EXCITER "Fathers of Extremity"

By Dr. Abner Mality

1983. A different time and a different place and young Dr. Mality was just beginning to discover the world of underground heavy metal. At the long gone Appletree Records, I had just started to take notice of the "import heavy metal" section of vinyl delights. One cover in particular stood out...a stark black and white image of a knife tearing open a Marshall stack and blood gushing out. The band was EXCITER and the album was "Heavy Metal Maniac".

I didn't have the bucks then, but was fascinated with this grimy looking platter. The song titles on the back thrilled my metal soul: "Iron Dogs", "Black Witch", "Rising of the Dead", "Cry of the Banshee". When I returned to the store next week, the album was gone, snatched by another budding metalhead. So I picked up a copy of Metal Forces #1, first issue of probably the best printed metal magazine ever, and located an ad for San Francisco's Record Vault. For the first time, I ordered the disc special and got it about six weeks later. At long last, I put needle to vinyl and was blown away by raw, fast and MEAN heavy metal like the perfect combination of Judas Priest and Motorhead! That started my love affair with Exciter, which has seen me through over two decades, many classic releases and many line-up changes in the band.

One constant through all the years has been guitarist John Ricci, the man who IS Exciter.He has never given up the metal fight. Right up to 2012 and the new Exciter record "Death Machine", which might just be the fastest and rawest Exciter yet. When I learned of an opportunity to talk to John, neither iron dogs or banshees could hold me back. It was a pleasure to speak to the man who inspired me all those years ago, as you shall now learn...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Before we go any farther, I just wanted to tell you that this interview has been a long time coming. Back in 1983, the very first underground metal album I ever got was "Heavy Metal Maniac".

JOHN RICCI: That was definitely a classic that we weren't expecting to be a classic.

WC: I've been a fan since then right up to today, so it's like closing the circle.

JR: Yeah, now you're talking to the actual person...(chuckles) That first record was initially a nine song demo tape that we had recorded in hopes of getting a record deal. But when we circulated that tape all over the world, we sent it to various record companies. Shrapnel Records contacted us and the owner of the label, Mike Varney, freaked on it. "This is awesome," he said, "I've never heard anything like this!" So he signed us to a deal and we had no idea that it was the beginning of that genre of heavy metal. It caught us totally be surprise.

WC: It was the first real thrasher I got. Later, I got Venom and Metallica and the rest, but Exciter was the first one I saw.

JR: I think our record, as I read on the internet, was out before Metallica's. Any of the bands that went on to become...bigger...than we are (laughs) came after us. Which is fine, but we kind of started it all unintentionally. We had no idea that this would be the start of a whole new genre of heavy metal music.

WC: Was there any point when you were recording "Heavy Metal Maniac" when maybe you or the producer looked around and said "Man, this is just too heavy?"

JR: Oh, no,no,no! No, we were trying to be as heavy and distorted and as unsophisticated as possible. No one had really heard our material then except for people close to the band like friends, so we didn't have the feedback on how the world was going to react to this music. We just hoped that we might get signed to a record deal based on these nine songs. It was kind of accidental how we came upon the musical style we have today, you know.

WC: Does that seem like a very long time ago or just yesterday?

JR:  It seems like yesterday because all of the neat things that happened over the last 30 years are still fresh in my mind. Getting signed to record deal after record deal, the reaction of fans as we traveled the world, fans asking for your autograph and wanting to take a photo with you and all that stuff...I have all these different memories from different cities and different parts of the world where we played. So to me, it seems just like yesterday.

WC: What is it that you miss the most from the glory days of metal in the 80's?

JR: Well, back then, we really didn't have to prove anything, because it was such a new style of music. The fans who came to see you were in in awe of you, they accepted everything you did. The reaction of the audience was over the top. But as the years go on, all the newer bands start to come out and write music that is faster than yours and heavier than yours. All of a sudden, you find you have something to prove...that you can still do it. So I think back in the 80's, all the bands carved out their own kind of following. Today, we still have our following, but we still have to keep proving that we belong, that we can do it, that we are just as exciting to see live and that the intensity of the band is still what it was in the 80's.

WC: Is that the main force that keeps the band going...that you can keep up with the young sprouts, so to speak?

JR: Ummmm...I think so. I'm motivated today just as I was in the early days. I love the music I play. The music is true to me. I think that's why we keep doing what we're doing with such an energetic attitude. I'm not bored with my music, I still love my music from every song we've ever written. I'm still as motivated and as enthusiastic as ever.

WC: The new record "Death Machine" is as fast and heavy as anything you've ever done, would you agree?

JR: I agree. (laughs) I agree 100%. Occasionally, when I read a review of the new record that's not so good...everyone's entitled to their opinion, I respect that...but sometime I feel some journalists are missing the point. We've always been a very basic band musically speaking. It's all about energy and intensity and power. And I think that's what the new record has.

WC: Does the record capture what you do live?

JR: Well, you know, we're even more intense live. We're a very intense band. (chuckles) It's even more of what the record is.

WC: Recently, you took part in something that was pretty unique...the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. What was that experience like?

JR: Well,you know, it was actually our second time doing a festival on a cruise ship. In 2008, we played the Swedenrock cruise, which is the same idea. It left Stockholm and then went up to Finland and back. It was only a 24 hour cruise. The two headliners were ourselves and UDO, along with some smaller bands. The 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise was much larger, a much larger ship. It was 2300 people who had flown from all over the world to be on the ship, from 50 different nationalities. There were three huge concert stages. There was no backstage area. One of the purposes of the cruise was just for bands and fans to mingle, to get to know each other and to hang out at a restaurant and chat or go to the bar and have a beer and talk about whatever topic. The whole ship had this real family feeling on it, a family vibe between the fans and the musicians. It was just a great experience.

WC: I think it probably also gave you a chance to interact with some bands from back in the day, like Venom, Overkill...

JR: Well, Bobby Blitz of Overkill and I are friends. I hung out with Bobby and his wife, we went to see other bands and talk about music and so on. I met the guys from Whiplash. Tony the guitarist/singer told me how big a fan of Exciter he was. I also met the guys from Tankard. The main guy's name was....Gurn, I think?

WC: Gerre!

JR: Yeah, Gerre. When he saw me in the hallway of the ship, he ran after me and said, "Hey man, if it wasn't for Exciter, my band wouldn't exist. You guys started it all and I thank you for that." I heard that over and over again from various bands on the ship. It was very, very flattering.

WC: That had to make you feel like the struggle was really worth it.

JR: Exactly.

WC: I've been lucky enough to talk to Blitz in the past. He's hilarious, one of my favorite interviews.

JR: (laughs) Yes, he's a very pleasant guy and he's got a great sense of humor.

WC: Another gig that you played recently was in Chicago. Where does Chicago rate as a metal town in your experience?

JR: Well, Chicago even in the old days was a very good gig for us. We always got high attendance and the fans are just awesome. They're right into it...every song, every lyric, they sing along with you. We played at Reggie's Rock Club in Chicago at the end of November and it was very successful. There was high attendance. We played with Sleepy Hollow, a New Jersey band with Bob Mitchell on vocals, and also the ex-guitarist from Manowar, David Shankle, he was there. We were treated really well by the owner and bar owner, so Chicago is definitely one of our favorite places to play.

WC: How would you rate the Canadian metal scene now compared to the 80's?

JR: The difference was, each band had...and still has...their own unique approach to playing this kind of music. The younger bands, unfortunately, are influenced by a lot of the older bands from the 80's. They don't really stand out, because you've heard it before, you know? I think it's the same for Canadian bands as American bands and in fact, bands around the world.

WC: Is there a way out of that trap? Can a metal band now play something completely original without losing what makes them a metal band? Is that possible?

JR: It's really hard to do, because unless someone in the band has some unique way of playing their instrument or if you had a totally unique lead singer, it is very hard to sound completely original. There are so many influences out there. I can't speak for other bands from the 80's, but as far as Exciter goes, I was influenced by many 70's bands like Saxon and Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and Motorhead, but when I sat down to write music...even though I had absorbed all those styles...I came up with my own approach to playing heavy metal. Again, it was not intentional, it was accidental. It's hard not to sound like somebody else, but if I do write a guitar riff that sounds like somebody else, I don't use it, I scrap it.

WC: You have a very unique guitar sound. I call it a "chainsaw" guitar sound. What's the secret to that? Or is there a secret?

JR: (chuckles) Well, a couple of things. You have to write angry guitar riffs if you want the music to sound aggressive. So when I sit down and play the guitar, I have this style...well, I'm not a very technical player...I just hammer on the guitar as hard as I can and I let all the other strings ring out when I'm playing power chords. Many other guitarists mute those strings, but I let them ring out, so the guitar sound doesn't sound sounds like a chainsaw, just as you said.

WC: What production do you think captured your sound the best? Is it "Death Machine"?

JR: You know, every record we've ever recorded, we've never been happy with the production. It doesn't capture our sound in the studio and it always sounds like we recorded in a garage somewhere. It's very raw and in your face. I know a lot of people like that, but we're always trying to get a more polished sound...which we never seem to achieve! (laughs)

WC: Even with the differences in production, there's no mistaking your guitar sound.

JR: Yeah. Most metal bands are guitar driven so the guitar sound has to be right in your face.

WC: As far as songwriting goes, do the other guys contribute in any way or are you strictly the "master and commander"?

JR: Yes, I write all the songs and I present them to the band. Everyone puts in their comments and ideas, but I come up with all the music, the lyrics and the melodies. When the original band finally folded in 1993, I felt I'm the guy who came up with this unique Exciter-style music, I want to do all the writing because I don't want anybody else to do the writing because the band will go in a different direction, which I don't want to do. So I told the new guys in Exciter, I'm going to do all the writing, do you have a problem with that? They said, "No, you're the guy, you made it all happen in the early days." So I do all the writing. And I think every song we've written...there's no filler. I think every song is a wicked song. When we sit down and try to write a song list for a live show, it's really hard to figure out what songs NOT to play!

WC: Especially with having so many songs to pick's got to be hard to pick a set list.

JR: Yeah it is, because you don't wanna leave anything out. (chuckles)

WC: "Death Machine" is about serial killers. How did you arrive at that concept and are the songs from the victims' point of view or the killer's point of view?

JR:  I think it's from the victim's point of view. Every day you hear about these horrible crimes around the world...all these sadistic things, many sexually motivated violent message is I'm condemning all these killers. Condemning all these senseless killings. That's the message.

WC: It's not really a glorification of murder, then...

JR: No, not at all. I know the cover has the girl and the chainsaw, but I'm trying to blend in some of the slasher movie themes with what's going on in the world today. It seems like these things have have happened in movies are now actually happening in real life. It sickens me because when you see a slasher movie, it's just for entertainment. Then you pick up the paper and read all these horrific's just really sad. The message of the album comes from the victim's point of view and reflects the horror of these events.

WC: Do you have contact with the ex-Exciter members or is that completely done?

JR: It's a done thing. In 2006, some stuff happened and we had a falling out. Now I occasionally bump into them in the street or a shopping mall, I'll say hi, how are ya?  But that's pretty well the extent of it. Generally speaking, I have no contact with the old guys.

WC: Did you hear anything from the new Beehler album?

JR: I haven't. I did see one clip on the internet when they were playing Headbanger's Open Air in Germany and I heard one of their new songs, which I thought was very good.

WC: It seems like like we have two great bands instead of one.

JR: Well, Dan Beehler was the voice behind the band Exciter so in my opinion, when you hear a Beehler song, you hear Dan's voice and right away you relate it to Exciter. With us, I have a greater challenge because we now have Kenny Winter on vocals and even though I want him to scream out the vocals, it doesn't have the same aura as Exciter had. But I still think we are very successful with the new line-up.

WC: Kenny has no lack of intensity, I'll give him that. A lot of really heavy music gravitated towards gruff, lower pitched vocals. But when I think of Exciter, I think of a scream...a high pitched scream.

JR:  Yeah. The original three members of Exciter...myself, Dan and Allen Johnson...we all had exactly the same musical taste. We loved Judas Priest, we liked Motorhead, we liked AC/DC. I think Dan adopted that high screaming voice to be like a cross between AC/DC and Rob Halford, you know.

WC: The first time I heard "Heavy Metal Maniac", I thought, Jesus, this is the ideal meeting of Judas Priest and Motorhead!!!

JR: (chuckles) That's exactly what we were trying to achieve. We wanted the rawness of Motorhead combined with the speed of Judas Priest and that's how the Exciter musical style was born.

WC: There's been a couple of hiccups, but Exciter has been an amazingly consistent band.

JR: Since 1996, all the places we've played around the world, like Wacken, the Bang Your Head festival, the Keep It True festival...the reaction from the audience, as far as I'm concerned, is over the top more than any reaction we got for the original band. So I think I'm still onto something good here. Recently, we just got a manager in California, we now have an agency in Los Angeles, we're playing Mexico in three weeks at two outdoor festivals, we're playing Brazil with Megadeth and Anthrax at the Brazil Open Air festival. So things are busier now than they were in the 80's for us.

WC: Any American tour plans?

JR: We just played Chicago as you know, but we've had some offers from the U.S. but nothing concrete. Our manager in California, Jeff Keller, he threw an idea at me. Would we consider doing something with Anvil? Anvil and Exciter during the summer. Sure! Work on it and see what happens!

WC:  Another band I think might be a good package with you would be Accept, who are really doing great right now.

JR:  We toured with Accept in 1985. We recorded "Long Live The Loud" in London, England because we were signed with the British label Music For Nations at the time and right after the last day, a studio calls and said, "We just landed you guys a ten-city European tour with Accept!" We did ten cities with Accept and it was an awesome tour.

WC: I think 1985 was arguably the best year of Accept's career.

JR: The tour ended back in London at the Hammersmith Odeon. I agree with you, I think that was the peak of their career.

WC: If you had the ability to ask 3 people from anywhere  in history to dinner, who would they be?

JR: Oh my know, I really like old movies from the 20's and 30's, so I'd really like to have a conversation with Charlie Chaplin. Hmmm...I've never been asked this before!

WC: Well, I try to come up with something a little different!

JR: I'd like to sit down...and I almost did...and have a conversation with Tony Iommi. I'll tell you why. He's always been the ultimate riff-master of all time. I almost got to talk to him. Our very first professional gig was here in Ottawa, Canada, opening for Black Sabbath. At the last minute, the real opening band canceled. It was an outdoor event at an annual fair we have here. When the opener canceled, the promoter called us and said, do you wanna play with Sabbath tomorrow night? We said absolutely! This was during the time Ronnie James Dio was in the band, during the "Mob Rules" tour. I was so excited, I thought I'm gonna meet Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi, one of my guitar idols. Picture this...we're in the back stage area of this big football field where the show was held. Their dressing room trailer was right beside our trailer and it was a nice, sunny evening. Tony Iommi was walking around in the grassy area backstage and I thought, OK, this is my big chance, I'm going to walk up to him and introduce myself. (laughs) I walked up to him and held my hand out to shake his and said, "Hi, Tony, my name is John, I play with Exciter. We're the opening band tonight." And he said, "Oh yes, yes, yes." And I said, "I'm really thrilled to meet you."  I started in with some shop talk about guitars and amplifiers. You know what? He was so disinterested in what I had to say, I felt like a pile of shit.  I felt like I was just bothering him, I couldn't get his attention and he kept looking away from me. Within two or three minutes of this encounter, I felt so uncomfortable. I just said, "Sorry to take up so much of your time. I just wanted to say thanks for all the great music you've given us." I shook his hand and walked away. That was the most disappointing experience I ever had. For someone I looked up to for so many years...But getting back to your question, I'd like the opportunity to sit down and chat with him again.

WC: And number three?

JR: Since I like blond women with large breasts (chuckles), and since she is also Canadian, I would like to sit down and talk to Pamela Anderson.  I know people think she's a no-brainer, but I'd like to have a beer with her and chat.

WC: That's a pretty good line-up...Chaplin, Iommi and Pam Anderson! Let me ask you this...what was the last CD you got just because you wanted to check out the band?

JR: Since I know Megadeth really well and I know Dave Mustaine really well, I think it was the last Megadeth record.

WC: "Thirteen"?

JR: No, I haven't gotten around to that one yet. I got the one before that, "Endgame". Oh my God...disappointing!

WC: What was the last gig you saw live just because you wanted to check them out?

JR: On the cruise...Overkill. Bobby Blitz is so good...he is like the ultimate frontman. He is so good on stage!

WC: You know, most say the Big Four of thrash metal is Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. In my mind, it should be Exciter, Overkill, Testament and Kreator.

JR: Oh yeah...

WC: Any last message for the faithful out there?

JR: I think Exciter is going to be around for a long time, putting out great music after great music. Nothing's going to slow us down unless we get a physical disability. I really appreciate all the fans, they keep us going. We get great compliments after shows from fans and fellow musicians. We appreciate the feedback but we don't really need it, because we've been so consistent in what we do, we'd be playing this music no matter what.

WC: Because you enjoy it yourself...

JR: Totally! When you see us live, you see these guys are really into it, they're not just going through the motions.