30 years a very long time to wait for a band’s debut, even one from a band whose underground status amongst the death metal elite is unparalleled. Indeed fans of the Chilean Pentagram at that time in the 80s and 90s will have grown up and gone through their own course in life, but one thing is true of the stalwart death metaller whether of the old school or new breed, they know their vintages when it comes to death metal and Pentagram Chile has churned out one of the most incredible, authentic death metal albums this year if not this decade with “The Malefice” as Ave Noctum gets the current situation from vocalist and guitarist Anton Reisenegger before they lay London to waste with their inaugural headlining show at the Live Evil festival this month.
AN: You’re regarded as a cult act in metal and revered by many fans worldwide, can you tell us briefly how you finally got back together and recorded what is in effect your debut album, despite being around for nearly 30 years?
Anton: “Well, the band was formed in 1985 and disbanded in 1988. We only reunited for one single show in 2001 because I was moving to Europe and we figured it might be our last chance. However, in 2008 we were approached by Cyclone Empire Records to release a compilation of our demos and some live stuff, and working on that brought back a lot of memories. It turned out there was interest to see us live in Europe, so we booked a tour, which went great, so we decided to stay together and finally do the album we didn’t get to do in the 80s.”
AN: You seem to have been plagued with many setbacks but have finally achieved a goal, you must be very satisfied with that and be optimistic about the future for the band?
Anton: “Well, yes, it feels great to finally have the album out after all the problems we had to face. No one can tell right now what the future holds in store for the band, but we felt like we closed a chapter with the album, and at the same time there’s a new chapter starting. We would really like to be able to tour and play the festival circuit, and we hope the reviews we have received, which were mostly excellent, will help us.”
AN: With you also playing in other bands will Pentagram Chile be a full touring act with more albums to come but still manage to fulfil your role in Lock Up and other projects as necessary? Also do you have a bassist in the band now?
Anton: “I doubt we will be doing long tours, as we all have other commitments, musical and otherwise, but we certainly hope to be able to take this show on the road. I doubt there’s going to be conflicts with my other projects if we plan carefully. Regarding the bassist position, we are keeping that open in order to be more flexible when it comes to touring. And it’s also a difficult thing to replace such a strong personality as our original bassist Alfredo Peña.”
AN: It may be 25 years plus years since the first demo but “The Malefice” has certainly been worth the wait. It is a supreme example of old school death metal? Are you happy with the results as I cannot find fault with it?
Anton: “Well, I’m really happy that everyone’s singing the album’s praises, but funnily enough I think we can actually still do much better. The songs on the album were written over a handful of sessions and we pretty much kept the original arrangements in all of them, so maybe if we work on the stuff for a bit longer we might be able to give it that extra depth. Or maybe not, maybe it was the spontaneity what made it special.”
AN: Can you tell us something about the songs and the song writing process?
Anton: “It was just as in the old days, when Juan Pablo would come to my parents house and we would stay in my room playing riffs and working on songs. Juan Pablo came over to my house in San Sebastian and we just locked ourselves in a room for three days. I think seven or eight of the songs on the album came out of that one writing session. The thing is, we know what it takes to write a Pentagram song, we know the unwritten rules you need to observe. It was like time hadn’t passed and we still had that same mindset we had when we were teenagers.”
AN: How come you used 2 recording studios for the album, one in Chile and one in London?
Anton: “Our new drummer Juan Pablo Donoso owns a studio in Santiago, so it was the obvious thing to record his drums there. But, since I am living in Europe, it was easier for me to record the guitar tracks and vocals over here, so I used the studio of (my other band) Criminal bassist Danny Biggin, who was a huge help in the recording process.”
AN: I felt I was in a huge time warp listening to “The Malefice” is that something you set out to “achieve, to create a genuinely authentic old school album from an old school band?
Anton: We simply wanted it to be a continuation of our demo material, as if we had recorded it in 1989 or something. And I think we succeeded. I like the time warp analogy, it means we managed to recreate that feeling without having to use our old demo material.”
AN: The sound is really gritty and in your face, sounds analogue to me, am I right? If not the production is immense.
Anton: “No, the album was recorded on Pro-Tools, so it’s all digital, but that’s something a lot of people fail to realize. Digital in itself is not the root of all evil or something, it’s when producers use the digital technology to cut corners, making people play stuff they actually can’t play and making instruments sound in a way they don’t. We went for an approach of a very pure sound, just a Marshall amp, a mic and that’s it. Same with the drums, all mic’d up and only a minimal amount of triggers on the bass drum just for consistency. We kept edits at a minimum as well, and I think the slight imperfections in the playing give it this very human feel that is missing from today’s productions. And finally, to give it a real old-school vibe, there is one rule to follow. “Don’t be shy on the vocal reverb!” Hahaha!”
AN: I love the vocals they truly monstrous and terrorizing, did they come naturally or need some work to get right?
Anton: “All I needed was a bottle of Chilean red wine.”
AN: The cover art is exceptional, who produced it and what significance does it have within the band’s music?
Anton: “It’s by an Argentinian illustrator called Santiago Caruso. He’s done a load of great stuff, mainly book covers for stuff like Lovecraft anthologies, very dark shit. When I came across his work I was amazed, so I immediately contacted him and he was into the idea of us using one of his pictures as our album cover. We actually used an existing piece, it wasn’t commissioned or anything, but I think it just fits the music perfectly and I hope we will still be able to afford Santiago the next time we make an album, because he’s going to become huge.”
AN: Can you give us a brief idea of what your songs are about?
Anton: “Different things really. The Apparition is about all these superstitions and fears that run very deep in a family’s history; Sacrophobia is about a mental disorder where the patient rejects anything that is holy, but in the lyric it kinda crosses over into a demonic possession; Grand Design is about the laws of the universe, quantum physics and our insignificance in the great scheme of things; Prophetic Tremors is about a cataclysmic earthquake; and so on. The main thing to me was to explore the dark side of the mind and the universe without falling into the usual clichés. I mean, there’s so many bands recently just rehashing the old Venom and Mercyful Fate lyrics, it almost seems like you could have a random satanic lyric generator, haha. Maybe Google should make one…”
AN: To someone unfamiliar with your band, how would you describe your music?
Anton: “Proto death metal from the bowels of South America.”
AN: I know you changed your name to Pentagram Chile from Pentagram out of respect for the long running doom outfit of the same name, but were you asked to change your name or did you just do it anyway?
Anton: “No, we were never asked to change our name. We actually played on the same bill with Bobby Liebling’s band in 2009 and met them backstage, and they seemed cool with it. But it was during that same tour that we encountered a lot of people who were confused, either expecting to see them and getting us, or the other way round. Also we played Wacken and they printed a picture of the US Pentagram when it was us playing, so we thought we might as well do something about it. And, since most people refer to us as Pentagram from Chile, or the Chilean Pentagram anyway, I don’t think it’s a very big deal.”
AN: You have re-recorded your demo tracks as a bonus on the special double CD edition and vinyl edition, what was the reasoning behind this?
Anton: “When we first started planning the album, there was the question if we should re-record those old songs or not. I didn’t want to base the whole album on material that was already 25 years old, so at first we decided to record just a couple, I think The Malefice and Fatal Predictions. However, when we started tracking we were so impressed with the results that we decided to re-record them all. We spoke to the label and told them about it and we agreed to have a limited edition, both on CD and vinyl, with a bonus disc of the old material, which I think is an elegant solution.”
AN: As a sideline vinyl seems to be making a resurgence, this can only be a good thing and have noticed that bonus tracks get added to the vinyl version rather than the CD version quite often. This is almost a reversal of what happened about 20 years ago wouldn’t you agree?
“Yeah, definitely. But I’m not a vinyl Taliban. I think it’s a beautiful format, but I think what matters most is the music, no matter if its vinyl, CD, digital download or a shitty 20th generation cassette copy.”
AN: You are headlining the Live Evil Festival in London in October, you must be very pleased with that, though I’m not able to attend and wish I could. Do you have any other touring plans as it would be a shame not to keep the momentum up now that the album is finally out?
Anton: “Well, Live Evil is actually the only European show we will play this year, but next year we definitely intend to tour and hit the summer festival circuit hard.”
AN: You have certainly set yourself very high standards for the follow up album, what ambitions do you have for this, the band and where do you see things going from now?
Anton: “I have no idea. Right now I just want to sit back, relax and enjoy a job well done. Maybe next year we will start thinking about a new album. I’ve always had that approach really, take things a step at a time and see where it takes me. So I would say I don’t have very high ambitions, maybe hopes would be a better word, but we’ll see what happens.”
AN: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Do you have any other thoughts for the readers or words of wisdom? Best wishes for the future and I hope you tear the roof off at the Live Evil Festival.
Anton: “I’d just like everybody to check out the album because it was a lot of hard work and we’re extremely proud of it.”
(Interview by Martin Harris)