WRATH “Chicago Metal Memories!” 

By Theron Moore

The city of Chicago (as well as the surrounding suburbs) has an illustrious heavy metal history despite the fact that a Chicago band never really broke in a huge way. The fans there are diehard fanatics and there have always been some great venues and record stores that have supported the scene. Among the bands from Chicago that had the ability to really break out were Stygian and Wrath.

Gary Golwitzer has been a member of both bands so his knowledge of Chicago metal is pretty wide and deep. Wrath is still banging heads today and has been delivering the goods for a lot of years now….you can find several live reviews of them in our Concert Archives section.

We recently hooked up with Gary to hear what’s going on with Wrath, what happened with Stygian and tales of Windy City mayhem. He was a fountain of information, as you will now discover…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:   If we discuss the history of Chicago metal, where does the conversation start in terms of bands and clubs?  Who needs to be mentioned and what year(s) are we talking about?

GARY GOLWITZER:  For me, it started in the early 80's. There were so many kick ass bands at that time in the scene. Just to name some...Zoetrope, Trouble, War Cry, Witchslayer, Parradox, Wrath, Amulence and so many others, but that's a good start...We're talking late 84' early 85'...      

WC:  Chicago’s south side plays a large role in both the city’s punk and metal scenes.  What is it / was it about the south side that is / was so accommodating to punk and metal?  Is it still that way now?

GG:   I'm not real sure to be honest. Being from the northern burbs, I'm probably not the one to ask! But, I know over the years we did play with some great bands from the south side. Maybe just the environment? Lots of aggression to let out? It doesn't always matter where you're from i.e. Florida being the capital of Death metal...FLORIDA!!! But I just think there have been a lot of great musicians from that area and that breeds lots of great bands.   

WC:  I’ve heard a variety of stories that some clubs that hosted metal / punk shows back in the 80’s / 90’s were either owned by the mob or controlled by gangs and were legitimately dangerous places to frequent.  Any truth to this or just urban myth?  If it is true, any personal stories you can share?

GG:   All I can speak from is my experience and I'd have to say urban myth. There were rumors about the Whale and Medusa’s and a couple others, but I never saw anything personally and never felt nervous being at any of them whether playing or just hanging. 

WC:  Do you think Chicago ever got the proper respect it was due regarding its metal scene of the 80’s / 90’s?  Why did it not become as big as L.A. regarding hard rock and metal back then?

GGr:   It depends what you mean by respect. I think Chicago always had a huge underground following around the world. In the tape trading scene which Metallica made huge in the early 80's, Chicago bands were very respected. Unfortunately, all the record companies were in LA. There were not all the independent labels that there are now today. They signed Motley Crue off the strip and then EVERY record company had to have their Crue...and along came Hair metal. Some of that infiltrated into the Chicago scene, but for the most part Chicago bands were not willing to change and lots got lost in the shuffle.   

WC:  Follow up question:  Do you think Chicago’s punk / alternative / industrial music scenes of the 80’s / 90’s may have overshadowed what was happening with said metal bands and metal scenes back then?

GG:   I would say that is partially true just for the fact of what I just said. First Ministry came out and every label wanted that industrial sound. Then it was Smashing Pumpkins and they all wanted that and on and on. Record companies were a monkey see monkey do kind of thing. They all copied each other and again, a lot of bands got lost in that process.  

WC:  Chicago seems to be something of a microcosm unto itself regarding bands and music scenes.  By that I mean you hear more about “L.A. bands” than you do “Chicago bands” (regarding national attention) with a few notable exceptions.  Is Chicago just so big a city that bands don’t need to “break out,” so to speak?   

GG:   Well, like I said, record companies were copy cats. First it was the LA scene and they had to sign every band off the strip...didn't matter if they sucked, they were from LA!!! Then as far as thrash. Metallica emerged and got huge so every Bay area band had to be signed. There were a lot of great ones –  Exodus, Testament, Forbidden, Death Angel, etc. However, there were just as many if not MORE from Chicago...but they only wanted Bay area bands. Then Grunge came along and fucked the whole thing up! After Nirvana exploded everything had to be from Seattle. It was unfair because as I said there were just as good of bands from this area and A LOT that were better, but it was all about location to the companies.  

WC:  How does Chicago’s current metal scene differ now from how it was back in the 80’s / 90’s?  Is it better, not so good, worse?  Has it stood the test of time?

GG:  You know, it’s still there. It’s not as happening and fast paced as it was in the 80's and 90's but there are still a lot of good young bands and there are still some good clubs to check them out. Not as many as back then, but there is a good scene still.   

WC:  Can you give me a few memories / stories about the following clubs?

The Double Door
The Exit
The Thirsty Whale
The Metro

Any clubs I didn’t mention you’d like to include?

GG:   Memories of clubs…I've never played Double Door so can't rate that one. The Exit ruled! Used to see some really wild and energetic shows there and saw a lot of mayhem there! That place was great. So was the Thirsty Whale. I never had a bad time at the Whale...whether playing or just hanging and checking out other bands. I really miss that place the most because there used to be some really great shows there every weekend. The Metro is another kick ass place! And still is!!! We just played there 2 weeks ago with Rival and Cold Bearded Killers and it was as kick ass as ever. Great room, great sound and GREAT stage! I saw so many great shows there throughout the years – Metallica, Slayer, Death, Megadeth, Anthrax, I could go on and on...just a great place still to this day. Medusa's was cool, never played there but saw a few shows. Always cool. Reggie’s rules! Love that place also. Great room, sound and stage also just like Metro. We played Ragnarokker 2 years ago and we opened for Metal Church last year. We played with Green Jelly there earlier this year and on March 30th we're opening for Grim Reaper there. Great place!  Back in the day there was Rusty Nail, Durty Nellie's and in the suburbs you had Haymakers, McGreevy’s, B'ginnings and some more that escape my mind now, but there were a lot of great places. Today, besides Metro and Reggie’s, there’s Livewire, The Cobra Lounge and Red Line Tap in the city. Still a lot of great clubs, just not as many. 

WC:  What was the impetus to start or join a band?  Was it “sex, drugs and rock N roll” or was it the desire to be a pro musician? 

GG:   I think I was 12 and my older sister started dating a guy who was a guitarist. He just played in some garage band, but to me he was a guitar God! And he was cool. He sat down and showed me some basic chords and taught me bar chords. I asked him to teach me songs but he gave me the best advice...No! 
He said to sit with an album and listen to the song over and over and figure it out by ear. So I did. I was a huge Rush fan and loved "All the worlds a Stage". I listened to “Bastille Day” a million times until I finally figured it out note for note. I was quite impressed with myself! Then a few months later he took me to my first concert – Rush at the Aragon Ballroom. That was it, I was hooked on being a musician......

WC:  Was Wrath a band you were convinced could go all the way, get signed to a label, or was it just a hobby back in the early to mid-80’s?

GG:   I played in a bunch of bands but I was a guitarist never lead vocals. The bands I was in were always good bands and we had some popularity on the local scene, but I was sick of doing covers and wanted to play originals. At that time that was a no, no! You had to play covers to play bars. I could never convince band members to do originals. I actually sang (without playing guitar) for the first time with Wrath, before I joined the band! They were a cover band locally also and I was friends with all of them already. I actually played in my first band with Gary Modica when we were teenagers. Anyways, they were playing a local club and asked me one night to come up and sing a song with them, Krokus' "Eat The Rich", I did, and the crowd really went crazy. 

A few months later Gary called me and asked me if I would consider joining and singing full-time. It was a big decision, no guitar to hide behind! Mike, Scott Gary and I sat down and I said if they would work on originals then I would do it. They agreed 100% and we started working on our own material right away. Our first show was opening up for War Cry three nights in a row at McGreevys. Packed house all three nights, I learned how to be a front man right away! We had to play covers also at the beginning, but the originals started pumping out quickly and after a few shows we were playing all originals. Every show we did, the crowds loved the originals and we started getting a sizeable following. 

We decided to record a six song demo and when we did, we started selling it locally and we couldn't print them fast enough. Pretty soon we started trading it in the underground tape trading scene at the time and then it took off from there. We signed with King Klassic/Greenworld and released “Fit of Anger” and within months Medusa/Enigma bought out our contract and signed us. It all happened pretty fast and I always thought that we would get signed, never once did I or anyone else in the band consider it a hobby...we wanted and expected to go places....

WC:  Did you see yourself wanting to be a full-time, pro musician back in the 80’s or did you have other interests you wanted to pursue?

GG: We all wanted to be full time musicians. We all had jobs, just in case but none of us were in a career job or looking to do anything else for the future.  

WC:  How did Wrath come to exist as a band?  Did you and the other band members know each other previously, did you put an ad in the paper, etc.?

GG:  Yes, we all knew each other from early ages, no ads placed. ...

WC: Why the decision to leave Wrath for Stygian?  Was the band not happening, was there bad chemistry between you and the other band members?

GG:   Wow, that's a really tough question to answer! You know, Gary, Scott and I were just recently talking about this! We were kind of sitting around and saying What if?? what if I had not left when I did, etc. etc. I honestly don't remember the specifics of why I left and really it's all water under the bridge now. But I didn't leave for Stygian.. it was just something that happened. 

We had just got off of a tour where we really did well playing shows throughout the U.S. with Death, Testament, Overkill, Raven, Danzig, a bunch of really great shows...We came home and started working on the album which would later become “Insane Society” and were probably three quarters of the way through with it and something happened. Was it me? Gary? Scott? Who knows, it was probably a little of all our faults. A LOT of immaturity! But things blew up and I left. I sat back for a few months and tried to absorb everything and then joined Stygian. They were already a band, but I joined and then at the same time Dennis Lesh who played with Trouble joined as the drummer and then the band was set.  

WC:  Had it not been Stygian you joined post Wrath, would it have been another band, were there other offers on the table?

GG:   I was really humbled after I left Wrath. I got tons of offers from other bands, it really felt good to be asked by musicians I admired to join or form bands. But, I wanted to sit back and de-compress a bit and James the bass player from Stygian asked me at the right time...when I was ready to resume. I knew Mike Delmore was a great guitarist and I knew Dennis from Trouble, so it just all gelled at the right time....

WC:  Was there ever any talk about taking Wrath or Stygian and moving either band to L.A. and pursuing a record contract there?

GG:   NEVER!!!! I know that was the thing to do at that time, but never once did I, nor anyone in Wrath or Stygian (although later that would be the end of Stygian, I'll get to that later!) In Wrath, our record label was in LA but we did all our talking over the phone and we flew out there to talk when needed. It wouldn't have made a difference if we were there...and I never wanted to live there! Fun place to visit, but to live? No thanks!

WC:  Were there any record label offers for Wrath or Stygian?  I know Stygian was on David T. Chastain’s label, “Leviathan Records.”

GG:   Wrath was on Medusa/Enigma and Stygian...Yes, we did “Planetary Destruction” for Leviathan.   

WC:  How did the Leviathan deal happen?  Were the band friends with Chastain?

GG:   If I remember the story correctly, James somehow started a correspondence with Chastain. We had done a demo “Seconds Til Death” that was produced by Chastain. He liked working with us and was starting his own label, so he signed us. We recorded “Planetary Destruction” in LA with Bill Metoyer producing it. I can't remember how we hooked up with Bill, but his work with Flotsam and all the Metal Blade bands gave him instant cred in my eyes! He was great to work with, a true pro. I had done “Nothing To Fear” with Wrath and it was produced by the legendary guitarist Ronnie Montrose...So, I've been pretty lucky to have worked with Montrose, Chastain and Metoyer. A damn fine trio there!...

WC:  How did Stygian finally end and what did you do post breakup?  Take a break from music, join another band?

GG:   This is the answer that I said I would get back to! The final line-up of Stygian was me, James on bass, a guy named Dino on one guitar and Wayne Wells (later to become Wayne Static) and Ken Lacey (later to become Kenny Jay) on drums. Wayne and Kenny wanted to move to L.A., James and I did not...End of band...Lol. 
It ended up being a good move for them. They formed Static-X and did quite well for, I guess we were were the dumb ones, eh?!!! No, but it was all good. I was happy for them and told Wayne years later. It was a damn shame when he died. I really liked that version of the band and always felt if we had stuck it out, it could have gone places. But, as they say...things happen for a reason. I took a LONG break!!! I had zero interest in being in a band at that point. I had had it with all the BS! I didn't start playing in a band again until about 2001 and it was just with some friends from an early band. I was playing guitar again and not was nothing serious. Just getting back into it a little...

.WC:  How and who got everyone into re-forming Wrath?  Seems like the band has been doing great the last few years…

GG:   I went to see Wrath play in 2013 and it so happened that the original guitarist and drummer were there also so we all went up and played “Children of The Wicked.”  It was a great response but, they had a singer and I wasn't thinking about anything more than just having fun that night. But, somebody in the crowd videotaped that song and put it on you tube and very quickly they were contacted by Stormspell Records who wanted to do a re-release of the first two albums. I did two shows with them as a kind of reunion thing, which their singer wasn't too happy about, but, whatever! Next thing I know Gary called me and asked if I'd consider re-joining. I did.  We played a handful of shows in May and June of 2015 and then in July we went to Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Amsterdam and played a bunch of festivals. The response was incredible!! People had been waiting to see us for a long time and the crowds were amazing. ....

WC: Regarding Stygian or Wrath, if you could travel back to the 80’s, is there anything you’d change with either band, anything you’d do differently?

GGr:   With Wrath, I don't think I would have changed anything except try to be a little more mature and realize what the hell we had!!! We really had a good thing going and we were right on the cusp of doing something really good and I don't think any of us realized it at that time! Like I said, very immature. With Stygian?  I should have moved to LA!! I would have ended up in Static-X also. Maybe I would have had the hair sticking straight up like Wayne!! Lol. No, seriously, I'm glad it worked out the way it did...I needed the break and I'm very happy being back with Wrath. They are my boys. friends and bandmates...

WC:   Speaking from a general point of view, at this point in your life, in 2016, are there any musical regrets you have?  Would you as a musician do anything different, are you happy with your career and how it’s turned out?

GG:   Like I said, no, not really.  Things happen for a reason and I can honestly say that I had a great time in both bands and I have no regrets other than I wish we had stuck together in Wrath and got over the immaturity. We were so close to breaking and if.... you can't look back, only forward!!   

WC:   It’s 2016.  What are you doing today, bring us up to date since your early days in the Chicago metal scene.

GG:   We are working on a new album as we speak. We have 7 songs complete and we hope to have it out by late fall or winter No title as of yet, but I can tell you it is fucking heavy!!! I'm really happy with all the songs so far. It's old school thrash with a bit of an update of course. But I can honestly say that I think fans are going to love it. We're playing a few shows locally while working on the album but not too many. February. of next year we are doing a few shows in Japan and then we will be hitting Europe next summer for a bunch of festival dates. Things are going well and we have no plans of slowing down! Long live metal!!! Horns up! \m/