Interview with bassist Bob Petrosino
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: March 5, 2017
Back in the 1980s when bands started playing faster, harder and meaner and gave rise to what quickly became known as Thrash, the fledgling genre had two distinct "schools" here in the U.S. – East Coast and West Coast. The West Coast was spearheaded by Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer while on the East you had Anthrax, Overkill and Nuclear Assault, to list but a few of the major names. There were countless other bands gigging, demoing, thrashing and many saw only minor, if any, success. One of the East Coast bands was one from Toms River, NJ and went by the name of Oblivion. The guys banged around the scene for several years, flirted with the elusive record deal and finally hung up their instruments in the early 90s.
20 or so years later and in a better climate for REAL Heavy Metal, the band got back together and working with Divebomb Records gathered all their demos into a 2-CD release called Cyclogenesis: Songs for Armageddon that features a lengthy history/interview, photos and just about everything the band ever recorded in a very pro release. Being demos the music varies in quality and after posting my review and sending it to the band, bassist Bob Petrosino took some time to write back and thank me but also shed some light on some other things going on with the band that weren't in the CD packaging. Bob was also open to doing an email interview for The Metal Crypt and I took him up on the offer. Read on to learn more about the REAL Oblivion!
MetalMike: Hey Bob, how are things going in the lovely Garden State of New Jersey these days?
Bob: It's a great state, contrary to popular belief; the beach and the mountains along with NYC are within an hour and the music scene seems to still be decent. Not as good as it used to be but NJ, especially Central Jersey always seems to be a good setting for creativity and original music. Bands like Toothgrinder keep coming out of our soil somehow.
MetalMike: Who were your influences as you were learning to play guitar? What made you decide on bass? Once you were in Oblivion, what bands or types of music did you listen to?
Bob: As a nine year-old I started guitar after listening to Ace Frehely then when I heard Steve Harris in Iron Maiden when I was 12, I switched to playing bass and got more serious about learning songs and music. When Oblivion was going full steam we all listened to thrash and loved Slayer. We had our other influences beyond Thrash; for me it was Hardcore and Death Metal. The bands that stayed in heavy rotation for me were AOD, Nuclear Assault (Danny Lilker is awesome), Crumbsuckers, COC, Agnostic Front, Death, Voor, DRI, Voivod, Hellhammer, etc. along with the thrash staples like Vio-lence, Tankard, Exodus, etc.
MetalMike: There are dozens of bands listed at Metal-Archives under the name "Oblivion" but you say you guys were the first. How did you settle on that name? Were there ever any legal issues with other bands using the name?
Bob: We are the original Oblivion. No other band was using the name prior to our band. The Tampa Bay Power Metal outfit came out about a year after us along with Oblivion Canada. Oblivion Canada were super cool, they sent me a respectful letter that they were changing their name to Obliveon because we had the name before them. I do not think Oblivion Tampa were aware of us and we were not aware of them until a few years later.
As for coming up with the name, it happened before I joined the band and I believe Mike Sica (guitar) came up with the name. He was the driving force writing the music and lyrics in the early years and basically, I think he thought it was a cool name. It actually fits our lyrical content perfectly and has become more than a name for us. We never pursued any legal action over the years. It is not worth the effort. As respectful as Obliveon was in the 80s it is about the opposite from today's bands. I've contacted all of them and asked them to use a different name or another variation, some are cool and a lot of others have actually told me, "we are Oblivion, not Oblivion, so we are different." There are bands that actually note, "we know there are a lot of bands using the name and do not care." Why would you name your band after a band that already exists? I really do not understand it. It's not even a great name; it fits our lyrical content and theme. If bands really do not think it is a big deal, I ask them to change their name to Metallica and see if it is a big deal. I know we are not Metallica and just a small band named Oblivion but it is our name and it is douche for another band to use it, especially when they know we already use it. So, change your name if you are using it, except for the Tampa band; that was just coincidence...sorry about the rant.
MetalMike: No problem, Bob Cyclogenesis: Songs for Armageddon has been released by Divebomb Records and contains a shitload of music, photos, history, etc. from Oblivion. How satisfying is it for you to be able to hold something like that in your hands after so many years?
Bob: I think I can speak for all of the members, when we received that professionally packaged double CD with the 24-page booklet, exceptional cover art and remastered sound quality, we were all really happy. Look, we had offers throughout our history; we were a good band with a good following. We just never accepted the offers. We never had a manager, which was a huge mistake. We tried to do it all ourselves and Divebomb Record's tag is "For the Fans, By the Fans," which is a perfect marriage for us. I do not judge bands on their record deal; I judge them on originality and music. Personally, I think I like every band's demo better than their label releases. The demos are the artists' vision without outside influence, playing what they want to play and how they want to play. Labels begin refining and harnessing bands, even if they do not realize it. It's usually a producer that makes the subtle changes, and then the artwork is chosen by a label representative and so on. At Divebomb, they would not let us re-record one note and only wanted the original sourced content. They asked us to name the CD and Steven Cobb took my idea for the artwork then made it come to life. Therefore, we are extremely proud and happy with it.
MetalMike: After my review came out, you and I talked about the sound the band was going for. Early on, Slayer was a key influence but soon you were off in a different direction and trying to find a more unique sound. What precipitated the change? A desire to be different? Lineup changes?
Bob: The original line-up of Mike Sica, Dave Gutierrez, Santo DiBenedetto and Rich Valeo formed when they were in High School and they simply wrote songs that they liked and it took off with the tape traders. Mike is a huge fan of Slayer's Jeff Hanneman, so speaking for him; it was simple – Slayer rips and Oblivion will rip. The band broke up after the second demo and would have signed with Combat or Roadracer if it could have stayed together. The reason Intention to Kill (2nd demo) was not mixed was because Monte Connor and Roadracer (now Roadrunner) wanted more material and wanted it fast, after Oblivion played at CBGBs. It still sounds great and I did not know it was not mixed until we put everything together for Cyclogenesis.
George Machuga and I were surveying with Mike Sica and he was playing with Cyprus, which was a departure from Oblivion. He started hanging out with our friends that would drink beer and have random jams in my friend Todd's basement, which became known as the United Blood/Chronic Death house. Mike decided to reform Oblivion with me and George and he found Joe Farley (RIP) from another job. Mike was still writing all of the music and lyrics; he grew at both because he was more mature.
The change in sound occurred naturally, especially with the new members and George eventually taking over the lyrics. We kept the original Oblivion style because every member (except Proveaux) of this band from first through last are huge Slayer fans. Oddly, my biggest influences as a bassist are Steve Harris and Cliff Burton where Rich Valeo's were Steve Harris and Geddy Lee. So, we were a little similar in that regard, except I play with my fingers and he plays with a pick.
After Mike left the band, we were going to call it quits then Mike was cool with George and I keeping the name. This is when we made a cognitive decision to find "our" sound. We wanted to keep the original elements of the sound, using Mike's songwriting style and grow it to sound like no other band. Dave Gutierrez, who was playing guitar with our friends in Lethal Aggression, introduced us to Dave Fesette. Dave was a thrasher with influences from Death, Testament, etc. while growing up with Zakk Wylde. I knew Charlie Alaimo and we added him as the other guitarist, which was our first venture into dual guitars, meaning more solos. The other big change was deciding to get John Proveaux. He was an excellent percussionist with a strong John Bonham influence, which was a purposeful decision by George and me. We were not seeking groove, we were seeking thrash with a very heavy drum. He did not even play double bass, so everything you hear on the first CD after the first six songs is done with a single kick pedal.
Upon Mike's departure, we went from one person writing the music to three of us plus Proveaux composing. I wanted an open free form flow with the composers, while adhering to the basic Oblivion style. We brought in more hardcore riffs, 70's rock, more solos and I hope originality. That was an important step for us because after that era, we liked it but we wanted to become more technical without losing the better parts of our sound. Charlie and Proveaux left Oblivion and we got Chris Kelly back after he jammed with a lot of different bands and our precision double bass came along with him. The biggest change was adding Frank Bonanno. He challenged all of us to become better musicians and with our timing. He was the final piece of the puzzle that allowed us to finally have a sound that we can, to this day, call "OUR" sound. I challenge anybody to listen to Contents Under Pressure, the first six songs on Cyclogenesis and let me know what other band we sound like. It was a long and purposeful quest to find that sound, which was important – be original, be memorable, be great. That demo got us a lot of label interest from New Renaissance to Atlantic to MCA. MCA was serious and they noted our originality plus they barely had any heavy bands. If you listen to the two live songs – "No Code" and "Mind Ripper", you will hear that sound's continued growth. I am really proud of it.
MetalMike: Cyclogenesis: Songs for Armageddon is a bit unique in that you went with the band's most recent material first and worked back to the end of the second CD with the earliest recordings. Why did you choose this sequencing and how should fans approach the listening experience?
Bob: That is a great question. The label recommended it because of the sound quality. Remember, we were working with the original demos sourced from tapes that are more than 30 years old that were recorded on a tight budget in two days. The first CD of Cyclogenesis consists of the post-Sica era and follows the format of Oblivion Remixed, a CD that we self-released where Dave Fesette took the original reels and had it baked then enhanced. That was still recorded at a low volume without any ability to remove the lower end. Divebomb liked that approach because it starts with the stronger sound quality and it is as simple as that. Divebomb really liked the songs on Contents Under Pressure too. Starting with songs that had major labels interested and are uniquely original will hopefully draw the listener in and want to listen to all of the material. We recorded demos that we never shopped to labels and were more or less, an attempt at working on material as we were finding "our" sound. I think when people listen to the CD, I'd suggest just sit back with an open mind because there is so much material with some stronger than others, like every other band. Plus, the last song on CD2 is just as good as the first song on CD1.
MetalMike: You and I have talked about this briefly but I'm sure readers will want to know what happened to prevent Oblivion from taking that next step and releasing an album? What was the climate like back in the 80s and what was dealing with the labels both big and small like?
Bob: We prevented ourselves from taking the next step. Two things I learned was number one, make sure you have a Band Goal with all members pursuing it and wanting the same thing; and number two, get a manager. Mike did so much of the correspondence and booking in the early years. He booked the shows, got us on TV (The Uncle Floyd Show), communicated with the 'zines, labels and fans, which included mailing. George and I took all of the business stuff over after Mike departed and I focused on radio and shows. We were playing a lot of shows and doing interviews on WSOU, etc. Unfortunately, when we were talking to labels, where we did not shop Back to Maim or War Gives Me Piece of Mind? and only shopped Why Did Johnny Kill on a limited basis, we got a few offers that were not something I could accept in good conscience. I wanted to make a living performing music and I was looking for the perfect situation, which is really hard to do without a manager or lawyer. We shopped Contents Under Pressure and thought we would go with MCA. Before we could even start a decent contract negotiation, they wanted input on the music and the band, which did not fly with me. I stood my ground and so did they so it fell through. New Renaissance was the back-up plan and looking back, we should have gone there before talking with MCA. We were too far down the wormhole with MCA and after we broke off negotiations, the band began to splinter. Having creative control and being able to make a living doing this were two things that were not negotiable. We had a really good product and I was not going to be crafted into something we were not. In my mind, I never wanted to be Grim Reaper. There is nothing wrong with them, they just seemed to come out of nowhere and straight to a major label, which seemed like a label leading and creating them. We left the scene with our integrity and without a deal. I guess we should have accepted some of the offers?
As for the original line-up, I am sure they wish they went with Combat or Roadracer and worked through the band issues. We have a lot of "what-ifs" throughout our band history. We should have been less choosy then got in the van and hit the road. We were young and could have made a living doing music. I just did not trust the offers, it's as simple as that. I cannot speak about Combat or Roadracer and both of those labels along with New Renaissance were good for us.
MetalMike: What were some of the best places you played with in Oblivion during the 80s? What bands did you get to share stages with?
Bob: There were a lot of dives and a lot of great places over the years. The top of the list would be CBGBs, The Stone Pony, Trocedero, Faces, The Fast Lane and Murphy's Law. My personal favorite was Club Bene. That place had the best sound system, a real backstage area and were very professional. When we played there, it was our best show ever. I wish we had that one on video. We were at the top of our game and I still remember people, who never heard us just, turn their heads and come to our stage then really get into our set. That was personally satisfying because we were able to capture the attention of a lot of people for the first time in a positive manner.
As for the bands, there were so many great bands back then. We did seminal show dates with Biohazard, Mucky Pup and Lethal Aggression for a few dates, which was cool because Biohazard was about to take off in a big way, so the buzz was surrounding them. We did a cool radio interview on WSOU with all four bands to promote the shows. We played with Lethal Aggression a lot. John Saltz passed away around Xmas 2016 and he was our scene's leader and a good friend. George Yeck, the bassist passed away from cancer in 2005. The other bands that we were able to play with were Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth, Gothic Slam, Blood Feast, Whiplash, Prime Evil, Exmortus, Cro-Mags, Mayhem, etc. Psychosis was my favorite band to play with because we really got along with those guys. We were lucky because we could play with Hari Kari one night, Ripping Corpse the next night then the DRI the following night. We crossed all genres and were one of the few thrash bands playing with a lot of Death Metal and Hardcore bands, so it helped us stand out a little. We were just different, no better, different and we crossed a lot of musical barriers.
MetalMike: What finally put the band on ice in the 90s?
Bob: I'd say the MCA negotiations and each band member not having one common goal were the reasons we broke up. I was ready to give it one more year and go back to New Renaissance with some new songs. Frank left the band and Tom Picciotti took over his guitar duties well. A lot of bands began changing their style to that Pantera groove metal or went to Grunge or some other direction, which was not us. We always stayed true to who we are and held onto our musical integrity to a fault. We were a technical thrash band and I really think if a person at a label did not know us then saw the name Oblivion, they probably could not tell what Oblivion we were by 1990. It was just time to end it. I always told myself, if I was not touring the world by the time I was 22 then hang it up and go to college, so that is what I did.
MetalMike: What made you decide to put the band back together 20 years later?
Bob: The reunion came from me and Dave Fesette digging through the old material for the Remixed CD. It felt right and the members wanted to do it, outside of Chris Kelly. My best friend's son, Dom Petrocelli joined on drums and we recorded four strong thrash songs for an EP entitled Mankind Becomes Inhuman that won't see the light of day because one of the members does not want it out there. Dom's drumming was great too, plus he learned from Chris Kelly and John Proveaux. Since, recording those songs we are taking a different approach to the band today.
MetalMike: What is happening these days with Oblivion? Are you planning on doing a few shows here and there, trying for a few festivals, some type of tour? Is there new music from Oblivion in the cards?
Bob: We are taking it slow and doing shows when we want to do it. The line-up is me, Mike Sica, and Frank Bonanno with Chris Kelly and Santo DiBenedetto splitting time on drums and George Machuga and Dave Gutierrez splitting time on vocals. Dave might play some guitar too. We want to play in the summer with a mix of songs from the catalog and it's cool having three of the original members back in the band. If it goes well, we might write some songs plus we have the other songs that we already wrote. We want to have fun and play here and there when it is right.
MetalMike: What did the members of the band do in the time between the initial break up and today?
Bob: I joined RagStew after college with Tony Petrocelli (United Blood), Joe Ward (Deep End), Dave Ward (Race Against Space) and Jay Helms (Race Against Space) then went onto Hate Wagon with Petrocelli, John Salterelli (Lethal Aggression) and Ken Lund (Solace, Lethal Aggression). After Hate Wagon, Tony and I formed Minus-Us with Chris Kelly. Now I'm back with Oblivion and in a cover band named Doom Saloon with Frank Bonanno and Sean Moroney (Sublimation). George Machuga went on to Chum Bucket and Three-Legged Bitch. Dave Fesette went onto David Fesette (acoustic with his wife, Donna Rose). Mike Sica went onto Sublimation, Johnny Pipe, Fallacy, Under Pressure and 4 Disorder. He is currently playing bass for Lethal Aggression and Despairidisio. Chris Kelly played with Johnny Pipe, Orphans, Fuzzmosis, Minus-Us and Johnny Pipe. Tom Picciotti is an electrical engineer. Dave Gutierrez was back with Social Decay, Lethal Aggression, Despairidisio, Total Fucking Noise and Mental Abuse. John Proveaux was in a Rolling Stones cover band and Voodoo Vibe. Santo DiBenedetto is playing drums in a cover band called 44 Fridays. Charlie Alaimo played in some cover bands and is currently playing in an original band called Raftree. Frank Bonanno played in Storm Warning and Seventh Sacrament and is now in Doom Saloon and Oblivion. Sadly, JOE FARLEY is deceased and played in Breakdown after Oblivion; may he rest in peace for he truly had a good heart and we dedicated the CD to his memory.
MetalMike: I think you mentioned Oblivion guitarist Mike Sica also plays bass for Lethal Aggression, another Thrash band from New Jersey and their singer John Salterelli recently passed away. They have some shows coming up in honor of John, correct? Where can fans catch these shows?
Bob: Yes, thanks for bringing that up. Lethal Aggression had a good following in Texas after touring with DRI there in the 80s. They did a tour through Texas and ended it in New Orleans. Dave Gutierrez plays guitar in LA and handled some vocals along with some friends. The cool thing, is that they brought John's old leather jacket that he painted himself and had that next to the mic onstage. That should be it for the shows and they put a nice ribbon on Lethal Aggression.
MetalMike: What is your hope for Oblivion going forward Bob? Is it just nice to be able to play every now and then or do you have bigger aspirations now that things like the internet make it easier to get your music directly into the fans' hands (legally hopefully!)?
Bob: It is fairly simple for me. I want people to buy Cyclogenesis: Songs from Armageddon and listen to it. The more people that hear it the better. Checkout our pages: www.Facebook.com/OblivionUSA , www.OblivionBand.com , www.reverbnation.com/Oblivionband , www.twitter.com/OblivionUSA , www.Instragram.com/OblivionUSA and listen to the music. I'd like to play some shows with Oblivion and mix it up from the catalog. If we can play a summer festival or two that would be outstanding. I'm enjoying playing in Doom Saloon because we are playing sons like "Holy Wars", "Invaders" and "Four Horsemen", which I love.
MetalMike: If you could go back in time and change things, what would they be, if any?
Bob: YES, I know the popular answer is "I wouldn't change a thing." I'd write a band mission statement to make sure everyone is getting what they want from the band and do not have any competing goals. The other change I'd make is getting a real manager to manage it correctly and book the right shows. The last change I'd make is probably accepting an offer from an independent label then make a go of it. I wish I was not so picky when it came to a record deal. I think a lot of bands signed bad deals but some of those bad deals worked out in the long run. I really wanted a label that would commit fully to the band, leave the creative side to us and promote us correctly then pay us enough to eat and get hotel rooms after touring expenses. If we had the right manager, we would have found the right label.
MetalMike: Well, congratulations on Cyclogenesis: Songs for Armageddon and thank you for taking some time to speak to The Metal Crypt. Good luck with your future endeavors! Last words?
Bob: THANK YOU, Mike. Your effort and dedication to heavy music is commendable and thanks for taking the time to ask a few questions about who we were and who we are. Hopefully people will read this and buy the double CD. It is in limited release and I do not even know if there any left or if it sold out. If anyone is interested, go to the link and spend the $15 before it is gone: http://divebombrecords.bigcartel.com/product/oblivion-cyclogenesis-songs-for-armageddon-bootcamp-series-27
Give it a fair listen and do not judge us because we decided not to sign a bad deal. The songs are strong and we decided to do it our way, even with all of the warts and mistakes. Please do not confuse us with any other Oblivion. I really want the other bands to change their name. My hope is that they change their name and we are finally recognized as the only Oblivion. Period. I want to start playing a few shows at our discretion and if we write new material, we will do it through a label this time. We do not care about the money and do our music because we love it and for no other reason. I hope that comes across for the listeners.
One last thing, if you do see another band named Oblivion out there, do us a favor and tell them to change their name! Thanks again.
|Other information about Oblivion on this site|
|Review: Cyclogenesis: Songs for Armageddon|
|Interview with guitarist David Fesette on January 26, 2014 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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