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LAZARUS A.D. – The Strong Prevail
Anthony Morgan
February 2011

Lazarus A.D. (l-r): Alex Lackner, Jeff Paulick,
Ryan Shutler and Dan Gapen
Pic: Stephen Jensen

Cyclical in nature much like other music subgenres, thrash metal’s mid noughties resurgence – particularly championed by Nottingham’s Earache Records whose stable includes the likes of Evile, Gama Bomb, Municipal Waste and Bonded By Blood – can arguably be divided into two camps; the traditionalists (who attempt to mimic the sounds of thrash pioneers) and the modernists (whose goal is to update the thrash template).

Lazarus A.D. has no qualms about swearing allegiance towards one school of thought. “If they wanna throw us in with the thrash revival, then whatever,” asserts vocalist Jeff Paulick. “We’re not worried about classification. We’re not worried about what people think. We’re gonna write music that we wanna write, and in the way that we wanna write it. I don’t really think we fit in with a lot of those other bands. I think that we’re like bands like Revocation and Sylosis who obviously have thrash influences, but there’s something new, there’s something fresh. They’re not like some of these other bands who are just total straight rip-offs who wear the denim jackets and high-tops and patches, and they get up onstage and they sound like fuckin’ Zetro Souza incarnate. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We don’t wear jeans, jackets and patches and stuff like that, or headbands or any of that crap. We try to look a little modern, we try to put on a really good show, and we try to bring it into the next decade. We’re trying to bring the metal genre forward and we’re trying to be the top act in it. That’s really what we’re looking to do, and hopefully we can continue to do it so we can get to that point.”

Formed during 2005’s spring in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Lazarus A.D.’s personnel consists of; Paulick (lead vocals / bass), Dan Gapen (vocals / guitars), Alex Lackner (guitars) and Ryan Shutler (drums). “We formed in 2005 back when we were still juniors in high school,” the frontman confirms. “We got some tunes together. I had jammed with the drummer and the guitarist for a couple of years already in previous bands, and then we decided to form this and go in a little bit of a heavier and faster direction than we were previously exploring. We picked up Alex about a half a year into writing, and it’s been the same line-up ever since. We just played a bunch of shows locally and did a little bit of national stuff before we were signed and what not. We appeared on the Thrashing Like A Maniac compilation which really opened up everything as far as being signed and what not. We recorded The Onslaught before that in 2007, and then several months later we appeared on the compilation, and then Metal Blade signed us a couple of months after that in 2008. We then re-released The Onslaught in 2009, touring with Testament and Amon Amarth. We played in Japan, which was great. We’ve just been looking forward ever since, really trying to move forward with our musical careers.”

The outfit’s moniker is lifted from Lazarus Of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus Of The Four Days, the subject of a miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel Of John. “Lazarus is a name from the Bible, a character who was raised from the dead by Jesus,” Jeff elaborates. “We’re not a Christian band or anything, but I guess it was a cool name to us. It has a Z in the name which a lot of bands don’t have, so that sets us apart. Also, the idea of being raised from the dead has some meaning behind it; we were trying to resurrect a style of music that wasn’t really popular at that time, and just tried to have an old school vibe and yet bring it into the modern times. At that time when we named the band that was how it was referred to, but now it’s taken on a whole different meaning I guess, especially with adding the A.D. to avoid being sued and all that crap. It’s just a name that stuck out to us though.”

The Onslaught

Cut in January 2007, inaugural full-length The Onslaught was recorded and engineered by Chris Djuricic (whose CV boasts names like Michael Angelo Batio and Soil) at Racine, Wisconsin’s Studio One and mastered by erstwhile Death and Testament guitarist James Murphy. “It was recorded quick,” the bassist remembers. “It was my first year in college, and I remember we booked recording time in-between my semesters – I had a few weeks off in the winter. We recorded the album at the beginning of January 2007, recording the whole thing in ten days. We had the material already written, ready to go, and we had done for awhile. We just weren’t sure if we were gonna do it ourselves, or if we wanted to go professional. We decided to go professional to get a good quality record. It was a very fast ten days, and a very positive learning curve. Yeah, it was good but it was a long time ago. I can remember just recording the album so fast, but it turned out great. We were very happy with the album.”

Metal Blade Records re-released The Onslaught in March 2009 arguably on the strength of ‘Last Breath’’s appearance on Earache’s aforementioned Thrashing Like A Maniac compilation, released in Europe on January 21st, 2008 and in the US on February 5th. A music career proper seemed more viable at this juncture, but still it came at the price of education. “I was the only one who was going to school,” Jeff clarifies. “I dropped out in my second year right after the Thrashing Like A Maniac compilation came out because we were starting to get so many calls about being signed and what not. I realised that it wasn’t any longer my dream, but it was just about to happen.”

The Onslaught was a successful outing, though sophomore affair Black Rivers Flow wasn’t penned in the hope of imitating its musical stylings. “This one is a lot different, and we’re much older now,” the thrasher stresses. “Like I said, we were 17 when we wrote The Onslaught. We’re a much more mature band; we’re more mature in our personal lives and everything, and we really wanted to make sure that these songs were gonna stand out on this record. We didn’t wanna write another Onslaught, a bunch of thrash songs with really fast, cool riffs. We really wanted to show people that we’re capable of doing something else in the metal genre.

“We really focused on the structure of songs, making sure that they’re actual songs; in other words, a verse and then a chorus you can remember, catchy vocal lines, and catchy solos. As far as the writing process, overall it was the same. We really focus on making sure that all the riffs are as good as they can possibly be, and it’s pieced together in a way that it’s gonna make the song have the best point. We wrote the majority of this record in ten weeks, and we went through a lot of grief in our lives; we had a couple of family members die during that process and during the recording process and what not, so they were very hard obstacles for us to get over personally. We met a lot of challenges, but we overcame all of them and we feel like we have an incredibly strong record.”

Were those challenges reflected in Black Rivers Flow’s lyrical content Jeff? “Yeah, some of them. There isn’t a direct reference where I’m talking about what happened, but I’d definitely say there’s a vibe on the record which reflects personal struggles and how to overcome them. One of the songs – ‘Casting Forward’ – is directly linked to dealing with somebody dying and stuff like that. Moreso in the music I guess it came out – we really focused on the music. As far as lyrics, we thought ‘Whatever.’ We were still somehow able to write really good riffs even going through what we were going through. I was very happy with how it turned out.”

The difficult second album is a much hyped issue in the annals of music, but composing a successor to The Onslaught wasn’t a problem for Lazarus A.D. “With a lot of people obviously, their second records do really fall short of their first ones if their first ones are the one that broke them out, that people love,” the singer explains. “We didn’t really wanna focus on that; we just wanted to focus on writing a good record in a different way because we knew that we wouldn’t be able to top The Onslaught in terms of the way that it was done. It was a period in our lives that’ll never be there again, and we had a mindset then that we’ll never have again – it was just a special time and place for that record. What we wanted to do with this one was have a special time and place for this record. I think that’s how every record should be. If you’re trying to sound like something then it isn’t honest music.

“We wrote whatever came out and we used what we had – we didn’t say ‘I wanna write a thrash song, and this is how it’s gonna be.’ The riffs came out, and Black Rivers Flow is how they were arranged together in that time period. I think it’s very important to capture something like that, especially a lot of the solos and stuff like that – a lot of them are improv on the record. It was a time and place and you have to be in that mindset because you’re not gonna have that mindset again two years down the road. When we do the next record, it’s probably gonna sound different again (laughs). I don’t know what it’s gonna sound like. I just know that this is how we do things, and whatever comes out comes out. We don’t like to force riffs because I think a lot of bands do, and it turns out to me very fabricated and very unemotional, and that’s not what we wanted to do. This is a very honest record.”

Jeff Paulick

Thrash obsessives historically have little patience where flexing one’s musical wings is concerned, so the pressure to write blitzkrieg type offensives is usually overwhelming. “People label us as a thrash band, but I don’t think we ever… I mean, yeah, we had that ‘Thrash or die’ label at that time, especially with The Onslaught which was a very fast record,” acknowledges Jeff. “As far as thrashing though, you can thrash to any type of metal. I never thought we were a straight Metallica / Slayer tribute band or anything like that. I really thought we had a different sound, even though our stuff was very fast on the first record and now with the second, people are really gonna understand that we aren’t that thrash band or whatever. We’re just a straightforward metal band. You can classify us however you want, but I’m gonna play rock’n’roll. That’s what we’re looking to do; we’re looking to write good songs and put on a killer show, and play. We do have distorted guitars and a double-bass kit, but I don’t know what people constitute as metal these days because everybody’s got an opinion, and everybody seems to know exactly what the hell they’re talking about. I’d like to think that we’re heavy metal (laughs). That’s what we’re gonna continue to play. Whether people wanna say we’re thrash or we’re groove or we’re core or we’re this or we’re that, put your label on us because I really don’t care. I’m gonna come out and put the same show on every night.”

Since the material penned in support of The Onslaught was written while the quartet attended high school, it’d be understandable for fans to merely assume that Lazarus A.D. is also informed by newer influences nowadays. It’s safer to assume nothing, however. “I guess the influences for Black Rivers Flow wouldn’t even really be fresh influences – we were just delving back into some different stuff,” the bassist discloses. “With the first record, I can definitely tell you that we were listening to a lot of Exodus, a lot of Testament, a lot of Metallica, Pantera and what not. We still listen to a lot of Metallica and Pantera and we always will, but I know we were definitely going through a classic rock phase towards the end of the Kreator tour and while we were writing this record, just focusing on bands like Bad Company and Creedence Clearwater Revival and groups like that. Very stripped down Southern classic rock.

“It’s just awesome, you know what I mean? We took some of those influences I guess into this record as far as the songwriting structures. Obviously, this is not a classic rock album. It’s a very heavy metal record, but I guess just the idea of those big songs that you love to sing along to and you can never forget, and every time they come on the radio you just turn it up and all your friends start banging their heads – that’s what we wanted to do, but in a heavier vein. That’s what Pantera did, so I guess there is a lot more of a Pantera influence as far as that goes and people can hear that. I don’t mind being compared to Pantera, nor do I mind being compared to Metallica. Those are the two greatest metal bands to ever exist, so if they’re gonna compare us to them. I’m okay with that.”

Pantera’s influence is certainly audible, especially on lead album track ‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’; towards its conclusion, the main riff of ‘Walk’ (from February 1992’s Vulgar Display Of Power) enters the fray. “The riff you’re referring to is the chorus riff, so I know which part you’re talking about,” Jeff corroborates. “‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’’s chorus riff doesn’t sound like ‘Walk’ at all, but then towards the end of the song we changed the chorus riff to give it a little bit more feel and it ended up sounding a lot like ‘Walk.’ I guess we didn’t even really realise until after the album was finished, and by then we thought ‘Oh well, it’s too late to change that now.’ It’s still cool though. If people say ‘Oh my God, that’s a rip-off of ‘Walk’,’ it’s not; it’s only the last half a minute of the song, so it’s more of a homage or whatever. It is what it is.”

Lazarus A.D. (l-r): Ryan Shutler, Alex Lackner,
Jeff Paulick and Dan Gapen
Pic: Stephen Jensen

The vocal department on Black Rivers Flow has a greater synergy, the chemistry between Jeff and Dan generating better vocal co-ordination. “We use this phrase a lot because we watch a lot of American football back home, in that the teams say they always play to their strengths,” the frontman illuminates. “I thought that’s what we did on this record. When we did the first one, I didn’t even wanna sing. When we first started the band, I didn’t wanna be the singer; we wanted to have a stand-alone singer, but we just couldn’t find anybody in our area who could do anything remotely as good as we’re doing. So we just stuck with it, and we knew for the second record that we wanted to get Dan more involved because he does have a really good voice. We don’t have a stand-alone singer, so we’ve gotta set ourselves apart even farther than just having a very monotonous sound in terms of the vocals. That’s where I really stepped up as far as how I diversified the screams and the singing. Dan then comes in and does his singing as well, so you really get a very fresh and very diverse vocal approach and I think it really adds to the entire record. The record is already very diverse in itself, and then when you get all the vocals the songs don’t become stale. You keep wanting to listen to them. We definitely knew that we wanted to get Dan more involved, and we did, and I’m sure that in the future we’re gonna get him even more involved.”

Jeff’s initial reluctance to handle vocals could lead to rumours he wishes to step away from the microphone to concentrate on bass, a line-up change the man would be open to under the right circumstances. “That may be a possibility. If we did meet somebody who was absolutely amazing and felt like he would be a good fit in the band and had the image and so on, I would never be opposed to actually having a full-on singer. Obviously, the approach to the music would be much different and you would definitely get a different Lazarus because that’s adding a fifth member. Like I said though, if that opportunity ever came I would definitely not be opposed to it, but who knows if it ever would? Who knows? Maybe the first few records we do without a real singer or whatever may not even be the whole picture. I don’t know though. Who knows if that’ll ever happen?”

Chris Djuricic returned for Black Rivers Flow, but on this occasion recording happened at Racine’s Belle City Sound. “He was definitely mostly an engineer,” the singer reveals. “He did especially help produce a lot of the vocals, I will say that. Song structures and things like that we pretty much already had in the bag. A couple of things here and there he helped us with, but a lot of the vocals he helped produce and not even so much telling us what to do – just trying to drag some stuff out of us. This was new territory for us as far as exploring vocals go, and it was a good experience for us. We gained a lot of confidence after hearing how it turned out in what we were able to do, especially during the times that we were doing it. Overall, it was just a great experience. He did our first record as well, so we’re very comfortable with him. He’s a really good dude, and he has a really good ear.”

Lazarus A.D. favours engineers, producers being regarding with an air of suspicion. “Dan’s really against producers and things like that,” Jeff admits. “Me and Dan produce everything pretty much; we really have a good chemistry – kinda Lennon / McCartney style if you will – and that’s what we like to do. That’s just what works for us. I’m not opposed to having a producer come in and try to give me some ideas, but when a guy starts telling me what to do and starts changing things too much, that’s when heads start to clash. I think there are some really, really great producers out there. I read a biography of Rick Rubin a few weeks ago, and there’s a guy who just totally has such a weird approach to producing, but yet he just pulls these things out of you that you didn’t even know you had. There are other producers who have that ability, and I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to working with somebody like that who definitely sees what we’re trying to go for and just really pulls things out of musicians rather than telling them what to do.”

Black Rivers Flow

Another gentleman makes a return appearance on Black Rivers Flow: James Murphy. “He nailed it this time,” the bassist maintains. “The Onslaught was already recorded, and we just sent it to him to get it remixed. This time, we already knew he was going to mix it so during the recording process, we were working with him a little bit. Chris did a really great job of tracking it; we got some amazing guitar tones that were all out of our EVH Heads which just sounded absolutely killer, so when it came down to the mix, James just made it sound better than the last one. There’s no question; the drums sound better, the vocals – everything sounds better. He killed, so we’re in love with the mix. To be able to work with him, and with him being such a legend in his own right… He really loves the band and he loves working with us, so it’s a great relationship.”

Black Rivers Flow was released on January 31st, 2011 in Europe and on February 1st in North America, all through Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in February 2011

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