The night was solemn, the year was 2017 and the city, Melbourne. The atmosphere changed as soon as I found myself within the walls of the Bendigo Hotel for the ever so popular Legions of Steel Festival. It wasn’t long before I found myself watching an energetic, thrash-heavy set by none other than Melbourne’s very own Desecrator. The band had an incredible presence, their fans were going wild and their set was epic; needless to say it was amazing to see the kind of energy they had created in the room within seconds of going on stage. Five years, many tours and a pandemic later, the thrash metallers released their second full-length album ‘Summoning’ in August 2021 and also recently announced their indefinite hiatus. It was a pleasure to sit down and have a conversation with vocalist, guitarist and founding member Riley, as we discussed the band’s career, some rather wild stories from being on the road, their latest album and more.
Of course, it goes without saying that the last couple of years have not been kind to the music industry and while for Desecrator, this meant a sudden halt to touring and live performances; this wasn’t necessarily a negative in Riley’s eyes or his band’s.
“Well it was an interesting time for us because that album was ready to drop at about the same time the world started to shut down. We had been looking at labels overseas and wanted to use it as follow-up to the international touring we had been doing. We also had a greater South American tour in the works, an Australian tour alongside some international bands and a few other things lined up just as the borders started to close. We had to hit the pause button while we got a lay of the land. So for the first time since Desecrator’s conception, which was over ten years ago now, the wheels stopped turning because we weren’t really at such a creative point where we could spend time writing new music; we had just done that for a couple of years.”
“We had an album recorded and ready, we were ready to share it with the world’ point. So it was a really big adjustment period for us as a band and as individuals. It really did create a different headspace and that's when we had to work out what to do next because the industry was now saying no to something they were saying yes to before, It was a really weird space for us to adjust to because we’re not an online band, we play traditional thrash so we rely on touring. And then we just kinda sat it out until this year. We actually kinda saw enough of a game plan and enough patterns in the world that we thought that it was a good time to put some more music into the marketplace.”
This sudden transition from years of touring to now attempting to build a stronger presence in the online world was not easy, but it also meant that the band had time to reflect on various aspects of their career, their music and themselves. Riley shared his thoughts on how the change was initially for Desecrator as well as it’s members.
“It was different for each member, I think. We did try to use the time productively and it was good for that purpose because we could think about who we were and who we wanted to be coming out of this whole thing. No one knew what was going to happen and the roadmap was going to be out of it - ‘Was the music industry going to be the same?’. ‘Is there going to be a powershift?’, ‘Is there going to be a difference to bands and travelling now?’ - we had so many questions. While it’s all becoming more of a reality now, it was hard to know back then what any of this was going to look like so it was a good time to go inward and think about what this all really meant to us. I think that Desecrator has spent a lot of years focusing on jumping the next hurdle whether it was national or international, we have done a lot of travelling and touring and that comes very much at the expense of personal life, work life, all that kind of stuff. We as individuals had to look at our lives and then think about what the balance is. This dominant focus isn't going to be there, how do we spend our time, how do we fill the void so you don't actually crash and burn.”
After ten years of being a band, it was one thing to tick a few bucket list items like travelling to different countries, playing big shows and tours, releasing music and the usual thing that bands want to do. But what did all of this truly mean to the band in retrospect?
“What it meant now wasn’t the same as what it meant ten years ago. We’re different people now than we were on the first record when we were just trying to write the most intense thrash metal that anybody had ever heard. We really wanted to challenge everyone and prove ourselves. Whereas now it's a more lateral experience of what we want out of music and by this point the rose-coloured glasses on every aspect of the rockstar side of the industry have firmly come off. We’ve met and often toured with a lot of our idols, played with people we grew up idolising and the truth is you have a lot of realisations during those experiences. So I guess having the time during covid to sit down and review all those goals, it was an important time of introspection and out of that came a record that we’re really happy with before Desecrator calls it a day.”
In November of 2021, Desecrator announced that they would be closing a chapter on their ten year career with an indefinite hiatus. It was a decision not made lightly and with the band’s best interests at heart; and while the news wasn’t what fans, followers and members of the ‘metal scene’ were excited about, it was certainly a decision that was respected beautifully. Riley shared what led to making this decision and some important things they had to consider.
“I think there was always going to be an end date on Desecrator. I don’t mean that we were a band with a limited season; we might have kept going till we were in our seventies if the motivations were correct but in sitting down and having that time to reflect, we didn’t quite have a list of things the industry could provide us anymore that had the right intentions for us to continue. We understood that we didn’t want to tread the same path, we didn’t want to be a band that kept playing to the same crowd and getting stuck. I’d much rather see the band reach a kind of pinnacle which is what ‘Summoning’ has been for us.”
In all honesty and I shared this sentiment with Riley, it takes a lot of courage, strength and awareness to let go of something you have been a part of for over a decade and I have the utmost respect for that. Letting go is never easy, however it was time for the Melbourne thrash metal outfit to do so. Riley shared his thoughts on the same and it is certainly words of wisdom to ponder on by anyone, especially those in a band.
“I think a lot of people push. If you ask a lot of musicians and bands why they write and create music, more often than not the answer, without much thought, will be that it’s for people. While that is true in some way, it is easy to get confused by that. The word that comes to mind is what you just said, ‘scene’. Bands become part of these scenes and they feel like they belong, they don't want to let go and I can totally understand that. But at the same time that isn't a valid enough reason to keep standing onstage and putting an entry price on your show because you're not performing for people anymore you're making them come and validate you.”
“Music is also for yourself. It’s your own validation, your own creative child, it’s your own ego. It is also a very selfish thing to create music because I think there is a turning point where you have to try and be objective and ask if your art is for the community or for yourself. Once the art starts to become more for yourself, things change, because it is for a very different reason. I think a lot of people hang on for too long because they don’t want to let go of something that once was or a moment that’s passed, a dream that once was. The core of why the dream was dreamt of in the first place, which is not only the sharing of art between people and the enjoyment of heavy metal together but also creating music for yourself, is often forgotten.”
As we were talking, it was clear that this thought process amongst other things we were discussing was the culmination of Riley’s many years being a musician, experiences on and off stage and his passion for what he does and ‘Summoning’ is indeed a clear representation and result of this, of everything that Desecrator stands for and has been through.
“It feels like the album we’ve been trying to write from the start; the one that we needed the maturity and all of the in between hard yards of growing up in Desecrator to write it. It has the message I’ve always wanted to convey in the songs. I’ve never had enough experience or maturity to write like this before. We’ve also cast aside this idea of the genre that we’ve raised ourselves in but don’t feel bound to anymore. When we first started writing, we had just got off the back of touring; we did a package with Venom Inc and Vital Remains, then jumped into another one with Crowbar and Overkill which was eight weeks in Europe.”
“We got back after that and I learnt a lot watching those guys, in particular Venom. I started doing guitar tech for Mantis every night, so I’d be side of stage watching him like a hawk just in case something went wrong with his rig but part of that was just absorbing his writing and having that direct comparison to a band like Overkill who is such a recognised ‘thrash’ band. It was really interesting to see what it all meant to me; what riffs stood out, what riffs fell short, what songs kinda stuck and what could I see people reacting to. I learned a lot that way and it really inspired the writing process for ‘Summoning’ and the title track I’m sure came from that kind of experience.”
The band began writing their final album and soon found inspiration from not just their evolution as a thrash group and their years of playing heavy metal but from incredibly important experiences while on various tours. From playing for big European rock ‘n’ roll crowds and small arena shows to travelling all across the world and sharing their music, it all had a significant impact on the creation of ‘Summoning’.
“One of the coolest experiences was when we did a tour as the only support for Airborne across Europe. That was a really big step for us because it was the first time Desecrator was the extremity on the tour package. When playing before Venom and Vital Remains night after night, we were the only clean vocals thrash band, as we were when playing with Crowbar as well. But Airbourne, who are indeed a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing fast paced, high energy rock shows, all of a sudden, we became the heavy act of the night. It was such a different experience. Even though the crowds that we played for at those shows were different to who we usually play to, they really responded well. We were playing in front of those big crowds, bigger venues, bigger venues playing in small arenas, giant clubs and to a couple of thousand people every night, it was an experience that we hadn’t had and which was important to us.”
For Riley as a successful musician, while all this was key in the evolution of who Desecrator is, it was also rewarding in that these experiences led to seeing touring, music and more in a different light and helped in his growth as a songwriter and creative.
“Personally though, watching how people reacted to us, which of our songs they were receiving, what was going over their heads, what were they jumping to; it gave me a lot to come home with, a lot of life experience an song writing experience that I didn't have previously existing in such a small market like Australia where we had already done a lot of touring nationally. It had really kind of reached the peak of our own little scene at that point so there wasn't a lot of diversity happening in the early days. There wasn’t a ‘Melbourne thrash scene’, it was just a metal scene so we played with a lot of diverse line-ups a but as time went on and some great bands like Harlott, In Malice's Wake, Mason all formed, we always got put together on line ups because promoters would always package us so we started to get typecast with bands that sounded like us. Whereas doing those tours overseas helped change my perspective; I came back with a very different opinion on what I was connecting to in music by seeing what other people were connecting to and that is what helped ‘Summoning’ start to take shape.”
The writing and recording process this time around was also met with a different approach this time around, as the album began emerging organically while the band was still on the road. Riley shared the effect of having a new member and some time away helped the music take shape.
“When writing for the new album began, we never consciously sat down and insisted on sounding a certain way. We do have a sound, we have a style and we are who we are when writing. We've done enough writing as a group to know that when music comes out it either feels right or it doesn't but outside factors always affect that and I guess that's what was happening with this record. The elements of what I was enjoying and watching other people enjoy started to naturally creep into the songs. Also, we had Andrew Hudson, who is the singer-songwriter from Harlott, join the group at that point. So, when he came in, there was another dominant songwriter and frontman with a different point of view. Andrew grew up being at the front of Desecrator shows when he was in his early 20’s and his opinions on the band’s songs as an outsider were different to mine. Our ideas were often at odds and that was fantastic to bring in because it really helped shake things up a bit.”
“We knew that we couldn’t just put a deadline on it, so we took our time and slowly ‘Summoning’ started to form. We wrote a lot of it in Melbourne and we were also lucky enough to hire a farm so that we could focus on the music and take ourselves away from our realities for a while. It was the first time we had done that whole thing and I’m glad we did it because I really wanted to get the band away from their lives, partners, jobs and get them into a space where we could just live and breathe music. It was great too because we had the time to write this album in the best, most efficient way with as much care given as possible. Summoning, to me, feels like the best chance we ever gave ourselves to write a record and the best group that Desecrator has had to write one with. I’m really proud of it!”
Summoning is, indeed, Desecrator’s story; the band's career and music over the last decade. With some classic thrash-laden riffs that are absolute face-melters and heavy groove sections all over the place to crisp guitar solos, a little thrash ballad of sorts for variety and an overall relentless energy, the band’s sophomore album is certainly an ode to the genre itself. However, that being said, it also sees Desecrator exhibit a more versatile sound, and undoubtedly telling their story through their music.
“We put a lot of effort into Summoning - years of being a band and all the experience we’ve had has gone into making this record. With our first album ‘To The Gallows’, it felt like we had pretty much written to a framework. It was a framework that we created and decided on but we wrote a structure with a purpose of what we want it to sound like. Whilst I’m proud of that record and some of the songs on it are still in sets, when I listen back to it, it feels like a time and a place that has passed. Whereas when I listen to our new album now, I feel like it's the kind of record that doesn't have a time and a date on it. We really mixed things up with our sound and we even went down that path with the production of the album. The response has been really positive and it has been really cool to see people in the metal community enjoying it as much as we have.”
The band has been busy with the release of their latest album and planning their tour for ‘Summoning’ in amongst the chaos of the pandemic world. Riley and I talked more on the subject of the band’s decision of taking an indefinite hiatus and whether they’ll still be around in some form.
“The album cycle of Summoning with the tour that we’ve got in both January and February will see out the rest of the year online. We’ve got a lot of tour memories, footage that we’ve never really had the time to share, and a lot of great stuff from overseas great milestones that happened along the way that maybe some people aren't aware of. So it would be nice to continue sharing that with people who follow us online as personal musicians, just as it’ll be good for us to look back and spend some time sharing some of the highlights of the band’s existence. We’re definitely going to keep that going and as long as people want merch, CD’s, etc, it will be there for them. This is all testament to how much we have talked about this as a group and the good headspace everyone is in about this. There’s no underlying nastiness or anything; it’s for all the right reasons.”
“Although we’re sad, we’re happy at the same time having created something that we’re proud of and that we’re going to continue to share with people because Descrator is the story of the last ten years of our lives. I think it's important that we continue sharing that with people who want to hear it. Everyone on the current line up has travelled with the band and the previous members are still a part of the greater family group and every member has their own experiences of the band to share and I’m very excited about that.”
Hearing how much Riley and his band have been through over the years, and there are some rather intense experiences they’ve had on various tours, I was curious as to whether a documentary of sorts was in the works; a visual collection of tours and behind-the-scenes moments from the last decade.
“Absolutely. We’ve always talked about it and I guess, talks have always fallen short on time more than anything else. We’ve got plans to film the last Melbourne show that’s now been pushed to October, because that's a big deal for us and rather than just being a concert, that could end up being a DVD involving all the footage from some of our other big tours. I was talking about this with someone a while ago and memories just started coming up. There was a protest to ban us from Singapore, and it was our first tour. We'd never even been there and they had so much bigger, more evil bands going there before us! We had to cancel shows in the Philippines because we were getting death threats and photos with severed heads, it was hectic! We almost got run off the road in Russia and then an hour later I’m on stage still thinking we almost died an hour ago and now I’m playing heavy metal. There were people trying to invade our bus in the Ukraine, there was the tour with Venom where we were techs for the band, touring with Overkill, it’s been wild.”
“All these different things that have happened to the band along the way that have just been life changing but we were such a driven group we were always thinking about the next step so they were just stories that we put aside and didn’t really enjoy too much because we were just focused on moving to the next step. It would be really nice to sit down and be able to tell those stories because I think people will be pissing themselves if they heard some of the things we’ve been up to. I think we definitely have plans for a larger viewing experience because there’s so many moments in this band's history that still haven’t been shared!”
With things constantly evolving, Desecrator had to make a few changes to their tour dates but are looking forward to playing not just their new album but some old favourites as well. Riley is also keen to just talk to fans, and friends about some of their favourite Desecrator memories as there is so much to look back on.
“The setlist is a really nice mix at the moment; it should make anyone from any era of the band happy. We really wanted to get the new album material on stage but being that this is a final tour for desecrator, we wanted to also get the choice cuts and the ones that we know that have really destroyed rooms in the past. The last few shows we played were absolutely killer and hopefully a sign of what the rest of the tour will be like. We want people coming to shows to have fun, drink with us and share stories of what the band means to them. There was a group of friends that came to a show recently who drove a long way as a tribute to their deceased friend; that really meant something to me. Every time I hear a story of how this band or the songs that we’ve written have in some way affected their lives, it is completely humbling that we've been put in that special place in someone's life. We’re excited to share all of this with people, one last time.”
I have to say, it was inspiring to just hear Riley talk about a band that he has dedicated many of his years to and what it all meant to him and on expressing that, he had one last thing to say.
Check out Desecrator on Bandcamp here.
Desecrator vinyl is available right here on Direct Merch