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PHIL DEMMEL Talks VIO-LENCE's Let The World Burn, BPMD & 15 Years Of MACHINE HEAD's The Blackening & More

Plus a Vio-lence reissue and how much he loves his time in Machine Head.

Phil Demmel

It's been almost 30 years, but Vio-lence has returned to thrash our days up with their blistering new EP Let the World Burn. Comprised of five pulverizing cuts that never overstay their welcome, guitar god Phil Demmel (ex-Machine Head, Torque), drummer Perry Strickland, vocalist Sean Killian and recent additions in guitarist Bobby Gustafson (ex-Overkill, Skrew) and bassist Christian Olde Wolbers (ex-Fear Factory, Powerflo) are primed for what is set to be the first in a renaissance for one of thrash metal's unsung juggernauts.

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Demmel sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into all things Vio-lence, the possibility of toasting the 35th anniversary of the band's debut Eternal Nightmare, thoughts on his super-group BPMD, his exit from Machine Head and praise for the 15th anniversary of their landmark record, The Blackening.

To say this is a long time coming would be kind of an understatement. It's been 29 years between releases for Vio-lence, 30 years since the initial breakup. next year, and we're closing in on 35 years since Eternal Nightmare. Are there "holy shit"-type reminiscing moments when you look at things like that? Or does it feel like it's only been a blink?

Oh man, in some ways you feel the time when you look at it like that. I joined that band when I was in high school, you know? And I've had so many different musical lives. I've been so fortunate that I've had the Vio-lence life, and then I did a Torque record and was able to just do stuff with that. Then I got married and had some time off, and I did the Technocracy record and put that out. And then I did a Vio-lence reunion which seemed like, "Oh my god, Vio-lence is together after all this time" in 2001. And so we did a little reunion and we were writing some new material, and then I joined Machine Head and did 16 years with that band. And here I am back in Vio-lence.

All those stages of my life go with all those musical endeavors, and it's been a blur. Four kids later and four grandkids later, and here I am writing Vio-lence music. It's really a blessing, and I hate using that term. If I took any time to kind of look back and soak it all in, I'd say it's been really quick and things have gone by so fast. Shit, I've been out of Machine Head almost three and a half years now and I've done all these crazy, amazing things in just that short span.

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Obviously you don't have the luxury to tackle new projects if you're out on tour. With you, Vio-lence has been playing since 2019, and then you've got BPMD and a ton of other things. Has the pandemic hampered your creativity even though you've been home? Or has it been the opposite where you've had time to focus on things you otherwise wouldn't have had the chance to pull off?

I don't know how creative I really got during the pandemic, because all my collaborative jams have all been covers, you know? And I did write some material. I think the pandemic quelled me in the sense of creativity and being able to put new music together, or get a project together or whatever. The BPMD record we recorded before the quarantine, and then we decided just to put it out anyways. And so that was all covers, too. But from a networking sense, even though I was shut down, I connected with so many people over the pandemic.

But then the Vio-lence thing, writing that record, we weren't really sheltering in place too much in the Vio-lence camp. We were getting together and we were writing. I started writing this record on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise back in, I think, January of 2020. So I started writing riffs for that, and it just kind of snowballed. I had these riffs going and we were just like, "well, what are we doing? What are we waiting for?" I didn't want to do a full length. I didn't have that in me. Nobody wants to listen to Vio-lence for 45 minutes, man. I don't want to listen to it. I will listen to old records, classic records that I like if I'm running or if I'm exercising or on a long drive, and I'll listen to a record back to front, but it just doesn't happen anymore. I want to be able to hold that interest. And I felt that three or four songs would be ideal. Sean's always had this super acquired taste vocally. So people love him or hate him. It's always been that way. We get it. And the band, too, there's not a lot of dynamics in what we do. We're a thrash band, a brutal thrash band. We have some kind of change of pace stuff, but I wanted to just kind of punch you in the face about five times and then be done. Then you're like, "oh fuck, what was that? I want to hear more of that!" Leave them wanting more.

The first song was "Flesh From Bone" that we wrote, and that one came pretty easy. The intro I came up with in my head on the boat. I'd just played in Slayer for four shows. They've always been my main influence and the reason why I played heavy music to begin with. So I had this Slayer breakdown part in the middle, total Lombardo drum beat, and it came together pretty easy. And then I wanted to kind of revisit Eternal Nightmare. I said that if I'm writing a record, I want it to be a Vio-lence record. Vio-lence doesn't need to be breaking new ground. I wanted it to sound like Vio-lence, man. I wanted it to be what I really like about that last Megadeth record Dystopia where you hear the parts from the other records.

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That's what I wanted to kind of ingrain in that record. I wanted to remember how I was writing when I was 18 years old and taking all the good parts of what that record was to me, and then incorporate the 35 years of musicianship and songwriting and guitar playing and performing-wise into a more modern and souped-up version with a better production. Just put those songs on steroids with a clearer sense of structure. That's what I wanted to accomplish with this. And I think that everybody was on board with that.

I wanted to ask you about the new guys, guitarist Bobby Gustafson and bassist Christian Olde Wolbers. They're obviously these guys with serious chops and their pedigree is kind of beyond dispute from their past projects. How do you think they kind of fit into Vio-lence?

They're seasoned veterans and masters of their craft. We formed this new version of the band when all the shelter-in-place stuff happened. I mean, we've done a couple of shows, one offs in Atlanta and Chicago, and we played a show in Fresno, so we haven't really been together to really find a vibe. But they're all awesome humans and I dig being around them. The one little weekend that we had in Atlanta and Chicago was super fun. And I think we played two of the best shows that this band has played in a while, and I'm looking forward to that. It's incomplete at this point.

We haven't had that time together to really get together. The recording was mostly me and Perry. Sean, we let him do his vocals on his own and he came in after having a couple of little fixes. But you know, it's been really secular and really disjointed as far as all of this shit happening. So we're looking forward to getting together and doing it for real.

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It's gotta be pretty liberating to bounce back and forth between doing thrash or cover songs in Vio-lence and BPMD. Then there was Machine Head, which was a very singular vision and Robb Flynn's baby in so many ways. To be able to do things like what you're doing now, and being able to play with Overkill or fill in for Lamb Of God, it must be nice after 16 years to flex a lot of creative muscles. 

You know, I don't know if I've made it seem like I wasn't able to do anything else in Machine Head, because I was. I was still doing Metal Allegiance things back then and I was still doing the Randy Rhoads shows. I was still doing things, so I don't know if I made it seem that way. Towards the end I couldn't do any interviews…  but I was always able to kind of go and do some stuff, you know? But I get what you're saying. I'm a swinging dick and I'm looking to bang. And that's how it was. That's how it was when it all came down and when it was all over with. I felt the weight of everything that that band had become for me over the past couple of years and on the last cycle come off me. It didn't hurt that the day after my last show with Machine Head I got a call from Kerry King to come and fill in with Slayer. I wasn't even unemployed for twenty four hours. The reason why I played heavy music brought me to this and gave me this.

You know, I really struggled with if I was going to be worth anything in the industry after I left Machine Head, and I was even told by Flynn that I was going to lose a lot of friends once I left the band. And it got me thinking, "am I gonna? I guess I'm going to find out." And suffice it to say, I was really pleased that that wasn't the case and I get to do all these things. I love my time with Machine Head, man. I do. We accomplished so many cool things and wrote so much cool stuff and played so many cool gigs. I don't want that two percent to ruin the 98 percent that was good. It was such an experience and it has given me this whole other career. I don't think that just because I was in Machine Head that all these people like me or want to be my friend. I think that those are relationships that I managed on my own. But it did bring me back from quitting the music business. I was done. I was going to focus on my marriage and play golf and snowboard and play basketball. That band had given me this other life. So I'm grateful for that and I'm grateful for all the music and everything that we did. I really am.

I have no interest in piling on the negatives because Machine Head holds a very special place for me, and probably my favorite Machine Head record is The Blackening. I believe this year will be 15 years since the release of The Blackening. I think a lot of people kind of consider that to be Machine Head's opus. Looking at that particular period in the band and the creativity in that record and kind of the legacy of that record, how do you see that record now?

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We were writing in 2005 and 2006, and I had kind of gotten over the hump, but still had this mentality of "if I'm going to bring material to the table, then it has to be amazing. It has to be really fucking good for me to even get out and jam along with Dave on some certain things." So the first song that I brought was "Slanderous" and it was a super Lamb Of God. And so I wanted to bring as much of a song to the table as possible. If you look at that record, you'll see the songs that I contributed had a big bulk of the song already done. We didn't have this cognizant thing of, "hey we're going to write a groove heavy record," we're just going to see what comes out and that's just what came out. That and "Beautiful Mourning." The first half of that song was all me. I just filtered those songs, every single note, before I brought them in and had these ideas and all these different changes.

I think we stopped writing because Robb started doing Roadrunner United in the middle of that. It was a weird in-between thing. And I think that maybe he wrote "The Dagger" especially for that. There's was a "no solo projects" kind of thing happening and we were like, "well that kind of seems like a solo project." Roadrunner United was a separate deal and "The Dagger" is a killer song that could have been a great Machine Head song, you know? So it was weird, and I was still learning my spot in the band. Writing on the long songs, I remember Dave came up with a riff for "Halo." I actually added the harmonic to that. It was Dave's riff, but I added the harmonic to that because in my previous band Torque I had to throw out a bunch of riffs because they sound like Machine Head. I loved Burn My Eyes. When Robb started that band, I fucking loved what he was doing. I started drop tuning and just worshiping Machine Head and that record and like, the demos and stuff. So I had to trash all these riffs. But now it's like, "oh my god, I can use my Machine Head riffs because I'm in Machine Head now!"

BPMD was a very cool project that came out at a very strange time. Is that something you'd ever be interested in revisiting? Maybe doing a special gig with those guys if you're at a festival or collaborating on more tunes? Or was that like, "hey man, it'd be fun to kind of do like a 70,000 Tons of Metal thing where we get together and jam and make some cover tunes?"

That was the idea. We were going to do a couple of shows back east and then quarantine hit. It was bassist Mark Menghi]'s idea to do that and he handpicked us. You know, him and Blitz are tight, and [drummer Mike Portnoy] from Metal Allegiance. And I always joke with them that, oh, "Skolnick or Andreas Kisser weren't available, so you called me or whatever." And he's like "no man, you're my first choice." And that was the first tracking that I'd done on a record in I don't know how long, because Robb started tracking all the rhythms in Machine Head during The Blackening sessions, so I hadn't tracked any rhythms in quite some time. And so those guys really gave me this opportunity to find that worth and figure this thing out.

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I submitted all my tracks and they were over the moon with it, man. And I think that that record has some of my best playing on it. There's no Floyd Rose. I was using my fixed bridge and it's a lot of blues playing and stuff. And I'm super proud of all the songs we did and the way I played on that record. I think that if we were together at some time we could play together. I joke about bringing them out and playing my bar out here, you know, flying them all out and doing the BPMD record at the bar. I think we're all open to that. I think we just have different priorities than playing '70s American band covers.

Going back to Vio-lence, I know there are designs on maybe doing another EP down the road instead of another full0length. And it kind of strikes me that next year will be 35 years of Eternal Nightmare. Would you guys ever consider maybe doing like a half and half type thing? Maybe play that record in full and throw in new tunes as well and some stuff from Oppressing The Masses and Nothing To Gain? Would you like to toast that record in some capacity?

Yeah, I think so. I think that we would. I mean, it's basically what we do now. Our live show is almost all of Eternal. We did that at the first reunion show. We played Eternal Nightmare in its entirety. And 35 years is a big deal, man. We are going to re-release it, I think, later on this year. I don't think we've really announced that or not. But you know, we're going to re-release the record and do a reissue form. So yeah, I think that we would do the whole record in that sense. It goes back to nobody wants to hear an hour and a half of Vio-lence.

Vio-lence drop Let the World Burn on March 4 through Metal Blade Records.

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