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April 18-24, 2007

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Death Angel

Monarchs to the kingdom of the dead: Slayer's great and all, but don't overlook Death Angel.


Death Angel's Rob Cavestany relives the birth of thrash metal

By Gary Singh

TWENTY-ONE years ago, a group of Filipino teenagers in a band called Death Angel played a gig at the Stone in San Francisco, and I drank beer with folks in Metallica in the streets around the corner. That's a true tale. I'm not making it up.

At least I think that gig was Death Angel. Since thrash metal gigs took place every other night back then, it's hard to sort it all out. Anyway, what I do completely recall, however, is by that time, in 1986, Metallica had already toured with Ozzy and had pretty much exploded worldwide, but you would still see the guys in the band hanging out at all the club shows and the parties, whether it was punk or metal. It was one hell of a rocking fuss of a scene, especially for all of us who were teenagers then. You had a brand new subgenre called thrash metal "crossing over" (famous last words) with punk and hardcore, and the whole toxic stew wound up putting the Bay Area on the underground map worldwide. It was one of those beautifully wicked counterculture scenes that couldn't possibly happen anywhere else ever again. Going back to 1984, Death Angel's Rob Cavestany recalled the old days over the phone.

"I saw Metallica at the Keystone Berkeley and that changed my life," he said. "I was like, What the hell did I just see? I saw people jumping off the stage, people practically beating each other up in the pit, and I had the most fun I'd ever had."

And at that time, the term, "the pit" wasn't really even being used yet. "There was no name," Cavestany said. "All these people—I thought they were fighting at first. People were just slamming around and I jumped in myself and said, 'Woo-hoo!' At that point, before that, I didn't even realize such a thing existed. And I think for myself, and obviously for many others, it was a real turn-on for that action. It was extremely exciting, fun and seemingly fresh and like, you're on the cutting edge of something that was just beginning right then, which it was."

In those days, Death Angel shared bills with hardcore punk bands in Berkeley—something that would never happen today except for an occasional reunion show. "The vibe of that scene was kinda to be one with the fans," Cavestany explained. "It was like the anti-poseur, anti-rock star kind of thing. The bands looked like the guys in the crowd and everyone hung out at parties together. You were partying with Metallica over here, hanging out with Death Angel over there, and the reason why is because the guys in the bands did hang out and go to all the parties and all the other guys' gigs and everything. Nobody was so huge yet that it was a problem to be in public."

Yak in the Day

Whenever anyone yaks about metal in those days, they always mention Metallica, Exodus, Slayer or Testament, but in my opinion, Death Angel always gets overlooked. They were unique because they were teenagers when all the other bands were about six or seven years older. I can vividly remember wearing a Death Angel shirt in high school in the '80s and having some idiot in class call me a Satan worshipper, or Evil Jesus, or some other dim-witted nonsense.

When Death Angel originally disbanded in 1990, they were all still pretty young dudes for having three albums out and several tours under their belts. When they came back and released their Art of Dying album in 2004, you just had to start rattling off statistics, dates and anniversaries, something that Cavestany loves to do. After all, not many people in their mid-30s can say stuff like, "This is our first album in 14 years." And 2007 marks the 20th anniversary of Death Angel's first album, The Ultra Violence, the black T-shirt of which was used to upset pubescent teenage girls in class. At least that was my particular use for mine. As far as the band goes, 2007 marks their 25th anniversary. How many groups of Filipino cousins in their late 30s can say that? In fact, when comparing themselves to all the other bands from the old days, like Metallica, Slayer or Exodus, Cavestany refers to Death Angel as the "youngerish guys of the old guys."

Nowadays, with Metallica parading around with bodyguards, things are a little different. But even though Death Angel have done their share of European festivals where they've played in front of tens of thousands, they still don't mind doing small clubs. "We're such the down-to-earth fucking people's band and that's how we always felt ourselves to be," said Cavestany. "And we love to connect with the people as much as possible, especially at a place like the Blank Club."

With a few more albums planned for the near future, don't expect Death Angel to go away any time soon. "This is the beginning of what I'm hoping is going to be our most intense chapter yet," Cavestany said.

Death Angel did an intimate gig at the Blank Club in San Jose last November, and they out-and-out flattened the place. There was no way anyone could have taken the stage afterward—they left absolutely nothing. It was like seeing Slayer play in your living room. After that gig, they headed off to play in Japan for a few days. This time around, they are playing at the Blank and will then split to festivals in the Philippines and Europe.

A few weeks ago in Sweden, a story broke out in which a couple wanted to name their daughter Metallica, but the government wouldn't let them do it. I immediately envisioned an equivalent scenario that will hopefully unleash a firestorm of blasphemy: If I ever have a daughter, I'm going to name her Death Angel. Three cheers for the old days!

Death Angel play on Saturday (April 21) at 9pm at the Blank Club, 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $10. (408.292.5265)

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