SACRED OATH "This Iron Never Rusts"

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

How long are you humanoids willing to hang with a project until you see success? A few months? A year? 5 years? Remember, this is with very little recognition or signs of progress...

How about 22 years? That's how long it took Rob Thorne and Kenny Evans to see the light at the end of the tunnel for their heavy metal powerhouse Sacred Oath. Rob and Kenny formed the band back in 1985 with different members (one of whom was Pete Altieri, capo of the infamous Heavycore website) and released a highly regarded album "A Crystal Vision" in 1987. Then the Oath went dark for a long, long time. So long that both grunge rock and nu-metal came and went before they recorded another album, "Darkness Visible" in 2007.

That was a good first step back into the pond, but now the band jumps back in with a cannonball splash on their self-titled new record, "Sacred Oath". This is simply pure American metal, no ifs, ands or buts. Untainted by any trend, Sacred Oath is true power metal with balls, owing its sound to the likes of early Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Rainbow as well as underground heroes like Omen, Vicious Rumors and Attacker. Opera trained Rob Thorne is the perfect frontman with his air raid screams and sizzling lead prowess. Kenny is still there on drums, but the Oath has been joined by wunderkind guitarist Bill Smith and bass player Scott Waite.

The longer it takes, the better it feels. "Sacred Oath" has gotten a great reception all around the metal world and there is a genuine buzz around the band. I recently hooked up with Rob Thorne to discuss the long, winding road the Oath has took and found him to be a cool, enthusiastic and very clever guy.

Read on and see what drives the band to survive and thrive...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Let me take you back years and years ago, to the beginnings of Sacred Oath. What was it that drew you into metal music, what attracted you to it.

ROB THORNE: Ozzy Osbourne! Back when I was 12 or 13 years old, I picked up the "Blizzard of Ozz" album and it just literally blew me away. I had never heard music with that much passion and power before. Then I got "Diary Of A Madman" and it was more of the same...even better, I think! It still moves me the same way today. You gotta remember, I am still basically a 12 year old when it comes to music.(laughter)

WC: Were you into Black Sabbath before Ozzy? Or did you discover Sabbath later?

RT: Well, I was sure aware of Sabbath. I was mostly into them through that "Greatest Hits" disc that had the creepy Brueghel cover art and the gatefold sleeve. I thought that was pretty cool. But really, it was the first two Ozzy albums that opened the door for me and then I went back and discovered all the power of Sabbath and what came before. I think I appreciate old Sabbath better now than I did then, but I'm telling ya, man, those early Ozzy Osbourne discs were incredible. That inspired a lot of the music of Sacred Oath.

WC: Obviously, it was Rhodes' guitar playing that hit you more than anything.

RT: Well, of course, the guy was incredible. He had such a unique and fluid sounded so free. That feeling of freedom is what attracted me to those Ozzy albums. But it was more than just Rhodes' guitar playing that attracted me to the music. It was just the songwriting...just great fucking songs like "Over The Mountain", "Little Dolls", "Diary Of A Madman", the list goes on. More than any individual performance, it was the songs and the sound itself that inspired me.

WC: "Over The Mountain" was one of the best he ever did. And I really loved that tune "S.A.T.O."....

RT: Oh yeah, I love "S.A.T.O."....all that stuff was priceless. People today are still trying to recreate the sound of what Randy did on those tracks!

WC: Many have tried. Ozzy had some great songs afterwards, but the first two albums were the ultimate.

RT: The thing is, the albums today don't have that free and spontaneous sound those records have. Today people take years to make an album in the studio...they just go over it and over it with a fine tooth comb trying to make everything perfect and it takes something out of the music. With those early Ozzy albums, you just hear a band cutting loose in the studio. Now it's too processed...

WC: ProTools and all that...

RT: Yeah, yeah. The technology is great but it can't be the total of everything you are doing.

WC: Drum triggers...

RT: I can't STAND that shit! My God, it ruins what drums are supposed to be. That would have RUINED those Ozzy albums and Sabbath and AC/DC and Rainbow and what not.

WC: Are the same forces and feelings in play for you now that were there in the 80's?

RT: Are you talking me personally or the scene in general?

WC: You personally.

RT: I haven't really changed all that much. The same 12 year old boy is there deep within me. That's what drives the music. The outside has gone through changes but the core isn't really that different.

WC: The new self-titled album has got a LOT of music on it....

RT: Did you get the deluxe digipack version?

WC: Yeah...

RT: That's got four bonus tracks on it. You got the biggest and best there!

WC: Were you making up for lost time with all those songs?

RT: No, not at all. Believe it or not, most of those tracks were written just a couple of months before we went into the studio. They were not songs that we agonized for years over. Our previous release in 2007, "Darkness Visible", was our "comeback" record and that had a lot of songs that had been circulating around since "A Crystal Vision" back in 1987. But for "Sacred Oath", it was almost all new material. We just had a major burst of creativity, got into the studio and bashed these tunes out in just a couple of weeks.

WC: I wouldn't have said the songs sounded like they were done that quickly...

RT: Well, we were trying to capture that vibe I was talking about, the vibe the early Ozzy records had. I think we were pretty successful in doing that. When you've got the hot hand, you play it. We are playing classic heavy metal and doing it in the classic way.

WC: Your music has got to go over really well in Europe.

RT: It does, it does. We just played there not long ago and it was great.

WC: Over there, they seem to have a lot more respect for what I call "true" metal.

RT: That's true, but I do see signs that things are starting to come around in the States. There's some more interest in the classic metal style for the kids in the States today.

WC: I thnk that's so, but the music business is such a weird thing these days...

RT: Well, the music business is undergoing a huge revolution and the record labels and even the bands are struggling to keep up. The way music is delivered is undergoing a radical change and the physical product is almost gone. A generation is coming up now that doesn't even comprehend what a physical music product is. All they know is downloads...

WC: I'm very much a dinosaur and proud of it. I don't even get CDs from the record companies any more and I'm irritated by that. The experience is just not the same.

RT: Well, you got the digipack from us, right? (laughs)

WC: I did, I did, but that's gonna be the exception and not the rule. Now it's mostly downloading the tracks over the net. I come from an age when I used to buy LPs with gatefold sleeves that had Roger Dean artwork and Frank Frazetta covers. That cannot be replaced by this digital stuff.

RT: You're right, that is something that will be missed. But kids now, they don't even know what an album cover is...what a CD cover is. Music is just a product that they experience instantly. We are going through the biggest revolution in how music is delivered since the introduction of the phonograph!

WC: It's very sad, if you ask me.

RT: I don't wanna be the devils advocate, but it just doesn't make sense for companies to produce something physical for much more money than product that doesn't require all the plastic and paper and delivery costs. But yeah, it's sad, I grew up with great artwork and packaging on albums.

WC: You'd get the lyrics and even a big thanks list. In a way, without that stuff, that's cheating the artist out of expressing himself...

RT: It is, you're right. The really bad part of the digital revolution is how it degrades the concept of the album itself.

WC: "Dark Side of the Moon", "Operation: Mindcrime" can't pull a song from those and get the whole concept the artist created. It makes the album almost meaningless...

RT: I must agree, that's not the way those albums are supposed to be experienced. Do you have vinyl albums?

WC: Probably around 500 or so. I'm a pack rat. I've got thousands of comics. I've got metal magazines going back to the late 70's. Do you recall the English magazine Metal Forces?

RT: Oh yeah! We were in Metal Forces; Sacred Oath was in Metal Forces back in 1987! Wow, you got that magazine...

WC: I've got the entire run of the magazine right up to the last issue. Before I got that mag, my music experience was all mainstream and above ground. When I got Metal Forces, I discovered a whole different world.

RT: The metal magazines are dropping like flies. Metal Maniacs is gone, Metal Edge has packed it in...

WC: Metal Maniacs was the real successor to Metal Forces, I've got most of those, too...

RT: I just heard Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles is going to stop publishing...

WC: Really! Brave Words,!

RT: They are going to convert to online only. The publishing world is going through the same upheaval that the recording world is. They are converting to digital product. It's for the same reasons,too. It takes a lot less money to put something online, as compared to all the ink and paper that goes into real magazines. With the economy the way it is, its just pushing the process along faster.

WC: There's no money in internet journalism. Everybody thinks you should do it for free. And selling advertising is virtually impossible unless you're a really giant site!

RT: Again, it's similar to what's happening in the music business. Everything used to be all about the album. The band's entire existence would be focused on creating and selling the album. Now, the album is just something you throw out there and if you're lucky, you might make money with it, but it's not very likely.

WC: It gives you an excuse to tour and sell T-shirts.

RT: Exactly, that's pretty much it. Now I get the impression that you are a guy that was big into Yes. Did you get the "Relayer" album when it first came out?

WC: (laughter) No, that was a bit before me. That was before I had a car and could buy albums on my own.

RT: Well, the thing is, I remember the huge anticipation of that album from the record buying public. It was a HUGE deal. There's no equivalent to it anymore.

WC: I do remember practically camping out in front of the local record stores waiting to get "British Steel" by Judas Priest.
That album for me was what "Diary of A Madman" was to you...

RT: Awesome, I am hugely into Priest. I didn't get into them until around "Screaming For Vengeance", though...

WC: For me, the first record I got was "Hell Bent For Leather". I actually remember that was called "Killing Machine" in England...that was the first album they really started doing the leather thing. Before that, they looked like your typical prog rockers...

RT: (laughter) Yeah, I remember seeing pictures of Rob Halford wearing bell bottoms!

WC: Some of the lyrics on the new album are pretty dark. "Paradise Lost" and "Counting Zeros" are very pessimistic. Is that true or am I reading it the wrong way?

RT: No, you're not reading it the wrong way at all. My lyrics have always revolved around something that is going on in my world. Even if they have a fantasy touch, they are always based in reality and something that relates to me. It's no mystery that we are living in a very dark and scary time right now. I mean, a year ago things were about as bleak as I've ever seen in this country. There's a little more hope right now but things are still very, very tough. People just don't know what is coming at them next. Those songs are direct reflections of this feeling. I mean, I'm not totally hopeless but I don't sugarcoat things. We are facing a shitload of major problems.

WC: Some of the lyrics do seem to have a fantasy or scifi feel. Have you ever considered doing a concept album?

RT: Well, actually "Crystal Vision" was partially a concept album. About half of the album's songs revolved around the same story, a battle between good and evil. And actually, this idea of an eternal battle between forces of good and evil really runs through all of Sacred Oath's music. Many of our songs touch on this, whether it's the battle in just one person's mind or in society at large. I guess you could say if there is one major theme to our lyrics, it is this war between good and evil.

WC: If that's the case, then really Sacred Oath is more of a concept BAND than a band that puts out concept albums.

RT: I think I'd agree with that, but the concept is so huge, it gives you a lot of room to move around and explore. "A Crystal Vision" had those tracks that revolved around good and evil, "Darkness Visible" had a song called "Two Powers". The very first words on the new album are "two powers"...

WC: Was that intentional or was it the subconscious at work?

RT: Oh, it was definitely the subconscious. That was something that really wrote itself. Heavy metal lends itself to these kind of lyrics about good and evil, the huge, never-ending battle.

WC: Very much so. In fact, the only other form of music I think that deals with it as much would be opera.

RT: Well, I am opera trained. I majored in Opera Performance...

WC: Did you just study it or were you an actual singer?

RT: Oh, I was a performer.

WC: Wow, that's quite something. Metal is certainly demanding for vocalists, but nothing can touch opera when it comes to pushing yourself vocally...

RT: Yeah, it was terrific training for me. There is so much in common between classical music and heavy metal.

WC: A lot of people say Richard Wagner was the first metalhead.

RT: Of course he was. Most of those guys would be in metal today. Most of the operas are based around these huge blood and thunder stories full of violence, betrayal, good and evil. Well, if that isn't metal, what is?

WC: On this album, you've produced everything yourself. Will that be the plan for future releases or will you bring an outsider in to work on things?

RT: So far, I've done every single Sacred Oath album. I am very much involved in every phase of the recording process. This band is incredibly important to me and I understand the vision behind it. I can't say absolutely that we would never bring in somebody else to work on a future album, but I would be extremely, extremely picky. I would have to be sure that the person understands the vision behind Sacred Oath and its music, that they would know exactly what we want. To tell you the truth, I don't think anyone would understand that as well as me, but never say never.

WC: The production is tremendous on "Sacred Oath". It seems right up there with the last Judas Priest or Iron Maiden albums.

RT: Wow! Thank you for that!

WC: And probably done on abut 1/100th the budget.

RT: (laughs) That's putting it mildly! Probably much less than that.

WC: You said you've just come back from a tour. Do you guys get a chance to play much?

RT: Not as much as we would like, but we do play some tours in Europe. We do some small tours of the Northeast United States, just for a couple weeks at a time. But I think we are getting ready to really ramp up our touring and start to hit some places we haven't before.

WC: I think you guys would go over great in Chicago. It's the most metal town in the USA.

RT: Do you remember the Thirsty Whale?

WC: Oh yeah! Early this year I talked to Ross the Boss and he had some memories of when Manowar played there. He also played the Empty Bottle as one of the Dictators. He had some great stories. The Dictators played the very last show at CBGB's...he told me played there 56 times with various bands. There were only a few people in the place after him and then the door closed.

RT: Wow, that's amazing.

WC: Yeah, he told me about when Kiss and AC/DC opened for the Dictators. He said after AC/DC opened for them, he turned to the singer and said "That's the last time they'll be opening up for us!" (laughter)

RT: I love to hear those kind of stories. I love Manowar, I've got a lot of respect for Ross...

WC: That would be a great band for you to play with.

RT: You know, those guys are fuckin' massive in Europe. They play to crowds the same size as Iron Maiden, its unbelievable!

WC: It's the same in South America. Here in America, there's a strong metal presence, but we just don't seem to have the roots or lifestyle history that it does in those other places.

RT: Metal is a complete way of life in Europe.It's part of the culture, the fabric of life over there. But I do see a kind of resurgence in interest in classic metal from the kids in America today. I teach guitar and music and I see a lot of kids are getting interested in lead guitar, they want to see the roots of metal in Judas Priest, Sabbath, Maiden, Rainbow...

WC: There are new bands that are generating interest in that. I don't know if you're familiar with 3 Inches of Blood, but I have to give them some props for going out on a limb to do the old school style and they made it work for them.

RT: Yeah, I love 3 Inches of Blood. I know today there is a sort of fascination with being campy and ironic, but you can't tell me those guys don't know their metal. It's great to hear these new bands playing screaming leads and doing intricate guitar music.

WC: Ten years ago, there was a real concern that there would be no leads at all in metal...

RT: Wasn't that stupid?! I mean, what the hell? How can you not have lead guitar in heavy metal? Thank God we got past that era!

WC: The only year I was ever really worried about the future of metal was 1994. I saw Kreator play for less than 50 people in my hometown. I was really starting to wonder if there would be a future for that kind of music.

RT: That was a horrible year. That was the worst.

WC: Right now, as far as creativity is concerned, I think this may be the best time ever for heavy metal. We aren't slave to one particular trend like hair metal or nu-metal. It's all over the map and I think that's good.

RT: Yes, I think I would agree with that. There are so many sub-genres of metal and they all seem to be really active and producing new music. The metal scene is very compartmentalized but also very vital. You see, I remember back in 1986, when basically there was only one kind of metal...heavy!(laughter) Thrash metal was just starting to evolve and hair metal was starting to come up. It's been really incredible to see how things have grown and evolved.

WC: It's become like jazz...

RT: That's right. I have always seen Sacred Oath as a heavy metal band...nothing but pure metal. We keep it all heavy but can play in a variety of styles and speeds.

WC: That definitely comes across on the new album. Most of the tunes are high energy but you drop the pace in a few spots and that's good for a break.

RT: That's the way I always wanted to do it. I never wanted to create music that was all screaming and blasting and thrashing all the way through. I want to create different kinds of sounds and explore different things. That's the way the great bands always operated, like Judas Priest, like Iron Maiden, even like Metallica. That is the music that interests me the most, music that has different emotions and different approaches, not just non-stop aggression.

WC: There are certain exceptions. I can't imagine "Reign In Blood" with a ballad on it...

RT: Well, that's Slayer and that's something different. That's what they do best, that's what they're all about. But that's not what Sacred Oath is all about. I pull in influences from all over the place. To me, Rainbow's stuff in the 70's and early 80's was huge...the way they created an atmosphere and kept it musical while staying heavy.

WC: I'm gonna put a cap on this by asking three questions we ask all our artists...

RT: Uh oh! (laughter)

WC: First, what was the last CD or album or download you got just because you wanted to listen to it?

RT: You won't believe this, but it was "British Steel"! (laughs)

WC: Really!

RT: Yeah, I just picked up the remastered version of it on vinyl! It's great, this disc is like a 180 grams and it's as heavy as a plate, with all sorts of extras on it and huge pictures.

WC: Well, I'm sure they weren't charging the 6.99 I paid for it back in 1980...

RT: (laughs) No, that's for sure. It was going for about 16.00, which isn't really bad. I mean, I think it was worth it to get a clasic album presented this way.

WC: What was the last gig you caught just because you wanted to see the band?

RT: I don't get the chance to see much, but I saw Metallica just play at Nassau Coliseum and it was fuckin' awesome! Man, I'll tell you, those guys were as good as ever. The place was packed to the rafters and I'm not kidding you, the fans were singing every single word of every single song. That kind of puts chills up your spine, you know.

WC: "Death Magnetic" was good enough to make me want to see them again...

RT: You've got to go. They play in the round, which means they're in the middle of the arena and surrounded by this mass of thrashing fans. It's like they are an island in the middle of a sea of moshing people. It is incredible. They even played "Hit The Lights!"

WC: Wow, that's cool! My all-time favorite song of theirs, if not one of my all-time favorite metal songs ever, is "Creeping Death".

RT: No doubt about it. They played that one,too..."so let it be written, so let it be done"!

WC: Now for the last question. In the long history of Sacred Oath, has there ever been any Spinal Tap moment that you could share with the fans?

RT: (snorts) My God, a better question would be, has there ever been a moment that has NOT been a Spinal Tap moment? The thing that makes that movie so great is that so much of it is true. It is totally based on reality. Spinal Tap moment, Spinal Tap moment...I've got to sift through thousands...we did all sorts of stupid shit!

WC: First one that hits you.

RT: Well, I remember back in the 80's when we were on our way from Jersey to record in New York. We were all kids and high as a kite about it. Now I've known my drummer Kenny since we were 14 and I've got a ton of stories about him. We get to the studio, all hepped up and ready to go, and Kenny says, "Uh, guys, I can't seem to find my drumsticks and drum gear...I think I left it back home."

WC: Oh no!

RT: So we had to turn around and go all the way back to Jersey in the van to pick up Kenny's stuff and then come back to the studio again. This was when we were on a shoestring budget and trying to make an impression to boot...

WC: That must have been a pretty tense ride...

RT: (laughs) Yeah, it was. My old bass player Pete was riding Kenny pretty hard...I think he wanted to drag him behind the van!(laughs) Another time, we were going through the toll way in separate cars. We get hung up in a jam at the toll booth and all of a sudden we see Kenny running back to our car...he was about four cars ahead...and completely freaking out. "I've got no money, man! I've got no change for the toll!" I love the guy, he's one of my best friends.

WC: Any last words?

RT: No ,it was a pleasure to talk to you. We hope to make it to Chicago later this year so I hope to see you there. We hope to hit a lot of places. Also, we've just found out that our video for "Counting Zeros" is going to be on the Headbanger's Ball, so that's going to be huge...keep watching for that. Things are exciting, they're starting to happen for us. An overnight success that took about 23 years! (laughter)