Interview with vocalist Katon W. De Pena
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 15, 2014
California's Hirax started out in 1984, so 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of this legendary Thrash Metal act. Hirax's debut album, Raging Violence, was released on Metal Blade Records in 1985 and became a hugely popular record among Thrash Metal fans. The same can be said of their follow-up record, Hate, Fear and Power, released a year later in 1986, also on Metal Blade.
Since then they have unleashed a number of smaller releases (EPs, split LPs, etc.) on top of three more full-length albums, the fifth and latest being Immortal Legacy, put out by long-running German cult label Steamhammer/SPV.
Immortal Legacy does not compromise the old school Thrash Metal but continues to prove that Hirax is one of the most diverse-sounding combos thus far. Vocalist Katon W. De Pena gives us some insight on this very album as well as Hirax in general, via the following interview with The Metal Crypt...
Luxi: How's it going Katon? Are you as excited as a little kid in a candy store with the release of Hirax's fifth full-length studio album, Immortal Legacy?
Katon: Yes, we are very excited in the HIRAX camp indeed. The anticipation is building for the release of the new album!!! Immortal Legacy is coming...
Luxi: If we could get into the details about this new album, could you kindly tell us what it was like to create it from scratch, from writing to rehearsing and recording?
Katon: The process took about two years in between touring the world and writing the songs. Rehearsals and recording started around 2012. We begun working on ideas and concepts and 90% of the riffs/music were written at my house in Los Angeles, California. Our guitar player, Lance Harrison, and I went through hundreds of guitar riffs before we decided on the ones that would appear on this new record. It was one hell of a process but well worth it. Most of the compositions and arrangements were worked out before we even took them to the rest of the band to start rehearsing. There was a little bit of pressure because we had signed to Steamhammer/SPV Records and we wanted to give them the ultimate THRASH Metal record. I strongly feel that we have accomplished this major feat.
Luxi: You worked with the famous Metal producer Bill Metoyer on this new album. Was he the obvious choice from the start? Do you believe he captured what you were hoping for on Immortal Legacy? Did he surprise you with any clever ideas when you were recording the album at his Skull Seven recording studio in North Hollywood?
Katon: Working with Bill Metoyer is an honor. I have known him since the early days of Metal Blade/Roadrunner Records when he worked with us on the first two HIRAX records (1985's Raging Violence and 1986's Hate Fear and Power) and his work with Slayer, W.A.S.P., Armored Saint, Lizzy Borden, D.R.I, Corrosion of Conformity, Sacred Reich, etc. speaks for itself. For us, he is like the fifth band member. His ears hear things that we cannot hear so he is the perfect producer to help us capture our sound. He totally knew what we wanted the record to sound like and he got it completely right. The production is fucking epic!
Luxi: You also had Jeff Waters and Andy Sneap on your "we-want-to-work-with-this-guy" list as far as producers were concerned. Why did you end up choosing Bill Metoyer?
Katon: We call it the list of three, yes; Jeff Waters from Annihilator, Andy Sneap, who needs no introduction, and the legendary Bill Metoyer. They are all excellent choices, especially for our kind of Thrash Metal, but Bill Metoyer had been out to see us at our last few concerts in Los Angeles. One show was with Armored Saint at the Key Club and the other with the Evildead at the House of Blues in Hollywood, California and he came back and said he would be interested in producing our next album. We accepted his offer because we knew he was the man for the job and he's very familiar with our music. He helped make this album the ultimate HIRAX record.
Luxi: Having listened to Immortal Legacy 5 or 6 times in a row, I can say the album simply oozes 100% old school Thrash. Obviously, you wanted this album to honor Hirax's past Thrash roots as much as possible, with no compromises, right?
Katon: You're absolutely right! Your ears did not deceive you. We wanted to make a record we could be proud of and that our fans could get behind 100% because they deserve it. We chose integrity over compromise and always will remain committed to our THRASH Metal roots. I think that our true die-hard fans know that and we never want to let them down.
Luxi: Are there any specific songs on this new album that stand out as to how well you feel they turned out?
Katon: To be quite honest with you I am proud of the complete album. We worked very hard on all the songs to make them the best that we could. But I leave it up to the people who buy our records to choose the songs they think are the best. That is what really what matters.
Luxi: There are a couple of short instrumental "intro songs" on Immortal Legacy, namely "Earthshaker" and "S.O.W." that both last less than 1 minute. What was your reasoning for them on this record?
Katon: On this record we wanted to give more than just typical songs. We wanted to give our fans some special compositions and show the talent of the musicians in the band. There is also a bass instrumental called "Atlantis (Journey to Atlantis)", which was created by our bass player Steve Harrison. There are some very special things going on in this record which I think will require the listener to really have to pay attention. This is not your normal Thrash Metal record. There is a broad range of musical styles, I think. If you like Jaco Pastorius, Johann Sebastian Bach or Randy Rhoads you can still relate to this record.
Luxi: What about the two bonus tracks that you decided to do for the online and LP versions; "Mephistopheles" for the online version and "Mass Hysteria" for the vinyl version? What was your reasoning for putting those songs on two different versions of Immortal Legacy?
Katon: Those bonus tracks are for the die-hard fans, a little something extra, and they are very strong songs ("Mephistopheles", "Mass Hysteria") so I think the people will love them. 100% pure Metal!!
Luxi: There are a few guests on this new Hirax album; Jim Durkin (Dark Angel), Juan Garcia (Masters of Metal/Evildead) and Rocky George (Suicidal Tendencies/Fishbone) all contribute some guitar shredding. What was the thought behind inviting guest shredders for Immortal Legacy and do you think/hope some of them might join in live if the opportunity presents itself?
Katon: All three of these musicians (Jim, Juan and Rocky) are incredible, so it was a complete pleasure to have them come and play some solos on the record. As far as live playing is concerned, hopefully one day they will be able to join us on stage. It would be an amazing experience and one that I look forward to in the future.
Luxi: The well-known Metal album cover artist Philip Lawvere (Pleasure to Kill by Kreator, Emperor's Return by Celtic Frost, etc.) did the cover artwork for Immortal Legacy. How did you get in touch with him? Did you give him some ideas about what you wanted this album cover to be like (in a way, it reminds me a bit of some old Molly Hatchet and Nazareth album covers)? It's been said that this is Philip's very first album cover he has done in 25 years since he stopped painting covers back in the day...
Katon: Philip Lawvere contacted me through Facebook and I couldn't believe it. Once I got over the shock that it was him, we began discussing concepts for the cover artwork and he started work on his first oil painting in over 25 years. I'm glad he chose us. I think that it is reminiscent of 1970's and 1980's bands such as Uriah Heap, Molly Hatchet, Budget, Mass, Cirith Ungol, etc. and I think that the artwork fits perfectly in with the concept of Immortal Legacy.
Luxi: Were you also thinking of other artists besides Philip Lawvere and just ended up picking his name out of the pack?
Katon: Not really. I hadn't started thinking about the cover artwork yet because we were still in the earliest stages of the album and I didn't want to jump the gun until I knew exactly what the concept would be. It was just good luck that Philip decided to contact me; perfect timing.
Luxi: Touring wise, you have the first leg of your European tour coming up in April (2014) but undoubtedly that's just a tip of the iceberg as far as gigging plans are concerned, correct? Is there anything else you can reveal about future gigs?
Katon: Yes, after the release of Immortal Legacy we will embark on the biggest tour of our career, playing more cities and countries than ever before including a lot of new places that we've never been to like Russia, Bulgaria, Finland, South-East Asia, Australia, etc. There is going to be a Hirax Thrash Metal explosion.
Luxi: Have you ever thought of doing something similar to the so-called "Triple Teutonic Thrash Tour" when Sodom, Kreator and Destruction teamed up and played a set of shows around Europe in 2001? I mean, how cool would a tour with Hirax, Dark Angel and let's say Destructor, be? Just think about it... ;o)
Katon: We are always open to doing something like that but it is just a matter of timing and tour scheduling. We would love to do package tours with bands that we respect; groups like Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Annihilator, Testament, Exodus, all of the Thrash Metal classics really. It would be amazing for the fans to see!
Luxi: Hirax comes from Los Angeles, California and the Metal scene over there has always been just great. Is it easy for Hirax to get gigs in your hometown nowadays, compared to when Hirax had just released Raging Violence in 1985? Do places like the Whiskey a Go-Go, Troubadour and The Roxy support local Metal bands or are the owners more interested in other music these days?
Katon: Back in 1980's, the early days of the Los Angeles club scene, it was hard to get gigs because the clubs were afraid of our fans and all of the stage diving and slam dancing. Over the years, things changed and now we can get gigs in any of the clubs that we want to play because we draw people and that is really the only thing that matters to the clubs/promoters. All they care about is money. It is funny for me to think that we play the same venues as Steel Panther, Accept and Iced Earth, ha ha ha...!!!
Luxi: Would you ever consider relocating Hirax somewhere else, like a country here in Europe, for example?
Katon: Not really. We love where we come from but we do enjoy Europe very much. The people are fantastic and all of the cultures are very interesting to us. We love to travel but we will always come home to our motherland.
Luxi: Are there certain things that you would still love to achieve in this life? You've hit some highs in your career but you must get hungry again and want to reach even more, right?
Katon: I think, in life, that you always have to strive to reach higher levels. For me, that means creating more albums and doing bigger and better tours and always maintaining the integrity of the music and never selling out. I have no regrets but I want to continue to move forward into the future of the band. I always set my goals very high. I am focused on being a good human and husband and musician. Those are my priorities.
Luxi: What's the secret of Hirax's long existence? Keeping true to yourselves, perhaps?
Katon: Just two words; No compromise...
Luxi: I think that was all for now. Thank you, Katon, for taking some time to do this interview and, in the very same breath, I want to also wish you all the best with your future endeavors with the band. If you have a closing comment, then be my guest... ;o)
Katon: Thanks to you and all the Hirax Metal maniacs around the world for the true Metal support!! After we release our new record, Immortal Legacy, on Steamhammer/SPV Records on March 4th, 2014, we will see all of you on tour. Long live Metal -thrash till death!!!
Please check our official websites for information and updates:
|Other information about Hirax on this site|
|Review: El Rostro de la Muerte|
|Review: Noise Chaos War|
|Video: El Rostro de la Muerte|
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