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Fifth Angel – interview met Ken Mary (drums)

Ken Mary: “That is really kind of what it is. It is a movie. That was the idea. You close your eyes, you listen to the record and you can see the movie in your head. That was really what this was all about”
Late eighties Fifth Angel wrote history in American metal/hard rock with their self-titled debut album and ‘Time Will Tell’. Their comeback was started with a gig at Keep It True festival in Germany in 2010, followed by their third strike entitled ‘The Third Secret’ in 2018. Now the mighty constellation returns with their fourth opus ‘When Angels Kill’, a double concept album with a deep-draught story with links to former works. We had an in-depth conversation with founding member Ken Mary about this new album and many other things.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 28 juni 2023

It all started again with a concert at Keep It True festival in Germany in 2010. That is already a long time ago. What did you feel afterwards?
You are talking about the KIT festival? 2010, yeah that pretty much started everything again. Oliver deserves a lot of credit for that. He wanted to bring the band over there. It must have been the first indication that we had that there was still a demand for the band. As you know, we had those two albums, but once that grunge took over in the US, everybody just got pushed aside and it was a very difficult time. We lost our record deal, Ted was going back to university, becoming a dentist surgeon. Everybody just went separate ways. So it was a tough time in terms of the existence of Fifth Angel. We were thinking it was the end of it right there.

But it wasn’t, because in 2018 you made a glorious comeback with ‘The Third Secret’. I think that record was very well received in Europe as well, isn’t it?
Yes, thank you. We tried to write songs from around 2012 on. We tried different combinations, like Peter Orullian, the singer that sang at KIT festival in 2010. We tried to do some writing with him. It seemed like no matter what we did, nothing sounded like Fifth Angel anymore. It sounded like something completely different and then Kendall and I started working on some demos. Kendall sent me some demos that he sang on and I said: ‘Kendall, your voice sounds amazing. Why don’t we just let you sing?’. Then we started writing together and we came out with three songs. I think the first three songs were ‘We Will Rise’, ‘Queen Of Thieves’ and there was one other song. We sent it to Jaap from Nuclear Blast and he was very impressed. He said: ‘This sounds like Fifth Angel’ and so they signed us for a new record contract and then of course… do you know what happened with Kendall? I can cover that too (laughs).

Yes indeed, one of my questions or topics was the mysterious departure of Kendall…
Yes, the mysterious departure of Kendall was very unfortunate for the timing. He called us, it was 2018 when he told us that he didn’t want to tour. We had festivals booked, Rock Hard and some other festivals… and he was just saying: ‘I am quitting, I don’t want to play these shows’. We were thinking he was joking. We didn’t expect he was serious. We thought: ‘Well, give him a month. He’ll calm down and he’ll say yes and get back in.’ So we waited for about a month and a half, as long as we could, but he didn’t talk to anybody, he was not returning calls or returned emails. He was serious, you know. He did not want to travel anymore. For us it was very unfortunate, it would have been better if we had known that before we made the record. Steve Carlson was there and the idea was he was going to sing Ted’s songs, from the first two albums and then Kendall would sing two or three songs from ‘The Third Secret’. I think it would have been better to find that out earlier. It was a very unfortunate situation, but Steve Carlson is an amazing vocalist.

Yes, it is an amazing record and it is like a movie!
That is really kind of what it is. It is a movie. That was the idea. You close your eyes, you listen to the record and you can see the movie in your head. That was really what this was all about. But getting back to the singer situation, I think Steve Carlson did an incredible job on the record and we are very happy with what we have put together for this album.

How did you meet and finally recruit him?
He lives in Phoenix. There is a friend of ours, Mike Gaube, he is a radio DJ and he is friends with me for years and years and he is also friends with Steve Carlson and he told me we should work with Steve. So we did and Steve appeared to be a very amazing person and amazing singer. So it was very natural transition. We did not miss a beat, everything went very smooth on this record and it is a long record. It is almost seventy minutes long. So it is a lot of material and a lot of music. But everything went very smoothly.

And it is like heaven sent that he moved to Phoenix, because originally he was also from the Seattle area, just like you guys…
Also from Seattle, which is really weird and I know John, the bass player, he knew him a little bit and had seen him play and everything. We all kind of come from the same club. Everybody is from the Seattle area and for whatever reason, it seems like the chemistry is really good, it is almost like a family. You have to work with each other and be around each other, travel with each other and interact with each other a lot, like a family does. If you get along well and people are nice, it makes things much easier.

That is true. Please tell me about that double concept album ‘When Angels Kill’ is. It should be linked to the previous albums, some titles, some things that happened before on your albums. You selected a kind of story about that. Do I see that right?
Yes. We took a lot of the concept and even song titles, little bits and pieces out of lyrics. We didn’t reuse the song titles or any thing, but we did take lyrics and things and weave them back into this album to create a whole story, based upon the previous recordings. If you go back and listen to the first album, there are stories about betrayal, like ‘Cry Out The Fools’, it is about a relationship and betrayal. And you have ‘The Night’ which is about deception in the media and you have ‘In The Fall Out’ which is about a nuclear attack of a city. All those different things; we started to notice around ‘The Third Secret’ that we could make a story out of all these happenings. We said: ‘maybe on the next one we’ll do a concept record’. I think it was me who had the idea of the story and then weaving it into one story. But this is probably the last album we will do with this kind of subject matter, because we have four albums and there is a lot of continuing of what’s been said. I think maybe the next time we will move on to a different subject matter, but it has been very consistent over the years and what’s interesting to me is that the first album is almost forty years old now. If you listen to what we were writing about and singing about, it is still totally applicable today. That is pretty amazing, we are talking about ‘Wings Of Destiny’, war, all these different concepts are still super applicable today. I think it just comes from the fact that Fifth Angel has always written about the state of mankind and the challenges and what mankind faces as a species. We have always been talking about that and it is funny, because the challenges have not changed.

You promise a surprising end and I can only reflect my own thoughts after listening to it. I think the only salvation comes from praying and believing and in the end comes the final judgement from other species in space or god, whatever you want to call it…
I think it helps mankind to know that there is a reckoning. There is a cause when you do things. There is a cause when you oppress people, there is a cause when you create war. There is a prize that will be paid, but that was not really the point of the record. The point of the record was more to create a feeling of: ‘If all these things were happening now, how would you feel when you are right in the middle of it?’ The concept was trying to put the listener in these events. One interviewer said: ‘Don’t you think people are going to be depressed?’ and I said: ‘Well, that is one way to look at it, but you can look at it like: ‘hey, it is a wonderful day today, it is not happening today, there is not an asteroid’ and maybe you need to go out and live and enjoy your life today and not depend on tomorrow haha. That was one way to look at it.

Ed Archer, John Macko and you are the original members in the band. Does it mean that you are the main writers or did the other guys also contribute?
On this record we used… I call it ‘the Fifth Angel family’, because during the making of this record, there were a lot of challenges that happened. We had some scheduling issues, Ed had to take care of his mom. His mother has been ill and had some medical issues. We had another guitar player working, he had issues with his mother as well, we had covid-19,… so it really turned into a situation where we use – what I call – the fifth angel family (chuckles). We had Jim Dofka playing on the record, we had Ethan who helped writing some songs, we had Ed writing some songs, we had Steve Conley, my friend from Flotsam & Jetsam, doing some work. We just used everyone. We had Ethan Bross, a big friend of mine who is another fabulous guitar player. He played the KIT festival with us live, so we have like a little family that we can work with and I guess that is almost like how we have the Pumpkins United kind of thing. It is almost like that, angels united (laughs)…  There’s a lot of different people we can rely on and we did on this record, because I think it was such a big challenge to do 70 minutes material. That is almost twice as long as a regular record, so to do that type of thing, and dealing with covid-19 and all the different things that are happening in people’s families, that was a challenge.

And will that whole family go on tour in this constellation or a studio line-up?
We will see. We are going to try and support the record. In August we are going to play at Alcatraz in Belgium. We just did the KIT festival which was very successful, fans were singing along with the songs, even the new songs. We played a song they had never heard before, the singer taught them how it went before the song and everybody sang along. It was really a great crowd and great seeing the fans again, because we haven’t been there for a few years now and it was an incredible gathering of fans, signing autographs and all that stuff… just get back to me then and hanging out with them. It was a great experience, we like to do that as much as we can.

Are there plans to play in Europe?
We don’t know right now, but hopefully… I think it depends on if the album does well, the band is there. It is a little bit tougher for American bands – I am not sure if people understand, but I have seen bands like Anthrax that cancel their trip and they are a pretty big band. For a number of bands it isn’t working, because it is too expensive. The cost of touring has gone up twice, double and the payment is about the same. We certainly would love to do as much as we can, it just depends on economically things. We cannot afford losing a lot of money on touring. Sometimes that is what’s happening with American bands, because the flights are so expensive. We have to be careful obviously, but at the same time we want to meet as many fans as we can.

Why did you move from Seattle to Phoenix?
(laughs) That is a good question. Well… I was on tour with Alice Cooper and House Of Lords and whenever we were in Phoenix, I don’t know why, but it was always springtime, it was always like March or April and I was in a nice resort hotel with a nice drink by the pool and constantly sun and I was thinking to myself: ‘This is just like Hawaii’ and I was actually living in LA at that time – because I moved when I started touring with Alice Cooper – but I noticed that Phoenix was very nice and it was beautiful. We were in that resort hotel, so we had grass and trees everywhere, flowers and everything. Then when I moved to Phoenix, I moved in September, it was like 110 degrees or something. I was like ‘wait a second, I don’t remember anything like this’. So I had a very different image of Phoenix in my mind. The desert you know… if you look outside my house, you see cactuses, it is all desert and some mountains. It is beautiful, but it is not like when you go to a resort hotel.

No, I can understand that, but Seattle is known for a lot of rain…
Yes, I don’t like the rain. I grew up in it and I am not a big fan of it. That is why I moved to Phoenix. When I look outside, it is a great sunny day today. It makes you feel better. I love Phoenix, although the summer is a little bit too much (laughs). Sometimes a bit too hot, but the rest of the year is fantastic.

Let us talk about video clips. In the eighties MTV started broadcasting in Europe as well and I remember Fifth Angel with the clip ‘Time Will Tell’ was shown at Headbanger’s Ball often. When you make video clips now, can you compare the impact of that on the crowds since then? Is it still worth doing that?
Well, I think it is. The fans like it and I do notice that when we do an actual video, it seems like it gets more attention than if you do – let us say – a lyric video. I think the fans enjoy seeing the band play their stuff, especially if you do it in a cool setting, I really like our last video ‘When Angels Kill’. I think it works, it is more like a movie. I think it is fun and interesting to watch. Not specifically fun, it is a pretty dark video, but it is entertaining in terms of interesting to see. I think that it is still worth that you do a video. I just think you should probably try and be a little bit more creative. We are going to do more videos. We have another video coming up for ‘Resist The Tyrant’. We are actually using AI generated photos to include in the video, so that it tells the story. You see some of the characters, like Phoenix and Lana, Gillen and the canceller’s going to be in there. You can see the main characters of the story coming to life. There will be images of them, woven into this video. That will be interesting. Yes I think it is still worth doing and especially when you tell a story. We are trying to tell a story, but it is hard to tell a story without pictures. So we are developing those and we are looking forward to incorporate those into the story.

I am still a fan of visuals. I often watched YouTube and streams during the pandemic…
YouTube is fantastic for the fans. It is amazing. In the old days, we had to buy a CD and maybe there is one song you like and you bought the CD. Maybe the rest of it is no good. Nowadays you can listen on YouTube. I encourage fans to still buy the record on CD or vinyl, because that really helps and supports the band and helps support the record company, because things are different now. Bands don’t make a lot of money from the music anymore, now it is harder than ever to organize live performances. As much as we all love working and planning and doing all those things, you have to be able to make a living of it and that’s been increasingly more difficult after covid-19. So bands that you love, support them, you know. Support the label and hopefully bands will still be able to make records and tour.

How did you get involved in music? Are you coming from a musical family or by listening to the radio?
For some reason drums picked me, I did not pick drums like when I was a little kid I used to bang on the desk with pencils and the teacher would take them away. So when I was in – I think – six grade, they said: ‘would you like to play an instrument?’ and I was like ‘yeah yeah I want to play drums’. So that is how I started and then I went to a Kiss concert – I think it was 1979 – I saw a Kiss concert when I was a kid and – because I’ve been learning jazz and fusion and different types of drumming – and I saw Kiss and I was like ‘I want to do that!’ (laughs). So that was my first beginning. I saw Gene Simmons and I told him; ‘hey, you owe me probably a million dollars from all the t-shirts and albums and stuff that I bought’ and he said: ‘No refunds kid’. He was joking, of course.

Do you still have contact with bands from Seattle like Queensrÿche or Metal Church, bands coming up in the eighties around the same time?
Well, we did yeah. I actually was called in by Terry Date who produced the first Metal Church album, because I have been doing some different things with triggers and samplings. They called me and I was actually called in to that session to help a bit with drum sounds and some other stuff. They are friends of ours. Kurdt is a friend of mine. I have seen him at festivals every once in a while. They are all great guys, you know. They are all good people. Yeah there is kind of a comradry from Seattle, with the Queensrÿche guys and Metal Church, Death Angel and Heir Apparent. It was a big vibe. They all came from Seattle. There was a pretty big scene before grunge. So yes, I think there is a comradry there. I think there is a special comradry between guys that all grew up in the same area. You share a lot of the same experiences I think.

What is your favourite song at the moment on the record?
Well, it is tough to choose that, because I think what you said ‘what is your favourite song now’, it changes from time to time. Some songs you listen to a lot, but then you go back to the rest of the record. ‘The End Of Everything’ I think is one of my favourites. ‘Seven Angels’ is one of my favourites. And certainly what we picked for singles: ‘We Are Immortal’ is going to be the third song and that is one of my favourites too. Like you said, it is hard to pick, but if I had to choose five songs, I would probably say ‘When Angels Kill’, ‘Resist The Tyrant’, ‘We Are Immortal’, ‘Seven Angels’ and ‘The End Of Everything’.

I think that ‘We Are Immortal’ will be a crowd pleaser to sing along…
We played that at KIT festival. We said ‘hey, this is how it goes’, gave the microphone to the crowd and have them sing it a little bit before we started and they sang it during the whole song. It is very easy to sing along to (laughs).

By the way, you have a very good singer. He reminds me a little bit of the style from Dio or Tony Martin…
It is kind of weird. To me, Steve has a very unique voice. I hear little bits of things, but to me, I think he sounds really unique, maybe a little bit more like Kendall. He sounds like his own thing. I think that is kind of cool. He has a weird voice. He can sound like Ted sometimes, he can sound like Kendall some other times. He sounds like a few different things, like you said, but at the same time I think he sounds very much like himself, which I think is very good for the band.

One of my favourites is ‘Five Days To Madness’ which is more sensitive with a symphonic, dramatic touch…
We used a lot of orchestrations in many songs and I think that was to give it a little bit more movie feel. I think it was very successful, I don’t think we overdid it or under-did it, it seems like it is a very good amount. I think it also helps in movie motion for the listener, because if you make music, I think the whole idea of why do people listen to music, is to feel something. I mean, you want to feel something, whether it is excited or sad or happy or angry. What emotion is the music trying to invoke from you? And I think in this case the strings and orchestrations are very powerful in terms of moving people in motion. So that is why we used them.

Personally, I think the narration at the end of the songs is a good chosen option. That is quite original at the end of songs, usually a song starts with it…
Well, the reason we did that is if somebody wants to skip them, it is at the end. Most people don’t listen to CD’s that much anymore. Even streaming on YouTube is programmed for listening to songs, not to albums. You can go straight to every song of an album. If you have listened to the album a few times and you just want to hear the music without narration, you can skip the end. That’s why we put most of the interludes at the end of the song, for the listener. If they want to just hear the song, let us say they have heard the record five times and now they just want to hear the music, then they can just hit the song and they can go straight to the song instead of the interlude.

What about the artwork? Is it someone you know who did it?
The cover art is actually kind of an interesting concept, because you have an angel and part of it is light and part of it is dark and that really kind of represents – I don’t want to give too much away about the story – but it also shows you that in the story he thinks that Lana is this angel of mercy and she is turning into this… she is not a good person, she is the betrayer. So the cover has like a dual meaning. It is the physical, but also the spiritual betrayal. It is like the representation of the betrayal. He thinks she is a warrior fighting beside him and she is actually fighting against him. Again, not to give away too much of the story, but that is what the cover was inspired by. Andy (Pilkington – Vera) has done a lot of work with Flotsam & Jetsam and he also did this cover, he is a wonderful artist.

That is an interesting story about the cover artwork…
Yeah I think, for fans, if they really get into the record, there are lots of really cool like little easter eggs. If you go back and you listen to the old songs, you go ‘oh, okay, that was about this’. And this links to this and that’s a part of this story here. If you really get into it and listen to the old albums, then to ‘The Third Secret’ and then to the new one, there is a lot of interesting… hints (is the best way to put it). It is very well thought out. We put a lot of thought into the record. It is not something you listen to once and you are going to catch everything. You can listen many times to the album and still discover something surprising. You will find many things the more you listen to it. And there are also mysteries that we are not going to talk about, like Phoenix is communicating with somebody and that person is responding in Morse code. You don’t know who that is and you don’t know why that is. So there are some mysteries that are put into the story. Maybe people can come up with their own ideas of what this is or what’s been said and what the response is. I think it is a fun thing in terms of fans trying to understand what’s going on. It is a pretty deep record. That makes it more interesting for me, sure.

What are the plans for the near future?
We have two more videos coming out and I think the album will be released at June, 16th. We are playing at Alcatraz festival and we are seeing if we can add some other dates. That is pretty much what we are doing for now.

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