Hamilton, Ontario-based VARGA’s 1991 debut Multiple Wargasms was and remains so under the radar that the YouTube legions have yet to pick up on it. The band’s major minor label debut Prototype from ’94 made a huge splash for a band that had come seemingly out of nowhere, while the ’95 follow-up, Oxygen, somewhat ironically took the wind out of their sails and saw Varga fade away. Eighteen years of silence have come to an unexpected end with the return of Varga’s original line-up and Part One of a two part comeback entitled Enter The Metal. For those that remember the band fondly, you’re in for a surprise. For the newbies, call this an introduction to some more unique metal Made In Canada.
“A few years ago I had the idea of getting the guys back together just to jam,” says vocalist/bassist Joe Varga. “We went at it and started playing some of the older pre-Prototype songs, the more speed metal progressive stuff. The material on Enter The Metal is the music we created from ’89 – ’91 and all the songs have been totally reworked. The album is definitely heavier and more progressive than Prototype and Oxygen, but this is what we were doing before those albums came out. I think this type of music is more widespread these days. I find a lot more bands are doing this sort of music now compared to back then.”
“I think it was just a natural thing,” Joe says of going from jamming to hitting the studio. “It just felt right to take the next step. We wanted to record these songs properly, with really good gear. It’s a two part album; the first part is Enter The Metal, the second part is Return Of The Metal which will be out in the spring. These songs were never recorded using high quality equipment, so we decided that if we want to compete with the big boys we have to make the songs sound stellar. We went to a proper studio and they just happened to acquire the Abbey Road mixing console. It was amazing.”
Folks who fell for Varga through Prototype or Oxygen should go into Enter The Metal with an open mind. Otherwise, be prepared to choke on a horse pill. It’s still Varga as they were known and loved at the core, but comparisons can and will now be drawn to the likes of VOIVOD, PROTEST THE HERO and even ANNIHILATOR along the way.
“Not to put those albums down, but Prototype and Oxygen were more straightforward,” says Joe. “It was metal, but the music was more streamlined and had some industrial influences because we were into the NINE INCH NAILS thing. It was a sign of the times back in the ‘90s. It took some serious rehearsing to get our chops back (laughs). But we’re definitely happier doing this stuff.”
Begging the question as to why Varga stifled what is clearly some staggering musical talent when writing and recording Prototype.
“That was the record company saying ‘Hey, you guys want a contract? Streamline your sound a bit and we’ll talk…’” Joe laughs. “We decided to play their game and they gave us a shot. We’ve always liked all styles of metal, and two of our biggest influences are JUDAS PRIEST and IRON MAIDEN. There was nothing wrong with streamlining our grooves and going that route for a while.”
A ploy that fell flat when Oxygen surfaced in 1995. Prototype yielded two minor yet popular singles – ‘Freeze, Don’t Move’ and ‘Greed’ – at a time when grunge had become a hostile takeover; Oxygen just seemed to wash over the majority of Varga fans and the scene in general.
“Oxygen was a different style of album and we were going for a different sound, a thicker sound. Prototype was a bit too polished so we wanted to thicken things up and go heavier and more industrial. There were a couple good songs on the album that I still like, but I think at that point we were losing focus with ourselves and definitely with our record company. There definitely wasn’t as much success with Oxygen as there was with Prototype.”
The rejuvenated Varga went into the studio to bash out Enter The Metal and its sister album Return Of The Metal - due for release in spring 2014 - and Joe found the experience to be relatively easy in spite of the complicated material.
“It wasn’t that difficult because we were well rehearsed. And we didn’t do it in little bits and pieces; it was the four of us in a big room laying down the bedtracks. We did about 10 takes of each song, listened back, and there was a little splicing that went on from take to take, more so for the bass and drums. We did the vocals and solos at a different studio.”
“We were actually going to release all thee material at once, but it didn’t fit on a CD because altogether it’s over 80 minutes long," Joe adds. “So, we decided to stretch things out release it as two separate albums, with each one being about 40 minutes.”
Fun fact: Joe has kept his voice in shape during the Varga-less years thanks to his other musical project. He sings in a BEE GEES tribute band. “That’s been my gig for the last 12 or 13 years, so as far as keeping my voice in shape that definitely does it. I can do the falsetto (laughs) but I don’t bring it out much with Varga, although I do blast some notes here and there.”
Varga's decision to resurface now is a good one thanks to the climate of the metal world, and due to the rise of the internet as the be-all-and-end-all of communication. Rather than waiting for label people to kick things into gear, the band is able to do all the work in-house.
“We’re doing everything ourselves,” Joe reveals. “All the promotion and stuff, we’re paying for it ourselves. We take care of all the website stuff, I did the graphics for the album, so we each take on various jobs to move this forward. And we have a manager that takes care of our day-to-day stuff and keeps the press lined up.”
And unlike in the '90s, Varga's new music is available to a world market thanks to online promotion and exposure.
“We’ve still got our hard core fans that remember the songs from before, but we’re finding that a lot of people are hooking up with us now and consider Varga new and fresh, which it is. It’s old material, sure, but it’s been reworked quite a bit.”
Fans in the Hamilton area on January 15th will have the chance to hear the new songs performed live during Varga's hometown show. Don't expect to hear too much material from the past, however…
“I think we’re just going to play new stuff off Enter The Metal and Return Of The Metal, and a couple covers for the encore,” says Joe. “We haven’t played those old songs in years but we’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll give them a go.”