HEAVY METAL BLITZ
Despite the global success of bands such as Iron Maiden and Saxon, if I had to submit one band that encapsulates the music, sound and attitude of the so-called New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), Blitzkrieg would probably get my vote. Indeed Blitzkrieg’s snowballing impact on the global Metal scene is undeniable. Suffice to remember, as an example, that Metallica covered the band in their 1984 EP “Creeping Death” (and several other times thereafter).
Responsible for the band’s inception (sometime around 1980) and endurance is vocalist Brian Ross, who also recorded 2 gems of albums with Satan, a band he still fronts. In June 2016, I managed to corner Brian just before Blitzkrieg hit the stage at London’s Garage Dayz Re-Revisited (a festival featuring several NWOBHM veterans). He was only too happy to answer my questions about his musical upbringing, the early Blitzkrieg albums, and much more. So put on some Blitzkrieg music and have a good read!
What are your feelings about this festival? Is there a feeling of déjà vu at seeing your contemporaries here?
Brian: I’ve played here before…I’ve also done it with Satan and of course we came back and did our own concerts here too. Yeah, it’s a bit of déjà vu and its also nice to see all of the guys from the other bands. I’ve just caught Sacrilege’s set and they were great.
The thing is we don’t often get the chance to see each other cause we’re always off doing something or another. So it’s nice to be able to meet at festivals like these.
Let’s go back in time to your musical upbringing. Brian, what music were you listening to before you formed Blitzkrieg?
Brian: Wow….well, when I was at school I heard the Beatles and I thought: ‘This is what I wanna do.’ The Beatles are in fact my all-time favourite band. As time went on I kind of picked up on other bands, bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath…..and so on.
What about Judas Priest? Blitzkrieg have recorded and performed Priest covers and in the “Back From Hell” album you even have a song (‘Call For The Priest’) that salutes the band.
Brian: Yes, absolutely. I mean Judas Priest are probably the greatest Heavy Metal band of all time. I think they set the bar for what is Metal and we [Blitzkrieg] aim to get there…as I’m sure other bands do too. I listen to a lot of bands…Alice Cooper is also one of my favourite bands of all time. I also had the honour to play Alice Cooper in a stage-show, besides being in Satan and Blitzkrieg as well. It’s called ‘Alice Cooper’s Nightmare‘.
Particularly in Blitzkrieg’s early days the band struggled to maintain a stable line-up. Why do you thing that was so?
Brian: [pauses to think….] I kind of only want people in the band if they want to be in the band. Once they reach the point where they say they want to be doing something else, they want to put their own band together….once they reach that point, then really that’s the end. I want people to give 100%. I want people to give what I give….I don’t expect anyone to give more or less than I do. And I think when they reach the point where they’re no long doing that, then it’s time to move on.
But don’t you think the line-up instabilities prevented Britzkrieg’s music from developing?
Brian: Possibly. Possibly it may have done. But on the other hand we seem to be doing all right. I thing I’d rather have done it as it happened….with all the line-up changes….than give the fans anything that wasn’t up to standard. Because i think when people aren’t really into it any more…..when they’re sick of touring….when they want to go home and spend some time with their kids and family…..I don’t think they can give 100%. And if you don’t give that 100%, the audience will know. I think all of the line-up changes have kept the music fresh, each has brought in new ideas. And I think the kids appreciate that. I think that is really what it’s all about. It’s about entertainment and it’s about giving the kids what they want to hear.
Since we’re talking about line-ups…last year young drummer Matt Graham joined Blitzkrieg. How did that come about?
Brian: Matt is actually in the Alice Cooper tribute band with me. How did he end up with Blitzkrieg? Myself and my son Alan [Blitzkrieg guitarist] were in the rehearsal room running through some new ideas for Blitzkrieg and there was a band rehearsing in the rehearsal room next door to us. And the more we listened to them, the more we thought ‘They’re not bad actually.’ So we went and knocked on their door……
Ok, before that door was opened, what did you expect to see, based only on what you had heard?
Brian: Well, we knew they were a young band because there were a lot of mistakes being made. But it was very angry, very loud, it was very fast and it was like these guys were really going for it. So we thought we’d have a look and knocked on their door and went in. And it was a young band just starting out. They were all great but Matt, the drummer, shone way above the rest of them with regards ability, attitude and everything. And we kind of kept in touch with Matt. Then when Micky Kerrigan left the band, the first person we thought of was Matt. So we gave him a call and said ‘Do you want to try out for Blitzkrieg?’ He said yes. And the rest is history really.
I’d like to talk about the early Blitzkrieg albums, starting with “Time Of Changes” [debut album released in 1985 but its songs were released before that, in various EPs and demos]. I can hear a lot of that album in the early Thrash bands, and I’m not just talking about Metallica. I’m thinking about the way you sing, the songwriting, and so on. When recording that album were you aware that Blitzkrieg’s previous demo and single were already making waves across the Atlantic?
Brian: When we did the demo and single it was around 1980/1981. So it was only 1 year that the band had been in existence and we wrote pretty much all of the songs that were on “Time Of Changes” at that time. And in the early 1980s we were already going to enter a recording studio to do that album but we split up before it happened. At that time we weren’t aware of what was going on apart from one guy who got in touch with us and asked us for some songs, which we sent him…..but that’s another story.
It was much later, after I’d worked with Avenger and after I’d done the “Caught In The Act” album with Satan, that I thought I’d put a new band together. But first I wanted to clear out the old Blitzkrieg songs…..
…..tie up loose ends….
Brian: Yeah, it was kind of like having a bit of unfinished business. So I had thought what I’m going to do is release an album and its title will be “Blitzkrieg: A Time Of Changes”. And it was going to be a Brian Ross album. The press got hold of the idea and put it up as Blitzkrieg’s first album.
Interesting….so “Time Of Changes” was initially intended to be a solo album….
Brian: Yes, it was supposed to be a solo album to sort of lay the ghost of Blitzkrieg down for ever, after which i was going to move on the something else. But it really became apparent that what the fans really wanted was Blitzkrieg. So I thought, well, this is what they want…then this is what they shall have.
Why did you re-record “Time Of Changes” last year (2015)?
Brian: We re-recorded it last year because it saddens me when I go around the world and I see a copy of the original version of “Time Of Changes” for sale for £150 or more. And that puts it out of the price range of the people that matter. Collectors buy it, they put it on their shelf and they never listen to it. That, to me, is a waste of my time. It’s a waste of my effort. Why do I write songs? I don’t write songs so that people can put them on a shelf and leave them there. I want people to listen to them. And it seemed to me that the people that mattered weren’t able to buy a copy of this album because the prices were way too high.
We couldn’t re-issue it because Universal Records in America [U.S.ofA.] won’t release the original master tapes. Ideally we’d have got the original tapes, remaster them, remix them and put it out. But that was not possible so we did the next best thing….we re-recorded the entire album with a few extra little bits.
After “Time Of Changes”…the original release….it would take Blitzkrieg another 10 years to release another album: “Unholy Trinity” of 1995. That album seemed to have a darker and heavier tone….had that been the band’s deliberate intention?
Brian: Yes. It was always the intention to be like that. But I think that because of the recording techniques of the time, it never did come across on record. When you saw Blitzkrieg live, you saw and heard the band the way it was supposed to be. On record…..and I met a lot of bands at the time who were also like that…their recording was sort of very basic. A lot of people like that I guess…..but from a musician’s point of view it’s not really the way it should be. In the studio we hear the album the way it’s supposed to be heard but when it’s released it doesn’t sound quite the same. That’s why we released “Unholy Trinity” that way.
So you’re not so happy about the recording quality of that album?
Brian: No. I think that as a musician and as a perfectionist, I would really have to say that I tried to have the kind of sound that was representative of what you hear when you see Blitzkrieg live. But in reality it was not quite that. We’re a better band live than we are on record I think.
Tonight I’ll see whether that’s the case! [Note to reader: yes, it was the case!] But back to the subject of Blitzkrieg’s early albums. After “Unholy Trinity”, in 1996 Blitzkrieg released the album “Ten”, which is a sort of compilation album. Would you agree to that or do you consider it to be a proper album?
Brian: “Ten” was based on “10 years of Blitzkrieg” [EP – 1991], which was the 10th anniversary of the original single, and the “Ten” LP had a 1991 side and a 1981 side. What we had wanted to do was to sort of fill the EP up and make an album out of it. The album also had ten songs so it was called “Ten”. So it wasn’t a compilation album, it was just extra songs that we wrote to put on there that we thought fitted in with the ideas of the EP.
Earlier on you mentioned Satan’s “Court In The Act” album. At the time, did you find a big change in mentality when you left Blitzkrieg for Satan?
Brian: No, not really, because in many ways the two bands are very similar. Ok, we do things in different ways but the ideas, the work ethic, the mentality, the desire…was the same on both bands. And the musicianship in both bands is really quite awesome so, you know, it makes my job as a singer much easier when you’ve got a great bunch of musicians behind you.
What had happened between you and Satan after the “Court In The Act” album of 1983?
Brian: They fired me. [laughs] The reason for that was because we put out “Court In The Act” and Kerrang! in England and Aardscock Magazine in Holland slated it.
Brian: Yeah, they didn’t like it at all. They thought it was awful. They thought it was a boring album…..
And today it’s regarded as a classic of the NWOBHM genre.
Brian: Oh yes. I mean they were wrong of course but their reaction still had an effect on the band. And the band decided that what they wanted to do was to change things so that we sounded more like Bon Jovi, so that we sounded more American in our approach and in the way that we sounded. They even wanted to change the name from Satan.
[Note: As a consequence of this, Satan went under the name Blind Fury for a few years.]
Brian: I totally disagreed with that. I said ‘No, I do not want to change the name. I do not want to change the musical direction of the band. I want us to carry on and write the follow-up to “Court In The Act” and go with it. They disagreed so they fired me.
As you mention earlier, you also sang with the band Avenger for some time. However, you never recorded an album with that band. Do you regret that?
Brian: I’m not sure. To be honest when I first put Avenger together I was collecting a bunch of musicians with whom I had wanted to do the follow-up band to Blitzkrieg…without it being Blitzkrieg. So I came up with the name Avenger and I found the musicians that were right for the job. We released a couple of singles, we did “Too Wild To Tame” and “Hot ‘N Heavy Express”.
What happened was that it really didn’t turn out to be what I had wanted it to be. It wasn’t a follow-up band to Blitzkrieg at all….I dunno….it just didn’t seem right at the time and I wasn’t happy with it. So we just agreed that it was the end of the road for me and I left and started looking at other projects. You know, Avenger are a great band, they’re still at it, they’re still doing the job that they set out to do. Swifty’s back on vocals too.
Guitarist Glenn Howes, currently with Fist, played with Avenger before ending up with Blitzkrieg for a time, right? Or was it the other way round?
Brian: It was the other way round.
Glenn also had a band with your son Alan [Blitzkrieg guitarist]…..
Brian: Alan was in Earthrod with Glenn before Blitzkrieg.
So did that have any bearing on your decision to invite Alan to join Blitzkrieg?
Brian: Alan was actually the singer of Earthrod.
Ironic, no? Now Alan plays guitar with Blitzkrieg and Glenn sings lead vocals (besides also playing guitar) with Fist.
Brian: With Fist, yeah. It’s amazing how it goes around. Glenn is a great guy and he writes some amazing songs. I’d love to see more of him as a guitar player but at the moment he’s with Fist, with whom he’s doing really well and it’s nice to see that. Great guys, Fist, too. Great music. Good friends…we’ve known each other forever, really.
You know, I did interview Glenn/Fist a few months ago and he said the same thing of you.
Back to Blitzkrieg now. You’ve only released one album this decade, the excellent “Back From Hell”. Are there any definite plans for a new Blitzkrieg album?
Brian: Yes. The idea was that while we wrote new songs, we’d re-do the “A Time Of Changes” album…which we did….and it was also the 30th anniversary of the original release of that album, so it kind of tied in very nicely. We’re still writing songs for the new Blitzkrieg album and we’re hoping to start recording it at the end of this year. There’s no title for the album as yet, but we know what it’s going to look like. The songs have started to shape up really well. Without telling you too much, I’d say the music is a tie between Blitzkrieg and Satan.
That sounds very interesting. We’re at the end of the interview but I’ve got one last question for you, Brian. If a young Metal fan who has never heard Blitzkrieg comes up to you, which Blitzkrieg album would you recommend to him as an introduction to the band?
Brian: Hmmm….tricky one…..”Unholy Trinity” or “Absolute Power.
“Absolute Power” is probably my favourite Blitzkrieg album.
Brian: Well, in that case I would go with that one…on your recommendation!
[Both of us laugh!]
© 2016 Chris Galea (Interview text and live photography)