SATAN “ Dispatches From The Burning World”
By Dr. Abner Mality
“Hotter than hell” is a common phrase to describe unbearably warm conditions. It seems the hairless apes who rule planet Earth are doing their best to make that phrase a reality. Antarctica has posted temperatures 70 degrees greater than what used to be its average. Massive chunks of ice bigger than New York City are breaking off and melting on a regular basis. And in some deserts of the world, temperatures of 130 degrees have been recorded.
You would think Satan would be overjoyed to see Earth becoming more like his home. Maybe that’s true for the guy with horns and a tail, but for Britain’s veteran metal band SATAN, the opposite is the case. On their new album “Earth Infernal”, they address the global warming crisis and the stupidity causing it in very stark terms. Lyrically, the album is not so much a wake-up call, because it seems too late for that now, but more like a stark condemnation. Although there is room for hope! And musically, the band is indeed “hotter than hell”, continuing the great string of albums they’ve done since they reformed in 2011.
We’ve been lucky enough to speak to SATAN before here at Wormwood and it seems like the time is right to once again venture into the underworld and speak to long-running guitarist Russ Tippins. Russ has plenty to say not only about the band and “Earth Infernal”, but about the current abominable environmental calamity. Grab bibles and earplugs as I now reveal the interview…
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings and hail SATAN! “Earth Infernal” is the new Satan masterpiece coming in the wake of “Cruel Magic”, which was an amazing album in its own right. Was the idea from the beginning to top “Cruel Magic” or was that never an issue?
RUSS TIPPINS: Well, ever since the reunion in 2011 we’ve felt driven to set a standard and maintain some consistency from one release to the next. That’s something we didn’t do in the 80s and we wanted to set that right. Also we’ve consciously tried to give each record it’s own nuance so it would be distinct from the others and I think we’ve achieved that too. However, we’ve never regarded our works as being in competition with each other. I mean, sure, I’m really glad you like ‘Earth Infernal’ so much but generally art isn’t meant to be a contest. You can’t keep ‘topping’ yourself as such. A balloon can only expand so much before bursting. A bit like capitalism really.
WC: “Earth Infernal” deals lyrically with the subject of global warming. Is it fair to say that this is the most important release ever for the band due to that theme?
RT: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. Climate change is nothing new. In fact there was a time when it was never out of the news and every other band seemed to be flying that flag. SATAN has never voiced a position on the subject and the only reason we are raising a hand now is that it’s been totally marginalized as a talking point. For two years the world has been distracted by a virus and a shift to the right in global politics. But the bigger problem has not gone away, it’s been left to fester in a dark corner and is actually worse than ever. Our aim with the title and cover art is to try to shine a little light into that corner.
WC: Have you guys in your travels seen or experienced the negative impacts of global warming? Or any other type of environmental destruction, for that matter?
RT: In person? Not at all and I am no scientist either, but when so many of the world’s smartest people have been trying to tell us for decades that our planet is in danger I believe we should at least hear them out and not dismiss it just because we may have to reign in our lifestyles a little.
WC: SATAN has always had dystopian warnings for mankind. On “Cruel Magic”, you sang about the “Doomsday Clock”. Surely that clock must be closer to midnight now than ever before. Was that track kind of the beginning of what would evolve into the themes of “Earth Infernal”?
RT: There are parallels yes, though “Doomsday” is a tale of time travel with people from the future coming back to the present day to prevent a war (and failing). Now of course, war is upon us in Eastern Europe and the entire world could get dragged into it. This is a perilous time to live in for sure.
WC: Perhaps the most important question relating to all this is the concept of hope. Is there any hope for the future in the music of SATAN?
RT: There is always hope. The absence of hope is nihilism ie. “it’s over, let’s all slash our wrists now”. To me, that is the easy way out. It takes bravery to hold on to hope. And it takes action… but smart action. The human race needs to get smart and fast.
WC: Who are the “12 Infernal Lords”? Can they be named? Are they real people or are they something more abstract?
RT:It’s kind of a horror story we came up with - something akin to The Omen. The Infernal Lords are Demonic Judges - very much like our own Satan Judge on our album covers. In England a Judge is also known as a Lord. And 12 is the number of Judges needed to make a Supreme Court. In this case it's an incarnate Supreme Court from Hell. Their agenda is to oversee the slow destruction of mankind and our planet by sowing seeds of mistrust and twisting the law to allow huge corporations to do as they please. It’s linked of course to the concept of pollution and global warming but it’s a purely metaphysical take on the situation.
WC:Which song on “Earth Infernal” would be the most meaningful to you and why?
RT: Okay there’s a particular piece that really surpassed our expectations when we finally got it down as a band. It’s called ‘Earth We Bequeath’ and thematically it’s the track most relevant to the artwork on our cover. At the demo stage it seemed strong enough but we then added a bridge during the second lockdown and now it feels like a real standout song to me. It’s kind of mid-paced to begin with and I can already see a thousand fists punching the air at a live show. Then it goes crazy uptempo for a couple of minutes before the air punching riff returns.
WC: Would it be fair to call SATAN one of the first real speed metal bands? “Earth Infernal” seems as fast and urgent as any record you’ve ever done.
RT: That all started in 1981. Steve and I were into WISHBONE ASH & THIN LIZZY and how they used the two guitars to great effect. We wanted to do something like that but faster. A lot faster, hah! In truth we’ve never been the speediest band out there, and I don’t think I would want to go any quicker, it becomes unintelligible. Fourth gear is fine for us. Fifth at the most. I’m glad you picked up on the urgency though. We do try to inject some frantic energy into our playing. Keeps it real.
WC: Your press sheet mentions the importance of keeping “mistakes” in the finished product and having a grittiness to the music. Did a lot of those “fluffs” pop up in the recording of the new record? In my own opinion, you’ve got a much more organic sound than the new IRON MAIDEN, which just sounds so cleaned up and perfect.
RT: Uh, I suppose there are a few blips on there but we’ve kind of stopped looking for them. If we record a take and it works as a whole, why start searching for problems?. It’s not like we intend to mess up, we want to play it as well as we possibly can but the idea of perfection is not the same for everyone. Some artists are not satisfied until every audio wrinkle has been smoothed out. That is not my idea of perfection. All I want to hear on a record is a band who are interested and trying their best to get the take which will make it onto the record. There has to be a sense of vitality in there, something that turns the recording into a living organism. As to MAIDEN, I can’t really relate to them anymore, it’s been decades since I heard anything that moved me.
WC: Brian Ross’ vocals seem to be more amazing with every new record. Does he approach his singing differently now than back in the 80’s or does he carry on in the same way?
RT: He has his method of operation like he did in the 80s, only now we push him a lot more than we did then. It’s been such an eye opener to find out what he’s really capable of and yes, he does seem to get better with each passing year. This is after contracting pneumonia in 2020! It defies all logic but there he is on the new record, as strong as ever.
WC: You also speak about the dangers of misinformation and conspiracy theories in the modern age. Is there any particular song on the new album that deals with this subject? More and more, I’m starting to think the internet was a worse invention than the atomic bomb, even though my zine is strictly online.
RT: Yes, thanks to Google everyone is now an expert on everything right? We touch upon this on the song ‘From Second Sight’. It’s getting crazy, people will believe anything they read online. It's a form of brainwashing like in the novel 1984 when Smith is under interrogation by O’Brien who holds up four fingers and asks 'how many fingers am I holding up?' When Smith replies 'four' he is beaten and told that the answer is three even though he could see four. This continues until Smith replies three. He actually makes himself see three fingers because he doesn't want to get beaten up anymore. He is using 'second sight' to see three fingers. 1984 really is a brilliant study of mind control. You know since the 1950s television was regarded as an instrument of mind control. But now we know that TV barely scratched the surface - compared to the internet.
WC: How do things look on the live front for SATAN? Before the pandemic broke out, you were scheduled to play the Blades of Steel fest in Milwaukee, which I was really looking forward to. Any chance of making it back to the States?
RT: I know man, believe me we are every bit as frustrated as you are. Milwaukee was part of a tour that would’ve taken us to areas of the Midwest we’d never played before - Indianapolis, St Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Tulsa, Dallas, plus the regular East & West coast cities. As we speak those exact same dates are being re-booked for April 2023. Hopefully the US will be free of Covid regulations by then. In the meantime we’ll be appearing at a bunch of Metal-fests this summer followed by a full European tour in October and South America in November.
WC: Is there any place you haven’t played yet that you’d like to play?
RT: Sure, Australia had been confirmed for 2020 but obviously that didn’t happen. Our management is working on getting it back on the agenda. Another country we seem to have neglected is Mexico, which is crazy given the amount of times we’ve toured the US. We know they are Metal mad down there so of course it would be good to check that box at some time.