GENE HOGLAN Reflects On 30th Anniversary Of DARK ANGEL’s Darkness Descends Album - “Howling Christ, Has It Been That Long?”
November 17, 2016, 3 years ago
In the commentary below, legendary metal musician Gene Hoglan (Testament) shares memories of recording Dark Angel's Darkness Descends for its 30 year anniversary.
I'm currently in Europe, playing with Testament, and we're on tour with Amon Amarth and Grand Magus, and the tour is going great! Great shows, loads of fun, and a good time all around. A lot of real cool people on this tour.
Y'know, somebody just mentioned that Darkness Descends came out 30 years ago TODAY?! Howling Christ, has it been that long? Well Jeez, I guess it has. I figured I'd take a moment and reflect a little bit about the record, which happened to be my vinyl drumming debut. I was 18 when we recorded it, 19 by the time it was released. I can remember EVERYTHING about this whole period, way too much to fit right here, I tell ya.
We started tracking drums at the world famous Music Grinder Studios in Hollywood (anyone remember that maudlin tune, "That's What Friends Are For"? by Stevie, Elton, Dionne and Gladys? Recorded there...) on April 14, 1986. The same day that the US bombed Libya. I remember thinking, "And here WE are, recording the soundtrack to the apocalypse (and indeed, I remember using that exact term. Great minds, yo!), yet it might not ever be heard by anybody, 'cause we could be entering WWIII today!"
Squirrel moment: Jeez, how many times have we all had that WWIII thought over these past 30 years? We're almost desensitized to impending doom now, 'cause we only ever get the 'impending', never the 'doom'. Hey, that's way fine by me.
I remember having two days to track my drums (fun fact: Did you know that I used the same rented drum kit that Gar Samuelson used on "Peace Sells"? It still ranks right up there with my all time favorite tones I've gotten on record), and on that first day, I laid down six of the seven tunes that made it onto the album, leaving only "Black Prophecies", which was written two days before and played a whole two times at rehearsal the day before that first tracking day. Thereby making the one pass I took at it be the third time I'd ever played it. That thought is now adorable to me. And I guess at the time we didn't wanna over saturate the material. Oh-and we also tracked a version of "War Pigs" that didn't make the cut because somehow we left out the entire third verse. Whoops. I tell ya, this was during those nebulous days when nobody but nobody was giving any love to Sabbath, they were just seemingly forgotten by everyone at the time. Except for Trouble ("Psalm 9"-all time classic). Also, this was before the period whereevery thrash band (including us) were putting cover tunes on their albums. Dang, if only there wasn't that missing last verse...
After the drums were completed, we then moved to Mad Dog Studios, a grimy little place in the Venice area, to get crackin' on the rest. Randy Burns (Possessed, Megadeth, Death, Crumbsuckers, Kreator) manned the board and he got some good performances outta Jim and Eric, and Robby Yahn, who had left the band a couple months earlier, was kind enough to stick around and track the bass for us. I remember when it came time to track the vocals, Randy Burns was so horrified at the methods Jim and I used to extract a performance out of the vocalist (which involved quite a bit of berating of said vocalist on our part), so much so that he banned me from the control room after he just couldn't take the abuse that we were piling on the singer any longer, citing the fact that, "You just can't scream at your singer like that!" To which my reply was, "Look buddy, you got your job to do, and I got mine, which is to NOT have another performance outta this guy like he gave on that last album. So, you do your thing, I'm gonna do mine, 'cause Jim and I know exactly what we're doing with this guy." To which of course, we got a way better vocal performance out of the singer. Believe me, nobody wants to have to resort to what we did with the dude, but it was the only way, seriously. The final outcome is enjoyed by a lot of folks, so he did a great job.
I remember listening to the singer tracking the title track as I was writing the lyrics to "Black Prophecies" in the lobby. I went in and cut a guide vocal track for him, and when he was done, so was all the tracking. I remember that being on May 2, and we had a gig at the Troubadour that same night. The next day, we mixed the album in its entirety. And then waited the requisite 6 months to release it.
I remember that our intended original cover was deemed astonishingly too graphic to use, so we had our artist, Sean (pronounced 'Seen') Rodgers take another shot at something the record label pussies could deal with, and hence, there's the cover you now see.”
Gene continues: “However, to this day, I never could get a proper explanation of what in the world that 'purple grape dip' was on the bottom half of our logo that soon-to-be legend Ed Repka had drawn for us. Colorful, deadly, baffling. Well, at least we fixed it on Leave Scars, when he gave our logo armpit hair. Man, I'll take some manly armpit hair in a logo over grape Kool-Aid any day.
*A "THAT'S NOT VERY METAL" SPOILER ALERT*
The gravestone on the cover is of course styrofoam, and the knobs at the two top corners are wooden knobs off a canopy bed.
So now, it's 30 years later, and the album has had whatever impact it has. Now for the tongue in cheek part. Metallica, you are welcome for the Grammy that the opening moments of Darkness Descends won for ya. If only ya didn't throw in the line, "Darkness, imprisoning me", I woulda chalked it up to extreme coincidence. Well actually, my bud Mr. Newsted, upon our first meeting at a Flotsam gig, expressed his extreme fondness for Dark Angel, and I returned the same for his recently released, "Doomsday..." record. So I always figured maybe he'd picked up "Darkness..", cranked it somewhere in the vicinity of the rest of the dudes and perhaps there was a certain subliminality (is that even a word? I doubt it.) that made it through to El Dos Jefes.
And, to my friends in Anthrax, I gotta tell ya, I think I beat ya to the Judge Dredd punch with the title track, six months before your killer, "I Am The Law".
Throughout the years it's been a pleasure and an honor to hear from folks from bands like Pantera, Morbid Angel, Slayer, Napalm Death, Suffocation, Deicide, and, Jesus, tons of others on whatever influence "Darkness Descends" has had on some of their action. Not those bands of course, just bands like them. Haha! Jesus, I crack myself up sometimes. I do mean them. But, it is a true honor indeed.
It really seems like yesterday. Thanks to you guys for keeping it around, at whatever level it may be. Pretty sweet to be a part of.
Holy crap, especially as my cherry-popper...
Thanks fer listening, Gene.”