RUTHLESS "Rise To Ravage"

By Dr. Abner Mality

California in the 1980's was a metal paradise if ever there was one. The two hottest musical trends of the decade, thrash metal and glam metal, both rose from California soil in those days and the echoes are still being felt today.

Ruthless know all about that scene, They were there in the thick of it, playing alongside the likes of Metallica, Slayer, Armored Saint and Motley Crue. Their vinyl offerings "Metal Without Mercy" and "Discipline of Steel" became cult hits, but like many other bands of the time, they couldn't cross that crucial threshold to "the big time".

But old metalheads die hard and Ruthless have risen again in the 21st century. Their first full length in almost 3 decades, "They Rise" gives us a band dedicated to pure anthemic metal in classic style yet still with a modern edge. Things are getting restless in Ruthless-land so I grabbed a chat with long-time singer Sammy D. This is an enjoyable BS session between two old schoolers here, which I think you shall enjoy. And now, let the rising commence...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Ruthless actually reformed in 2009. Was there one specific moment when you knew the reunion was for real instead of just a fun thing?

SAMMY D: Well, back then, I was jamming with Jim Durkin from Dark Angel. We were doing a little project called Blood Alliance. We never play out or anything, we recorded a few songs. As we were doing that project, I got an email from Oliver, who runs the Keep It True Festival in Germany. He asked if Ruthless could get back together and play the festival. Well, I didn't really know where any of the guys were at except for Kenny. Kenny McGee and I have always kept in touch and stayed friends. I called Kenny and he didn't think we could really do it. But he wound up getting in touch with Jack Black the bass player (as opposed to Jack Black the comedian--Smart-ass Mality) and the three of us decided yeah, let's do it! We couldn't find any of the other guys so we asked Jim since he's been a long time friend of ours if he would play the other guitar spot. He came in, we got a drummer, we did the festival. We had a great time...we love playing in front of European fans! We came back, did a few shows and then split up again and went our ways. What happened is it wasn't a real reunion at the time. Kenny and me went back to playing in local stuff. In 2013,  we decided to start writing again. At that time, it wasn't even going to be called Ruthless. So answering your question, really it wasn't going to be a reunion, it just happened. We got Mark McGee, Kenny's brother, to play bass. We got Jason van Slyke playing drums and then Dave Watson came in to play the other guitar and we just clicked together.

WC: It sounds like you didn't have to knock any rust off, you had been playing continuously all along, right?

SD: Yes, I had. I had gone back to a band that Kenny and I had formed in the early 2000's called Scarred. I had gone back to them, they were tired of the singer they got to replace me when I left. They asked me to come back and yeah, I came back and jammed with them until Kenny and I had gotten back together again.

WC: Do you approach songwriting and playing pretty much the same way you did in the 80's or is it done differently?

SD:  Kenny and I have always thrown ideas at each other. With this band, it's a little different. With this lineup, we are all so in tune with each other and its such a cohesive lineup that everybody will have their ideas. So yes, you could say the songwriting is different now to what it was back then.

WC: Are the tunes on "They Rise" new or have some of them been kicking around for a bit?

SD:  They're very new songs. We had a couple of songs, "Laceration" and "Systematic", that Jimmy Durkin helped me and Kenny write. When we brought it into Ruthless, we all just clicked on it. Yes, they are all new songs, there's nothing from the past there.

WC: Do you have some new songs written since then?

SD: I'll put it this way, we're writing right now for the next CD. And we just released this one! (laughs)

WC: How did you hook up with the Pure Steel label?

SD: We got picked up by Eddie's Mates management and Shawn, the head of the company, he wanted to hear some of the new tunes. We sent in some rough tracks and he went ahead and sent some of those rough tracks to a few labels. The first one to get back with us was Pure Steel. Even though they were the first one, they gave us such a great deal and they're such great guys to work with, we went ahead and signed with them.

WC: That's going to continue for the foreseeable future?

SD: Yes, we've got a couple more CD's with them.

WC: There have been a lot of changes in the music business since the days of "Discipline of Steel". Are they positive, negative? I don't think the fun is in it as much.

SD: Well, as far as recordings and stuff go, we went back with Bill Metoyer and did it the old fashioned way. That just suited us better. But the whole recording industry is a lot different.  We still enjoy playing, it's just fun playing. That's why so many of the older bands like Armored Saint and Heretic and us have come back. We enjoy ourselves. When you get in front of a crowd and that crowd is singing your lyrics, you can't do anything but enjoy it. We're not going to be millionaires, we know that. We're here for the music. It's all about the music itself now.

WC: Has the response from fans in the States reached the level of what you get in Europe? Or is that even possible anymore?

SD: The few shows we've played have been sold out. They're smaller clubs, but they've been sold out. We've got a lot of interest now in Phoenix, we're going to be playing that area on Memorial Day weekend. We'll be playing in San Diego, Las Vegas. We have a lot of interest throughout the USA. Some areas more than others, because there's a bigger concentration of metalheads in certain areas.

WC: I'm right between Chicago and Milwaukee. This is a real strong area.

SD: Well, we're comin' there. We're already on the NYDM Spring Bash for 2016!

WC: REALLY?! You beat me to it. I know Randy the promoter. I was thinking of suggesting the show to you, you fit it real well!

SD:  They got in contact with your management. They got both us and Heretic, because we share the same management, Eddie's Mates. We're both gonna be there next year.

WC: You'll enjoy it. You're playing for the true blue, there...

SD: Oh, I know! I've played in Chicago and Milwaukee and around there. Those are true fans.

WC: You were part of the California metal scene in the great glory days. What would you tell somebody now about what it was like in those days?

SD: Crazy. It was unbelievable, it was like living in a constant dream. Everywhere you went, every day, it was music and metalheads all over the place. It wasn't just a Friday or Saturday night. You could go down to Hollywood on any night of the week and you couldn't walk those streets. It was crazy, it was awesome! There were so many great bands that came out of that era...from glam bands like Poison and Ratt and Motley Crue to the other bands like ourselves and Armored Saint.

WC: Was there one band in particular that you were associated with or bonded with?

SD: We bonded with a lot of bands. I wouldn't say we bonded with one or the other any more. We became really good friends with the guys in Dark Angel. We played with Slayer a few times. It was a good time. The difference between then and now is that there are less rock stars. (chuckles) Everybody is friendlier. There's nobody walking through a door and having to squeeze his head through, now!

WC: At the same time, there doesn't seem to be as many larger than life characters today...

SD:, there's not, no, there's not! But you know what? The kids that are coming up right now...I've heard some really good young local bands...they're playing the stuff like it's just been discovered. The kids are starting to dress like we did in the 80's I think it's starting what's going to be a big explosion soon. Maybe not quite as big as the 80's, but it's gonna be big.

WC: It's certainly easier to get your music out these days. I remember when "Metal Without Mercy" and "Discipline of Steel" came out and it was the dark and foreboding side of heavy metal. That side of it has increased to an unthought of degree. Do you ever look at some of the real extreme bands today and wonder, what did we set off?

SD: Back then, a lot of the bands were using the dark side, the evil side, because that's what the mainstream people didn't want to see and hear. We did it because metal is always extreme. We're together as a community. The metal community is one. And we'll always be that way.  You don't want us? Too bad! We're here! Some of the bands today are just continuing what was started back then.

WC: The impact doesn't seem to be the same as it was then. You mentioned Dark Angel. I got their records and I thought, man, it's impossible to be any faster than this band! Or heavier than this band. But the ante gets upped all the time.

SD: When it comes to Dark Angel...and it's not just because I'm friends with them...when it comes to them and Exodus and Kreator and Overkill, I think those should have been the Big Four of thrash metal.

WC: Overkill is amazing. They are better now than they were back in the day...

SD: Oh yeah they are! They are!

WC: Another band from that time that didn't get their due was Possessed.

SD: Yeah, Possessed was great!

WC: On "They Rise", you seem draw lyrical inspiration from many different sources. Some seem to be real life, some of it is more fantastic. The song "Frustration" sounds pretty personal! What was the inspiration for that one?

SD:  That one was a lyrical collaboration between me and Mark. He came in with this idea and I liked it, we all liked it.  He came up with certain lyrics and I finished them off. It's not really a personal thing. It's something that every person might go through. A time where they're pissed off at somebody or someone acts like an idiot to them. That's basically what that's about.

WC: I have to compliment you on your vocal delivery on that song. It almost made me feel threatened!

SD: (laughter) Why, thank you!

WC: Another song I was curious about was "Circle of Trust". What was that about?

SD: "Circle of Trust", I'm gonna say straight up, I'm a very political minded person. I am not a happy camper, I haven't been for a long, long time. It has to do with how the government and the corporations are getting together and squeezing the rest of us out. Sooner or later, it will be machines doing everything and we're going to be little pawns. And that's all we are right now.

WC: It's very hard to see a way out of it. Recently they had a group of presidential candidates begging from super-billionaires. They don't even bother to conceal it anymore!

SD: No, they don't. And they don't care about us at all. Towards the end of the song, I say we have to step up as one and take back our country. I really feel inside that it's coming to that. We're coming to a civl war again in this country, but it's not going to be states vs states, it';s going to be  the people against the government and the corporations.

WC: I agree, things don't look good. It's either corporate run bureaucracy or medieval barbarism.

SD: Oh yeah!  That's why I think everybody's getting tired of it. It's going to come to a head and it's going to come to a head in our lifetime. People are just gonna say, let's take back our country.

WC: I thought we were on the verge of that a couple of years ago, but people's brains are so numbed by smartphones and idiotic TV shows. They've also drugged us....legally drugged us! People are in a fog...

SD: That's what they've done to us. They've made us entirely dependent. Today's kids, all they do is they're on their phones all the time or they're on video games all the time. My wife is a high school teacher and is worried about it. You ever seen the movie "Idiocracy"? That's where we're at right now. That's where they're going, unless we wake them up.

WC: Another movie that seemed to predict things pretty well was "They Live".

SD: Yeah!

WC: The only thing science fictional about that movie is that aliens did it. The real truth is, we did it to ourselves.

SD: Exactly, exactly. I agree with you.

WC: And you can't beat Rowdy Roddy Piper! (laughter)

SD: No, you can't! It's like you say, I run all over the place with my lyrics on this one.  I've always done that.  I'm a big horror movie fan. That's where the idea for the song "They Rise" came about. I also like the political thing. The song "Laceration" has to do with partial abortion. I can't believe that they do that. It's unreal. "Systematic Terror" has to do with a person who is kind of lost between reality and insanity. There is a political current under everything, though. You could probably interpret these songs four or five different ways if you want to. "They Rise" is about zombies on the surface, but does have a political touch to it.

WC: And your new material is also in this vein?

SD: Yes.

WC: If you could ask any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?

SD: Julius Caesar, Robert E. Lee and George S. Patton.

WC: Wow, you almost seemed ready for that question.

SD: It's because I'm a big history nut, too and those are my three favorite generals. Those guys and Erwin Rommel are the greatest generals of all time.

WC: Do you think they'd get along?

SD: I don't know! They're all big egotistical guys, so I don't know.

WC: What was the last CD or release you picked up just because you wanted to get it?

SD: The new Accept album "Blind Rage". And I love it!

WC: Was Mark Tornillo a guy you ever hob-nobbed with back in the day?

SD: No,  he wasn't, but you know what? He fits perfectly with them. Back in 09, we played with them a couple of times when they were out here in L.A.. Those guys are some great dudes. Just great guys.

WC: They've been at it since the late 70's. I just posted "Fast As A Shark" on Facebook not too long ago. I wonder how many fires that kindled back in the day?

SD: You know it did! That and some of the Priest stuff.

WC: Yeah, "Rapid Fire" and "Metal Gods". "British Steel" was one of my favorites for a long, long time.

SD: For me, it's always been "Stained Class".

WC: Growing up in the 70's, it was all pretty much hard rock until I heard "British Steel". Then I knew what a heavy metal album sounded like.

SD; I grew up in that period, too. One of my favorite fact, the guy that got me into this...was Ian Gillan. I was about 12 years ago when I heard "Child In Time". When I heard his vocals on that song, I said, I gotta do that. I gotta do that.

WC: Can you? Can you do it?

SD: Every now and then, we'll mess around and play that song. Yeah, I can still do it.

WC: I was lucky enough to see him with Deep Purple, but I really wish I could have seen the tour he did with Black Sabbath.

SD: Oh, I would have loved to have seen that! I didn't, but I sure wish I would have.

WC: What was the last band you saw live because you wanted to?

SD: Judas Priest.

WC: This year?

SD: Yes.

WC: How were they?

SD: They're Priest, man. They're awesome, I love 'em. I miss KK, but Richie adds another element to them and I think he's given them a new life.  They were kind of  ready to cash it in, but Richie's given a new life to the band.

WC: I thought that happened when they got Scott Travis as a drummer, too. I've seen them many, many times. I'm afraid the giant arena rock shows are about on their last legs.

SD: Here in the US, they're not that big any more. But the Europeans, the South Americans, they are still drawing 50 and 60 thousand people to see those festivals. Basically that's what a lot of the bands go for, anymore. When Priest came over here, we saw them in an 8000 seat arena. They go to Europe and they're playing 100,000 seat stadiums.

WC: Manowar would struggle to fill the House of Blues in Chicago. But in South America particularly, they draw tens of thousand of people. There's more support for the older bands there. I was talking about this the other day. How much of the new AC/DC album has been played on American radio?

SD: Not much!

WC: How much of the new Pink Floyd has been played? These corporate owned classic rock stations are the worst enemy of the classic rock artist!

SD: They are, they are!  I agree. I have Sirius Radio, but if you listen to Ozzy's Boneyard, they play the same stuff over and over again. I will listen to Liquid Metal, though, and it's a lot more death metal and stuff like that. Every once in a while, I'll hear something that will grab me. Last week, I heard "Darkness Descends" from Dark Angel! I told Kenny and we both texted Jimmy and told him, you're on the radio, dude! (laughter)

WC: In the history of Ruthless or any other band you've associated with, has there ever been any Spinal Tap moment that stood out?

SD: (chuckles) There's been a few. We did have a pure Spinal Tap moment where we couldn't find the stage. That was kind of funny! I could go over and over things, I just can't come up with just one. I do remember when we played this one little club when we were first getting together in North Hollywood. Todd had never ever drank hard alcohol. He decided he wanted to drink some blackberry brandy that night. We went out and bought him a half pint of blackberry brandy because he wasn't old enough to buy liquor at the time. He drank that whole thing. He couldn't get up to the stage. We had to run the show an hour late so we could sober him up a little bit. Then, when we get on stage, it's a small place and these guys are buying whiskeys for us. I grabbed mine and kicked the rest to the floor. "Hell, man, you just kicked my hand, what's the matter with you?" (laughs)

WC: A lot of bands tell me, everything in that movie is true.

SD: It is! A lot of it is true. I don't know if Kenny's gonna like me telling this, but this was back a few years ago when Jim was playing with us. We were playing a place out by the beach, out on Redondo Beach. We were opening for UFO and they were being real jerks! They didn't give us any room. The drumkit was set up almost at the very front of the stage. And Jack, every time the crash cymbal hit, it kept hitting Jack in the back of the head! (laughs) And Jack couldn't move! Kenny's amp wasn't working for some reason. They wouldn't allow him to use one of theirs. So they have this little Fender twin reverb backstage, with no effects at all on it. It sounded like it was playing at a Kenny Chesney concert! (laughs)

WC: That's nasty!

SD: Oh yeah!  We've had stuff like that. I could go on and on...

WC: Any last words or messages to the fans?

SD: Yes, I would just like to say that you can reach us at and you can also get us on Facebook. You can also reach us at Instagram now! The biggest message I have for everybody is that we're here and we wouldn't be here without you guys. You guys have kept us going for the last 30 years. I'm proud to be in a band that can still bring you music that you can enjoy. Ruthless is back and on the attack!