STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH – Deadly Nightmare
Metal Forces, Issue 15 (1985)
One of the most surprising bands to appear in ’85 was Stormtroopers Of Death. S.O.D. (as they’re better known) was the brainchild of Anthrax’s guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante, with an intention of being the ultimate cross between speed metal and hardcore punk. But the success of the band’s debut album, Speak English Or Die, has also been met with a certain amount of controversy.
Having been released in the US by Megaforce Records, the band had secured a major deal with Island for Canada which meant that MCA would ship the album into Europe for distribution. However, MCA decided to ban the album and then Canadian record stores refused to stock Speak English Or Die because of the French / English speaking problem that exists in Canada. With A&M also putting a ban on the album after seeing the lyrical contents, Speak English Or Die finally made it into the European market thanks to Cees Wessels at Roadrunner Records.
I recently spoke to Scott Ian and vocalist Billy Milano about the controversy, but began by asking how the whole S.O.D. concept came together? Scott: “Well, when we were in the studio finishing off the new Anthrax album back in June, we came up with the Sargent ‘D’ character that’s on the album cover; it was really like a cartoon-type of thing. We had pictures of him hanging up all over the studio with little sayings like ‘Speak English Or Die’ under them etc. And I thought that everyone likes this character so much, why not start writing some songs and make a project out of it; because we knew we would have some time off while we were shopping a deal for the Anthrax album.
“So we started writing music, and I called up Danny Lilker, the old Anthrax bass player, and asked him if he wanted to do it with me and he said, ‘Yeah, great!’. I asked Charlie, our drummer, if he wanted to play on it, and we knew Billy from the New York hardcore scene; hanging out down at CBGB’s from like a year ago. That’s more or less how the four of us came together.
“Me and Danny wrote all the material in the span of about five days while Anthrax were still in the studio. Then once Anthrax was done, we recorded it in just three days.
“It started out as being like a joke kind of thing and it’s ended up being pretty big.”
How serious is S.O.D. as a long term project? Scott: “Well, put it this way: Charlie and I have Anthrax, Danny has Nuclear Assault and Billy has a band called Method Of Destruction, so we all have our first priority projects. But there will always be time for S.O.D., because I don’t think any of us are gonna be at the point yet where we’ll be busy 365 days of the year. I mean, we’re already planning on doing another album to be released in June ’86. So yeah, it’s serious; we have like 16 songs written already for the new album. It’s always gonna stay together because it’s something we all feel pretty strongly about.”
What about playing live gigs? Scott: “We’ve already done about seven gigs so far in the New York / New Jersey area, and turned down a gig with Motörhead at the Ritz, because we wouldn’t open for them. But now S.O.D. will be put on the shelf for a while as Anthrax are now going out on the road.”
Do you anticipate playing any gigs outside the East Coast? Scott: “Oh yeah, definitely. We’ll be going to the West Coast as soon as Anthrax come of the road, whenever that may be?”
I noticed on the album that Charlie played lead guitar on one of the tracks – ‘United Forces’. How did that come about? Scott: “Well obviously his main instrument is the drums, but he’s a pretty good guitar player. We’re gonna have a song on the new album where we all trade instruments; I’ll be playing drums, Charlie’s playing guitar, Billy’s playing bass and Danny’s gonna sing. We’re probably gonna call it The Confused Guys, or something like that (laughter).”
Most metal fans know all about Anthrax and Danny’s band Nuclear Assault. But what about you Billy, what kind of background do you have? You used to be in a band called The Psychos right? “Yeah, I quit – they were terrible. But as Scott said, I’m now in another band called Method Of Destruction. Plus I’m also running a label that’s affiliated with Megaforce Records called Sargent ‘D’ Presents….”
Is that promoting hardcore bands? Billy: “Well, they’re crossover; they’re gonna be like S.O.D. The Crumbsuckers will be the first band on the label.”
Why do you think that there are so many punks getting into metal at the moment, and vice-versa as well? Billy: “Well I think heavy metal is expanding to where it should be expanding, so it’s falling towards hardcore and hardcore is going up towards metal. But the hardcore bands that can’t play are trying to crossover and are just dying… but who cares?”
Is it an aim with S.O.D. to try and unite hardcore and metal as one, instead of the thin line that exists between the two at present? Billy: “S.O.D. is the first crossover band. We play the instruments too… we don’t just bang out noise. We are also like a social political band; we have messages that deal with everything.”
Scott: “I think that the difference between S.O.D. and some of the other bands who claim to be a hardcore / metal crossover, is that lyrically a majority of them just-sing about Satan and all that kinda crap all the time. Whereas with S.O.D., the lyrics really mean something and in each song we try and get something across in it. Like all the new stuff we’re writing is very satirical stuff, really ragging on about what’s going on in the world at the moment.
“We have two new songs – one’s called ‘The Death Metal Thing’ and the other ‘Satan’s Cronies’ – and they’re a total rag on all these garbage death metal bands who can’t even play their instruments; they just bang out a total noise for six minutes and scream about Satan.”
But wouldn’t you say that it’s true too of the hardcore scene, that there are a lot of bands who can’t play either? Scott: “Oh yeah, it’s the same thing. We have songs that deal with the hardcore side too. You see, everyone has an attitude these days. There’s hardcore bands in New York who think that heavy metal is no good and they look at us as rock stars or something – what’s wrong with being a rock star? On the other side, you get the metal fans who go around saying ‘What’s all this punk shit?’. But then you get the people who are into both and that’s why we’re so good; we’re just ragging on the people who don’t understand.”
Many tracks on the S.O.D. album are very short, especially like ‘Hey Gordy!’ (five seconds) and ‘The Ballad Of Jimi Hendrix’ (four seconds). From someone who’s into metal I can’t really see the point of three and four second songs? Billy: “But that’s the whole thing; they’re pointless, so they’re great and fun to do live. We did what we wanted to do and if anyone doesn’t want to listen to three second songs then they can go onto another song on the album. We don’t care!”
Scott: “Yeah, we do one second songs to piss people off purposely, because too many people take things so seriously. But the whole thing with S.O.D. is that we all have a sense of humour.”
You mean a sick sense of humour like on ‘The Ballad Of Jimi Hendrix’? Scott: “Oh, people love that song! When we do that live, we end up doing it five times in a row (grand total of 20 seconds) because people go crazy screaming for us to do again.
“But coming back to the attitude thing: A lot of the punk fanzines like Maximum Rock’N’Roll consider us a fascist band because we called the album Speak English Or Die. But the whole thing is supposed to be taken with a sense of humour. You’re supposed to laugh about it; not accuse us of being Nazis.”
But looking at your lyrics, you seem to be going in two directions. Songs like ‘Fuck The Middle East’ are supposed to be getting over a message, whereas on ‘Speak English Or Die’ you say you’re making a point but you’re not serious about it? Scott: “Well, we are serious about it but it’s still funny. I mean, it’s just everyday life here in New York City; where you come into contact with people who are doing a certain job and should be able to communicate with you, but they can’t even speak English.
“I mean, it is serious and we believe in everything we write, but we don’t really care what people think because Billy is bigger than they are (laughter).”
Personally I do find S.O.D. very humorous, in the same way as I appreciated The Dictators back in the late 70s / early 80s, and I much prefer them lyrically to, say, The Mentors, whose vegetable attitude to sex gives them little scope of lasting beyond one album. However at the same time, I can understand people being offended by the lyrical content of S.O.D., like Jimi Hendrix’s family and of course the French, who with a few exceptions are a fairly sensitive race anyway.
But S.O.D., indeed all forms of music, are there to be enjoyed by the people who like it. If you don’t like it, then don’t listen to it.
As for the future: S.O.D. will have a track ‘Ram It Up’ – which is a cover of a song by German band Inferno – on the forthcoming Megaforce compilation album, From The Megavault.
I also understand that the band may be featured on the soundtrack of A Nightmare On Elm Street 3. The A Nightmare On Elm Street movies have taken the States by storm and feature Freddy Krueger, who’s like modern day Frankenstein or Dracula, whom S.O.D. wrote a song about on their album.
Freddy Krueger is played by actor Robert Englund, who is probably better known by UK audiences at the moment as the wimp reptile Willie in the TV sci-fi series V. Well by all accounts, Robert Englund is a great fan of S.O.D. and has done publicity photos with the band as Freddy Krueger (see our front cover), so S.O.D. appearing on the next A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 soundtrack is a distinct possibility.
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 15 (1985)
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