No one would fault Dave Carlo for putting a pin in his heavy metal dream.
Founding guitarist and creative force behind legendary Canadian thrash outfit Razor, (which includes longtime bassist Mike Campagnolo, frontman Bob Reid and drummer Rider Johnson) Carlo has overcome label mismanagement, a decade long decline in the thrash genre, personal health issues that includes partial blindness due to Stargardt's Dystrophy and overcoming cancer, with admitted family struggles and the recent tragic loss of his wife Rose, who lost her own battle with cancer.
Through the unthinkable – the personal that far outweighs the professional – Carlo endures, finding solace and catharsis in his art, with Razor just having released their first new album of material Cycle of Contempt on September 23.
Carlo, in candid and endearing fashion, sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into his passions for music, tackling why the time was right for the long-awaited Razor record, his thoughts on the decline and rise in thrash metal, how record company mismanagement impacted the band and so much more!
On New Album Cycle on Contempt
"Well, I certainly feel it's the greatest record. And yeah, it's been really nice the last ten years or so in terms of the rediscovery or just the first time discovery of the band by younger people through the internet and learning about the band and seeing us start to gain in prominence, which was totally unexpected.
"I should tell you that, you know, I'd love to say that I just stayed the course all the way through 1983 to the present. But I did not. I retired Razor in 1992, and I had no intention of bringing it back. I did not stop being a fan of the genre, but the market conditions in the '90s were such that nobody was really that interested. And I was not prepared to invest the time and energy in creating new albums or anything of that sort if there wasn't an audience for it.
"And the internet brought the audience back. High speed internet gave people the chance to download and listen to music and stream music. And that's what got us to the point where we started performing regularly again. And then just from going out and performing, we learned that there's a good audience for us and we should maybe do a new album. So that's how that all evolved.
"The thing is, it didn't take me 25 years to write it (the new album). I wrote it in six weeks, and I did that in the spring of 2018. We had just got back from Japan and we had some time off from our next shows. So I took that time to write the record musically, not lyrically. Lyrically, we didn't get the lyrics done until the pandemic started, but that was the issue. You know, Rider just took six months off at the beginning of 2019, because he wanted to take some training for a separate career because he's a younger guy. He's only in his early thirties. I think he's 34 now. He just turned 34 and he wants to make sure that he's got a way to make a living after we're doing this.
"So he needed to take that time off. And unfortunately we didn't know he had planned that, so it interfered with our schedule to record. And then we brought in Reef (Shareef Hassanien), who filled in for Rider very admirably, but we always wanted Rider as our guy. It wasn't like there was any friction or anything. We love Rider and actually love Reef too. But Rider was our guy and he wanted to rejoin and we just felt like that's the right thing to do because he'd been with us most of the last ten years.
"The chemistry in this band is fantastic. I mean, the guys get along so well and we have fun together and that's really important when you're out playing all the time and you're with the same people all the time. It's so important to have people around you that you enjoy being with. But he was the guy, he was always going to be the guy. But the pandemic totally wreaked havoc on this because the plan was to get the recording done just as the pandemic kicked in. We just finished a show in January 2020 in Dallas, and we were ready to go and record and then this thing happened. So that really became a situation where we had to kind of piecemeal the recording sessions.
"So it had to be recorded over an almost two year period in stops and starts. We had the drums done in a completely different studio, in a different city, because that was the way it had to be because of the pandemic. I put the guitar parts down. Not the actual permanent guitar parts, just demo guitar parts and sent them with click tracks to Rider. And then we set up another engineer into the studio and he played there, and so we did it like that.
"And then we had to, like I say, get everybody in when the restrictions were lifted and we had to pull it all together. But like you said, it's a great album and maybe it's destiny, but I honestly didn't find it tough to write this album. I guess maybe it's just so liberating for me to pick a guitar up again and start just cranking out riffs. I hadn't done it in so long, so that was a real pleasure."
On The Tongue-in-Cheek Nature of Razor
:That is our vibe. And some people eat it up and love it… Now again, I'm partly blind, so I don't see so well, so I cannot see the audience. I know there's people out there, but I can't see who they are. So I don't see their expressions on their faces. The old days were good, but unfortunately not anymore. So what I hear, and I knew this even back in the day. You'll get these guys, and I think even more so it just depends. I won't make it exclusive to any one territory, but you get these guys with that stone face at the sides of the hall or whatever. They're not headbanging, they're just sitting there and glaring at you. And you wonder like, okay, are we a little too carried away?
"This is entertainment, you know? That's what this is. And Razor are entertainers. And we do have fun. This is fun. And we kick ass. We're relentless and we want to be. But yeah, there's a tongue-in-cheek to it because, like especially in this day and age, when you look at the last 20 years of what's happened in the States with the gun stuff. Honestly, would I do an album called Shotgun Justice now? There's no mention of guns anywhere on this album. Yet there's a revenge component that's very strong.
"It's just different. But I have a line on there, if you look back to 1988, there was a line on Violent Restitution. These are over the top. One's like, 'I'll smash your face to pieces with my trusty spade.' Okay, so we have that. And then this new album, we have this thing and there's a line on 'Off My Meds,' 'I'm going to punt you with my cleats,' okay? It's like, okay, these are are funny. It's funny, but it's still serious and it's still a threat. You know, even the song 'Off My Meds,' the whole point of 'Off My Meds' is it's a threat. I'm going to go off my meds and you're not going to like the guy you meet in a couple of hours. So yeah, there's tongue-in-cheek.
"And I kind of think it's a bit of a Canadian thing. I don't know. I just know from where I play all over the world and I talk to different people and stuff and I just find Canadians, we don't take ourselves that seriously. And that's why there's so many great Canadian comedians. So when we play like that, you'll play somewhere and some audiences just eat it up. And other audiences, maybe they think I should just be the reincarnation of Charles Bronson 100% of the time, and that's all they want to see. But I'm sorry, I do have a sense of humor and it does come through. I said, I'm sorry, but I don't really apologize for it. I like it. I think it makes us different."
On Record Company Interference in the 1980s
"You know, the funny thing is, if you look at our history specifically, at our very earliest period, 1985 and 86, we had three albums come out in 12 months. Now there's a story behind that and it's going to maybe surprise you. But the reason for this has everything to do with the record company putting pressure on us. Yes, because the way we started our careers, we made an EP called Armed & Dangerous, and we released it ourselves. We financed and released it ourselves and we pressed 1200 copies and it sold very quickly, very well.
"We just drove around southern Ontario, Canada and brought copies off of record stores and we just said to them, 'Could you display these and just pay us if you sell them? And if you don't sell anything in a month, we'll take them back and no problem.' And everybody sold them. We just said do us a favor. We gave them a free copy and we said, 'Play it in your store and give us a little display space and let's see what happens.' And we sold a bunch of them. And the next thing you know the distributors for these record stores started calling us and ordering much larger copies. And that's how we were able to sell so many so quickly. And they started shipping them to Europe and other places.
"But what happened was Attic Records, which was the label that signed us in 1984, they called it Viper Records. That was this offshoot, their metal offshoot. But there wasn't even much of a metal offshoot, but that's what they were trying to do. But it was the same label Anvil was on, Attic Records, and they signed us and this is what they did. We weren't happy. We had a whole new album ready. The album was called Escape the Fire. Not the demo that circulates around. The actual Escape the Fire was an album where we recorded 11 new songs and we wanted to release that as our first full length album.
"But what Attic said to us when they offered us the deal that we accepted was 'we have to have some of the Armed & Dangerous songs on this first album because you know, that one sold well. We don't know if this new stuff is going to sell,' which is pretty condescending, honestly. But that's what they said, and we didn't have any choice. So they took four songs off Armed & Dangerous and slapped them on to the new album. And they took four songs out of the new album and they issued and called it Executioner's Song. Now that was fine, kind of. I still wasn't happy about it, but it got us on the map.
"Next thing you know, not even six month later, three or four months later they said, 'we're going to take all the leftover songs that we never released. That's going to be your second album, and it's going to come out in October.' I don't want that. You mean the songs that we rejected from Executioner? You're going to put those as our second album? That's going to be terrible for us. We're going to look like we've regressed. That is a terrible idea. I had to beg them. Please let me write a new album. I'll do it quickly and I'll record it in a couple of days. Just let me do a new album. I don't want that material to be our second album.
"So I wrote Evil Invaders with that gun to my head feeling. And we got it done. And they put it out and lo and behold, it was our best received album. Six months later, in April of 1986, they did it to me again. They said, 'okay, we still got those leftover songs. We're going to make that your third album.' They did that to me, and I had to beg them again to let me write another album. Now, that's not the way you want to create your art with a gun to your head because you got this old stuff they keep threatening to throw out there as a new album.
"That's what I dealt with because I had a record company that was interested in money, not metal. It was not a metal record company. I should have and I didn't, in hindsight I understand this now, but we should have been working with labels like Metal Blade or Megaforce or Music For Nations. That's where we belonged and we didn't. We took the deal because our logic was, oh Anvil got pretty good prominence out of this, so if we could just get that, it could just get us to where Anvil is and we'll take it from there. But what we didn't know until we signed with them, they didn't tell us this stuff till after we signed with them. Before we signed with them it was all positive and beautiful.
"After we signed with them, 'well, we did this with Anvil and it didn't work out. So you're not going to get that. We gave tour support to Anvil and we lost money, you're not going to get that. We're not going to do this for you because we did it for Anvil.' That's what we kept hearing constantly. Anvil was the reason we weren't getting any help apparently, according to Attic records and they were mostly focused on Lee Aaron. That's what they were worried about. She was their superstar.
"They spent what seemed like a zillion dollars to us, because we couldn't even get a couple of grand out of it, on Bob Ezrin to do her big album Call of the Wild. It was going to be the biggest thing and biggest thing, and this song 'Barely Holdin' On' was going to be this huge hit. And we were sitting there getting nothing. Finally I was able to guilt trip them into putting together the 'Evil Invaders' video for us. So we got that out of it, but honestly it didn't leave a very good taste in my mouth the way that all went. But that's why you have three albums in 12 months, because of all that pressure they put on us.
"I also feel like this is the first album I ever made in my life that I took the time that I wanted to take to make it. I feel like, okay, yes, I'm better on my instrument than I was 40 years ago. I mean, that's pretty obvious. Everybody is after that many years of experience. But the truth is, honestly, we could have made much better albums in the eighties than we made. Much better. We just needed more time and more assistance. We just didn't have the support. It wasn't there. So the fact that even Evil Invaders gets mentioned anywhere near an album by a Megadeth or a Metallica when I made Evil Invaders in three days. Two days of recording, one day of mixing, all kinds of decisions to compromise performances and other things because we didn't have the time. It really is gratifying that we did. But it's also bittersweet because I realize we could have done a better album.
"And maybe we like the music and the songs and the rawness of it. I wouldn't have taken away from that. We just would have had the best performances of us that could have been on those records. And you don't have our best performances on those records because we weren't given the time to put those in. But that's not to criticize them. They're beautiful statements of a raw ass kicking band, because one thing about Razor was we were a very tight band practice wise. We had it together.
"We could play these songs forwards, backwards in our sleep. And so we went to the studio and we were like a well-oiled machine to just be like okay, take one. There you go, take one, there you go. So for the most part we were happy, but there were fine tuning things we just couldn't do. Like there's some guitar solos that I think are really weak now looking at my own personal thing. Even by that standard of my playing in 1985 I could have done it much better, but they just didn't give me time. It's like okay, there's one, next. We've got to move on. We're going to run out of money. That's what it was like."
On the Decline of Thrash in the 90s & Media Controlling Content
"Oh I have a very, very defined opinion on that. I think what's happened is, back in the eighties and the nineties and the early 2000 until the internet became more prominent with everybody, you had an establishment, a media establishment. You had the establishment of the structure of media specifically that directed and controlled what was going to be listened to, what was going to be written about, what was going to be talked about.
"And just like fashion. If you think about it in life, what the hell is fashion? Why do clothes come in and out of stuff? When did that start? Somebody somewhere decides that oh, we don't do that anymore, we do this. Somebody made a subjective decision that we don't do that anymore, we do this. Okay, bell bottoms are cheesy now, now we don't wear platform shoes or maybe we do. Okay, but these are just some knuckleheads' opinions and momentum gets started and the more clout you have, the bigger your media empire, the more you can influence people.
"A magazine like Kerrang!, for example, that was around in the early eighties. They were front and center at steering people away from the style of music we loved. They were so trendy, it used to nauseate me like on the bandwagon and this word I kept hearing over and over again about your sound needs to be more accessible. That was the stupid word I kept hearing in the eighties. You're not accessible enough. Metallica's becoming accessible. Accessible? Well, what does that mean, exactly? You mean it means that all we're defining is the quality of our music is sales? Is that all that matters? That all that matters? Is there any artistic integrity in our music? At the same time sales are important, we want people to like our music. I want to sell as many copies as I can. But it's not the only thing that's driving what I'm doing here, because if it is, then it's not even art anymore. It's just a product. It might as well just be making cans of Campbell's Soup.
"So the point is, I believe that's what happened, and I think that continued at the end of the eighties. And everybody decided that the new exciting things were the Pearl Jam's, and they were exciting and new. But that didn't mean you had to forget about everything else. But they did. You liked Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana. And those bands actually did have a bit of an edge to them, too. It's just a different kind. But the fact is, I think the internet has made that impossible to happen anymore.
"You cannot control public taste like you used to. You just can't because we all have a level playing field now and I can reach those people that the big media and stuff made impossible for me to reach, the radio stations that decided who they were playing. I can reach those people now, so you can't prevent me from liking this. And that's when thrash metal came back. When the internet became more prominent they discovered bands like ours, and that's why we're back. And the music was always good. It always had lasting power. I believed in it.
"So the early nineties was a very depressing time for me because I was trying to come to terms with the fact that something that I thought was beautiful and should have lasting power suddenly wasn't important anymore. I was like this music appeals to me on an emotional level. I'm never going to not like this stuff. I know that, I know it for a fact. And yet people are just, Oh, we don't care anymore. And it was depressing and not just for me. I talked to my buddies in other bands. I remember having a long conversation with John Ricci from Exciter about it. He says to me, 'You know, Dave, the younger people, they just don't know. They think we were always huge. They don't realize what it was like in the nineties. They don't understand that people just bailed on us. They don't get it.'
"So that's the reason, I think it has to do with the internet. And I'm very grateful for the internet. I know a lot of the biggest bands when the internet first came out, they were like oh you're illegally sharing music and all this kind of stuff. Well, the biggest boys would complain about that. But the guys who need the exposure were like alright, level playing field now. The models change. We make our money now playing live and selling merchandise. We don't make it selling records. We make it by playing and selling merchandise. So it's changed. Album sales were much more important back in those days before the Internet. "
On Plans to Return to the Road Following Personal Tragedy
"I took this entire year off to take care of my wife. I had bookings all year. This year was full of bookings. Most of them were in Europe, but we had a lot of big festivals over there. There's a festival there called Party.San, Brutal Assault, Rock Hard, we were going to appear at all these plus a lot of medium sized festivals like 5000 seats and also some decent club dates too. And all this stuff was all canceled. I had to pull out. And some Canadian shows too. We had some shows in Winnipeg, in Vancouver and some American shows.
"But anyway, I had to take care of my wife. That was my priority. And I told my agents not to book anything new. They asked me regularly 'can we start setting up shows' and I said not until I know what the final outcome is with my wife. If I know she's going to get better, we can start booking. If I know she's not going to make it, we cannot book until I know when that would be. But as far as playing live goes, getting out there now is going to be therapeutic for me and I'm going to enjoy it. And it's going to be almost a part of the grieving process for me to get back to what I was doing. And we're going to start booking now.
"Probably starting around March of 2023 there'll be a lot of shows. The show announcements will start coming soon, probably within a month or two you'll start seeing a lot of announcements and we'll start playing and the guys in the band are aware of it. We've been talking. I said 'get ready, gear up because we're going to be out there doing a lot of shows, get ready to do a lot of performing.' And so we're all on the same page. We're ready to go.
On Continuing The Metal Dream
"Well, first and foremost, I love this kind of music. I just do. I just have a real passion for it. And I have a very definite view on the best way to present this kind of music. And I think Razor fills a very important niche in the genre. I think we're a little bit different. Just something to differentiate us from other thrash bands. I love lots of other thrash bands. I'm not not criticizing anybody, but we bring something different to the table. And I think it's important, before it's all said and done, that we put an album out, at least one. And if this one goes over well then I'll think about making another one. It's not going to be coming out in six months with Attic records on my back. It's going to take awhile. It would be a few years before you see another Razor album. So I hope you're going to enjoy this one.
"But yeah, I'm a 58-year-old man who's half blind, so I wouldn't be able to get a real job anyway at this point. If I didn't do this I would just retire. I would just stop because my kids are young adults now, but they do have mental health issues, but they are old enough now that they can look after themselves. So they don't need to have Dad taking care of them that way. But I think this is my opportunity, because I still have enough energy to do it. Like I say, 58, I've had two surgeries on each hand and I'm losing my eyesight. I've lost my eyesight, all my central vision. That was like 20 years ago. And I've been dealing with that. I have strategies to deal with that.
"But I want to do this because I enjoy bringing my music to people and I enjoy seeing people enjoy themselves, even though I can't actually physically see it anymore. And that is really something I miss, is looking into the audience to see if people have a good time. I can't see it anymore. That really sucks, but I still know they're having a good time. I hear them between songs and you know, people come and talk to me after the show and stuff. It's a very satisfying occupation. It's fun. It's fun for me. I've always enjoyed it. So it's what I want to do. And I'll probably want to do it until I feel physically I can't anymore.