April. We've got a small European tour planned for October this year and hopefully that'll happen. We've got the American tour planned for next April so let's hope things just get back to normal.

Oz: Will the American tour be a headlining run?

Steve: Yeah. We're doing quite well in the States which surprised us. Every time we go out there we get a little bit bigger and the gigs get a few more in and we got to different places. We're having a really good time, it's great.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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1 Comment on "Satan Guitarist On New Album, Skyclad & NWOBHM"

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1. Jon Field writes:

Can sleep....stay up all night waiting to get the album and listen to it repeatedly

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