Special Report by Greg Prato
Over the years, fans of vintage thrash metal have had increasing difficulty trying to locate the first two releases from west coast thrashers, Heretic, who were responsible for the cult metal favorites Torture Knows No Boundary (1986) and Breaking Point (1988). After splitting shortly after their second offering, Heretic went on to be best known as the band that spawned eventual METAL CHURCH singer Mike Howe. But with the release of the new box set, From the Vault…Tortured and Broken (via Metal Blade Records) fans can now finally hear the sonic proof of another group of headbangers that were flying the thrash metal flag early on.
Having reunited in 2011, the current Heretic - comprised of singer Julian Mendez (who sang with the band in 1986), guitarist Brian Korban (who founded the band in 1985), second guitarist Glenn Rogers, bassist Angelo Espino, and drummer Ignazio Coppola - issued a comeback album a year later, A Time of Crisis. Recently, Korban gave BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato the scoop on the new archival release, what it was like playing with some of metal's top names back in the day, and the future of Heretic.
BraveWords: How did the idea come up to do the From the Vault…Tortured and Broken box set?
Brian Korban: "When we reformed the group, me and Glenn, we had talked about, 'We've got to get the name back out there.' And trying to even look for the old album - you had to look on eBay - it just wasn't really available anywhere, other than you could find some of the songs on YouTube, just to listen to them. So we threw around the idea of trying to release it ourselves. Trying to put both the records together and we tried contacting Metal Blade early on, and said, 'We're looking at trying to release them ourselves. Is that OK?' We never really heard from them at all. So we just dropped the idea. We didn't want to do it without Metal Blade's permission. It came down to somebody had contacted Glenn, and Andreas (Reissnauer) at Metal Blade and Metal Blade Europe heard that we were playing again and came up with the idea. That's when we jumped all over it, and decided to re-do the box set, and put the two albums together, so everyone could hear the old songs, as well as we had just released our comeback album, Time of Crisis. It was kind of a promo thing to put out there, just to get the songs back in circulation."
BraveWords: What are some of your favorite tunes on the set?
Brian Korban: "We did a video for a song that we recorded originally on our EP - a song called 'Blood Will Tell.' What we did was we had planned on maybe releasing that when we reformed. We did it with the updated version line-up - all the new members. There's a little faster, heavier sound. We wanted to put it on A Time of Crisis, but we ended up holding on to it. It really stands out on the box set. I think you see the new line-up and the power behind the new musicians, and the video we put out with it is really cool. There's a song on Breaking Point called The Search, and is one that really sticks with me. It's about war and anti-war - things from a young writer's perspective. I listen back to it and I think, 'All that stuff has gone on through time. But it's still going on today, as well.' It's just interesting to see that I was thinking that back in my early twenties, and how the lyrics still stand up. I'm really proud of that song. Another one off of Breaking Point would be 'And Kingdoms Fall.' It's kind of a substance abuse song. I had a lot of friends going through problems at the time when I wrote it. That song still holds true to me. We still play it in our live set now. Just a real important song in my career. I'm really proud of it."
BraveWords: The set also includes a DVD of two old concerts. How was it watching those performances all these years later?
Brian Korban: "It's funny, half the songs, we don't even play (today). I don't know why those songs were dropped - it was great watching them in the early video at the Country Club. I wouldn't even really remember the lyrics to a lot of the songs. As I write a song, it's always my goal to 'Let's push this new song in,' and we'd have to drop a song. Basically, we had six or seven songs that were never released. That was pretty cool to see in the early one, I guess that was back in '86. To see the old songs is just great. Even my old drummer, Rick Merick, was telling me, 'I don't even remember those songs.' We're looking at trying to dig a couple of those out and refreshing my memory on them. We might even try to re-release them - an updated version of some of the older ones that made it on the box set, as well."
BraveWords: Who were Heretic's peers in the '80s?
Brian Korban: "We were right in the heart of all that LA metal scene. ARMORED SAINT was a huge influence on us in LA. Bands like BITCH and LA's OVERKILL. Really, METALLICA came from the early version of where we were going. And then there was also the hair metal scene going on, but we were more with the traditional heavy metal scene. We played with everybody - we opened for every big band that came through. MOTÖRHEAD, THE PLASMATICS, MEGADETH. A lot of those bands weren't from LA, but that was part of the scene. If you were into metal, everybody just went to any metal show that was out. There are a few bands that are still playing today - a band called EDEN, they were a local band and were friends of ours. VICIOUS RUMORS were around back then. It was an interesting scene - everybody knew everybody, especially in LA. It's funny to see a lot of those bands - DARK ANGEL - those were all guys from our neighborhood. It was a really small, little world, but we were all very competitive. It was a great scene. There was something to do every weekend. We were passing out flyers to our shows and other bands were doing the same thing. There was always a show to go to. Unfortunately, not like now - now you pick and choose where you're going to spend your money. Back then, you were just out and something was waiting for you."
BraveWords: How many times did Heretic play with Metallica?
Brian Korban: "We just did the one show. Jason (Newsted) had just joined the band, and we knew him from FLOTSAM AND JETSAM through Metal Blade. We had played with Flotsam And Jetsam in Phoenix. We did a few shows and they came and played with us. So when he joined Metallica, I guess Jon Sutherland at Metal Blade kind of pulled some strings and said, 'Hey, I hooked you up with Jason. You can do me a favor and let's get Heretic on the opening bill' - it was at the Country Club, a secret show that was completely sold out. That was just a great moment, where we went out there and the crowd was chanting, 'METALLICA! METALLICA!' Louder than we were playing our first song. But at the second song, third song, we won them over. Just a proud moment in my life, because everyone was saying, 'You open for Metallica, you're in trouble, because the crowd is going to give you hell.' But we ended up winning them over. It was a good time."
BraveWords: Why did Heretic break up in 1988?
Brian Korban: "We had gone through two singer changes already. What happened was we had just finished our album, and Mike Howe - our current singer at the time - decided that he was going to leave to join Metal Church. We had just started promoting the album - we hadn't gone on tour or done anything yet. And Mike Howe dropped the bombshell on us, that he was going to leave. Metal Church was a on a major label, I understand what he was doing - it was a good career move. But it was devastating to us. We originally tried to find another singer, but all paths were leading to the former singer of Metal Church, David Wayne. He was in LA, and people hooked us up and said, 'Y'know, he could get you on a major label.' So we ended up playing with David Wayne, and he said, 'There's no way I would join Heretic - I'm not going to be 'Mike Howe's replacement.' Let's just form a new band.' That made sense to us. I think it was hardest for me, because it was my band - I came up with the name, the logo, I wrote most of the songs. But really, I said, 'It's time,' and we formed the band Reverend. Unfortunately, it died right there. The Breaking Point album, we didn’t tour - we didn't get a chance to do anything for that album, so it's kind of a shame that those songs just got buried. It's fun now seeing the reaction of people now. And we're out there playing those songs again. It's nice to get it back out there with the box set and people can remember it and all our new fans are discovering it. It's a real fun time right now."
BraveWords: What the future plans for Heretic?
Brian Korban: "Right now, we're working on our next album. We just came back from Germany - we had a great show at the HOA in Germany. Really coming off a high with that. It was a year in the making. When we went over there, not really knowing what to expect - the first time for Heretic in Europe - and it just felt great. We made so many new friends. So right now, everybody is really pumped up. I've been writing songs for the new album, as soon as we finished the last album, so I've got a ton of songs waiting. And Glenn Rogers and Angelo Espino, they all write, as well. So we're not going to be short on material. We just started this past month working on new material with everything going and it's going real fast - we have about five or six songs ready. We're looking to hopefully start recording in February, and then maybe for a new release in July. Live performances, we're hoping to get to the east coast - we'll do something in New York, where we can hopefully get a week out of it, maybe three or four shows. And we're looking to play Texas and probably January, we're thinking maybe hit some shows there. And Germany next year for sure. We've already booked it, so we'll be in Europe again in 2014. We're going to really focus on writing."