New York City’s boundless options for metal shows on any given evening can be helpful and frustrating in equal parts. For example, if you have to miss a performance by your favorite band, barring anything catastrophic, they’ll be back in town. Other nights, you’re faced with impossible choices, such as selecting from Slayer and Primus, Ministry, and Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, Vio-Lence with Zombie Apocalypse and Concussion, or a killer Ode to Doom lineup at Arlene’s Grocery.
Firmly planted in our decision to see thrash legends Vio-Lence on November 9, we sought to behold two comebacks. The second of two nights in a row, it was among Vio-Lence’s first appearances on a New York stage in decades. It was also Zombie Apocalypse’s rebirth, celebrating a new album and rekindling of a crossover/thrash group whose last performance together was around 13 years ago.
The event was also an opportunity to bid farewell to Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Bazaar, a venue that, even with all of its quirks, has regularly brought in quality metal acts. The venue is set to close when the building’s lease runs out on November 30, not long before Times Square’s PlayStation Theater shuts its doors permanently on December 31.
First up was Concussion, who got to work tackling serious topics as they warmed up the crowd. Sparse for a Saturday, the thin herd of fans could be attributed to the early hour or decisions to attend other shows. They addressed “worshipping the void within yourself” and delivered sincere, raw emotion, giving the audience a sense that metal was their collective means of catharsis.
Vio-Lence’s die-hards appeared as though they’d drifted in from the local skate park, one even wearing a shirt that boasted, “I raged hella hard with Vio-Lence.” Singer Sean Killian was the master of the “mean mug”, with a fierce scowl and a vein popping out from his head, singing the lyrics to “Serial Killer”: Demented / A figure of speech / My mind is lost eternally / Out of my reach.
Killian coaxed the audience into a circle pit for “I Profit”, and famed guitarist Phil Demmel (ex-Torque, ex-Machine Head, etc.) was especially animated on stage. The audience members were all too eager to shout lyrics back to the band, also including Dean Dell (bass), Perry Strickland (drums), and Ray Vegas (guitars), the majority of whom were present for the inception of the band in 1985. Killian commented on the fans’ rowdiness as they crowdsurfed and flung their bodies toward the stage: “There are some big boys playing across town tonight, but you’re here for thrash fucking metal.”
Vio-Lence kept the same pace throughout the set, providing no opportunity for the band or audience to catch their breath, and appearing to have lost no momentum in the previous decades’ hiatus. They powered through “Bodies on Bodies”, and by the time they landed at “Colour of Life”, the spectators had stopped their movement, perhaps simply worn out from the physicality of the band’s performance. They punctuated the set with a boisterous cover of Fear’s “I Love Livin’ in the City” and “World in a World” from 1990’s Oppressing the Masses.
Zombie Apocalypse was sandwiched in between the two sets, shedding the ostensible nerves of not having performed in over a decade in exchange for a growing pool of fans who recited lyrics, and threw their bodies against one another in the mosh pit. The last time they performed together in the early 2000’s was during an entirely different landscape for crossover/thrash. Now, as established professionals, some with growing families, ZA’s members- Ronen Kauffman (vocals), Eric Dellon (vocals), Greg Thomas (guitar), Matt Fox (guitar), Matt Covey (drums), and Pat Henry (bass)- are at vastly different points in their lives than when the project began.
They laid the Brooklyn crowd to waste with something old and something new, including music from their prior releases, as well as Life Without Pain is a Fucking Fantasy, out August 9, 2019 on Innerstrength Records.
The album features 10 songs for a total length just shy of 15 minutes. While not featured in the live show, the album contains ZA’s signature sound clips, pulled from a variety of sources to spark humor or provoke thought.
From serious subjects to the more comical (read: “Hey, You Pissed on a Snake” and a few rousing plays of “Bastard Shit Bastard”), ZA kept their set interesting both in content and energy. Kauffman’s engagement with the audience complemented Dellon’s metal-induced zeal, making the most of the dual-frontman arrangement.
After the show, Dellon caught up with Metal Solstice to discuss ZA’s decision to re-enter the scene, the struggle of being compared to their own past successes in other bands, and activity on the horizon, including three shows in January 2020, as well as new material already in the works.
Metal Solstice: I’m sure you’ve already answered one too many questions about being “back from the dead”, but 13 years is a long time off. Tell me about the process of reigniting the Zombie Apocalypse fire.
Eric Dellon: I want to preface this by saying how funny it is to write about this as if it just happened, when in reality it took us five years to come out with a 14-minute record. I had been writing and recording riffs at home, never knowing what they’d be used for or thinking they’d reach beyond the walls of my apartment. I’d write a riff or two, sometimes a chunk of a song, record it, throw drums on it and just for fun send it over to Matt (Fox). He’d always give me his feedback and sometimes say, “that’s totally Zombie” or something to that effect, and at some point I started writing with the band in mind.
Contemporaneously, Matt and I had been talking about really giving the band an honest shot: writing songs, putting out a record, and it started to come together. We just took our time and had fun with it; I mean, no one one was beating down the door for another Zombie Apocalypse record. There was no pressure or expectation, and we were able to do what we wanted.
When we had presentable material, we engaged Ronen and he’d give us his feedback. From there, we’d text like excited teenagers about ideas, album titles, song titles, and samples.
As far as now being the right time: it had more to do with circumstance than anything. Matt’s other band, Shai Hulud, wasn’t active around the time we were preparing to record; Ronen has been steadily working as teacher, and hadn’t done anything musically since ZA; and the same goes for my steady paralegal job. We’re creative people and I think that time off—the dormancy where none of us were creating music—led to this album.
MS: Let’s dig into more about the group’s dynamic during the creative process of Life Without Pain is a Fucking Fantasy: were there any challenges of picking this up, when you’re all at very different points in your lives now, than you were when the band was last active?
Dellon: Absolutely. Like I mentioned, both Ronen and I have full time jobs. He’s also a husband and father and dedicates all the time he can to his family. Matt’s been in school and is working toward his degree. Matt’s in South Jersey by PA, Ronen’s in North Jersey, and I’m in Brooklyn, so physically getting together isn’t easy.
All that aside, Ronen has spoken about it, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying his original reception to the idea of doing a record was lukewarm at best, but he ultimately went all-in. For the most part in the digital age it’s fairly easy to record a riff on your phone, like Matt does, or make high quality demos with an interface and DAW like I do. So much so, that we recorded guitar and bass at my apartment for LWPIAFF. It made sense to take our time and get it right before taking it to John Naclerio of Nada Studio to reamp and do vocals.
MS: Which components of the ZA songwriting process, and this new record specifically, are unique to you? How do you try to deliver them on stage?
Dellon: Less an aspect of the songwriting process, but more an aspect of the overall sound: I am more metal forward than Matt in my playing and writing. Don’t get me wrong, Matt can write a mean metal riff. But that is the core of what I do. Fast triplet right hand picking, chunky palm muted low power chords, that’s about 90% of what I write.
So it may be unsurprising to learn that the “metal songs” on LWPIAFF were my doing; something I truly fretted over for a long time. I didn’t hear the cohesiveness that Matt did in the 10 songs. I wanted them to be two separate sides and I really wasn’t sure that Zombie Apocalypse fans would embrace songs like “Hey, You Pissed On A Snake” or “Witch Press”.
All that aside, I’ve been lucky that they have. As far as bringing that to the stage, I’ll be the guy head banging, windmilling, and doing death growls when we play.
MS: I’m curious about the sound clips and samples in many of the songs, since they’ve seemingly always been a part of ZA’s music. How do you decide which ones to use?
Dellon: Those are largely Matt’s domain; it’s just fun. We try to make them have relevance to the song they’re in but sometimes too, they’re just things we like. We also had a discussion about the concept for the next record today so we’ll have our eyes and ears on high alert for pertinent clips. But really anything goes: I suggested the Fiddler clip for “Brave Digger” and Curb for “We Still Might Be Dying”. They just made sense to me, given the context of the lyrics, one more serious than the other, obviously.
MS: Everyone who has recently interviewed a Zombie Apocalypse member is quick to bring up Shai Hulud. How do you feel about the eagerness to bring up past projects- is it frustrating, or does it pay homage to your collective musical roots?
Dellon: I’ve expressed this to Matt who has been a very close friend of mine for the last 20 years and to whom I mean no disrespect: I want ZA to be able to stand independently. Of course, it will always be billed as a Shai Hulud side project, having sprouted from Matts Fox and Fletcher. Even with my involvement, it adds another Hulud-tinged element since I was in the band for 30 seconds. But I prefer not to see our name mentioned with Zombie Apocalypse (Shai Hulud, etc) Release New Song.
That said, it’s the same thing that gets you to the party. Would any outlet share our news if it didn’t have that connection? I’m proud of and love Shai Hulud. I love their records and have spent 20 years of my life around the people in the band, but I’d also prefer not to get DMs in response to our new song or whatever that say “When’s Shai Hulud releasing something!?” or “Personally…I’m waiting on a new Hulud Record.” That’s cool. I am too.
Most of the time I just respond with “Sorry, wrong band.” I get it, but aim for Zombie Apocalypse to be its own entity, capable of standing on its own feet. We’ve come further from what Hulud is with this record than ever before; it’s just a different thing.
MS: Tell me about ZA’s main supporters, and fans who have stuck around this long. Were any of them in attendance at the Brooklyn Bazaar show?
Dellon: It’s been so great to see the outpour of positivity, especially surrounding the release of LWPIAFF. I really thought it’d be a bit polarizing, but people were so absolutely on board with it; it was such a relief. Some people who saw us at our first show at Hellfest 2004 were there, some who’d never seen us (our friend Josh flew up from Florida), and a bunch of friends from all over.
One of my best friends even sent me a side-by-side of when we played a Knights of Columbus in Cromwell, CT in 2004-2005 with him singing into my mic and one from Saturday night, almost 15 years later. It was just so super cool that amidst the backdrop of Vio-Lence’s first shows in decades, it was our first in half of that time, and we had our own pocket of rabid fans.
MS: In terms of ZA activity- what’s next? Since this was the only performance this year, do you have plans to write or perform more in the works?
Dellon: We’re trying to figure all of that out. The response from Saturday was so positive and we really enjoyed playing. It felt good and it felt right. We’ll have to see what happens going forward because we all do have full time jobs, school, families, etc, so there isn’t the certainty that we’ll be able to play out (often).
We are absolutely going to put out another record, and soon…er than 15 years from now. We have one full song written and a ton of riffs. The idea we have surrounding the concept, as laid out by Ronen, is very cool and it’s going to be easy to work within that construct. We’re going to continue to try to push our boundaries and have fun with the music we make. This is, at heart, a band whose main purpose is just for the fun of it. I really can’t wait to see what we come up with.