A lot has already been said about the Fifth Angel comeback album, “The Third Secret”. While I don’t share the view of the most euphoric ones out there speaking about album of the year, the Americans have produced a decent comeback album for sure. I got on the phone with bass player John Macko for a chat about the past, present and future.
If we start a while back, Fifth Angel performed at Keep It True in 2010. Why didn’t anything happen in the wake of that appearance?
– We’ll we did try. I wanna tell you that, but it was really one road block after another. After that show we decided that we wanted to make some new demos, with Peter (Orullian). That didn’t work out because Peter, he is also a writer. He writes science fiction, and he was under contract to write, so he told us he didn’t have any time to work on songs at all. It was going to be at least six months until he could even start thinking about it. So we thought, if we wait that long, we would lose some momentum. We thought we would try making it work with a couple of other singers, but that didn’t work out either. And then some of the band members had some health issues, it seemed like it was one thing after another. So, we did try, but we decided to put in on hold for a while.
Then it was pretty silent until you got an offer to play Keep It True again for the 2017 edition. It seems it was around that time the ball really started rolling again?
– Absolutely. That definitely kickstarted the whole process again. Six months before that show, Ken Mary, who had not been involved in the band since the old days, actually kind of got things stirred up. He called me and told me how he, when he was out on the road with other bands, met a lot of enthusiastic fans wanting him to sign old Fifth Angel-records. He asked me if maybe we could think about starting this band up again? That kind of lead to the 2017 Keep It True-festival, where we met a representative from Nuclear Blast. He really enjoyed the show and asked us what we thought about doing a new record. That’s really what got everything going.
When did Kendall Bechtel enter the picture as a singer?
– After Keep It True, we decided that we would start working on some demos. We did do a couple of demos with Peter who sang for us at the festival. The strange thing about singers, is that they’re not like guitars. You know, a guitar is a guitar wether you are playing live or in the studio. With singers, you have some who sound very differently when they are singing live opposed to when they are recording in the studio. Peter does a great job for us live, but when we recorded, his voice didn’t have the right sound. It wasn’t the right fit for the band. We had the same problem back in 2010 and 11 when we tried to do demos with some other singers. At the time, the labels said that the songs were good, but the voice wasn’t the right fit. It’s not a matter of wether you are singing good or bad techinically, but the songs have to fit with the voice, and Peter’s voice in the studio, wasn’t a good fit for Fifth Angel. That left us with “now what”? Trying out Kendall was Ken’s idea. “Lets do a couple of demos with Kendall, and see how that works out.” Even if Kendall has been a part of the band as long as I have, from the “Time Will Tell”-album, I honestly hadn’t even thought about him as a lead singer or the band. I knew he could sing, but it never entered my mind that Kendall would be a good fit for Fifth Angel. We tried it and did three new demo songs with him singing and sent them off to Nuclear Blast, and they loved it. So we figured that if we kept it in house, maybe the fans would be more accepting than if we got a total stranger to sing in the band. Does it make sense?
Were you surprised by how good Kendall was?
– I was. When I heard him, I was like: “Vow, this is amazing”. Of course he doesn’t sound like Ted (Pilot, original singer), but again, who does? Ted has a very distinctive sound, and I have only heard a few singers ever that sounds like him. For us to find somebody that sounds exactly like Ted, is almost impossible.
This three track demo, did you send out this one to other labels as well?
– We did send it to Metal Blade as well, but that was pretty much it. We really wanted to sign with Nuclear Blast. We really didn’t wanna sign with anybody else. Metal Blade was suggested to us by a friend, and they are a good label too, but we really wanted to be with Nuclear Blast, so we didn’t bother sending it out to ten different labels.
You are definitely a small fish in a big pond, but obviously not afraid to get lost among all the mega acts that are on Nuclear Blast?
– I am not worried about that. It’s possible I guess, but I feel really confident. We have a really good working relationship with the label. And I think there is a mutual respect. From what I have seen on how they’re working this record, I am thrilled with it. I really believe they feel it’s a great record. And if they feel it’s a great record, they will do their job.
Metal Blade recently did reissues of two previous albums. What is your personal relationship to these albums, you only performed on “Time Will Tell”.
– The first record is really tough to beat. There is no way that we could ever make another record like that. Even if we had all the people, we would never recreate that particular record. Its impossible, we’re older, we’re different people and when we made this record, we realized there is no way we could go back and recreate those records, and we’re not even gonna try. Our intention was to make new music, reflecting who we are at this point in time, but still try to capture the essence of the older records.
“Time Will Tell”, the second album, seems to divide the fans more than the first one. How big a part of how it turned out was due to the record label and the people around the band at the time?
– The record label at the time was pushing for something more commercial. They were wanting a hit like a Whitesnake song or something like that. There is some of that stuff on the record, and while some of those songs are not my favourites, there are still some great songs on “Time Will Tell”. On “The Third Secret”, there are no pop songs. The album is heavier, darker and more like the first album.
John starts speaking about the song writing, and the fact that Ken and Kendall teamed up together as the new song writing team.
– I don’t think anyone saw that coming, I certainly didn’t . When Ed Archer left the band, because he had personal family issues he had to deal with, it left a hole in the writing process, so we decided to try to make it work. All three of us are songwriters, but personally I haven’t been able to write songs in the Fifth Angel-style. My songwriting style is more modern metal, so Ken and Kendall really came together . I definitely had an influence, but they came up with the core ideas. I would put in some suggestions here and there and in “Can You Hear Me”, I wrote the solo section. The solo section Kendall had, wasn’t really inspiring, so I suggested I could try it, and came up with a different chord progression. Then on “This Is War” I came up with the ending section. I would do small arrangement things, maybe change a chord progression here and there. That was mostly my input songwriting wise. There is one song on the album, called “Hearts Of Stone” which is a song I wrote originially. It was part of my personal repertoire of songs. I did not write that song for Fifth Angel, and if you heard my original version, you would be pretty shocked, because it sounds more like Slipknot than Fifth Angel!
Who took on the challenge trying to turn it into a Fifth Angel-track?
– Kendall did that, and to be honest, I don’t know how he did it. I don’t even remember how he got the song, but he dug it up and reworked it. He told me he had found this old song of mine, and reworked it. What do you think? he asked me. It’s still not my favourite song off the album. To be honest, I am not crazy about it, but Kendall and Ken really seemed to like it and thought it was a good fit, so I said: “I don’t care, as long as you two like it, let’s put it on the record”.
“Stars Are Falling” was that an easy choice as the opening cut for the album?
– Absolutely! That song has a lot of energy, and it’s right in the face. It was also one of the three tracks on the demo that got us signed to Nuclear Blast.
“Can You Hear Me” is the first digital single from the album. A catchy song that should be pretty easy to relate to for the old fans.
– Yeah, I think so too. Nuclear Blast decided they would do a lyric video to that song. We thought they maybe wanted to release a faster song, but they chose that one, and that’s probably as you said, because it will hit a good chord with the fans. It’s one of my faves and a very strong song. But you know, when you have been working with all of these songs so closely, it’s really hard to be objective. People keep asking me what my favourite song off the new album is, but I am not sure really, as I haven’t had a chance to step back and listen to them from a different perspective yet.
There album also contains the song “Fatima”, with some pretty interesting lyrics.
– That song is tied to “Third Secret”, which is the reason why they are back to back. The whole story of the “Third Secret” is from the vision of…and we didn’t make this up… There is a small town in Portugal called Fatima. In the early 1900, there were three young children in the town of Fatima who were visited, they had some visions. They were visited by the Virgin Mary who told them of three secrets. The Catholic church has documented this as an official miracle that actually happened. We thought it would make an interesting story, and we would base it around the description of the third secret. The description of the third secret is very apocalyptic, it talks about the pit of hell, angels and demons and all that kind of stuff, so a pretty good story to base this record around. The song “Fatima” talks about the children and the vision, and the song goes into “Third Secret”. “Fatima” is one of the coolest songs on the whole record. It’s a different song and it has a lot of emotions. I love the whole intro part, and it’s a very moving song for me personally.
Judging by your Facebook-page, you seemed to be a little concerned by the fact that among those who recorded “The Third Secret”, Ken was the only original member. Where you afraid that people would ignore the band and the new album because of this?
– Ed left right at the beginning, when we were working on the demos. We were very concerned about it. We knew we couldn’t continue as a three piece, that is crazy. There were som negative comments, but again it wasn’t something we wanted to happen, but things just happen in life as we get older. Things we have no control over. When we talked to Ed, and he was ready to come back into the band, it was a big relief. We didn’t have to talk him into anything, he came back on his own, because he had worked through his personal family issues. He will contribute to the songwriting in the future, at this point we are pretty open. We even asked James (Byrd) to play some leads on “The Third Secret”. The only reason he didn’t end up doing it, was because of the timing. He said he wanted to do it, but he was right in the middle of moving across the state. He didn’t have any of his equipment, didn’t have his studio set up, and we were near the deadline, so unfortunately, he was not able to do it. Assuming that we write another album, which I definitely forsee, we will ask him again. Who knows…maybe we will ask Ted Pilot again too? Maybe we will finally get him to sing? With this band you never know.
So if there was any bad blood between you when James Byrd left to do his solo career, it’s all forgotten now?
– With me personally theres not any bad blood, and I know James and Ken have a good relationship. I don’t know if there are still some bad feelings between him and Ted and Ed. I don’t know, you have to ask James.
You mentioned your previous singer Ted Pilot as well. Did you check out if he was willing to do it, both back in 2010, again in 2017 for Keep It True, and finally when you started recording this new album?
– Absolutely. Always. Every step of the way, we have contacted him and asked him if he wanted to be involved. It’s been one reason or another, but so far, he has declined. We’ll keep asking, so who knows? His voice is not in shape, that’s the main problem right now. As you know, the human voice is a bit different compared to picking up the guitar or the bass.
I think the material on this album should go down quite well with the old fans, the issue some might have is the production…
– We were looking for a modern production, and that was actually requested by Nuclear Blast. When we asked them what they were looking for, the answer was very simple: We want the style of the old songs with a modern production.
Was this type of wish, some might call it an intervention, something you found all right?
– Absolutely! I am not a big fan of the sound of the eighties production. I prefer more modern production, and so does Ken. This record sounds pretty big and pretty heavy.
John starts to speak about the recording and his own role in the process.
– Basically we produced it ourselves, with Ken being the main guy. We have been doing this for a long time, that’s why we didn’t feel we had to hire a producer. We all know how to record and write our parts. It’s not like we’re a band in the twenties that don’t have a lot of experience. Nobody has to tell me how to play my bass parts. In the mixing process, I did assist Ken with some of that. I assisted with the drum sounds and working with some of the guitar sounds, and then Ken would come up with the mix, send it to me and ask what I think. We worked together as a team, but Ken really did the majority of the engineering and mixing work.
You were close to being rock stars with the second album at the end of the eighties, what is it that drives you in 2018?
– It certainly isn’t to become rock stars again. I am not expecting that at all, none of us are. The reason why were doing this, is because we love this band and we love to make music. We feel we have the opportunity, the time and the energy to move the fans. So why not? How often does somebody in their lifetime get a second chance to do something like this?
You have also said that its important that the music moves yourselves as well. Did you have a lot of songs to choose from?
– Not a ton of songs. We probably had fifteen or sixteen song ideas, some of them were more basic ideas than songs really. We had a lot of old stuff, but unless it was like a really great idea, we tried not to use elements we wrote ten years ago. So most of the songs are not older than a year or two.
How do you think these new songs will hold up against the old material in a live setting?
– I don’t know. You tell me…
They got some strong competition. And people always want to hear the old stuff…
– I think so too. For the most part, people want to hear the old stuff. So for future shows, it will be the majority of the old stuff, and maybe three or four songs from “The Third Secret”. You know how that goes. We have to wait and see about the live stuff, we really haven’t figured out how to do concerts at this point. We cant expect Kendall to do all of that guitar work and then to sing. We’re gonna have to hire another person. Is it going to be another guitar player or another singer? Maybe we split some duties? We really haven’t decided. Our plan is to put the record out and to see what the response is. If we get a favourable, positive response, maybe we can line up some kind of a tour?
Another singer, is that really a possibility?
– I think it might be, but I really don’t know at this point.
(Band Picture: Laura Siivola)