XENTRIX - Seven Deadly
January 4, 2023, a year ago
In the world of aging, veteran thrash acts, the big names like Kreator, Destruction, and Megadeth took all the headlines in 2022, but out in the U.K., Xentrix – responsible for the 1990 classic For Whose Advantage? – has fortified their comeback with the excellent Seven Words, out now via Listenable Records.
It’s an album that doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel, but shows that if the songwriting chops are there; that thrash metal is still a viable and lively genre to take notice of.
Original guitarist Kristian Havard leads the way with original drummer Dennis Gasser, backed by Chris Shires on bass and Jay Walsh on vocals/guitar. Walsh sounds eerily similar to original frontman Chris Astley and as you’ll see in our conversation with Havard – that was intentional. The friendly and affable guitarist also spoke to BraveWords about Seven Words, reissues, artwork, and other topics.
BraveWords: Now that the record has been out for a bit, how’s the response been by the fans? How are you feeling about it?
Kristian: “It is really nice actually. When we write this stuff, we write it for ourselves, you know, we hope that like it, but we don’t have any other sort of agenda to it. We just sort of like please ourselves and do what we do. I don’t think we can do anything else at our stage. We’re just going to be the best version of this band we can try and be. But it’s really nice because people do seem to be latching onto the fact that this is sort of our new lineup and this is how we’re standing. I think as well it’s kind of like people are sort of picking up on the fact the last one was kind of our comeback record and this is like ‘oh, they it mean then.’ (laughs). I also genuinely think it came out better than we all expected, which is nice.”
BraveWords: I think the album shows that thrash metal is still a viable genre in this day and age and that you don’t necessarily have to mess with it so much – if you got the rhythms and the riffs, you can make it work.
Kristian: “Yeah. Like I said, I don’t think we can anymore. I think we’ve reached the point where we’re kind of comfortable in our own skin. We’re like ‘look, this is what we are now, we’re not going to change.’ We’re not going to try anything super different. We’re going to try and write the best songs we can and maybe try and experiment with a few wort of musical technical things like time signatures and key changes and that type of stuff and technology. But we’re not going to try and reinvent ourselves at this stage. This is what we do and that’s what we did on this record.”
BraveWord: How was it working with Andy Sneap again? I feel like he captured the band better this time around.
Kristian: “The thing with Andy is we’ve known Andy for a long time; we’ve known Andy since like ’88 when before he was producing, he was just playing guitar in a band. We’ve stayed friends with him and you’ve seen how his career’s gone. When it came time for us to do Bury The Pain, Andy just said, ‘Yeah, come on, come and see me. I’ll sort you out.’ I mean, he’s the guy. If we didn’t know him, we’d pick him anyway, you know what I mean? He is exactly right for us, and he’s totally easy.
“He’s totally an easy guy to get on with. The thing about Andy is that he does know a lot about technology and music stuff, but the main thing is he knows a lot about heavy metal. He knows about this type of music, so he might not know everything about like certain types of plugins, but he’ll just move stuff until it sounds right. And as we all know him, we have fun with him and his humor is brutal, I can’t tell you the stuff he says to us! (laughs).”
BraveWords: Because you’ve known Andy so long, is it weird knowing that he’s playing guitar for Judas Priest now?
Kristian: “Totally. It’s amazing! I mean, when he first got the opportunity to do the record (Firepower), he was like sending me messages like ‘you’re not gonna believe this. I’m doing the record.’ He’s like showing me, sending me screen grabs of Rob Halford on the phone, so we were like in total fanboy mode (laughs). He starts sending me stuff of the room they were recording in and then he’s like ‘you’re not gonna believe it, they want me to play in the band. They want me to play guitar and stand in for Glenn [Tipton, Priest guitarist]. I thought, he’s going to get up and play like ‘Breaking The Law’ at one gig or something and I’ll be totally jealous of that. But he’s up nearly 300 shows with them now. It’s incredible.”
BraveWords: Going back to Seven Words, I’m looking at the lyrics and seeing themes of war, corruption, rebellion so let’s talk about the topics here, especially in the title track that features some clever lines.
Kristian: “I’ll be honest on this one, this is the first record where I only wrote one song. The lyric content on this is mainly down to our singer, which is how we started writing. I was sending him song ideas and he’s like ‘I’ve got a load of lyrics for this.’ I’m like, ‘Well, great,’ because it’s one less thing for me to do. So I’m happy with that. And I also like when a singer wants to write their own and sing their own lyrics. I think they kind of be more emotive about it. I was totally there, but by the same token, once we finished, I’m like reading all the words and going, ‘So what’s this one about?’ (laughs). I’m like ‘Seven words…what are the seven words?’ You know? And he kinds of plays his cards a little bit close to the vest. Because I said to him, if I’m doing the interviews, people are going to ask me what the lyrics are about, so he sent me like some cheat sheet stuff, but it’s very sparse what he sent me. So I think he doesn’t want to spout off too much what the lyrics are definitely about.”
BraveWords: On to the artwork, done by Dan Goldsworthy, also responsible for Bury The Pain, our guy here is now part of the revolution – he’s gone through so much since For Whose Advantage?
Kristian: “Yeah. It didn’t start off with that particularly. We had the guy on For Whose Advantage? and then when we came back with Bury The Pain, it was Dan that said, ‘Oh, you know, I want to use the guy from For Whose Advantage?’ And we were like ‘Oh, that’s a good idea. What a great idea. Let’s bring him back and you can do the tie and everything. When we came to do this one, we were like, ‘Right, let’s see if we can get this guy in again, but let’s mix it up a bit.’ Originally, he did the cover with the guy with the suit on and it looked kind of weird…I don’t know. I was like, can we do like Terminator one, you know, when Kyle Reese has got that sort of like, jacket on. So that was kind of the idea. The only thing you can tell that’s it’s the same guy is the tie, because he has the gas mask on.
“Dan’s love putting little Easter eggs in. He’s always trying to fit hidden things in, kind of like an Iron Maiden sort of tribute. But he’s great, he’s a really good guitar player as well. When we play Scotland, we get him up and he plays a song with us and he’s annoyingly good. He’s great and all that sort of artwork is predominantly his vision really.”
BraveWords: Talk about your and Jay’s guitar work. I love the guitar harmonies and melodies that are in there – it seems you both have great chemistry working together.
Kristian: “Yeah, definitely. When Chris [Astley, former guitarist/vocalist] left the band and we had to find somebody else, Jay was the first one of the guitar players – he originally joined as just as a guitar player. It was only after about probably a year, in desperation, I flippantly said to him, ‘You can’t sing as well, can you?’ And he was like, ‘I’ll have a go.’ So that’s how he became the singer. The whole thing with us is we’ve got a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sort of background. So the Priest, the Maiden, I think you can really hear that in our music. I always say we’re like a thrash metal band with the emphasis on metal. We’re not really a punk or hardcore background. We’ve got like heavy metal – I grew up listening to Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Rainbow, you know, the normal stuff. But that’s where my roots are.”
BraveWords: I don’t know if it was by happenstance or luck, but Jay sounds like Chris vocally.
Kristian: “To be honest, he did that on purpose because he was a fan of the band before when Chris was in the band. So when he was growing up, he was invested in the band. When he joined, he obviously had his own voice, but he was like, ‘I’m going to do it in the that sort of style as close as I can get because I think that’s what the next incarnation of the band should be like – it shouldn’t be drastically different.’ You know, we did try that, we did an album with a different singer after Chris left, one in the Nineties. And you know, it shouldn’t really be a Xentrix record. It doesn’t sound like a Xentrix record. So when it came to us doing it with Jay, he just said, ‘I’m going to do almost a Chris impersonation and see how it turns out.’ And that’s kind of his thing. I think you’re probably right, I think sometimes when we play in Europe, I’m sure people don’t even know that it isn’t Chris.”
BraveWords: Talk about the cover of “Billion Dollar Babies”.
Kristian: “Well, to be honest, we always like to sling a cover on the end of an album as an extra like it used to be in the old days. This time it was supposed to be for Japan, but because it turned out so well, the record company said, let’s just stick it on the CD anyways. I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest Alice Cooper fan in the world, but I remember going to see Alice Cooper in 1986. I probably was about 17 and he did his comeback and the show was amazing. I was just gobsmacked – he had the guillotine and all the theatrics. I just remember this one song – ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ – I had heard it before, but it was in that theater setting when they were playing it and they had these big balloons with these billion dollar notes inside. There were about three songs that we had up for grabs for the cover and that was one of them. It just works, we tried to do it in our own style.”
BraveWords: Are there any tracks that stand out as personal favorites?
Kristian: “I’m really pleased that everybody seems to like is ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ because that kind of like an ‘on the line track.’ When we wrote it, we wondered if it was thrashy enough and if it had too much of a big rock chorus. But when Jay did the vocals, it was like ‘oh no, this is great.’ I really like that song, I like the title track as well. I’m really pleased with the way that one came out.”
BraveWords: I’d like to go back in the time machine – in 1992, Xentrix released Kin. It doesn’t receive much recognition and it seems to be the forgotten follow-up to For Whose Advantage? I’m curious, what are your memories of the album and how do you feel about it all these years later?
Kristian: “That one’s probably my least favorite. It was a strange time for metal and thrash. It was like everything was changing at that point and everyone was looking for an angle to sort of survive as a band. So that’s what we did. We went down that route. But it feels like a watered down version of us, for me personally. I know people still like it, and people say to me, ‘Oh, why don’t you play more stuff off that record?’ But when we got back together, I said Bury The Pain should have been the album after For Whose Advantage? In my mind it feels like Shatter Existence, For Whose Advantage?, Bury The Pain, and now Seven Words. Those are the four records that feel right. The others kind of a blip like we’ll try this and experiment with that. There’s a few good songs on there, but it doesn’t feel like part of the legacy for me. But like I say, people still like it – it just go re-released on vinyl by Music On Vinyl and people are discovering it again and you know, people are going ‘You should be playing this, playing ‘Order Of Chaos’ and I’m like ‘nah…not going to happen (laughs).”
BraveWords: What is the state of the catalogue? Do you own your music?
Kristian: “No, unfortunately, the old Roadrunner stuff – because Roadrunner changed from when we got there. They got rid of a lot of the small bands to get a big deal for – I believe this is how it happened anyway – to give a big deal to Slipknot. They had to give Slipknot a major label type deal. I think Warner ended up with most of Roadrunner’s catalogue and I don’t know how Roadrunner works now. Originally, all our old stuff wasn’t even on Apple Music or Spotify. It was me personally emailing people and saying, ‘Look, can it just be on there?’ People are paying stupid money for CDs and vinyl for our first album and I really don’t want them to do that – it’s on YouTube and things, but why isn’t in on these streaming services? I managed to get hold of one guy who made it happen.
“They actually didn’t have a copy, they didn’t have any masters for Shattered Existence. I actually uploaded my own personal CD copy (laughs), which is the one on the streaming services. When we started up again and we got Listenable involved, things started to change a little bit. But we don’t own the reissues. We found out about – I think they did For Whose Advantage? first on vinyl and we found out about that via Amazon. It was like ‘Oh, look at this.’ (laughs). I actually bought two straight away and then I emailed the company and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll send you a copy.’ But you know, it’s just the way it with all these bands from our time. We all signed terrible record deals back then.”
BraveWords: Anything to add about Seven Words or the band?
Kristian: “No, just thanks to everyone that’s supported us. Things are tight around the world for everyone, so we appreciate anything that you send our way, even if it’s just a little Facebook like, it’s cool – thanks for all the support.”