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Local Thrash-Metal Heroes Death Angel Headline Great American

By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- With roots dating back to the primordial days of the Bay Area thrash-metal revolution during the early '80s, local heroes Death Angel have long been representatives of one of San Francisco's most indelible musical movements. Formed in 1982 by a group of Filipino cousins living in Daly City, the band featuring Rob Cavestany (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dennis Pepa (lead vocals, bass), Gus Pepa (rhythm guitar), and Andy Galeon (drums) initially drew influence on Iron Maiden and other newer British metal bands just rising to prominence.

By the time cousin Mark Osegueda had taken over as lead singer in 1984, the young musicians were devout followers of the new thrash-metal sound championed by Bay Area icons Metallica and Exodus as well as SoCal counterparts Slayer and Megadeth (who Death Angel opened for with a show that marked Osegueda's debut stage appearance). A demo produced by Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett would garner the quintet local radio airplay and a much wider fan base thanks to tape trading among rabid thrash-metal fans looking for the latest sounds.

Death Angel's "Kill As One" by Rezhiro on YouTube

Death Angel would score a deal with Enigma Records and released their pulverizing 1987 debut album The Ultra-Violence that exhibited a complex sound that belied the young band's relative inexperience (Galeon was only 14 when they recorded the effort). A second album -- Frolic in the Park -- followed before the leading lights of the second wave of thrash metal had their contract acquired by Geffen Records. The highly polished 1990 album Act III and major touring plans as the opening act on the huge Clash of the Titans Tour with Slayer, Megadeth and Exodus had the band poised for bigger things, but a touring van accident critically injured Galeon and left the band in limbo as he took a full year to recover. After Osegueda left to pursue a career outside of music, the band was dropped by the label and imploded.

DEATH ANGEL - Seemingly Endless Time by Death Angel on YouTube

The remaining members would continue making music, first working in a more alternative-rock direction as The Organization before bringing Osegueda back into the fold in 1998 to front the new group The Swarm. It wasn't until Death Angel reunited for Thrash of the Titans, the legendary 2001 benefit concert for Testament singer Chuck Billy that also featured historic reunion performances by Bay Area bands Exodus, Heathen, Forbidden Evil and Vio-lence, that the group returned to full-time activity.

Releasing its first new effort in 14 years with The Art of Dying in 2004, Death Angel has remained a consistent presence on the international touring circuit ever since. While founding members Dennis Pepa and Galeon would depart near the end of the decade, the current line-up filled out by veteran drummer Will Carroll (formerly with Old Grandad, Hammers of Misfortune and Vicious Rumors) and bassist Damien Sisson (ex Scarecrow and Potential Threat) continues to tour heavily as one of the Bay Area's leading ambassadors of thrash metal while putting out compelling new recordings to this day.

Death Angel - Lost - live HD@ Dynamo Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 8 July 2017 by vriesdich on YouTube

While the band limited touring activity in 2018 year to focus on writing and recording their ninth studio album, they still managed to play a number of summer festivals and join fellow Bay Area greats Exodus and German thrashers Sodom for a run of winter dates. Death Angel also collaborated on a different kind of release, working with Oakland brewery Ale Industries to craft the band's Caster of Shame IPA .

DEATH ANGEL - The Pack (OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO) by Nuclear Blast Records on YouTube

The group hit the road in the U.S. in 2019, playing a series of headlining shows with fellow thrash veterans Overkill and previewing some of the ferocious material from their newest Nuclear Blast offering Humanicide that came out at the end of May. Brimming with intense thrash workouts like the title tune, the brutal "I Came For Blood," and the anthemic singalong tribute to their loyal fanbase "The Pack," the latest effort shows Osegueda, Cavestany and company are still creating thrash metal of the highest order. That same year, the band was nominated for the first Grammy Award of its long career in recognition for the album.

During the European leg of The Bay Strikes Back Tour with fellow thrash greats Testament and Exodus in spring of 2020, members of all three bands and their crews were exposed to the coronavirus. Many testing positive upon their return and Death Angel drummer Carroll ending up hospitalized during a terrifying brush with mortality.

DEATH ANGEL - Where They Lay (OFFICIAL LIVE MUSIC VIDEO) by Nuclear Blast Records on YouTube

The extended time it took for Carroll to recover from his near-death bout with COVID hasn't slowed the band's productivity. Already working on new material for their next effort, Death Angel also played several live-streamed shows during the pandemic (including their annual holiday show) and released the stripped-down, mostly acoustic digital EP Under Pressure that included a cover of the Queen classic along with a new song and re-recordings of a couple of earlier tunes. The band recently released The Bastard Tracks, a live show recorded and filmed at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco last spring as an audio recording and BluRay that features rarely performed deep cuts from across the band's career.

The beloved SF band returns to the Great American this weekend, playing it's first local headlining show in ages after delivering a ferocious sets at Aftershock 2021 in Sacramento in October and opening the one date of the Bay Strikes Back Tour in the U.S. that was not pushed next year due to surging COVID cases at Oakland's Fox Theater. On Saturday, Death Angel will be joined by Mordred, a latter-era thrash band that expanded it's sound in the early '90s with funk and hip-hop influences (including the addition of DJ/keyboard player Aaron "DJ Pause" Vaughn to the band's line-up) that presaged the explosion of nu-metal a few years later. The reunited group released it's first new effort in nearly three decades, entitled The Dark Parade, last summer.

Opening all-star quintet Molten features a murderer's row of scene veterans including guitarists Chris Corona (Floating Goat, Hazzard's Cure, and Wild Eyes among others), Gary Goudreau (East Coast band End-time Illusion), drummer Damon Lockaby (Banquet) and Hell Fire bassist Bandala playing bass as well as keys and classical guitar (singer Brandon Bristol rounds out the band).

Virulence by Molten - Topic on YouTube

The band quickly gained a following with its brutal mix of thrash and death metal influences, garnering national press coverage just on the strength of their demo. Early in 2021, Molten self-released its punishing debut full-length Dystopian Syndrome to wide praise. While the show is sold out, Death Angel is also offering fans a chance to watch a live stream of the concert from anywhere in the world.

Death Angel
Saturday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m. $30 (sold out)
Great American Music Hall

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