Interview with vocalist and guitarist Anton Reisenegger
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 16, 2013
I remember back when I was heavily involved in the worldwide tape trading scene, one of the first Chilean extreme Metal bands that I discovered was Pentagram. It was in 1986-87 when I got a hold of a rehearsal/demo tape and it left an indelible impression, due to the band's primitive, brutal and mesmerizing sound.
Pentagram was formed in 1985 in Santiago, Chile by Anton Reisenegger (vocals/guitar) and Juan Pablo Uribe (bass). In those days they were heavily influenced by bands such as Venom, Possessed and Slayer. Completing the early line-up with drummer Eduardo Topelberg, the band readied 3 songs of their own, which they recorded during the first month of 1987 for their debut demo using the nicknames Behemoth, Azazel and Euronymos. That demo started it all for Pentagram and they soon became one of the underground's most traded bands.
The band's second 3-track demo, released the same year, pushed Pentagram forward and gave them an opportunity to put out something more official. Swiss label Chainsaw Murder Records, run by formed Celtic Frost roadie "Dinosaur" Surocco, released a 7" EP with two songs, "Fatal Predictions" and "Demoniac Possession".
Despite their popularity in the underground Metal scene, Lady Luck was not on Pentagram's side and no label showed enough interest to sign them. That killed the band's motivation and the story was finished just as it was getting started.
A lot of murky water has flowed under the Metal bridge and now Pentagram is back on its feet again. The band recorded their official debut album, The Malefice, for Germany's Cyclone Empire, with a release scheduled for later this year. Original vocalist and guitarist Anton Reisenegger lets us know more about the past and present of Pentagram via the following interview...
Luxi: How's life in San Sebastián, Spain these days, Anton? Do you regret moving from your hometown of Santiago, Chile, to live life in Spain? It was surely a big decision in your life, wasn't it?
Anton: It's pretty chilled here in San Sebastian. It's a great city to live in, as it has beaches, great food and friendly people. A bit on the expensive side, though. And no, I haven't ever regretted moving away from Chile, especially because I get to go there at least once a year, so I don't get to miss it that much. It was certainly a big decision, but it was all for the best.
Luxi: Pentagram has been pretty busy recently, mixing the band's first studio album, The Malefice, at HVR Studios in Suffolk, England, and getting ready for its release later this spring. How have both the recording and mixing processes been going? Are you happy with how things have turned out?
Anton: Totally. It was a lot of work because we decided to record all of the old demo tracks plus an album's worth of new material, so it's really a double album. Everything took twice as long to record, but the result is amazing and I'm very proud of the great job everyone involved has done. We started working on this album in 2010 and we encountered a lot of problems along the way, including getting a new drummer, but when I listen to it now I have to say it's been well worth it.
Luxi: Your longtime friend, HVR Studio owner Daniel Biggin, worked as a co-producer on Pentagram's debut record. How did you get to know him and did he give you some useful ideas along the way?
Anton: When I first moved to Europe I lived in the UK for a while and got my "other" band Criminal going again with a half British and half Chilean line-up. Dan was friends with some of the guys and came along as a tech when we played Wacken in 2002. When I moved out of the UK we lost contact for a while, but we met again in 2007 when Criminal were looking for a bass player. He said he was interested so we tried him out and he got the gig. At that time he was building his studio, and now he's really good at engineering. With regards to his involvement, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted in the first place, but it was great having him as a "second opinion", so to speak.
Luxi: You have already mentioned that the first press of The Malefice will contain two discs. The first disc will contain all new Pentagram songs and the second disc will contain some classic re-recorded songs from the band's 80's era. Did you end up re-recording some of these old songs as bonus for your fans or was it already your plan to re-record them and give them a proper sound?
Anton: No, originally we thought about recording maybe just a couple of the old songs, but when we got started we really liked the way the old songs were sounding so we decided we were going to record them all. Funny, but a few of our old-time fans have asked us NOT to re-record the old songs. I can understand where they are coming from. They want to keep those memories intact, but on the other hand I find it a bit selfish. We didn't get to record an album back in the 80s due to several circumstances and now we have the chance to finally do it. I hope when they hear the result they will change their minds. A few friends who were also skeptical have heard the new album and think we absolutely did the right thing.
Luxi: So, do you believe that you have successfully lived up to Pentagram's legacy by re-recording some of the old Pentagram classics?
Anton: Yeah, I do think so. We tried to stay as close as possible to the originals in terms of arrangements and stuff, and I think we really captured that vibe.
Luxi: Did you have second thoughts when you were pondering whether your old material was worth another try? I mean, obviously your ultimate decision to get some of old Pentagram stuff re-recorded, wasn't taken too lightly by any means...
Anton: Well, we're doing this for ourselves, first and foremost, so what other people said was really just secondary. We were pretty sure of what we were doing, so there weren't really that many doubts.
Luxi: Which was actually tougher; to get the new songs for The Malefice recorded, or some of these old Pentagram songs re-recorded?
Anton: The new songs were a bit more time-consuming to record, because we had to work out everything from scratch; arrangements, solos, vocals, etc. The old stuff was already written and we didn't really want to change anything about it, except make it sound good, like a proper album.
Luxi: How would you compare the new songs with the older Pentagram songs? Do you believe you captured the same old school vibe that you had in the past? Or did you purposely make some musical changes to update the Pentagram sound?
Anton: I'm probably not the best person to comment on that because I am so directly involved, but I think the new material is just a continuation of our old songs. All the trademarks are there: the weird rhythms, the evil scales, the OTT vocals, everything. Sometimes we even "cite" ourselves in that we use old riffs but twisted around and reworked. But there is absolutely nothing modern about it, except that it sounds good.
Luxi: How important is it for you to maintain the same musical elements in these new songs that make Pentagram sound like Pentagram? I guess it's one of the key factors for you when you start composing new stuff for the band, correct?
Anton: It was extremely important for us to continue in the same vein as the old material, otherwise what would have been the purpose of putting an album out as Pentagram? I might have called it Criminal or whatever else. When people hear the album they will realize this IS Pentagram.
Luxi: Are there new songs on The Malefice album that make you extra proud of the musical or lyrical achievements?
Anton: Yeah there are a few moments on the album that I'm really proud of; the lyrics in "La Fiura" and the vocal vibe in "The Apparition". I'm also pretty chuffed with the solos. Mind you, I'm still a crap lead guitarist, but I managed to make the best out of the situation both capturing the vibe of the demos and writing some interesting solos that are almost like a song within a song.
Luxi: I suppose that one of the most moving experiences for yourself was to get Mauricio Peña, brother of original PENTAGRAM bassist Alfredo "Bey" Peña (who committed suicide in 1990) to play some guest bass parts for this album. Undoubtedly Mauricio's presence in the studio brought Alfredo's spirit back and the time when he contributed his bass parts. Was this how you felt when Mauricio joined the recording?
Anton: Yeah, it was a very emotive moment. Mauricio looks a lot like his brother, and I mean A LOT. And he plays the bass with the same ease; it just looks so natural when he does it. He recorded his song in one take. When he was done I gave him a big hug. It felt great.
Luxi: If Pentagram had never split up and none of that ugly shit had happened, what do you believe Pentagram might have achieved? Maybe you would have been in the studio this year to record Pentagram's 4th or 5th album, done several support or headlining tours around the globe, maybe, in the worst case, you would have become another Metallica; selling-out completely, betraying your fans by doing shitty music, becoming millionaires, etc. You know how this recipe goes, right?
Anton: Haha, yeah, but for my own mental sanity I have always avoided speculating on what could have been. People say we would have been bigger than Sepultura, blah, blah, but I think it's a pointless exercise. We have finally done the album we weren't allowed to do in the 80s, so just let us make the best out of this situation. I'm pretty happy with my life actually, things are going great for me, so I really don't want to dwell on the "what ifs".
Luxi: Cyclone Empire Records also re-released an updated version of your original, self-titled compilation album in 2008, which contained liner notes written by Nicke Andersson (Entombed, The Hellacopters, etc.) and Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs, etc.). When did you first get to know these guys and was it easy to persuade them to write something for this compilation (later re-titled Under the Spell of the Pentagram)?
Anton: I met Mitch when Napalm Death played with Criminal in Chile in 1997, but I already knew he was probably the biggest Pentagram fan on earth. We remained in touch ever since and nowadays we actually see a lot of each other because Lock Up often play the same festivals as Napalm Death. It didn't take any convincing to get him to write those liner notes. He said "anything for Pentagram", which made me very happy. Nicke, on the other hand, I haven't met in person yet. We've only been in touch through email but he's been very cool. He sent me the Death Breath CDs, which I think are killer. And he was also totally into the idea of writing something for the demo reissues. It is very flattering when people like these guys say such nice things about your work.
Luxi: When Pentagram was starting out in 1985, the Metal scene very different in many ways. There was the tape trading scene that brought to light many killer bands (Sepultura, Morbid Angel, Possessed, Kreator, Celtic Frost, etc.) that all signed to a label, eventually, and it could be said everything was more exciting and interesting because it was all new and fresh back then. How much do you miss those times, if at all? Or do you think guys like you and me at this stage of life, can always go back to those early days by cranking up the old demos and albums we have in our music collections and get our nostalgia trips that way?
Anton: They were cool times certainly, and some of the best music ever was produced in that era. But I have mixed feelings about that time, because things in Chile were very hard. We didn't have proper equipment, we were constantly harassed by the police, our parents didn't understand us, etc. etc. So I don't really agree when people say those were the best times. But, as I say, the music was fucking awesome, and it's great to crank the old demos and albums, especially when I'm on tour with Lock Up, who all grew up on the same music. There's always a lot of horns thrown and lots of "argh argh", haha!
Luxi: What about the Chilean (underground) Metal scene these days? Is it still as vivid and active as it used to be 20 years ago? I remember a handful of killer Thrash Metal acts from Chile back in the day like Necrosis, Torturer, Atomic Aggressor and a couple others. Do you still follow the underground Metal scene of your home country?
Anton: I have my finger on the pulse of the Chilean scene, because I have a weekly Metal radio show which is aired on Chile's biggest classic Rock radio station. So I get contacted by loads of bands and I give them airplay. The scene is still very lively and creative, there are great bands of every genre and many of the old bands, like Atomic Aggressor and Death Yell, have reformed. But it's very hard for them to play live because nowadays loads of international bands are playing in Chile all the time, so the local bands aren't really able to draw big crowds like we used to.
Luxi: What's good and what's bad in the worldwide Metal scene of 2013, from your point of view?
Anton: Good; lots of cool festivals, access to music through the Internet. Bad; plastic productions, generic bands, overpopulation, commercialism.
Luxi: You have also had a long career with Criminal, doing many albums and tours. Now with Pentagram back in full force, will both bands eat up a big part of your spare time? Which of these two outfits is your main priority or are they equally important?
Anton: I don't think there's going to be any problems, because neither of these two bands tour that much. So if I plan my time carefully it should be alright. Right now my head is totally in Pentagram mode because we just finished recording and are working on the artwork, tweaking the final mix, etc. But when it's done I'll probably go back to writing a new Criminal album. And remember I'm also in Lock Up, and we are also planning on recording a new album soon. So at least I'm not going to get bored, haha!
Luxi: What is latest news are from the Criminal camp? Anything new in the works since the last album, Akelarre, was released on Massacre Records in 2011?
Anton: Not yet, no. As I said, I'm probably going to start writing when all the work on the Pentagram album is done.
Luxi: This next topic was touched on, but in 2009 you replaced Jesse Pintado, who passed away in 2006, in Lock Up. How was it for you to join Lock Up and record the band's third album, Necropolis Transparent?
Anton: It was great. I felt very honored and a little intimidated at first. At the end of the day those guys are very successful and respected musicians. But they were very cool and they actually encouraged me to participate in the songwriting process, so a lot of those riffs are actually mine. I really like that album and I can't wait to record the next one.
Luxi: You played a show with Lock Up at The Borderline in London on February 8th. How did that show go for you guys? Did you have a blast?
Anton: Quite literally, yeah. It was all a bit hectic because it was the first date of a tour and we got stuck in traffic on the way there, but in the end it turned out great. It's weird; it feels like it was months ago, but it actually only just happened.
Luxi: It was also announced not too long ago that you were teaming up with Billy Milano, Danny Lilker and Nick Barker to form a Heavy Metal band called United Forces. What are your plans with this line-up?
Anton: Well, the whole idea is that Billy and Danny want to tour and play the old S.O.D. material. There has been talk of doing some festivals and also maybe recording an album of new material, but I'm not really sure what's happening right now. I'm really looking forward to it though, because Danny is a legend and we've become pretty good friends since he's been filling in for Shane in Lock Up. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun.
Luxi: Let's go back to Pentagram for the last couple of questions. Once The Malefice has hit the streets and is available for the fans, obviously people will expect to see Pentagram on stage. What are your gigging plans for Pentagram?
Anton: Well, unfortunately it seems like we're a bit late to get on the summer festivals, but we have a great agency called Mythology who really believe in the band and there's talk of us doing some European dates in the fall. Right now, the only dates we have confirmed are a few dates in Chile in April. The album won't be out by then, but I'm sure we're going to play a few new songs to see how they work in a live situation.
Luxi: Would there be a dream tour for Pentagram if you got an opportunity to choose a band or two to tour the world with?
Anton: Well that tour Kreator and Morbid Angel played recently would have been nice. The best would probably be to support Dark Angel if they reformed haha!
Luxi: Alright Anton, I guess that is all for now. I want to thank you for doing this interview with The Metal Crypt and wish you all the best with all of your future endeavors and also wish you a long and healthy life in the very same breath. If there's still something that you'd like to add to conclude this interview properly, then here's your chance to do so... ;o)
Anton: I think we've covered it all, so let me just thank you for your support. Thrash 'til death!
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