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 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.
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.
While the band limited touring activity in 2018 year to focus on writing and recording their forthcoming 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 that was celebrated with a tasting party in November in addition to making time for their annual holiday shows at Slim's.
The group hit the road in the U.S. early this year, 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. The band was recently nominated for the first Grammy Award of its long career in recognition for the new album.
The beloved SF band returns to Slim's for two nights this weekend, presenting it's sixth annual "Another Death Angel Christmas Show" at the venue. On Friday the band is joined by two rising bands on the local scene. Hell Fire was founded in 2010 by guitarist, San Francisco native and pro BMX rider Tony Campos after he met recently transplanted Mexican metal fiend and bassist Herman Bandala. The pair started out playing covers of songs by their heroes Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and Metallica, gradually developing their own vocabulary and writing original songs. The two musicians found additional collaborators and started playing their thrashing tunes at shows around the Bay Area.
After cycling through several line-up changes and refining their songwriting, Hell Fire eventually connected with singer Jake Nunn before recording their self-released debut album Metal Masses in 2016. The current line-up would be complete when drummer Mike Smith joined before the band recorded its sophomore album Free Again the following year. The effort showed a quantum leap forward in songwriting and arranging as Campos and Bandala refined their riff chemistry on NWOBHM-infused tracks like "Wheels of Fate" and "Beyond Nightmares" (the later featuring Bandala's growling wah-wah pedal manipulations that recalled Metallica's original bass legend Cliff Burton).
Since that release, the band has steadily raised its profile, playing shows with local thrash legends Exodus and Municipal Waste and touring clubs across the country. Hell Fire signed to noted SoCal metal imprint Riding Easy Records, which reissued Free Again on vinyl last year ahead of the band's label debut Mania. The first recording to feature Nunn playing guitar since he took up the instrument, it showcases more deft six-string interplay and some of the band's most memorable metal anthems yet. Opening act Charger is a new local power trio anchored by Rancid/Operation Ivy bassist Matt Freeman that takes it cues from Motörhead and early Iron Maiden.
The threesome -- which includes drummer Jason Willer (who also plays in Jello Biafra's Guantanamo School of Medicine) and guitarist Andrew McGee -- released a self-titled EP on Pirates Press Records this year that captures the locomotive power of Charger's pulverizing live sets. On Saturday, the bill is filled out with LA metal veterans Warbringer -- who issued their most recent album on Napalm Records Woe to the Vanquished two years ago -- and Hatriot, the Bay Area thrashers featuring two sons of Exodus lead singer Steve "Zetro" Souza.
Sixth Annual Another Death Angel Christmas Show
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 20-21, 7 p.m. $25 (both shows sold out)
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