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HIRAX


HIRAX- Ravenous Wolves


By Dr. Abner Mality

Hirax...another 80's thrash band joining the revival bandwagon in the footsteps of Exodus and Death Angel?

One might be forgiven for thinking so, given the plethora of old school bands suddenly reappearing. But spend a few minutes talking to Hirax frontman Katon W. Depena and any thoughts of insincerity or trend-hopping vanish. Simply put, Katon is a diehard underground thrash metal maniac who lives and dies by his music. Not once in all the long years of Hirax's "hibernation" did he ever extinguish the flame of thrash that burned in his heart.

Hirax's latest album "The New Age of Terror" is a good addition to the collection of any thrash fan. The cover portrays snarling wolves barely held in check by bars of steel. Very appropos, given the nature of what lurks within. It is true, Hirax is not on a quest to be the ultimate in extremity or the most radical and sinister metal band, but what they do provide is an injection of energy and sincerity into this most revered form of underground music.To sample some of that integrity, join me as I speak to one of thrash's most dedicated ambassadors...


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Your latest album "The New Age of Terror" has been out for a while now...

KATON DEPENA: Well, not too long! It was released in Europe first on Mausoleum Records and now that people have caught wind of it in the States, Century Media Records has picked it up. It's been selling really well and in fact they just sold out of it and they have to reorder it. The record's doing really good!

WC: You're pretty happy with the way the record turned out?

KD: Yeah, it's actually better than everybody realizes. We're such an underground band but for some reason, the word has gotten out on it. A lot of people are finding out about the band for the first time and album sales are picking up. I couldn't be happier, because we do the "real" metal, you know? Especially with all this other music out there today...I can't even call it metal...music that's so trendy, I can't believe how well we are doing.

WC: Do you consider "New Age of Terror" a "comeback" album or is it more a case of "we never went away"?

KD: It's not really a comeback album. We did an EP prior to it called "Barrage of Noise". I think this is more of a return than a comeback...a way of saying, hey, this is what we do. We've always played this kind of metal. This is a testament to our true fans that have supported us over the years. We never want to let them down and we definitely didn't on this record. We did a damn good job of doing it how it's supposed to be done. Thrash metal the way it's supposed to be done!

WC: Was there ever a period of time when your interest in metal waned or when you thought the genre was in danger of extinction? The early 90's were pretty hairy.

KD: Well, I think the real stuff is always going to be underground. Don't get me wrong, there are bands that get big like Motorhead, Manowar and obviously Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. But the real metal always stays pretty underground because you can't kill it. It may not be as big at certain times, but it always comes back to the forefront. Heavy metal always rises back to the top. I never thought it would totally fade away. What I thought is that a lot of the trendier metal recently had become like the poser metal back in the 80's when we had bands like Poison and Warrant. Cinderella...that's what the nu-metal reminds me of. It's cool, because there is still a lot of interest and a lot of true headbangers into Hirax's kind of music. And that's all that really matters.

WC: Have you kept up over the years with some of the newer extreme metal sounds, like black metal or hyper-chaotic Dillenger Escape Plan type stuff?

KD: We always continue to listen to the stuff we've always listened to because we're not much into the newer stuff. But there are some good bands out there in different styles. There's bands out there like Vader, who I like a lot. There's bands that have been around for a while like Napalm Death that we still consider new! We meet a lot of bands on the road that play different styles like black metal, grindcore. Some of the veterans like Cannibal Corpse, who we like a lot. Basically, we're just into real metal because that's what we've listened to our whole lives. We're not going to be influenced by any new trends, if you know what I mean.

WC: You mentioned Napalm Death. I'm sure you're aware that they covered your song "Hate, Fear and Power" on their latest CD.

KD: What was cool about that Napalm Death actually called us and asked our permission to use the song. We were actually flattered by that. We like what they do, we like what they are about, so it was actually an honor. They did a damn good job doing it. They did it their way and that's what I'd expect from those guys.

WC: It's got to help you when a Napalm fan picks up that album, hears the cover and then gets inspired to check out some of the bands that inspired them.

KD: What's so cool about Napalm Death doing that, and I have to give them a lot of credit, is that they are giving back to the bands who inspired them. And that's what we ourselves still do up to this very day. Bands that inspired us like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath...we try to turn people on to those bands because we owe it to them.

WC: What do you think Hirax has to offer the young kid today who's into stuff like Dillenger Escape Plan or Converge?

KD: I think we just offer a different twist. Those bands are cool and they have their style. But I think we offer a lot to kids who aren't familiar with our brand of thrash. And every time we play live, there's always a new bunch of kids who come see us and tell us "I had no idea about Hirax" . That's fine with us, because we're still trying to turn people on to our music. We are just as interested in our new fans as our old ones. We gotta keep the faith, we gotta keep the whole thing moving on. Heavy metal is what we've got to spread across the world and that's what we're going to continue to do.

WC: Metal does seem to be more of an international phenomena now. The Internet has a lot to do with that.

KD: Yeah, the Internet reminds me of tape trading in the early 80's. It's cool that it's around because it makes it easier for kids to get a hold of stuff. Our Hirax website, www.hirax.org...we get so many kids everyday coming by to check out our product. It's awesome, we're totally stoked about it. We give away a lot of free music on our website and this week we've just added some new video clips, where people can check out our live concerts. Yes, the Internet has definitely helped to spread the heavy metal word.

WC: It does, but there was something about the days of the old paper zines that I miss.

KD: Definitely and I actually feel the same way. That's why I still pick up and read the ones that are still being made by people who are so supportive of the scene. You can still find out a lot by picking up those fanzines that you can't find on the net.

WC: You remember "Kick Ass Monthly"?

KD: Oh yeah! That was a great magazine!


WC: It was run by a guy named Bob Muldowney, who was a very highly opinionated guy.

KD: That's what made it great. I think a lot of true heavy metal fans are highly opinonated, that's just the way we are. "Kick Ass Monthly" was good, there was another one called "The Headbanger" that was really good..

WC: I used to get "Metal Forces" from England...

KD: Yeah, that's one I really liked as well.

WC: Is there any way you can sum up the enduring appeal of thrash metal?

KD: The main thing for me is that there's so much life and so much respect and spirit. Thrash metal fans kick ass, they're way into it, they're diehards. That's why I love thrash metal myself and that's why we still do this music, because we love it. It's like a big family, whether it's bands on the East Coast or the West Coast or over in Europe like our German friends Destruction, Kreator and Sodom. It's a big community, a big family of thrash metallers who thrash till death.

WC: You feel like you are part of a cool underground club, an elite.

KD: That's the best way to put it. It is an elite club and only the few and proud know what it's about.

WC: Looking at the title "The New Age of Terror", I take two meanings from that. One is that Hirax is back in the game and serious about spreading the destruction...

KD: That's a big part of it...

WC: But I wonder if it has a second meaning, a political or social meaning based on the current climate of world events.

KD: You touched on that correctly. It's got a few connotations from what's going on today. Obviously we've got the war going on in Iraq, you can't help but know about that. There's some overtones there because we don't believe in killing people for no reason. I know everybody has different opinions on why the war is going on, but with the IQ most people have, there should be other solutions besides killing people.

WC: Even back in the days of your first record "Raging Violence", your lyrics on the surface seem to be very violent. But when you take the time to look at them closer, they're actually condemning violence.

KD: Yeah, yeah, we have a lot to say. We don't want to be one of those bands where lyrics don't mean anything. Since Day One, from "Raging Violence" right up to "New Age of Terror", we've written songs that have something to say on some issue that needs to be dealt with, such as war or things going on in other countries that we are trying to control, when they really can't be controlled.

WC: What song from the new album has the most meaning or speaks to you the loudest?

KD: There's a few that are important to me. There's "Suffer", which is about the Middle East and how long wars have been fought there because of religious groups. There's "New Age of Terror", which is basically about 9/11 and how crazy things were here in America when that happened. "El Diablo Negro" is one of the songs on the record that we actually re-recorded because so many people were into it . Sometimes bands re-record songs and they suck, but not on this one. This one we got right. The record has a lot of deep stuff on it and it also has things we haven't touched on before. There's a song on there called "Swords of Steel" which is a little bit different for us, but still real heavy. There's some variety on it, there's songs like "Unleash the Dogs of War", which is longer than what we usually do.

WC: "El Diablo Negro" means "The Black Devil" . What is the "black devil" you are talking about?

KD: It works on two levels. It's kind of a play on words because I've been nicknamed that. Ever since I've been into heavy metal at a young age, people have said "Hey, Katon's the black devil!". On a more serious note, the song was written about friends of ours who passed away. There were two guys...there was a guy named Todd who used to be the original drummer in T.S.O.L. and then there was Paul Baloff from Exodus. The song was basically an ode to friends of ours who have died that we wanted to always remember and never forget.

WC: You're a black man who's really into heavy metal. Is the atmosphere for blacks in metal better today than it was in the 80's or do you see much of a difference?

KD: It' s still good. For me, it was never much of a problem. I think everybody that came to a Hirax show knew I was black so they weren't really surprised. I'm sure there were times when somebody brought someone to our shows who didn't know the band and got blown away by the fact Hirax had a black singer. If you've never seen a metal band with a black singer, it's pretty interesting, I guess!

WC: Have you ever heard of a band from California called Stone Vengeance?

KD: Yeah, yeah, they're from San Francisco! They're actually good friends of mine and a good band.

WC: I'll say so! I saw them play at Milwaukee Metalfest last year and I thought they were the most energetic and most personable band that played up there.

KD: It's good to hear that they're out there and getting it done live.

WC: "New Age of Terror" is being handled by Mausoleum Records. Why was the decision made to go with them?

KD: It's pretty wild because to this day, we are still getting contacted by different record labels. We try to be pretty picky about who we sign with. What it came down to with Mausoleum was that they have a lot of tradition and so do we. They've worked with a lot of heavy metal bands. They understand what we are doing. But even though Mausoleum is handling the record, it's now being distributed by Century Media in the States. Century Media and Nuclear Blast are actually partners, they're located in the same building. It's an excellent thing for us because they get our records to the right people.

WC: Did your old label Metal Blade express any interest?

KD: They're still part of the family, they keep in touch with us. We haven't really discussed anything with them because we've been pursuing other things. They're still a great label and you never really want to shut the door on them. You never know, we may someday be on that label again!

WC: What sort of plans for both touring and new product do you have for 2005?

KD: We're going to be touring a lot now that the "New Age of Terror" is out all over the world. We've already started booking dates for Texas, Arizona, San Francisco and Tiajuana, Mexico. We'll be on the road around April and May. We're also starting to write songs for the next album. We'll actually be playing some of those songs live to try them out on the crowds. We'll wind up recording a new album in the middle of the year. But the thing with "New Age of Terror" is that is still a new record in the United States, so we'll be working it for a while. Even when we were in Europe, it hadn't been out that long over there. When we go back, Europe should be pretty fuckin' crazy, you know?

WC: Any chance you'll be playing around Chicago or Milwaukee?

KD: Oh, we have to go back there, and I'll tell you why. The last time we were in Chicago, it totally kicked ass and the fans there are incredible. So we really love playing Chicago. I think we'll be there before the end of the year.

WC: What was the last CD you got for your own pleasure?

KD: Wow, that's a good question. I think the last thing I got was probably the new Iron Maiden DVD "The Early Years", which is really incredible. It's something every one should have in their collection if they;'re a heavy metal fan. I love the early stuff with Paul Di'anno.

WC: What was the last gig you saw for your own enjoyment?

KD: I think the last show I saw, and it's pretty amazing they came through here, was Girlschool.

WC: Really?!

KD: It was pretty awesome, they still rock. What was even more incredible is that Kelly Johnson the original guitar player joined them on stage. She hasn't been in the band in years!

WC: Do you have any Spinal Tap moment from Hirax's long career you'd like to share with us?

KD: (laughing) Yeah, definitely! I think every band has had a Spinal Tap moment. It will be probably happen until the end of your career because there are always things beyond your control. You always try to have things set up correctly but there are things you just can't control We were playing in Sweden at this thing called "Sweden Rockfest" with Judas Priest, the Scorpions and Y&T...a whole host of great bands like Children of Bodom and In Flames. We were at the hotel waiting to play and we were waiting and waiting. We were looking at the clock and going, "Man, if we don't get there soon, we're gonna miss our show!" What had happened is that the promoter of "Sweden Rockfest" forget we weren't at the concert hall, we were still at the hotel. Finally, we got a hold of the promoter and they got us a tour van just in time and we made it to the gig with no time to spare. I mean, we ran from the van, plugged in and played immediately and it was one of the best gigs we had ever done. There was no tuning, no soundcheck, nothing...we didn't have time to even talk to each other. We just ran on stage and it was one of the best shows ever. It was Spinal Tap from the movie direct. When the promoter forgets you're at the hotel waiting to play, that's total Spinal Tap! What's great is that that footage is now going to go on our first ever DVD!

WC: Any final messages for our readers?

KD: Well, the main thing is, thanks for all the support. The fans are still there for us. Now we're getting ready to tour the world and there are a lot of fans who have never seen Hirax live before. So, everybody...Hirax is coming. Get ready. If anyone has any questions about our band or wants our merchandise, they can go to our website at www.hirax.org or at our other site, Black Devil Records!