Interview with vocalist and guitarist Rob Urbinati
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 16, 2013
The 80's underground Metal scene produced many Speed and Thrash Metal albums that are considered classics nowadays. It was the heyday for the bands that paved the way for the "extreme" forms of Metal that were to come. Albums like Hell Awaits by Slayer, Ride the Lightning by Metallica, Darkness Descends by Dark Angel, The Ultra-Violence by Death Angel, Bonded by Blood by Exodus, Pleasure to Kill by Kreator and Agent Orange by Sodom were cornerstones of the whole Speed/Thrash Metal genre.
An album that I count among those classics is Forward to Termination, the second full-length from Canada's Sacrifice, originally released on Diabolic Force/Fringe Product. It was the album that spread Sacrifice's name around the world and lifted them to the next level of success. It even caught the attention of Slayer and opened the door for Sacrifice to open for the California Thrashers on the Reign in Blood tour in Toronto, Canada, back in 1987.
1987 was the year Forward to Termination was released, 25 years ago. To celebrate the birth of one of the finest and most carefully composed Thrash Metal albums ever, The Metal Crypt decided to contact one of the founding members of this Canadian cult Thrash Metal act, vocalist and guitarist Rob Urbinati, and ask him for his memories and thoughts about that landmark album.
Luxi: I am sitting in my bedroom listening to something that opened my ears to the Canadian Thrash Metal act Sacrifice. I am, of course, talking about the band's second, groundbreaking album, Forward to Termination. It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since it was released. Do you still return to that record every now and then, for nostalgia's sake?
Rob: Listening to it; not much. I have it on my phone, so once in a while a song will come up on shuffle, but I usually skip my own stuff. Sometimes I will pull the record out and look at the cover or the inner sleeve and that gives me more nostalgia than anything. Something about that back cover really takes me back in time.
Luxi: If we take a journey back to the days when you were putting songs together for Forward to Termination, was there was much pressure on you? As good as your debut album, Torment in Fire, was, and I am sure it opened doors for Sacrifice, undoubtedly your main goal was to make Forward to Termination even better, correct?
Rob: There wasn't all that much pressure on us, other than the pressure we put on ourselves. When we wrote the last couple of songs for Torment in Fire, it seemed that we were finally finding our sound. By this time, we were much better on our instruments, and we weren't afraid to reach back a bit further for our influences. As a band, we realized that if we didn't play fast ALL the time, the slower parts could set up the fast parts to add even more intensity. Sacrifice didn't think too much about writing. We didn't have band meetings to discuss our direction. It just came out of us and was one of those records where the whole band was on the same page, musically.
Luxi: When Sacrifice's debut album, Torment in Fire, came out in 1986, people compared it to Slayer, going as far as saying that Sacrifice was Canada's Slayer. Did you try to avoid that sort of comparison by coming up with something new on Forward to Termination?
Rob: Yes and no. It's kind of flattering to hear that, but at the same time we did want to establish our own identity. I remember when Reign In Blood came out people were telling me that they stole "Infernal Visions" in "Raining Blood" but I never thought that was the case. We were influenced a lot by them back then.
Luxi: Would you say the musical growth that you made from the debut to Forward to Termination was fairly astronomical in terms of how the music was more mature sounding and idea-rich?
Rob: The band just started to unlock the secrets of songwriting, which really just comes down to keeping the listeners' attention. Our creativity was out of control then; everything was new to us and every riff seemed like it was "Smoke on the Water." We had finally reached a point where each of us felt very comfortable with our instruments and all knew where the others were going. When you're in a band with chemistry like that, you take it for granted.
Luxi: When you entered the Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton in February 1987, were there more than the 10 songs that ultimately appeared on Forward to Termination written, or did you just focus on those 10 and make them as good as possible?
Rob: When we entered the studio, the band was more than ready. It was just the 10 songs, rehearsed to the point we could play them blindfolded. I think we might have done a few takes of the same songs, but that was it.
Luxi: What can you remember from the actual recording session of Forward to Termination at Grand Avenue Studio? Was it a nerve-wracking recording session or did everything go the way you hoped?
Rob: We were still very young, maybe 19 or so. There wasn't much pressure, but I do remember when we finish the bed tracks, it didn't seem like it was sounding right to us. The engineer did a quick rough mix and we listened to it in Scott's car and that was when it sunk in that we were making something special. I remember it being our first time in a real studio and working very hard. It was frustrating, fun, difficult and tiring, but I have always loved being in the studio. After all the hard work, at the end, you have something that you really take pride in.
Luxi: Forward to Termination contains the nearly 8-minute epic Thrash Metal song "Flames of Armageddon." How was it to work with such a lengthy, multi-layered track back then? According to the song credits, it was Joe, Scott and you who put this brilliant song together, correct?
Rob: Influenced by Mercyful Fate and Rush, this song was something different for us. It was very hard to write and get all the parts down, but it was great to finally hear it in the studio and add some effects to it.
Luxi: Epic and lengthy Thrash Metal songs had been written before "Flames of Armageddon." Dark Angel did "Black Prophecies" for their Dark Descends album in 1986, Onslaught wrote "Flame of the Antichrist" for The Force, also in 1986 and, of course, everyone remembers Slayer's titanic and epic Thrash song "Hell Awaits" from their second album in 1985. Did any of those songs inspire Sacrifice to do something similar for Forward to Termination; writing such a creepy and haunting song that sends cold shivers down peoples' spines?
Rob: If anything, I would say "Satan's Fall" by Mercyful Fate or "La Villa Strangiato" by Rush had the most influence in writing this. Of course, horror movies were inspiring to us as well. "The Omen" movies provided the initial lyrical ideas for this one. By this time we had developed our own path and did not want any other Thrash bands' influence to creep into our sound.
Luxi: Did Forward to Termination turn out the way you wanted, musically and lyrically?
Rob: Honestly, the whole album came very naturally to us. Sometimes we might have said "let's slow down a bit on this song" or "this would be a good album opener" but we all felt that it was the best Sacrifice could offer and felt like it could compete with any band out there.
Luxi: Guys like Brian Taylor, Bob Doigge and Roman Zak teamed up with Sacrifice to work on the technical side of Forward to Termination. What was it like to work with them and how much leeway did you give them to make decisions about the technical aspects of the album? Were there any disagreements?
Rob: We had worked with Brian Taylor a few times by then and he was very close to the band. He knew exactly what we wanted to do. I don't think the studio engineers had ever heard anything even close to what we were doing. You have to understand what this sounded like then; this was the heaviest music on the planet and was kind of shocking for people. Brian was great at translating what we were after to the studio staff and by the end of it, they were seasoned Thrash Metal pros.
Luxi: Opposite the lyrics, on the inner album sleeve, there are all kinds of band photos and stuff. Would you mind sharing a few (funny) memories associated with these B&W pictures? Who is this one lady shown in the bottom of the album inner jacket, posing together with you guys? Is it Madonna? Looks a bit like her anyway...
Rob: Unfortunately for me that was not Madonna, Luxi. That was our old road manager Jill. At the centre top, that was us with old friends Soothsayer. A couple over from that is hard to tell but I think it's us with Reed from C.O.C., who was really cool to us back then. Halfway down the page, on the left, the guy with the mic is Brian Taylor our producer, who did a Discharge song with us, live. Brian used to front a Hardcore band called Youth Youth Youth.
Luxi: When the final product was in your hands and could be found in stores around the world, did you feel that you had accomplished something "big" with Forward to Termination that would be remembered for many years to come?
Rob: In those days no one really thought past the year 2000, so I had no idea that in 2013 people would consider this a "classic" Thrash Metal release. At the time though, we did feel like we had accomplished something. I remember walking around Toronto and there would be Sacrifice t-shirts everywhere. To finally hold the record in our hands was an amazing feeling. CDs kind of cheapened that feeling. To have a record out then, that was majestic. It's a shame that bands today will never know the feeling of walking into record stores and seeing their product on the front rack, or seeing a window display of their album. I don't mean a little CD case, but a 12 x 12 sleeve occupying a rack space that was yours staring you in the face.
Luxi: There was a video shot for "Re-animation," which was done in the apartment of Diabolic Force head Brian Taylor. The video looks like it was done on a very low budget (with good reason, I am sure). Do you remember why you ended up shooting at Brian's home? Despite the budget, this video helped spread the Sacrifice name a lot, right?
Rob: The original location was supposed to be a church and maybe they found out what kind of music we played, so it ended up being shot at Brian's very large apartment. The look was black and white, no nonsense. All the videos coming out were flashy commercials trying to sell bands. We came out looking underground as hell. Very few Thrash bands had videos out at that time so we didn't expect to get any airplay. We were very wrong. It ended up being the theme for the Metal show and getting played pretty much daily in regular rotation. It definitely helped us to tour Canada, every Metal fan in the country stood behind us and Razor 100%.
Luxi: The cover artwork for Forward to Termination was done by David McGregor. It is pretty strange and bizarre cover, indeed, so I was wondering whether the artwork was all David's idea or did you give him some ideas of what you wanted the cover of Forward to Termination to look like?
Rob: We didn't have any input for the cover. We had a title and some stupid ideas so we left it to the artist. The original artwork may not exist anymore, which is a shame. Fringe Product in Canada took a few elements from the cover and put them together. They felt it lost too much detail when shrunk down to album cover size. It would be amazing to re-release the album with the original artwork, but sadly, this will most likely not happen. The last time I saw it was 25 years ago.
Luxi: What are some of those most memorable stories from the days of Forward to Termination that have stuck in your mind after all these years? Can you share any trivia with Sacrifice fans about Forward to Termination that they may not have heard before?
Rob: Right before the album came out, opening for Slayer on the Reign in Blood tour in Toronto, was pretty cool. Being interviewed on TV for the first time was an also quite an experience. Whenever I think of Sacrifice back then, I always think of the four of us in the back of a van looking through Scott's tape case to find which cassette was going in next. Rush, Sabbath, Exodus, Boston, Slayer, SOD, A.O.D., Satan, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, Discharge, D.R.I., Venom, Deep Purple, Maiden, Priest, Ostrogoth, Torch, Metal Church...
Luxi: After 25 years, is it easy to look back and say you obviously did something right on Forward to Termination which you can be proud of after all these years? There is no argument about the fact that Forward to Termination is one of the most important Canadian Thrash Metal albums of all time, and even one of the most cleverly and carefully penned albums in all of Thrash Metal. How well has Forward to Termination stood the test of time?
Rob: I would say Forward to Termination has been the best of our albums at standing the test of time. The riffs and the speed have not lost any intensity over the years. This is real Thrash Metal, something that can never be duplicated. For me, albums like Darkness Descends, Hell Awaits, Seven Churches, Executioners Song, Strappado, Raging Violence and Forward to Termination are real Thrash Metal, something that can never be duplicated.
Luxi: Thank you so much for doing this very interesting chat about the 25th anniversary of Forward to Termination for The Metal Crypt, Rob. Don't ever stop being proud of that accomplishment in your musical career because after another 25 years (if this world still exists) the Forward to Termination album will undoubtedly be in the heavy rotation of a whole new Thrash generation. Any last comments, perhaps?
Rob: Thanks to you my friend Luxi, and thanks to everyone that breathes new life into Thrash Metal.
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