Mpire of Evil Debut "Hell To The Holy" a Non-Genre Specific Album
Jeff Dunn has over thirty years experience as a heavy metal guitarist. Although metal heads know him best as Venom’s original guitarist,” Mantas,” Dunn has lent his scorching six-string talents to other groups such as Dryll, Warfare and Scooter. Most recently, he reunited with past Venom mates Antton (drums) and Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan (bass/vocals) to form Mpire of Evil.
Mpire of Evil’s debut full-length “Hell To the Holy” is accessible to old and new metal fans, alike. Mpire’s members sprung out of the early metal scene. They helped shape the attitude, speed and sound of thrash and black metal. Venom coined the term “black metal,” so one would expect an obvious nod to the old school, but this recording is no constantly-skipping, worn-grooved record. A modern production and contemporary elements such as the occasional blast beat has propelled the group forward into the new millennium of extreme metal.
With new drummer, Marc Jackson replacing Antton on tour (it’s unclear if he’s a permanent member), the venomous troupe explained to Metal Underground the need to create an album that defies sub-genre classification.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): Why did Antton (drums) leave the band?
Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan: We did the recordings and then we started talking about playing live. We wanted to do as many dates as we could. Then, we got the offer to do our first shows in America, which ended up being three weeks, back to back, so no days off. Antton has a family and a project called Def Con One, so that was going to be a bit of a problem. We tried to make it work for him, but it just wasn’t going to work, so he had to bail, which was fine because it was his decision. Then, we managed to get a hold of Jackson, here. We did some rehearsals. It worked out well and that was history. We were ready to go. Antton is on the album, and Jackson is handling things well. It’s a bit of a shame, but it’s one of those things we can’t do too much about. It didn’t have anything to do with musical differences; it was all practical for him. He could festival dates, a week here and a week there, but three weeks in a row in America was too much for him at this work and so forth.
Cowan: Have you jammed with Antton for a long time going back to Venom?
Jeff Dunn (Mantis): Yes, I played with him on the “Resurrection” album. Then, we did a couple of shows. We headlined Wacken festival and did a show in Holland, as well. It was after that the old personality clashes in Venom happened again, so that was when I decided to leave again. This was in the early 2000s. The “Resurrection” album came out in early 2000. I had left Venom. I had another project called Dryll. We were going to do a big charity event for this DJ in Northeast England where we all live. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago, so every year they have a charity event. My drummer and bass player were located in Germany at the time. My drummer was playing a festival with another band and he slipped and broke his arm, so he couldn’t do the show back in England. He was based back in Berlin and is a sound technician as well. He was going to be out. At the charity show we had a couple of local guys. In the meantime, I got an email from Antton saying that he had left Venom. I called him up and he came over to my house. I hadn’t spoken to him for a few years. We spoke about the problems that we had in Venom. There were a lot of similarities.
When this charity show came up, the first guy I called was Nick Barker, but he was out on tour at the time. I thought, “Why don’t I give Antton a call.” I gave him a call and he came down, rehearsed and did the show. We all decided it made sense to have everybody located in the same city. Antton came into Dryll. As soon as he came into the band, rumors started flying around that Mantis and Antton are back in a band and they aren’t doing anything else. We had talked about doing a little side project. We decided to do something, so we called Mike Hickey (Mykus) who played in Venom back in 1986. Mike was well up for it. Then we needed bass and vocals. There was only one guy in mind and that was Tony. I hadn’t spoken to Tony for a while. We had been friends for thirty years. I called and told him about the project, held my breath and asked, “Are you in?” He said, “Hell yeah, let’s do it.” Mike couldn’t commit because he’s Joe Bonamassa’s guitar tech. He was very, very busy. So it became the three of us—Antton, Demolition Man and myself. We started writing music and throwing demos around. Everything just came together from there. I think the thing with Antton was he didn’t expect us to go out and do so much touring.
Cowan: How did you get involved in this band?
Marc Jackson: I played with a tribute band called Sabbatica. Jeff (Mantis) was at that show. I spoke to him outside and said, “Let me help. Give me a call.” He saw me play a couple of times and I guess he was impressed (laughs). At one of the shows, he said he might need a hand, so I got the call and we went from there.
Cowan: Have you toured much before Mpire of Evil?
Jackson: I have toured, but not as much as Mantis and Demolition Man. I played abroad once. I’ve done a tour in the U.K. with the band I was in before this called Beyond The Grave. I left them quite a while ago. I’m over the moon with being in this band. I’m honored to play with these guys. It’s a dream!
Cowan: Venom is such a legendary band. It influenced so many styles of metal. Speaking of that, you put out “Creature of the Black” first. Why did you want to make a covers album (and two new tracks) before making a full-length?
Mantis: The album was running a bit behind, so we decided to do something quick. We spoke with the record label and said, “Why don’t we do an EP. We’ll put it out for vinyl collectors.” Ok, so we put it out as a pre-curser to “Hell to the Holy.” We had the thought, why not cover some of the bands that influenced us in the early years. You know, the music that we grew up with. Obviously, Judas Priest’s “Exciter” was my choice. Antton chose AC/DC’s “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be.” Demolition Man chose “Motorhead” by Motorhead. One band that we all agreed on was Kiss “God of Thunder” because Venom used to cover that song in the very early years. We used to do “Lower Class” by Motorhead and “God of Thunder” by Kiss. So we thought we would do four covers with two new tracks just to show where we came from. This was our heritage. When we decided to do the covers it was alright. We wanted to do the songs the way they were told to us. We weren’t going to change them from the original.
Now with the album being out, we’ve been astounded by the reviews. Everybody is saying it’s got a really good, old school vibe with a modern production. That is pleasing to no end because that is where we are going with this band. We didn’t sit down and write to be genre specific. Venom, yeah, we coined the phrase “black metal.” Without Venom you couldn’t put that phrase together. Without Venom, the whole movement wouldn’t exist. But, my personal opinion is that over the years the metal scene has become very fragmented. You have black metal, death metal, whatever. With Mpire of Evil, we decided we weren’t going to be genre specific. The album has thrash; it has a big, dirty heavy blues track with slide guitar called “Devil.” My intention when I put that song together, I asked Tony if I should use a slide. He said to do it. We needed to have an angle on this. It really pays homage to Robert Johnson and the Crossroads. It’s a little bit of a statement from us. Black metal, satanic metal, the Devil—we put our own influences into it, from Black Sabbath to Black Widow. It was nothing new. We just took it a little bit further. But, if you go even further back, you’ll find some guy on a porch in the Delta wailing on an acoustic guitar and singing about the Devil. It’s nothing new, boys and girls. It’s been around for a long time. What’s happened is that it has evolved.
Cowan: You throw out names of 1980s metal bands in “Snake Pit.” Is that song based on a true story?
Demolition Man: That’s about a club called the Mayfair where everybody play—Priest played, Sabbath played, everybody played there. Every tour that came through played there. It was one of those clubs that was on two levels. They had a dance floor down stairs with a stage. There was a big balcony where you could wonder around. Everybody used to go there on Friday and Saturday nights and drink a lot. We would hang around. One of the things, from a male perspective, no matter where you were or whatever you were doing—you could be on the toilet having a shit or a piss or chatting with some Betty or you could be facedown, shit drunk on the floor—when the DJ played something like “Ace of Spades,” something from Metallica or Sabbath and every guy would jump up and race to the dance floor, find their space and bang their heads. You know, “stake your claim and bang your head.” We used to get all kinds of girls there. One of my favorite lines was, “Hey babe, I’m in the band,” because you would see all of these band types there. That was the thing about all of these people in local bands, “I’m in a band.” We had so much fun remembering that shit. The club is sadly gone now….The Snake Pit has two connotations. One is going down into this dance floor. The other thing is the snake pit is where you put your snake in. It was all about the pussy. You went there, got shit pissed, banged your head and then you hoped to get some pussy there. I just wanted to get some pun in there.
Cowan: You wrote a song about the mid-1980s. What do you think about metal now compared to the way it was back then? Are shows timid?
Demolition Man: It’s less original. There are a few bands, to me, that are original, but a lot of them that just sound the same. There are just too many musicians today that say, “I want to start this type of band” or “sound like this strain of band.” The thing is when you have so many genres and it’s all split, the tendency is to be a bit timid about where you’re going. People like black metal so they play black metal, hardcore or whatever it is. In the ‘80s, I could be at a show next to you. We could both be watching Motorhead. You could have a Rush patch or a Styxx patch. Then on my back, I could have a Slayer patch or a Rush patch. It was a kind of fraternity. We were all in it together. It was all just metal. Bands were different, so they stood out. Now, I think that everybody is frantically trying to create their own genre that they are actually disseminating the whole thing.
It seems, on first view, that the scene is less than it was back then because they aren’t one, massive group. They are all split up. It’s not true. When you go to festivals in Europe, you have 40,000 people there with a list of bands ranging from the Chilis to Napalm Death. Everybody is there doing it together. That’s what we wanted to do with Mpire. We wanted to put in the classic metal. Priest will live forever, so it doesn’t matter what kind of metal you’re into, everybody is going to say Judas Priest because they’re classic fucking metal or Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden. Where are the classic bands? Where is the classic metal, anymore? That was my approach. There are some new flavors like in there, like Jeff said. We have some blast beats in there. We have some thrash going on because that’s our heritage as well. There is also some classic stuff like “Metal Messiah,” which we will play tonight. We approached that purely from a Priest point of view. I was at work; I sat down and listened to so much Priest. We had down time from our recording and the song just sort of wrote itself. I sent it straight off to Mantis. It’s one of our favorite live songs. It’s got a whole mosh vibe to it, but it’s got a classic guitar solo.
Cowan: It has a super heavy bass sound. Where you trying to get a Lemmy-type heaviness on the bass?
Demolition Man: Like Jeff said about “Creatures of the Black,” my epic montage is Motorhead. I went to see a punk band, but then I went and saw Motorhead. They were opening up for this other act. I had never heard of the other act. These three guys came on and the opening bass punched me in the face. They opened with “Motorhead.” It was like, “What the fuck is that?” I thought that I had to play that opening riff, so when we made “Creatures of the Black,” I was practically shaking when we recorded it. I thought, “Holy fuck, I’m actually playing this.” I always loved that intensity. With a three-piece, I wanted that vibe there, that aggressive vibe.
Cowan: What’s next after this tour?
Demolition Man: We have a couple of festivals. We have the Muskelrock Festival in Sweden. We’re doing Rock Hard in Italy. We’ve got a few live dates. We have a couple of weeks in Canada and we come back and finish in D.C. We fly back and then we have a week’s grace where we rehearse for the big show. This is sort of like a club touring, warming up gigs, getting to see America and fans getting to hear about us. When we came the album wasn’t out. It just came out yesterday (actually it came out on the 26th of March, the day of the interview). We’re carrying copies with us, of course, so there is a push on the album. We do a big show in Milan on the 29th. That’s like a full stage show with pyros—the whole nine yards. It’s going to be a huge show. We film that to be put together in a DVD with some of the stuff we’ve got from the States, too. Then, that’s it. We’re off. Then, I think it’s the week after, we start the shows. We are doing shows with Sodom and Hell. We just heard last week that they want to book us for Wacken 2013. That will be our biggest festival.
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