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EVILE – Long Live New Flesh
Anthony Morgan
September 2011

Evile (l-r): Joel Graham, Ol Drake, Matt Drake and Ben Carter

While touring Europe as support to Swedish death metallers Amon Amarth, bassist Mike Alexander of Huddersfield, England-based thrashers Evile was suddenly taken ill and rushed to hospital on October 5th, 2009. Unfortunately he succumbed to a pulmonary embolism in Luleå, Sweden, aged 32. Sophomore full-length Infected Nations had been issued in late September, the record being the follow-up to inaugural outing proper Enter The Grave (August 2007). November 6th brought news of auditions for the vacant bassist slot, the slot being filled by former Rise To Addiction member Joel Graham and announced December 16th.

“The band just completely stopped,” remembers Ol Drake, guitarist and co-founder of Evile. “We went home, and we had a few months out. We didn’t purposely not talk to each other, but we just didn’t talk much. I think we were all just grieving on our own, and then we basically needed to get back out there because we had tours booked. We found Joel through auditions, and it created a different dynamic I think. Joel feels a lot more fast rock-oriented, and has quite a different groove bass-wise. No disrespect to Mike, but he was more straightforward thrash; he just loved the speed and the fast picking stuff, and Joel’s a lot more heavier and groovier. He’s changed us musically but Joel’s kind of like us as well; he’s still got that silly Northern humour that we have.”

September 2011’s Five Serpent’s Teeth is Evile’s third studio full-length, and the first not to feature Mike occupying the bass position. “It was hard recording without Mike, because the last time we were at Parlour Studios we did the Pantera cover for Metal Hammer magazine,” the axeman confesses. “We went back to Parlour with Joel, and it was one of the last places we had been with Mike so it was very strange. We were just fortunate enough to have Joel though because he made it a much easier experience than it could’ve been. It was hard to get through, especially the ‘In Memoriam’ track about Mike. It was a kind of a relief to do it, and just made it more comfortable for us.”

According to Ol, Joel fits greatly into Evile. “He’s from the same area – he’s from Dewsbury just over the hill,” he notes. “He has the same sense of humour as us, and he has the same musical tastes. He’s slightly older than us just like Mike and was there for the whole thrash movement as a kid, so he just brings so much to the band. It’s just great with Joel.”

The composition ‘In Memoriam’ pays tribute to Mike, and includes parts Mike wrote prior to his passing. The closest Evile has come to recording material similar to ‘In Memoriam’ is the collective’s aforementioned cover interpretation of Pantera’s ‘Cemetery Gates’.

“That actually had a lot to do with the ‘Cemetery Gates’ thing,” the co-founder acknowledges. “It was the first time that Matt had actually properly sung, so that was an area where we thought ’Why don’t we actually do a song you sing more on?’ Then when Mike passed away we had this clean guitar part that Matt had always been playing for five years maybe, but we never saw ourselves as a band that would do a ballad-y, clean song. As soon as Mike passed away, it just seemed perfect to use that and we built on it. We couldn’t say what we wanted to in a thousand miles an hour thrash song, basically.”

Father to both Ol and Matt, Tony Drake performs a guest solo on the track. “He took us around to all the original gigs and helped us with gear and stuff like that, and he knew Mike just as well as all of us from day one,” Ol cites. “We just wanted to give him something for him… We asked him if he wanted to do a bit of a solo, and he does the first half of the solo on the track. I already had something written, but it was a bit too complex for his style. He’s much more of a Santana kind of guitarist, so we slowed it down a bit and made it simpler. He just played it, and it worked really well.”

As is the case with ‘In Memoriam’, Evile venture into slightly different areas elsewhere on Five Serpent’s Teeth as well. “Basically, when we finished Infected Nations in 2009 we just started writing the third album straight away so there were two years of constant writing,” the guitarist reveals. “There was a lot of touring to do, and we were in America for about five months. We had a laptop with us travelling around in the van, and tried to record stuff. We then just got to the studio, and spent about six weeks there with Russ Russell in Parlour Studios.

Ol Drake

“In a way, we wanted this to just be another all heavy metal album. Obviously there’s a lot of thrash in it, but with songs like ‘Cult’ we just wanted to slow things down a bit without it being slowed down too much where it’s just not interesting. We wanted to keep the aggression and the thrashy approach. ‘Cult’ was an experiment in writing something a bit more straightforward while still aggressive, so we were just trying different things without straying too far away from what we were playing. With ‘Xaraya’ we tried a lot more big, epic guitar harmonies, and fuller, heavier riffs. My favourite’s got to be that track because it sums up us in a way. A lot of it is just big riffs, a bit of flashy stuff in there and just a lot of melodies and big guitar harmonies because I’m a big fan of doing three-part guitar harmonies like Brian May of Queen stuff. That was a big experiment, that song. We were so happy with how it came out, so that’s definitely one of my favourites. We were just trying different speeds and feels really though, all while staying heavy metal.”

Based in Kettering, Northamptonshire, Parlour Studios was also the recording location for Infected Nations, Infected Nations and Five Serpent’s Teeth boasting Russ Russell in the production chair. “He’s just perfect for what we need,” Ol exclaims. “He knows exactly what we want, and we just felt really comfortable with him. On the last album we were friends but we didn’t know each other overly well, and this time around we knew each other really well. No-one held back on saying something was crap, so it was a really productive time and we just get on with him really well. That’s what we need right now, so he’s just perfect for us.”

Enter The Grave had been produced by Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica / Rainbow / Blind Guardian / Morbid Angel / Artillery) at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, though Russ’ English base is more advantageous. “That’s another factor,” the axeman admits. “It was great working with Flemming and he’s a great producer, but we have to travel to Denmark for him to produce. It’s time you could be spending at home, and working with Russ still has that sense of being in the UK. It’s just a bit more comfortable.”

As Ol stated, Five Serpent’s Teeth doesn’t stray too far away from the type of material Evile performed on Enter The Grave and Infected Nations. “In a way they have similar aspects I think, because we purposely wanted to revisit the approach of Enter The Grave,” he concurs. “We realised when we play live that a lot of people reacted better to the Enter The Grave material, and we just wanted to sit back and figure out why and how. We spent a lot of time just concentrating on the riffs and the vocal lines, and just trying to be not too technical about things and just get straight to the point really.”

Five Serpent’s Teeth’s title is taken from the novel The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. “I haven’t read the book myself, but it’s Matt’s concept taken from the book,” the co-founder mentions. “The apostrophe is in the correct place, because if you read the book in context I don’t think it’s technically about serpents. Matt’s quite guarded on the meaning because he doesn’t want to give too much away.”

Of the album’s tracks, ‘Eternal Empire’ is the most resemblant of Enter The Grave’s offerings. “‘Eternal Empire’ was an experiment in trying the approach of the first album,” Ol concedes. “From playing some of the gigs, we realised what kinds of things our fans like and how they react to the songs on the first album and how they don’t react to certain songs on the second one. That’s how that song was created. We just thought ‘If we were writing this song on the first album, what would it be like?’, and we just adapted that to how we write songs now. It came out really well, I think. It sounds like it could be on the first album.”

Enter The Grave was a colossal opening statement, one that some groups would find difficult to outperform. “I think it would be pointless trying to top something,” the guitarist reflects. “If Metallica tried to do another Master Of Puppets, it’d just sound forced and odd. I don’t think we concentrate on trying to do a better album. We just do the best we can, and hopefully it’ll be good. I know with the second album, we wanted it to be a bit different than Enter The Grave. Maybe we went a bit too far with the experimental side, but from doing that we learnt a lot of what we should and shouldn’t do on this one. I’m glad we made the second album, so we could learn from it for the third one.”

Matt’s slightly different vocal sound was an area of discussion at the time that second album was issued. “He blew his voice out on Enter The Grave, because when we toured it he basically couldn’t talk,” Ol discloses. “If we played a gig, he’d come off stage and his throat would literally be killing him and he just couldn’t speak. He wanted to learn how to sing healthily but he couldn’t afford all the lessons (laughs), so he only learnt how to breath to keep his voice in check. He didn’t learn how to empower his voice or how to better his voice, so his vocals on the second one were him singing just like on the first one but with better breathing. It had kind of a weird tone to it because of that, but this time around he really wanted to learn how to breath and empower his voice as well. It’s opened up his voice a lot more on this one, which is what he wanted.”

Evile (l-r): Ben Carter, Matt Drake, Ol Drake and Joel Graham

Composing his lead parts, the axeman doesn’t have a secret formula to hand. “I never really think about how I write; I just sit down with the solo section, and just jam constantly until I find something I like,” he affirms. “I prefer a solo having a melody to it as well as being a metal / thrash solo, so I don’t wanna be playing a million miles an hour all the time. I want some kind of memorable quality to it. I’m a big fan of guys like Slash and the fact that what guys like him play can stay in your head forever, and I just wanted that element of memorableness – if that’s a word (laughs).”

“I’ve winged a few, but just because I couldn’t get something I like,” Ol continues. “Mostly I’ll loop the solo section though, and I’ll just jam anything I can think of solo-wise until something really clicks. I’ll get the opening bit of it, and then I’ll loop it while opening it with what I just wrote. I’ll just build on that until I get a really comfortable story – a musical line, in a way. It takes awhile. I just have to play along as much I can until I get comfortable really.”

American comedian Brian Posehn supplies backing vocals to ‘Cult’. “I knew he was a fan of Enter The Grave, but he liked the second one a bit more because he felt it wasn’t as derivative of classic thrash,” the co-founder recalls. “This time around though I was just emailing him, because he came to a show of ours in Hollywood. We were gonna play ‘Creeping Death’ and he was gonna sing with us, but it just never happened. Then we were just talking through email. I said ‘We’re in the studio right now, so do you wanna do some backing vocals?’ He just sent a file over shouting the word ‘cult’ for the song ‘Cult’, and we just put that file in there. I think there’s a few sneaky other words that sound like ‘cult’ with Brian’s voice in there.”

Brazilian artist Gustavo Sazes designed the cover artwork for Five Serpent’s Teeth, his expansive portfolio including names like Arch Enemy, Firewind, God Forbid, and Manowar, among others. “We tried so many people for the art, and it just never clicked,” Ol laments. “It didn’t work. We didn’t want a typical, epic metal cover for this one because we felt it didn’t sound like it called for that, so we wanted something a bit more design-oriented. Just a single image that we could associate the album with. We saw a Morbid Angel album cover that he did, and we just thought ‘That looks like the kind of stuff we want.’ We just got in touch with him and he sent a brief through, and it was perfect. It was exactly what we wanted. We just found him through that Morbid Angel cover really.”

Made available from December 16th, 2009, Metal Hammer’s 200th issue was the magazine in question to include a covermount CD paying tribute to late Pantera guitarist ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott, the covermount including the ‘Cemetery Gates’ cover. Another magazine covermount appearance is forthcoming. “There’s one that we’ve done for a magazine, but we’re not allowed to say what the track is until it’s out,” the guitarist cautions. “It’s very interesting though – it’ll be interesting to see what people think. I know a lot of people will not like it, but I know a lot of people will be interested in it. We were asked, so we said ‘Yeah, why not? Let’s try it.’ It’s from a band who aren’t metal. We just did our take on it, turned it into a metal song, and based it in the style of Evile. People who’ve heard it have said ‘How have you turned that into something you’d do?’ We changed the structure slightly to make it more metal, but if you didn’t know the original song it just sounds like us playing a song we’ve written, or are covering by a metal band. I think it sounds quite natural. I know someone who didn’t know the song said ‘I don’t know the original, but this is awesome.’ That’s a good sign really.”

One cover tune which raised eyebrows was Ol’s rendition of ‘Born This Way’ by Lady Gaga, uploaded to YouTube on July 2nd. “It was just me having a laugh with myself, really,” he chuckles. “I admire her a lot for just the way she doesn’t give a crap about what anyone thinks, and in a sense I thought that was quite metal of her. I thought ‘Why don’t I just do a metal version of one of her songs?’, and I found a vocal track of her but without the music. I just had the idea of putting some riffs to it. It was just an experiment for myself really, and then I thought ‘Sod it. Why don’t I just put it on YouTube and see what happens?’ I got everything from praise to death threats (laughs). It was quite interesting.

“The band is 24 hours a day for me most of the time, and when I’ve got some spare time I just wanna have a bit of fun. That’s just my fun, and it’s still on the guitar. I just wanna experiment with different stuff, and post it online if it’s good enough so to speak.”

Outside of Evile, the axeman guested on several tracks included on Destruction’s February 2011 album Day Of Reckoning, the Germans being a band that Mike particularly enjoyed. “I filled in for Mike Sifringer when he broke his hand, so I played one show in Portugal with them,” he recollects. “Then after Mike died, they dedicated their Damnation appearance to him so I got up and played a few songs for that. They just emailed me, and said ‘Hey, do you wanna come over and do some solos on our new album?’ I obviously said yes, so I flew over, entered the studio, and started laying down some solos. We covered ‘Stand Up And Shout’ as well by Dio – I did the solos on that. It was just amazing because they’re one of my favourite bands, so it was just mind-blowing really.”

Listeners who dismiss Evile generally tend to call the outfit derivative. “Not overly,” Ol responds, queried as to whether such criticism irritates him. “We’re obviously influenced by the classic thrash bands and everything, but if you don’t like just don’t listen to it. We’re only writing songs from what we listened to while growing up, and we’re not stealing or trying to sound like them. That’s the style of music. Classical music has been around for hundreds of years, and you don’t have to have been there then to be cool. I like a lot of classical, but I wasn’t there. That doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to listen to it though (laughs).”

The nucleus of Evile is arguably Ol and brother Matt, though brothers can either be the greatest of friends or argue like the Gallagher brothers (Liam and Noel) of Oasis fame. “I think it’s a bit in-between,” Ol reckons. “We actually genuinely like each other, so we’re never gonna be like Oasis. We just had a great upbringing and we genuinely like each other, so there’s not gonna be problems. The only thing we really argue about is bits of a song; he’ll want a riff somewhere, and I’ll say ‘It shouldn’t be there – it should be here.’ We’ll argue for ages, and then we’ll resolve it. That’s the only arguments we have really, so we get on quite well.”

Five Serpent’s Teeth was released in Europe on September 26th, 2011 and in North America on October 18th, all through Earache Records.

Interview published in September 2011.

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