What a year 2013 must have been for Brian Ross. Not only was “Life Sentence”, the comeback album from Satan (go to the bottom of the page to check out the long interview I did with Steve Ramsey) released to rave reviews, the charismatic and highly original singer also managed to put out the first Blitzkrieg album in six years. We’ll touch on both subjects in this interview of course, along with Metallica, Judas Priest and the new compilation album.
I guess the long break between “Theatre Of The Damned” and “Back From Hell” wasn’t planned back then in 2007?
– No, it wasn’t. But a lot of things happened during those six years. After the album came out, we did gigs all over the place. We did Wacken, Sweden and an awful lot of other gigs. During this periode, we never even had the time to take some songs out and put different ones in, to learn a few more from the old back catalogue. We just carried on and kept on playing as much as we could. Towards the end of that six year period, there were a few things affecting the band. A lot of it was down to the bass player, Paul (Brewis), who was having problem in his personal life at the time, affecting his performance. Also, Guy (Laverick, guitars) and Phil (Brewis, drums) formed another band called Chaos Asylum, and were very keen to start working with that and spent more time on that than on Blitzkrieg. I demand a 100 percent, a 150 percent even, from everybody that’s in the band. If I am not given that, I start asking questions. I don’t expect anybody to give less than I do. Sometimes people can’t give a 100 percent, for whatever reason, as I said, Paul was having problems and his head wasn’t in the right place and Guy and Phil wanted to promote the album they had recorded. That’s fair enough, but when people don’t want to be in Blitzkrieg anymore, it’s time for them to move on. That’s exactly what happened. Then we brought new people in, immediately started writing material before we entered the studio and recorded the album. That brings us right up today.
There is no secret that there have been a lot of members coming and going in Blitzkrieg through the years, with you remaining the only original member. Are you a difficult person to work with?
– No! Well, yes and no. As long as things are going well, I am probably the nicest guy in the world to work with, but if things aren’t going that well, I am probably the worst. So it’s a bit of both. As I said, I expect people to give over a hundred percent, and if they can’t give that, if they’re not into it anymore, or don’t want to be in the band anymore, I know, I can tell. That’s why over the years there have been a lot of people moving on. They’ve come in, done their bit and wanted to do other things. I want people to be 100 percent committed to Blitzkrieg when they’re in the band.
So you obviously felt that the three guys who left the band wasn’t a hundred percent into Blitzkrieg anymore?
– No, they weren’t. It was time to get new blood in there. I think what we done is the right thing. Ken stayed around, because Ken is not a 150 percent committed to Blitzkrieg, he is 250 percent committed. I mean, the guy lives and breathes it. It was a good starting point for me and him to start looking for new people. I think we found the right guys, the excitement is back in it and everybody is really up for doing it.
When you started Metalizer a couple of years back, you pointed out that this was your solo project. I know some people also view Blitzkrieg more or less as a solo project, but it seems important to you to underline the fact that it’s really a band…
– I see Blitzkrieg as a band. I am the original member that’s left, but it’s not about me, it’s about an idea we started back in 1980. When new people come in, they have to fit into that idea, they have to fit into the mentality of what me and Jim started out. Not only that, they have to bring in new ideas as well to move it forward. It’s about the five people really, and as far as I am concerned, no one is more important than anybody else in Blitzkrieg. We’re a band, a unit complete. With Metalizer, I wanted to get out there and do something a little bit different to what I was doing with Blitzkrieg. Metalizer is very much alive, but when we were doing a Satan- and a Blitzkrieg-album in one year, something had to stand back a little bit. Early next year I’ll be starting working on that again, and try to get an album together which will be a little bit different to what I have done with Satan and Blitzkrieg. It will give me a little bit more freedom, to move the parameters if you like.
Will it be…
– Don’t worry, it will still be good old British metal, but a different kind, Brian says as he senses a slight concern in my voice.
– As the name suggests, the whole idea with Metalizer in the first place, was to take songs and metalize them. We would take old classics like, say a T.Rex song like “Jeepster” and turn it into a heavy metal song. Like Judas Priest did with “Diamonds And Rust”. Take old songs that aren’t necessarily a heavy metal song and turn them into heavy metal-songs., that is what Metalizer was all about when I put it together. It has progressed on from that now, and I think we’re ready to possibly start moiving along and write some new material. But to do three albums in a year, would really be insanity.
Blitzkrieg recently came back from the first leg of the “Back From Hell”-tour with dates in Germany and Netherlands, and last weekend you performed with Satan in Barcelona. Is there room for anything else than metal in your life at the moment?
– Haha! Believe it or not, things has slowed down a little bit now. The rush was trying to get two albums together. To make them totally different, one had to sound like Satan and the other like Blitzkrieg. That is not easy, but when you got musicians of the caliber that I got surrounding me in both bands, it makes the job so much easier. Once you’ve done that, you must get out and play a few gigs. We’ve done that, started the ball rolling, and it was our way of saying that Blitzkrieg is available for next year to do festivals or whatever. Likewise with Satan. We’re back, still around and ready to go.
I think you started studio work for “Back From Hell” late in 2012. Does this mean that you worked on this one and “Life Sentence”simultaneously?
– Yeah, pretty much. It actually only took six days to record the Blitzkrieg album, but those six days were spread over seven months. Then of course we did the Satan-album in the middle of it all. It was great, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was extremely tiring, but whether I would have repeated it and done two albums in a year again, that’s another matter. We shall see!
The past year has seen Satan getting a lot of exposure, with excellent reviews both for the album as well as the live shows. Do you feel equally motivated for doing Blitzkrieg, which to be honest hasn’t the same high profile at the moment?
– Of course I am. The reason for that is because Blitzkrieg has been around pretty much without a break since 1985 while Satan, in this lineup ceased to exist in 1984 and has not sort of existed at all up until recently. At any given moment we can speak to each other and say: “That’s the end of it” Blitzkrieg is not like that. Blitzkrieg is gonna be around, Blitzkrieg is something I have given my life to. Satan is an awesome little project I’ve done on the side. As have the rest of the guys, they’re also committed to doing other things. We got back together because we love it and the time was right. Throughout the years we have remained great friends. We didn’t break up and went off in separate direcitions because of a massive row or something like that. What it was back in 1984, was a difference of opinion in what direction the band should take and whether or not we should change the name from Satan into something else. They thought we should, I disagreed. I felt Satan was a good name, in fact quite honestly I think it is the best possible name for a metal band. I was very proud of “Caught In The Act” and thought we really needed to follow that up with another album. The other guys wanted to crack America, and felt that perhaps getting a more American sound and a more accessible name was the way to do it. After about three or four years of being apart, we always used to say: “We need to get back together and do a couple of gigs”. When I was over in Germany with Blitzkrieg doing Keep It True and Wacken and the organizers asked us if there was a possibility to have Satan playing. I said: “I would love to do it, I’ll have a word with the guys”.That’s what started it all off. I believe the example I used was The Beatles. “Look at The Beatles, they always said they fancied getting back together again, but they never did. Now it’s too late. I said to the guys: “We’re not getting any younger, we need to do this now”. Then they agreed, and that’s how we got together again. The very first rehearsal we did felt like the last time we played together was yesterday. It gelled immediately and when we started writing songs, it was just fantastic. The whole idea was that we wanted to write an album that follows up “Court In The Act”. We didn’t want to do a Satan album from now, we wanted to do the album we probably would have done back in 1984. I think we achieved that. With Blitzkrieg I kind of did what I didn’t want to do with Satan. “Theatre Of The Damned” had a much more American approach to it. At the time it felt like a good idea, to do an album with American sounding song, but once we did it, we thought: We might have made a mistake here. I am not dissing the album at all, there are some great songs on it and the guys worked really hard to write them. Nevertheless, we thought: What is the right thing to do now? To go back to the roots, was the answer. The fans always tell me their favourite albums are “Unholy Trinity”, “Absolute Power” and “A Time Of Changes”, and I thought the band needed to go back to that era. Again, we achieved that, and I am positive it was the right thing to do.
You are also back with Jess Cox and his rejuvenated Metal Nation Records. How does that feel?
– Me and Jess go back a long, long way. We’ve known each other since the early days of the New Wave and been friends ever since. We grew up musically together, because we were on the same label, Neat together. We also saw each other regularly in Newcastle. When Jess took over Neat Records, it felt great to work with him. It’s good to be back with him too, because we have an understanding. He knows exactly what I am trying to achieve with Blitzkrieg, he knows what I’m gonna do and what kind of music I’m gonna write. He leaves me to do that, while I leave him to organize gigs and everything else. It’s a great working relationship.
The collaboration with the German label, Armaggedon only lasted for one album, “Theatre Of The Damned”, I am not sure if the label even exist anymore.
– They don’t. That’s why it lasted for only one album. When we recorded “Theatre Of The Damned”, they were raving about it, wanted to do a lot of promotion, videos and got us on the Wacken Festival. Everything was looking great, but I think there were financial problems within the company. The couldn’t afford to do the extra promotions, to get film crews to do videos and stuff like that. In the end, I think the label folded completely and was bought up by SPV. SPV didn’t take up the option on any on the bands on the label, they just bought up the label. For whatever reason. I had great time with Armaggedon, they were a great company.
Your son Alan is part of the new line up of Blitzkrieg. Does that make you feel old?
– Yes and now. It’s nothing new really, because he’s been in Metalizer now with me for three years. In my head I am still 18. It’s the music you know. Music has no age really. It’s not like it was in the sixties when bands like The Beatles and The Stones appeared only to young people. When I look into the audience at Blitzkrieg-concerts, I see people at my age, but I also see teenagers, that can’t possibly have been born when we did the first single. It’s great! From that point of view, it doesn’t make you feel old, it makes you feel part of something huge. Alan being in the band, has given us a new resurgence. To be honest with you, nobody knows more Blitzkrieg songs than he does. Hes been around Blitzkrieg all his life and had guitar lessons from every guitar player that has ever been in the band. He knows all the songs already. We had Micky (Kerrigan) coming along to audition as the drummer and Bill Baxter coming along to audition as the bass player, and just so we wouldn’t be light on guitars, we asked Alan to come along and fill in. The idea was to get the bass player and drummer in place before we audtioned guitar players. Alan played so well and fitted in so well, we didn’t need to look any further.
According to Brian, Alan will not get some kind of special treatment.
– People might think he got the job because he is my son. He didn’t. He got the job, because he deserves to have the job. To be honest, in the band he is not my son, he is another musician. He is treated exactly the same as the other ones. It’s great to have him onboard. He is a great guitar player and a damn good singer as well. That gives us an extra dimension, as we are able to do harmonies we haven’t done for years. He is in a Deep Purple tribute band too, and they’re doing really, really well.
There is a lot of different stuff on “Back From Hell”. I would really like to talk a bit about some of the songs.
The opener, “Back From Hell” is about Jack The Ripper, a theme you have been touching before.
– The fascination for Jack The Ripper comes from… I guess it’s not so important outside of England, but I mean, I was born in 1954, so that was kind of only 50 years on from the Jack The Ripper-murders and people still talked about them. Mainly because nobody had worked out who he really was and why he did what he did. You get fascinated with things like that. It’s like the JFK-thing. Was it conspiracy? Who killed him? People like mysteries and I am no exception to that. I grew up hearing people say: “If you go down there, Jack The Ripper will get you”. It was said to frighten kids from go places they shouldn’t be going. I kind of grew up with that, and was thinking: Who the hell is Jack The Ripper? I started researching it, and was reading everything. I spent five or six years of my life reading about Jack The Ripper, the murders and everything else, until finally I wrote the song on “Unholy Trinity”. The reason why I researched it to greath lengths, was that I wanted to be sure that the person I was going to name at the end of the song (Sir William Gull), actually was Jack The Ripper. In my opinion – of course he was. I’ve seen all the evidence, seen the police files, read all of the accounts, and it can only be one person really, and that’s the person I named. When Blitzkrieg played a gig at Keep It True, this guy came up to me after the concert and said “Unholy Trinity” was his favourite album and that he loved the song about Jack The Ripper. Would I ever do another song about him? He got me thinking, so I thought to myself, how would it be if Jack The Ripper could somehow return from hell, where is undoubtely where he is, to Whitechapel in London in the present day? That’s what the song is aobut, Jack returning, back from hell continuing with his killing spree.
You’ve also rerecorded “Buried Alive” from the very first single. A bit dangerous maybe, as people always seem to prefer the original version?
– Actually they don’t. You would be surprised how many people have come up to me and said how much better it sounds now. They still have an affection for the old song and the way it was, but they like it now because it has a little bit more edge and is better recorded. An awful lot of kids have come up to me and said how much they love that song. I said to the other guys: “If you can choose one song from the back catalogue for us to rerecord, which one would it be?” Unanimously they said: “Buried Alive”. I said the same thing to the band when we recorded “Theatre Of The Damned”, and then they chose “Armaggedon”. It made the record label back then very happy.
The biggest surprise to me is perhaps “Complicated Issue”. A very different sounding Blitzkrieg-tune.
– Yeah, but if you look back at all of the Blitzkrieg albums, it’s not all about one thing. We do stray into little areas and pockets, that many bands wouldn’t stray into. The song was entirely written by Bill, all I did was to learn the lyrics, went into the studio and did it. Bill thought it sounded great, but asked if we could put female vocals on it. Bill’s wife is a great singer so we invited her to come and do it. She did a phenomenal job. It’s about pushing the boundaries a little bit, but always keeping true to what we originally set out to be, a full on British metal band. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to play at a million miles an hour all of the time. On the first album, “Vikings” is a very slow and quite melodic song. We like moving around a little, explore the different areas of heavy metal, and it’s actually a quite large area to explore.
Then we have “Call For The Priest”. How important has Judas Priest been for you?
– In my opinion, Judas Priest really is everything that a british metal band should be. They’ve got great melodies, a great singer, and the harmony guitars. Sometimes they’ll play fast, sometimes slow. They can do a ballad and a million miles an hour thrash song. Blitzkrieg has always strived to be like that. Not a copy of Judas Pruiest, but we always wanted to be a band with that kind of versailitity. In the original lineup, Jim Sirroto was a massive Ritchie Blackmoore and Jimmy Page-fan and Ian Jones, the other guitar player, was a massive Judas Priest-fan. When you put the two ideas together, that’s what made Blitzkrieg what it is. A kind of hybrid of classic heavy rock mixed with Judas Priest styled metal. It still is to this day. They have been a massive influence on me. The kind of lyrics I write, the way I tell stories,that’s down to Marc Bolan, the desire to put on a show was down to Alice Cooper, the intital reason to why I sing the way I do, was down to Ian Gillan, but that was fired even further by Rob Halford with the soaring vocals. Judas Priest are very important to me, and I always wanted to write a tribute to them that is a little different from what you might expect. Not only lyrics about Judas Priest, you know stuff like: “They’re from Birmingham, bla…bla…” I could have written those lyrics, but that would have been so easy. Instead I took all song titles and strung them together in such a way that when you re read them, they actually read like a story. It actually was quite hard to do. We also got the singer from the Judas Priest –tribute band Judas Beast to sing on it, and he sounds so much like Rob Halford it’s almost untrue.
You also covered a Metallica-song, “Seek And Destroy”. Why did you choose this one?
– Ever since “Blitzkrieg” was covered by Metallica, I wanted to compliment that. The years have gone by and I have never got around to do it, for one reason or another. This is the kind of thing that influenced Metallica, so why not do it now? I choose two songs which I felt were the right ones to do, “Seek & Destroy” and “The Four Horsemen”. Then I asked the band which one they would like to do. “Seek & Destroy” is a great song, it’s got a great groove, while “The Four Horsemen”is a little bit more complicated an interesting. In the end they decided to do “Seek & Destroy” and I was more than happy with that. Looking back, when they did “Blitzkrieg”, they didn’t do it exactly like we did it. We did exactly the same with “Seek & Destroy”, we learnt it and did it like Blitzkrieg would do it. That’s what makes it a bit different. I am hoping people would like it and that Metalica will like it. It’s just me saying: You covered “Blitzkrieg”, thank you very much guys, I am returning the compliment.
So now you have to pay them royalities?
– Haha, yeah. Exactly. It’s fair enough, isn’t it?
Have the royalites you have received for Metallica covering “Blitzkrieg” been important in keeping Blitzkrieg alive?
– No. Cause I haven’t had an awful lot. I can’t really talk too much about it, because I got a solicitor working on it. Let me point out that it has nothing to do with Metallica. Throughout the years, the money has been collected, and sent, but never got here. Somewhere down the line, somebody has got he money from that coverversion, but it wasn’t me. I got a legal professional working on it right now, but we know for a fact that it isn’t Metallicas fault at all.
– No, I don’t. And that’s exactly why the lyrics are as they are. If I do get around to watch something that I like, the chances are I am gonna write a song about it. I might read a book and then write a song about the content of the book, that’s where “The Mists Of Avalon” came from. Unholy Trinity is one of the chapters in a book called “Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution” which was written many, many years ago, and later turned into the movie “From Hell”. I like to do that because if I find it interesting, and if I can convey what the movie, book or TV-series is about, it might spur people to check it out, to find out what makes Brian Ross think it’s so clever or so good. If I watched a lot of TV or movies, maybe it would be more difficult to choose which ones to write about? I generally only watch something when somebody say to me: You should watch this, it’s really good. Which is why “V For Vendetta” finished on the album in form of the song “V”. It’s an amazing movie. Also “The Prisoner”-triology which I finished on this new album, the original TV-series from the sixties with Patrick McGoohan was absolutely awesome, and the American remake done some years back were absolutely aweful. I would be horrified if people watched the remake and thought that was what it was about. It’s nice if they listen to the lyrics to the three songs, and if that spurs people to go back and actually watch that TV-series, and get something from it, then all the better.
High Roller is releasing not only “Back From Hell” on vinyl, but also a compilation called “The Boys From Brazil Street”. As expected the title has something to do with where the guys grew up back in the early days.
– Well, when Blitzkrieg was first formed back in 1980, I was living in Brazil Street in Leicester. We released the Blitzed Alive-live casstte which was actually recorded in Newcastle. Inside the cover it had my address as the contact address from Blitzkrieg, and we became the boys from Brazil Street. I am not sure what I feel about this release, because no one has asked my opinion on this, and they certainly didn’t get the songs from me, I have no idea where they got them from. Quite honestly I am not entirely sure if I agree with the release or not. I haven’t heard any of it, so I don’t know whether it’s good or bad. I would have liked to be able to listen to it and say: “Yes I completely accept this” or “This release has nothing to do with me”. I like to be able to make that choice, but that has kind of been taken away from me because they have not let me hear it. They never asked me for permission to release it. They kind of assumed they could do it, because we allowed them to put out the new album on vinyl. To be honest, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I know where it is coming from, in which case I know the song quality isn’t too bad at all anyway, so I probably won’t mind. It’s just not being asked that is slightly annoying.
Brian seems satisfied with the fact that the band’s material is released on vinyl though.
– I like vinyl. Not the actual media, but the size of the sleeve and everything that goes with it. I much prefer the quality of a CD. The scratchy sound of a piece of vinyl really doesn’t appeal to me anymore. “Back From Hell” is actually gonna be a double album with the entire album, and I believe six bonus tracks. That should be worth looking into.
– I am not going to include the new album, because I think it’s wrong for me to do that. I think it’s too early. I make my decision from “A Time For Changes” and up to “Theatre Of The Damned”. It’s hard, but it’s between “Unholy Trinity” and “Absolute Power”. I am gonna go with “Unholy Trinity”. Tony J. Liddle is an amazing guitar player and writes amazing songs, and I think we really got it right on that album. We came up with some classic material. Not taking anything away from the original album that me and Jim wrote. !A Time Of Changes” is a brilliant album as well, but when you put it into context, there is more things right with “Unholy Trinity” than there are things wrong with it. With “A Time For Changes” there is a few things wrong, mainly with the production of it. The sound quality isn’t maybe what it should be. But I think that’s the way things were back then, particularly coming out of the Impulse studios. That was the sound of Impulse, the sound of Neat back then. We also did “Unholy Trinity” in Impulse as well, but we had a lot more to say in the production of it. When we did the first album, we had an engineer with lots of own ideas, while “Unholy Trinity” I pretty much did on my own. It was the first album I produced. I had an engineer with me, but completely told him what I wanted to hear.
Is there a Blitzkrieg-album you don’t hold in very high regard?
– Absolutely not! If I didn’t like it, it would have never been released. From a fan’s point of view I can give you an opinion though. It’s unfortunate, but “The Mists Of Avalon” was never a favourite. When we recorded that album, and when we heard it in the studio it was as heavy as any other Blitzkrieg album. When it arrived from the pressing plant, they’ve lightened the album up. I was furious, but it was too late to do anything about it. Thousands of copies were printed,and it would be an absolutely waste of money to basically burn those copies and start again. A few years down the line some Blitzkrieg-fans have actually warmed to the album, because of the song quality is amazing, but it’s a little lighter than the other albums.
Interview with Steve Ramsey of Satan: