In July 2017 Desolation Angels – DA Mk3 for those who’ve been keeping up – self-released ‘King’, their first full album for nearly twenty years. The following February the album was re-issued by Dissonance, with a vinyl version following on Back On Black. It is, without doubt, a great metal album, and one with which the band are – quite rightly – extremely satisfied.
“The fury and energy that came off the back of recording ‘Sweeter The Meat’,” says guitarist Robin Brancher, “channelled itself into Keith [fellow guitarist Keith Sharp] and myself and drove us on to writing straight away after finishing the ‘Sweeter…’ sessions. We basically had all the ideas right off the bat: music and lyrics, bosh, all ready to go! The album was also well rehearsed by the band before we entered the studios which always makes for a good idea!”
I wondered what the band set out to achieve when they recorded ‘King’, and if they thought they’d achieved it. “We wanted a proper heavy rock / metal album in the traditional sense, in the Deep Purple ‘Machine Head’ sense, or the Judas Priest ‘Screaming For Vengeance’ sense, but done in as modern a way as we could possibly achieve with the given finances and allotted times to record. Keith and I listen to a lot of music – not all of it metal – and we are aware of the different songwriting methods across a broad and colourful spectrum from a lot of different artists, and of production techniques too, of moods and trends and what we think our audience wants. However, we will also push the boundaries, and I guess it’s that that shows through on ‘King’ – well-structured and very strong original riff writing.
“I’ll be brutally honest though, no, I don’t think we have achieved the ‘oh this is the album to end all albums’ in a kind of Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ type of way; not at all. There’s plenty more still to come from the Keith and Robin writing partnership, and given the right funding, time and the correct production team, the next Desolation Angels album will be up to the same standard as ‘King’ without a doubt. In fact, I already know the songs for the next recording session, so for me personally it’s going to be even better. But, going back to the question, I think we did achieve what we wanted from ‘King’, and that achievement comes not only in having an album that’s accepted as a very good piece of work, but also in the way that it has generated so much interest and publicity for the band. People have heard of us, and are interested enough to even interview us. So in that respect, yes, we have achieved.”
There’s no title track as such, and although ‘Kings’ was in the running for a title from early days Robin points out that “somehow that felt overly presumptuous. But we knew we had a great sounding album, with dynamic and engaging songs, and we also predicted that reviewers would see the modernism in the crafting of the album and realise that this wasn’t just any-old random NWOBHM release. We wanted a striking, easy to remember, one-word title, so we dropped the ‘s’ and what with the cover art worked up in the way it is, we loosely based the word ‘King’ around the Occult. As if to say ‘King’ is the devil himself, maybe? The art on the front cover depicts this demon hailing Desolation Angels if you like? So that’s kind of old school Eighties’ heavy metal Retro High right there,” he laughs.
Robin is extremely proud of Desolation Angels’ current line-up. “It’s taken quite a long time to get the right members in the band as it stands right now. Most people seem to think that when an old band comes back on the scene and reforms, it’s just a question of bunging a few musicians together and off you go. Let me tell you that is far from the case! The whole band has to get on with each other, and although you will never totally achieve that you have to get that harmony as close as you can. Because a band has to work together, live together, travel together and appreciate and abide and handle each others’ mood swings. And believe me, that’s just the tip of the metaphorical, getting along with everyone else’s iceberg! You have to get the right people in your band, period! Keith and I may have a great talent for writing our brand of Desolation Angels’ heavy metal tunes, but that means nothing if you don’t have the right people around you to deliver those ideas. So after the few years that Desolation Angels have been back, I do believe we have arrived at our best line-up. I wouldn’t want to see any of these guys go, and I really mean that.”
The band are going into Dissonance’s Samurai Recording Studios in the summer to start work on the follow-up to ‘King’, which the label will be putting out later in the year. After that? “There will be more gigs. The gigging side of things never stops. You have to keep gigging,” he smiles; “so that’s where I’ll be, back on the road!”
Before that album appears, Dissonance will also be re-issuing the band’s self-titled debut album. Originally released in 1986, ‘Desolation Angels’ copped a nine-out-of-ten review in Metal Forces magazine where reviewer Dave Constable described it as containing “a magnificent collection of memorable, barnstorming riffs harking back to the good old days of UK metal in ’77-’79… If you like your metal genuinely heavy à la Trouble, Savatage and Sabbath then this LP’s for you.” It was also one of the early recipients of the magazine’s “buy or die…” catchphrase.
After a brief discussion about that album, Robin points out that it boasts “two band logos. The front, with the Grim Reaper sitting astride the winged horse as the cast-out angel, is what we all recognise as the definitive Desolation Angels trademark logo. But on the back we used a logo from the previous band that Keith and I were in before forming Desolation Angels called Blackwater Fever. As ever, we were heavily influenced by Black Sabbath, in name, artwork, and riffs. The logo on the back of the cover depicts a version of The War Of The Roses emblem in essence but has been modified to suit our darker tastes. Also on the back cover each band member is shown wearing a monk’s habit, although in the hoods there are four faces and one skull, and only four band members’ names. This was because our drummer back then, Brett Alexander Robertson, had such a hard time with the methods used by Thameside Records to record the drums, and was so disillusioned with the overall troubles with the production of the album, that he decided that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with the recording whatsoever and subsequently left the band shortly after finishing it. So we did as he requested, and removed him from the credits and the imagery too.
“It’s also worth pointing out,” he adds, clearly on a roll, “that ‘Doomsday’ – the song that opens ‘King’ – was a song that Keith and I originally penned way back when the pair of us were still in Blackwater Fever, circa 1979/1980. It was the one song that we took with us into Desolation Angels and it quickly became a regular opener in our live sets back then (a position it currently still retains for the time being) and was performed at such legendary venues as the Ruskin Arms.”
Time for the desert island question… If the band were marooned on a desert island, and things got really bad, which band member would you eat first, and why? “Wow, an unexpected question or what!” Robin laughs. “Well, without hesitation I’d tear off my very own underpants and whip out my ol’ hugely ample Hampton, slice off a foot or two from its absurdly overly-endowed length and serve it up hot-dog style to my pals. There, nobody goes hungry in our camp!
“Now, can we get back to the music, please!”
To buy or stream ‘King’ please click on the link below. ‘Desolation Angels’ is scheduled for re-release by Dissonance in May.