Interview with vocalist Brian Langley
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 29, 2017
Canada has been producing great bands ever since man started hunting. Aggression, formed in the spring of 1985 and called Asylum at that time being, has a long but not so glamorous history in the Canadian underground Metal scene. The band signed to semi-legendary Banzai Records and released their debut album The Full Treatment in 1987. The album was very successful and many gigs were sold out as a result. It's been said that members from Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Destruction, etc. all wanted to see and meet Aggression when they were in Montreal. Sadly, Aggression's run ended in 1989 due to some poor choices some of the members made.
After many years - in 2005 to be exact - Aggression returned to the limelight to play a reunion show at Montreal Metal Massacre. At the same Aggression's unreleased Forgotten Skeleton album, which was supposed to be the band's debut, was released on Great White North Records. This reunion wasn't meant to last and after a set of reunion shows Aggression disbanded once again.
Eight years passed and it was time to give this obscure Canadian Thrash Metal patrol another try. With only Demis "Sasquatch" Barthe left from the band's original lineup, the band hit the studio to record their third album, Fragmented Spirit Devils, released on Spain's Xtreem Music in November 2016.
We will let new vocalist Brian Langley be our guide through the past, present and future of these fine thrashing Canucks...
Luxi: First off, thanks for accepting my interview invitation. How's life in Delta, British Columbia?
Brian: Hi Luxi, it's always nice to talk with you my friend. Life in Delta is good. I've lived here my whole life. My place is two blocks down the road from my childhood home and where my dad still lives. I live about a 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver so it's a little quieter here but I still live close enough to catch all the shows when they come through the big city.
Luxi: You joined the semi-legendary Aggression back in 2014. Is there a cool or unusual story behind how you joined their ranks?
Brian: Well, I was playing guitar and singing in Denis "Sasquatch" Barthe's band Cradle to Grave and in 2014 he said to me "I keep getting all these offers for Aggression to play but I have to turn them down because there's no band. What do you think I should do?" I told him we should put Cradle to Grave on hold and that he should go do Aggression. It's his band, it's where he belongs and as a fan I wanted to see it, too. Then he told me it wouldn't be possible to do it with any of the former members for various reasons. The biggest hurdle is Denis has called the West Coast his home since the early 2000s and the rest of the members are on the East Coast. He said to me the only way he'd do it is if I sang. So I didn't really get a tryout, I was told I was doing it whether I liked it or not haha!
Luxi: Is it a bit odd to think that you were just two years old when Aggression was formed back in 1985...?
Brian: I think because I have such a close friendship with Denis and history with the rest of the current lineup it doesn't seem that odd to me. It feels like a natural fit. When I joined Infernäl Mäjesty in 2005, I was 21 and that band had formed in 1986. That one felt a little stranger but probably because I walked into that band not knowing any of the guys previously. I don't think about how old I was when the band did something, the music is timeless. I'm just honoured to be able to help keep the music alive and put smiles on people's faces that love the songs as well as further the bands legacy. Singing for Aggression is not something I take lightly. We aren't a nostalgia act either though; we've recorded and toured more in the last two years than the band ever did in its entire history.
Luxi. What were some of the most important bands and albums that you grew up with and helped you to become a musician?
Brian: AC/DC started it when I was four years old. I saw videos on MuchMusic of Angus Young doing his thing and watched the music coursing through him like he was possessed. I wanted to feel that and I wanted to make others feel that, too. When I was 12, I raided my dad's cassette tape collection and discovered Black Sabbath's Master of Reality and Deep Purple's Machine Head. Around that time, I also had Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tears album on repeat in my headphones. That album introduced me to Zakk Wylde and because he helped write the album, I stumbled upon Lemmy and consequentially Motörhead.
Luxi: Before you joined Aggression, obviously you were well aware of the band's history as one of Canada's underground Thrash Metal forces that never made it big but still managed to leave something worth remembering when they split up in 1989. When did you personally become aware of the band's reputation as one of Canada's hardest and meanest underground Thrash Metal groups?
Brian: I snuck into the Cobalt when I was 18 in late 2001 or early 2002 and met Denis that night as Cradle to Grave was playing. He mentioned he used to play in an 80s Thrash band but I didn't check it out. In 2004 the old 1986 album Forgotten Skeleton finally got released and Denis gifted me a copy. That's when I put it on and gave it a listen. Then I went and listened to The Full Treatment. In 2005 for the Montreal Metal Massacre, Aggression did a reunion show and I was so choked that I couldn't be in Montreal to see it. Now I'm very fortunate, I get to help bring it to life.
Luxi: What kind of experience was it for you to record Fragmented Spirit Devils with Aggression? Did you have extra pressure on your shoulders knowing in the back of your mind that people tend to judge albums by their vocalists?
Brian: Denis made sure I felt the pressure before we recorded the vocals! At a practice in front of the rest of the band he said, "OK so in the end, it doesn't really matter how good the songs are or how good the rest of us sound. The vocals are what is going to determine whether the new album succeeds or fails. Good luck buddy boy, no pressure!"
Luxi: You indeed pulled it off on F.S.D. Did Denis give you any guidelines as to how he wanted your vocals to be or did he simply let you do it the way that felt comfortable and natural for your voice?
Brian: We did the vocals the way Denis wanted them done. If it was up to me, I would have just followed the path that Botcher and Cactus Pete had already made on the previous recordings. It would have been classic Thrash vocal delivery. I would have done it that way because in my mind, that's what an old school Aggression fan is going to want to hear. Denis to his credit had a different vision of what he wanted the vocals to be. He had seen me sing in other bands and noticed that I sang differently in all of them. He wanted a variety. Denis sat in on all the vocal sessions and made sure he was happy with every line before we would move on. The engineer and producer were often laughing at the way Denis and I would decide on how to sing a line. Denis would say, "OK so for this line I'm thinking some Cronos, mixed with some David Vincent and a hint of Paul Stanley." Then I would sing however that was supposed to sound. After I tried it that way, he would say, "OK the hint of Paul Stanley didn't work. How about you try adding some Pride and Glory era Zakk Wylde but dial it back to 72%?" So I'd have to ask how exactly do you dial Zakk Wylde's voice back to 72%? Denis' answer, "Just pretend he has a cold." This is what I had to work with in the studio hahaha!! Honestly though, Denis knows me so well and what my voice is capable of. He's always pushing me to go a bit further. He really can get the most out of me in the studio. At the end of the day if the big man is happy, I've done my job.
Luxi: Do you consider yourself fortunate that you have had a chance to sing in quite a few bands (from Mecha Messiah to Infernäl Mäjesty) which has allowed you to use your voice in very different ways for each band?
Brian: I do for sure. Denis got me the tryout for Infernal Majesty which I'll always feel in debt to him for. I've had a few lucky breaks but I've also worked my ass off for opportunities. I knew at a young age that I wanted to play in a Rock 'n' Roll or Metal band and I trained for it. In my teenage years, instead of getting wasted every weekend or stealing cars with friends, I was sitting in my room learning how to play Dee by Randy Rhoads or singing along to my favorite albums. Sometimes when an opportunity is presented you gotta be prepared to knock it out of the park. You gotta do it because nobody is going to do it for you. You can fake your way through a lot of things but there's no substitute for hard work. That's what we're all doing in Aggression right now. We've been working non-stop and word has been getting around.
Luxi: That Nazareth cover sounds crazy on the album (in a positive way), but you pulled it off. Who came up with this idea and is Nazareth a common fave in the band?
Brian: We're all fans of Nazareth but to do a cover? That was a Sasquatch idea all the way. He showed up to practice one night and says "Hey guys I know the president of the Nazareth fan club and he put me in touch with Manny Charlton (founding guitarist of Nazareth) and he said if we cover "Razamanaz" he'll guest on our album". We all thought it sounded crazy but went along with it and next thing you know, there's 73-year-old Manny Charlton just tearing it up on the new Aggression album.
Luxi: Fragmented... was released on Xtreem Music in 2016. Was it easy to negotiate a deal with them and other options as far as record labels are concerned?
Brian: Yeah it was really easy. They were the only label that got back to us. We didn't hear back from anyone else.
Luxi: Do you have an option to release one more album with Xtreem Music or are you trying to get Aggression signed to a bigger label (Season of Mist, Century Media, etc.) that might have more resources?
Brian: No, the deal with Xtreem was a one and done deal. Our management has been shopping us out to new labels and it sounds like we are going to have a new home very soon and I'm excited to announce who that is when we can legally do that.
Luxi: Undoubtedly you have been working with new material since the Fragmented... album. Is there something that you could reveal about it? Does this new material follow where you left off on Fragmented...?
Brian: Fragmented Spirit Devils came out in November 2016 while we were on tour in Europe. When we got back, we signed with Extreme Management Group Inc. in New York. In April 2017, we hit the studio and recorded the next full-length album. It is done, the artwork for the cover and album title are complete. We are just going through the motions of dealing with paperwork with the new label and then a release date will be set hopefully for spring 2018. The songs on this album are in the same vein as FSD. Lots of vocal variety. Musically, there are elements of Death and Punk Crossover like the classic Aggression stuff.
Luxi: You have The Full Treatment 30-year anniversary tour coming up in Canada in November this year. How hard (or easy) was it to organize such a tour knowing that all of you have your job, families and so on?
Brian: Organizing it was pretty easy on our end. We figured out when we wanted to go then a tour package came up that pushed the tour into November. Then the tour package fell through so here we are driving across Canada in November. Not the best time of year weatherwise but we're doing it. Our good friend Eric Galy booked practically all the shows for us so we had minimal work to do there. As for jobs, we give them plenty of notice so there isn't usually any issues there and our families are very understanding.
Luxi: I assume it goes without saying all of you couldn't be more excited to hit on the road and do this tour. What can people expect to hear? The whole album from start to finish? What else?
Brian: "Dripping Flesh" was one that we had to learn for the tour and I think it's going to stay in the set after this tour. It's just a killer track. People are gonna get The Full Treatment front to back. We're also gonna give them some stuff off Fragmented Spirit Devils. We love playing these songs so we're gonna play 'til the venues tell us to stop.
Luxi: I assume some of these cities are ones Aggression has already played. Are there some venues out there on this forthcoming tour that make you extra excited to play there again?
Brian: The homecoming show at Katakombes in Montreal is going to be very special. We have some guests from other classic Quebec Metal bands getting up to do some songs with us.
We're also going to have some former Aggression members on stage with us. It's going to be a huge party. Our original drummer Gate, who passed a number of years ago, his daughter is going to be there and we are going to pay tribute to him. The night is going to be unforgettable.
Luxi: After this tour ends, I guess you will start concentrating on Aggression's new material so you can have enough songs ready in 2018 for your next studio visit, or am I perhaps mistaken about this?
Brian: After this tour, our plan is to relearn the songs from the new album that we recorded back in April so we'll be able to get those songs into the set for live shows in 2018. We've got some other touring commitments that we are finalizing details for. We're going to be busy that's for sure.
Luxi: What about some European Metal outdoor festivals during summer time? Have you brought this topic up yet because as far as I know the festival organizers are already booking bands for the next year. I am sure people would love to see Aggression playing at some of these European summer festivals, no doubt...
Brian: Yeah we've been hoping to do the European festival circuit. It is definitely on our wish list. We are available and we are definitely willing to travel to make it happen.
Luxi: What do you see on the distant horizon for Aggression within the next 2-3 years?
Brian: For 2018, it looks like one or two US tours, one or two European tours and the new album. In 2019, I imagine we'll do another album and maybe get down to South America. I would just like to see the band grow and for people to hear the music. There are a lot of great Canadian Thrash bands from back in the 80s and a lot of times when people talk about them, Aggression's name gets left out of the list. We want to change that.
Luxi: One last question and we are done. When Aggression, one day, has traveled its path right to the end, what would you like to see written on the band's tombstone?
Brian: "Aggression: Classick Canadian Thrash Metal"
Luxi: Thank you Brian for taking the time to answer my questions and all the best to you and Aggression in the future as well. Those "famous" last words are yours...
Brian: Thanks for the interview Luxi, always a treat my friend. To all of you thrashers and head damagers, thank you for your support! We will be thrashing in a city near you soon and look forward to getting inappropriate with you!
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