So, Dave, Deathwish was formed in 1983, do you still remember, how did you get together?
In 1983 Deathwish was more of a concept than an actual band - I wanted to combine the speed and aggression of bands like Discharge and GBH but with Sabbath style heavy riffs (with a bit of Motorhead (and then Venom) thrown in). I generally played with other musicians who were into more traditional bands and found that they didn’t get where I was coming from (definitely ahead of my time!) Drummer Brad Sims was the first person I met (around 1983) who actually got what I was trying to achieve - we struggled to find the other musicians and parted company after around a year of frustating searching (with Brad rejoining at around 1986 to record the ’Sword Of Justice’ demo).
What was the line up from the start? From what I know, brothers Damon Maddison (bass) and Nathan Maddison (drums) were in the band
As mention above it was quite a frustating time finding compatable musicians - I didn’t really start to make headway and go to the next level untill I met vocalist Jon Van Doorn in around 1985 - I rememeber reading his ad in (I think) ‘Sounds’ (may have been ‘Melody Maker’ - or he may have applied to my ad - small details like these get very hazy over the years!) Eitherway, I ended up audtioning Jon (no doubt he would say that he was auditioning me!) in his living room - Jon did a rendition of ‘Startbreaker’ by Judas Priest (complete with Halford screams) which impressed me. Jon always likes to make out he was ‘never really into metal’ but he knew all the words and moves to Starbreaker so I think that is only partially true!
Damon and Nathan were in the band for a short while (with Damon remembering that time quite differently to how I do). I recall that it wasn’t really working out and we (Deathwish) ‘let them go’ (with Nathan going first). Damon remembers it that he told us he was ‘leaving to form his own band’. Take your pick on the truth.
What about your musical past? Have you played in any groups prior to Deathwish?
Nothing serious, just learning how to play rock and metal with your like-minded school chums in village halls (and getting kicked out by the caretaker for being too loud).
Have you ever recorded any demos or gigged with Myriad and Night Shroud? How did those acts sound like?
Night Shroud was before Myriad and directly after Deathwish breaking up (around 1991) . Night Shroud was a doomier Deathwish with all the heavy bits minus the thrash element which by this point, I (and most other people it seemed) were getting a bit bored with thrash which had become a bit over saturated/stale. Again, for Night Shroud it was the curse of the unsuitable band members: at one point I remember having a drummer who played like Brad just not as good; a bassist who was a Stuart Ranger look alike (who’s missus gave me a massive bollocking when I sacked him for being too loose and a massive stoner - which I’m awear is a virtue theses days!); and also a couple singers (not at the same time) who were Robert Plant clones (one seemed to be quite into the ‘dark arts’ and went all weird and shoeless, while the other got the boot for being unreliable and ended up being in a successful Led Zeppeling tribute band (can’t remember exactly which one - there are a few doing the rounds). I did a few home recording demos for Night Shroud but nothing in an actual studio.
Myriad was a more experimental affair where I was playing rock rhythms over hip- hop drum machine beats with a Jamaican born rapper - you’ll have to forgive me, it was the 90’s after all! (93-96 to be precise). We did a number of demos (both in studios and then my bedroom studio on an 8-track reel-to-reel) and had a lot of major record company interest with that one - amongst others we had a few meetings at Capital Records in London (where for some strange reason I kept seeing Tom Yorke of Radiohead wandering the corridoors - not sure why he was there or what he was doing…) It was ‘close but no cigar’ and we ended up not being signed in the end (in hindsite I think one of our tracks slagging off record companies didn’t help!) I eventually had a falling out with the rapper as I seemed to end up paying for most of the recording equipment - I remember him singing about ‘land not belong to any one people’ while simulatanousely saving up money to buy land on a Jamiacan island somewhere (thus not having any spare cash to spend on the band - as well as being a hypocrite!). I also remember a fairly low budget video. The 90’s - a time of bad haircuts and dodgy musical experimentation!
Originally you started as a bassplayer, but you switched on guitars later on, is that correct?
That’s not correct - I started out on guitar. What caused me to play bass (and probably this confusion) was Stuart Ranger had laid down his bass tracks for ‘Demon Preacher’ and then left the studio to go back to whence he came (Eastbourne). Jon (Van Doorn) and I then went to work on vocals and guitar - we had had a bit of a shock when we really analysed the bass playing - I’m not sure what had gone wrong but it was all over the place! The 2016 remastered previous album ‘At The Edge Of Damnation’ reveals Stuart’s bass playing to be on very good form so I really don’t know what had gone wrong for Demon Preacher - I suspect insufficient pre-album rehersals were part of the problem - we seemed to have a bit of an attidude back then of playing a song once or twice in a rehearsal and going ‘that’ll do’ (ok if you’re a punk band I ‘spose but not for what we were doing). There was the small mercy of Stuart leaving his bass in the studio - I then set about re-recording all the bass parts. I hadn’t played much bass before (not even owning one at this point) but as I had written the majority of the songs I had a good idea of how it should go. The bass I laid down was tight, nothing fancy but seems to hold it all together (a bit like Steve Jones on ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’). I got more into the bass a few years later (even teaching it quite a bit - both finger and plectrum style). My bass playing influences would be Geddy Lee, John Entwistle, Geezer Butler, early Jean Jacques Burnel (for sound), and Cliff Williams (for tightness). Oh, and a bit of Lemmy of course!
Singer Jon Van Doorn and drummer Brad Sims were involved in Control and Diatribe were you perhaps familiar with those outfits? Did they become the nucleus of Deathwish later on?
Both those bands were post Deathwish. Control came first which then developed into Diatribe. I think the influences were mainly Killing Joke, Ministry and New Model Army. Although I found some of the vocals a bit ‘Mockney’ at times (affected London accent derived from the word ‘Cockney’) I thought the music was quite good. I did one reheasal with Control to help fill in while they were looking for a full time bassist. I don’t think they liked my finger playing style (which I was into back then) and didn’t get asked back to fill in for a second rehearsal. Still, three ex-Deathwish members in another band may have confused the punters!
You hailed from Brighton, can you tell us detailed about the metal scene of the town? Were there a lot of bands that started playing metal?
I can’t say that there were a lot of local metal bands I was awear of, the most notable were us, Hydra Vein and Eastbourne’s Virus (signed to Metalworks thanks to me introducing them - not that you would get any credit or gratitude from that lot). Sorry if I forgot anyone! I also remember a band called ‘Goat’ who sounded like a cross between the Cult and the Doors, they got signed to a major label (lots of publicity but I don’t remember it really taking off). I remember the singer liked to talk a lot (about himself and his band) and the guitarist (Adrian Oxall) eventually left to join the 90’s band ‘James’ (who had some hits). I recall it was a bit (or very in Virus’s case) competitive between the local thrash bands - in hindsight there should have been a bit more cooperation and camaraderie as it was hard enough for British thrash bands to make any headway without making it even more difficult for themselves.
What were the venues, clubs that did start opening their doors for metalheads? Was it easy getting gigs etc.?
Locally there were a few places; we played ‘The Richmond’ (closed down years back to becoming a back-packer hostel and now re-opened once again as ‘The Richmond’), the ‘Pavilion Theatre’ (both in Brighton and both booked by the band - including all the promotional leg-work). Once we got record deals we got offered more gigs (both supports and headliners - I remember playing with Onslaught and also a very incompatible Wrathchild (cheesy glam band). Our biggest gigging experience (and claim to fame) was the UK Motorhead tour we did in 89. The Motorhead tour really sharpened us up and made us quite a tight unit. It was back down to earth with a bump after that (playing smaller crowds and venues!)
How did you opt the style/musical direction that you wanted to play? Was thrash metal a well known term, notion at this point?
As previously mentioned I was a bit ahead of my time (frustratingly hindered/held up by struggling to find likeminded musicians) - early Deathwish sounded thrash almost by default due to combining the Discharge speed and aggression with Sabbath style riffs. Although I was trying to develop this quite early on I wasn’t the only one in the world (there must have been a collective consciousness/zeitgeist type thing going on!) I believe Venom were very early pioneers of thrash (being a kind of NWOBHM/thrash cross-over band) - had their 3rd and (especially) 4th albums been a lot stronger I think Venom would be getting a lot more retrospective credit than they seem to these days. Ironically in 2018 Deathwish still want Sabbath heaviness with Discharge speed and aggression!
Do you agree with, that the origins of thrash metal are generally traced to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a number of bands began incorporating the sound of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, creating a new genre and developing into a separate movement from punk rock and hardcore?
I would say so (see my previously mentioned comments). I think it was a lot to do with pushing the musical boundaries further and further. My sister was really up with what was going on at the time - she was a massive ‘tape-trader’ and often received correspondence from a lot of the burgeoning bands (including Kerry King from Slayer!) I also remember my sister getting a personally written bollocking from Tom Warrior as she once cheekily called him ‘Tom Schwarzenegger’ in (as far as I can remember) a ‘Kerrang!’ letter - that’ll teach her! (Except it didn’t of course…)
Were Deathwish the first British thrash metal act by the way?
Potentially we could have been but due to delays and hold-ups I would say probably not (I guess others were tapping into the thrash metal collective consciousness as well).
Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you jamming mostly on covers?
I’ve always been able to write riffs (even before I could even really play) -my major early influence was AC/DC (Bon Scott era of course) - I remember seeing the cover of ‘If You Want Blood’ on a school trip - I was very impressed by the picture of an impailed Angus - I bought it and never looked back (it’s still probably my favourite album of all time). I remember playing the record over and over and trying to play along on the guitar - do something enough times and you eventually get there. I was almost dissapointed when I could play as fast as my then hero Angus (realising it wasn’t as difficult as I first thought!) My bed room guitar activities then progressed to village halls with school friends playing the usual ‘Paranoid’, ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and ‘Silver Machine’ covers. A local punk guitarist called Phillip Becket (of Curfew 84) introduced me to hardcore punk bands Discharge and Charged GBH and my tastes got faster/heavier - my friends then went to form a more progressive rock type band while I went on to face the trials and tribulations of trying to form Deathwish (good luck with that one!)
When and why did the Maddison brothers leave the band? How did bassist Stuart Ranger (ex-Taor) get in the band? Is he the brother of Dan Ranger?
As mentioned above it wasn’t really working out musically - I remember having a conversation with Damon stating this and him going ‘you can’t sack me I’m leaving anyway!’ - either way it worked out for the best as Damon and Nathan went on to form Hydra Vein and had a degree of success (releasing two albums which people still like to this day). I can’t really remember but I think we met Stuart through Hydra Vein - Stuart was in an Eastbourne band ‘Taor’ - we liked his playing at the time and were impressed with his haircut (a kind of super-mullet!) so we coaxed him into joining the band. Yes, Stuart and Dan are brothers. I think Dan still plays, not sure about Stuart - I know he’s quite keen on World War II war reinactments (strange fellow!)
Ben Rumble (bass) was also the member of Deathwish, wasn’t he?
For a fairly short while - he never played on any recordings and I don’t think he was particularly any better than the previous Stuart Ranger (certainly not on our debut album anyway).
I think Ben just had a bit more of a Stranglers type bass sound (which we wanted) while Stuart seem to like the Steve Harris ‘clank’ (which we didn’t so much). Ben played a few gigs with us - the most notable being at the Astoria in London - there was a tube strike (typical Deathwish luck) which greatly reduced the number of people attending (still a reasonable turn out from what I can remember). Ben sliced his thumb open during the gig - the blood went everywhere and I think the audience though it was a stage gimmick (which it wasn’t!) I remember Ben having a really odd taste in music and would reel off bands I had never heard of (’14 iced bears’ being one of them). I’m not even sure how we first came across Ben (I suspect he was one of Jon’s ‘right on’ lefty Brighton friends).
How happened, that your demo Sword of Justice was released only in 1986, three years after the band’s formation?
Bearing in mind the 1983 Deathwish was still finding its way and battling the curse of the incompatible musician - it was a miracle the SOJ demo came out at all! I think there was an aborted demo session with Damon Maddison on bass (possible Nathan on drums - although it may have been Brad Sims - it’s all a bit hazy now) in 1985 - the studio sound (plus overall playing) was pretty crap so that got consigned to the dustbin of thrash history.
Did you demo spread around in the fanzine/tapetrading circuit? Did you try to make a name for the band with that demo?
As previously mentioned my sister was very in to the tape-trading scene and got our demo out there. The demo was ok but I think we were trying to be a bit too diverse which reduced how heavy it sounded. ‘Only Dreaming’ was a misfire for me (although we nicked some of the better riffs for future songs such as ‘Visions of Insanity’ and ‘Prey To The Lord’).
We got a mediocre review from Don Kaye in Kerrang ‘Grapevine’ and one buyer even demanded a refund ‘I bought this demo for pounding metals, this is not pounding metals, I want a refund!’ Amazingly some people still like the demo. I’m not that keen - but it was a stepping stone and got us our first record deal. I like the medieval art work Jon Nunn did for the demo though.
At the mid ’80s thrash metal ruled the underground scene, what do you recall of the British thrash scene, when bands started popping up, such as Onslaught, Virus, Sabbat, Hydra Vein, D. A. M., Acid Reign, Ignorance, Slammer, Xentrix, Anihilated etc.?
I respected the bands that made an attempt to sound original (such as Sabbat) but was less impressed by the more generic bands who were blatantly ripping off the American bands (I won’t mention any names). I felt a bit frustrated that we had started so early on but were held back for so long - in retrospect I was probably too fussy trying to make everything perfect when I should have just got on with it and made do.
How would you explain, that the British thrash scene had often been the subject of dismissal due to their relatively short number of substantial and longstanding acts, as well as a far more limited impact on the development of the sound?
Partially due to some of the bands directly copying the overseas/US bands, partially due to record companies not really understanding the movement (and then jumping on the gravy train too late when the fad had pretty much started to fade) and generally a lack of support/money (the Americans seemed to have bigger budgets).
In Deathwish’s case we had a major falling out with our first label Metal Works (for At the Edge Of Damnation) and then with our second label GWR (for Demon Preacher) they (as far as I can remember) went bust. It was very frustrating with the second album as we had loads of positive reviews in the press and with the right support we could have really got somewhere with that album. I was surprised that over the years Demon Preacher had built up quite a cult following and seems to have a lot of respect.
Did all the British thrash bands have an own style and sound or did try to jump on the Metallica bandwagon?
As previously mentioned some tried to be original and some were blatant rip-offs. Overall I think it would have been a lot better if the scene had taken the more original approach (would it have made the bands more successful? Probably not).
Were they heavily influenced by the Bay Area scene?
Some blatantly were (monkey see, monkey do).
With Sword of Justice and Demonic Attack you appeared on Fast Forward to Hell compilation released by Metalworks in 1987, did it open some doors for the band? Did it succeed to draw the fan’s attention to the band?
It was just a taster for the new albums coming out on Metal Works - as we had a major falling out with the record company I don’t think it helped a great deal (due to not receiving any royalties for the first record (and very little for the second)) - we had no idea/indication on how well we were doing (so it may have done and we were not aware).
How did you end up becoming a session musician on Hydra Vein’s The Reptilliad demo? Did they simply ask you to help them out during the recordings or…?
Session musician? That would suggest I got paid! Not only did I not get paid I didn’t even get the credit for playing on the demo! Damon asked me to play rhythm on the demo and I agreed - I was a bit pissed off when I noticed he had snuck in a couple of my riffs!
Is it true, that the demo also featured a fictional guitarist called Jack Kartoffel?
Jack was an invention of Damon’s imagination - I think he was hoping for a Bon Scott style leg up with a ‘death’ in the band.
Did you sign on the label only for one record back in the day? I mean, did they offer you only a one record deal or…?
We wanted to sign a one off deal with our first company (Metal Works) and then go with a major - we later realised that the small print of the contract had us down for a number of albums over many years - we refused to sign and then it all went pear shaped with the company. I believe GWR/Demon Preacher was a one off - just as well seeing the company folded anyway!
What kind of reviews did you get on your debut album At the Edge of Damnation? Was it a well-received material?
For the most part out debut was quite well received - I remember getting 4 out of 5 k’s in Kerrang from Paul Miller (Onslaught’s No 1 fan) and around 92/100 in Metal Forces. I remember vocalist Jon Van Doorn getting called a ‘ham’ in one review - a little cheesy at times maybe but definitely not a ham.
Your second effort Demon Preacher came out in 1988 and was released by the new founded GWR (Great Western Road) Records, how did you get in touch with them? Did they offer you a better deal, promotion, favourable terms than you had by Metalworks?
Our manager Tom Docherty had worked with label owner Doug Smith and in hindsight I think Doug signed us as a favour to Tom. As I mentioned above it was a short-lived one off deal. If think we were far better received that the company was expecting and were really caught off guard.
You enter the The Yard Studios (Southhall), what do you recall of the recording sessions?
I remember there not being much to do outside of recording time but eat industrial strength curries and play Pac-man (which I got rather good at!) I remember the engineer having worked with Cliff Richard. One thing I remember was the tape spool coming off the machine for absolutely no reason while recording vocals for the track Demon Preacher and the tape counter number being stuck on the number of the beast! (That freaked us (and the engineer) out quite a bit!)
While Stuart Ranger is acknowledged as the bassist on the album, bass is played by you, is that correct? What happened with Stuart?
That was covered above - Stuart’s playing went array so I re-did it Steve Jones style - reminds me of the bit on ‘Bad News Tour’ comedy TV programme when Colin Gregson (Rik Mayall) heard his bass parts had been redone on playback… ‘Who’s that playing bass!!!??’
In your opinion, is Demon Preacher more straightforward and generally faster than At The Edge Of Damnation?
Correct. Demon Preacher is played and produced better but I like the riffs on the debut better overall. We currently have two tracks from Demon Preacher and five from At The Edge Of Damnation in our live set (these being: Demon Preacher, Prey To The Lord, Demonic Attack, At The Edge Of Damnation, Exorcist, Dance Of The Dead and Forces Of Darkness - this could change of course as we may add a couple more from Demon Preacher).
Would you say, that you developed a lot compared to the first album?
Although we were not trying to clone the overseas/US bands we were definitely trying to be competitive - I remember wanting to match Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’ and SOD’s ‘Speak English Or Die’ in terms of speed and heaviness. Also, we had done more gigs by then and were overall better as unit (other Stuart’s bass cock-up of course!)
What for you think about, that despite the fact that the band took definitely part in the thrash movement, both its sound and the cover artwork also showed some blackened elements?
I think this was just to tie in with the heavy/doomy image. The lyrics were generally a bit metaphorical (with Demon Preacher being about evil world leaders who were/are masters of manipulating the masses). None of the band were into black magic at all (although I used to get books from the library about witchcraft when I was a kid - no churches were ever burnt down or virgins sacrificed though!)
Does/Did the unholy background choir at the beginning of Visions of Insanity demonstrate the cross-references to the black scene as well as the atmospheric and sublime Death Procession, which created the perfect mood for the following sonic scenario?
I think we put it on just to sound a bit creepy/eerie in an early Sabbath type of way.
Did you play a fabulous thrash metal with strong speed and heavy metal elements, like a jam between Exciter, Omen, first Heathen?
I can’t say any of those bands were influences for us (I don’t recall even listening to them) but thanks if you think that.
Is the album full of energy, lots of anger, furious riffs, clever solos, high speeds and excitement in maximum levels?
That was the aim. Again, thanks if you think that!
Are for example Wall of Lies, Prey to the Lord, and Fatal Attraction superb examples of 80s thrash?
I’m far too modest to say that, but if you think so, thanks again!
Do you agree with, that there was also injected a major dose of almost doom-like heaviness to the songs?
That was definitely the aim - that would be the Sabbath influence. We will have quite a bit of ‘doom-like heaviness’ on our next record.
Did you strive/pursue to record an album with diverse songs?
For sure - being original sounding with lots of dynamics and changes in pace was (and still is) important to us.
How about the cool Black Sabbath cover Symptom of the Universe? Did you choose to cover this song because it fitted to your originals or was it mean to be a sort of tribute to them?
I would say both. You have to pay tribute to Lord Iommi the master of the riff, don’t you?
Who came up with the idea of the cover by the way? Were there perhaps any other covers in your mind?
I think overall the band thought that SOTU was the heaviest riff ever created at the time - we wanted to pay hommage - I don’t think our version is nearly as good but it came out ok (people seem to like it anyway). I can’t really remember any other covers being concidered (although I have a hazy recollection of Jon wanting to do ‘Rainbow Demon’ by Uriah Heep but he doesn’t seem to remember that - personally I think it was quite a good idea now (but wasn’t impressed at the time)).
Was Deathwish part of the UK’s answer to the emerging Bay Area thrash scene in the US?
I think we wanted to be more of a hybrid between Sabbath and Discharge but no doubt at this point we would have been influenced by some of the US bands (if only to be competitive rather than cut-price clones).
Is the production a whole lot clearer and secondly the musicianship has improved to higher levels?
I would say that this is the case. It’s surprising that people generally regard the second album to be better produced as the debut was recorded/mixed/produced by long standing professionals Peter Hinton (Saxon) and Mark Dodson (Judas Priest/Metal Church) so there’s no reason why DP should have sounded better than ATEOD - especially as Deathwish were responsible for the production of the second album!
Prey to the Lord appeared on Metal Hammer’s Best of British Steel (FM, 1989), while Demon Preacher made up on Iron Brew - the Legacy/GWR Sampler Vol. 1 (Legacy, 1990), did they help you to expand your fanbase?
Probably - but as per usual we were kept in the dark about how we were doing.
What were the gigs/tours in support of the record? Did you have the opportunity to play quite a lot live?
Not as much as we would have liked (not helped by GWR’s financial issues) - the Motorhead tour provided the main promotional gigs to support the second album.
What kind of reasons did lead to the band’s demise in 1990?
A mixture of frustration with the overall business, personality clashes, and Jon and I moving in different musical directions. Jon presented a new batch of songs for the third album - I didn’t really consider them to be ‘Deathwish’ songs (thus didn’t want to play them) while Jon saw it as me not wanting him to write any songs (not true as I remember being very enthusiastic when he first presented ‘Wall of Lies’ in demo form for the second album). We had a meeting in a pub in Worthing in around 1990/91 and decided to call it a day.
Did the scene change a lot compared to the early/mid ’80s at this point?
I think industrial metal and grunge was coming in at this point - out with the old and in with the new (cue the flannel checked long sleeved shirts - my dad used to wear those before they became ‘hip’ so I wasn’t going to!)
What have all of you done after Deathwish came to an end? Did you remain in touch with each other?
Jon and Brad played in bands together (namely Control and Diatribe), I think Stuart retired from music (being a postman by day and war reenactor by night) and I did my own thing (including lots of guitar teaching and writing comedy). I didn’t stay in touch with the others although I would bump into Jon in Brighton from time to time and have a polite conversation.
Last year you reformed including you Brad Sims and Jon Van Doorn, what made you to join your forces again?
Largely due the albums getting released and growing interest in the band again. Also there was a stock-pile of unused riffs/songs - it would be a shame to waste them all!
Are there any plans considering live appearances, new record etc.?
Definitely. It’s been a bit of a long time coming but I have finished off all the tracks for the next album. I’m not sure what’s happening with Jon as he seems to want to go in a bit of a different musical direction to Brad and myself. I tend to write fast/heavy, punchy, hooky, well arranged songs where Jon likes to jam an ambient riff for quite a long time (so he may go off and do his own thing). Either way there will be a new Deathwish album. If we go with all of my tracks then it will be very fast, doomy and sound somewhere between the first two albums (but hopefully better than both!) However, I prefer not to be the only writer in the band as it’s a lot of pressure (I like to write when I feel like it rather than have to do it to order).
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scene these days?
No, not really, although when I’m doing paperwork I tend to seek out new things to listen to (I’m listening to Witchery as I write this!) - I sometimes find things that prick my interest (such as Monolord, Amon Amarth, Gojira) but for the most part I like earthy 70’s rock (classic Sabbath, Zeppelin, AC/DC etc). I’m not a big fan of ‘Pro-tools’ digital type recordings and much prefer an earthy, organic, analogue type production (first 6 Sabbath albums, Overkill by Motorhead for example).
Do you prefer the classic materials or are there any new bands/records, that you discovered in the last 4-5 years and had a great effect on you?
As it states above, the former.
Dave, thanks a lot for your answers, any final thoughts for the readers?
You’re welcome. I hope that Deathwish can play in your country one day, also thanks to anyone who supports the band and bought our official albums/T-shirts!
Interview by Leslie David