A huge welcome back with the new masterpiece Alpha & Omega, its been 3 long starving years for the Penance mob for a new album. How has the reception been so far from your fanbase and media coverage ?
B - Thanks so much ! Media coverage for A&O has been great across the board. Martyr Music has been getting us some great press in mags, zines and e-zines big and small. Reviews have been excellent – we’ve been extremely happy with the critical response the album has received. I honestly haven’t seen a bad review yet. So we’re psyched about that. Our fanbase seems to really like the album as well. I think some folks were a bit confused at first by some of the slight changes in our sound on some of the tracks but after repeated listens most of them have said they really enjoy the album and this new line-up.
Your last album, the self issued Proving Ground knocked a few cells out of my head, it still a fantastic album. Compare Proving Ground and your past efforts with this masterpiece do you reckon that Alpha & Omega is your best work to date ?
B – Yeah, I’d say it’s the best thing to date. The writing, production, playing, singing is probably better on this album than it’s ever been before. I’d say the songs are a bit more streamlined (at least the 5 recorded with the new line-up) – more straightforward, more upbeat musically and lyrically. The TURN FOR THE WORSE tracks are probably darker than anything the band has ever done. One the latest material we incorportaed more dynamics in the guitar work, now that we have 2 guitarists we felt we should do some things with harmonies, dual solos – jam a bit more… I made an effort to sing more and write more melodic vocal lines while still keeping things heavy. Production wise "Alpha & Omega" is leaps and bounds better than "Proving Ground". Clearer, not as samey sounding throughout.
The origins of this band goes way way back in time to the mid 1980s as far as I know, fill us in on brief background of Penance and your releases so far and how has your following progressed in those years ?
M - Well, Both Terry and I
were in the band Dream Death and as such released "Journey Into Mystery"
on New Ren. Brian decided to call it quits, but Terry and I still wanted
to play, so basically we changed the name to Penance in 1989.We put out
a demo called "Living Truth" . Two songs of which were featured on the
first Dark Passages from Rise Above. We then put out "The Road Less Traveled"
with Rise Above as well. Century Media picked us up for the release of
Parallel Corners. We put out a self release called Proving Ground, which
has been repackaged, remixed and remastered and currently on sale from
Martyr Music Group.Speaking of which, Martyr is where our last release
"Alpha & Omega" comes into play with our newest lineup of Matt Tuite-Guitar,
Terry Weston-Guitar,Mary Bielich-Bass,Brian Balich-Vocals and yours truely
on the skins.
You got yourself quite a name in the underground as Dreamdeath but with your debut as Penance the classic infamous demo Living Truth issued back in 90, you created a even more buzz in the underground in the next few years. Looking back at the legacy of Living Truth how suprised were you with the support to that demo ?
M - We were always very pleased
with that demo. I hadn't listened to that in several years and I just pulled
it out not too long ago and played it myself. It was a nice little surprise.
You and Stillborn were the only bands on the cd version of the infamous compilation Dark Passages issued in 91 that had a bonus track, how much have that comp meant for Penance,the support for the following albums ?
M - It was definately cool to be able to put an extra track on there. I think it definately helped get our name out there a lot more than before. It was nothing but a good thing.
Looking back on your stint with Rise Above Records, The Road Less Travelled was one of the first releases on the label along with Revelations Salvations Answer, how much support did you get with that album and how pleased were you with the deal you had with Rise Above ?
M - Well Rise Above wasn't all that big then, basically it was just Lee. He did what he could and we didn't expect anything more than that. We were just grateful to put an album out with him.
You moved on to Century Media, what was the main reason to leave Rise Above back then ?
M- Actually, Century Media wanted us before, but I had already shook hands on the whole thing with Lee, so I stuck to that. We were free to shop around after RLT, so I called up Century Media to see if they were still interested and they were so................
In 1994 came Parallel Corners, still in my mind a fantastic album as much as the first but this have a more wider range and is more dynamic, did that album open any new doors for Penance in terms of support from fans, labelsupport and press coverage ?
M - That album really helped define us I think. It was the first really good production that we got which helps translate the band more. It was a bigger release, so it definately gained us more fans worldwide.
After Parallel.. you left Century Media, I remember back then that myself and all other Penance fans was worried that the band had called it a day cause of line up trouble you had back then, what really happened with Penance in that time ?
M - Well, it definately didn't help matters any. Lee had problems getting back into the country and CM dedcided to call it quits after that. Not too soon after that, Frank Miller (bass) decided to leave, so it was just back to me and Terry for a long while. Then we met up with Brian Balich, but still needed a bass player. Then Ozzy came along which helped start the whole thing back in motion to where it's at today.
After a couple of years you finally came back with a excellent promo tape in 98, how was the support to that tape ?
B – We really didn’t do much with it. Gave it to some friends, sold a few at shows, and sent some out to labels. It served its purpose which was to let fans, press, and labels know the band was active again and working on material.
Proving Ground was the next release, a self issued album and a outrageously slabdash dose of old school doom and melancholic atmospheric escapades. Looking back how was the support to that disc ?
B – Pretty good I guess. It got good reviews. Our fans seemed to like it. Looking back I think it was a mistake to self-release it. It didn’t sell nearly what it could have. I would have liked for it to reach more people and make more of a dent in doom and metal circles but the again it could have sold thousands I still would have wanted more. Coincidentally the Martyr Music Group reissued the album in August with new art and it is remixed and remastered.
Now to this new album Alpha & Omega, what is the main message in that title ?
B – I wish we could claim some sort of brilliance in hidden meanings etc but it is really a simple answer. Initially this album was to be a compilation of demos spanning the life of the band , the Turn For The Worse EP, plus 2 or 3 new tracks. The title refered to the beginning of the band and the end of the old line-ups and the beginning of what was really a new band going by the same name. So it was circular. Alpha and Omega – both a beginning and an end and then a beginning hahahaha Did I confuse anyone yet? No religious significance or anything beyond that.
After have played the disc a dozen times, I feel there is a wide spectrum of various moods, emotions and a experimental attitude here its truly a fantastic album in my mind, have you refined your musical ideas even more on this disc compare to Proving Ground ?
B – Having new members not only opened up what we could now do with the guitars etc but it brought two new viewpoints and sets of influences into the band. The writing was split up – Mike wrote one, Terry did two, Matt did two and I did the lyrics and melodies to all of the new songs as well as 3 out of 4 on the Turn For The Worse material. So rather than have the musical perspective of two people (Mike and Terry) we now had everyone involved and so some noticeable differences were bound to turn up. I think we also were in a happier place….we had pretty much taken the dark edge as far as we could with the Turn For The Worse EP. So we made an effort to be a little more hopeful lyrically and to not tie ourselves into being down all the time. We never set out to write in any particular way so whatever comes out is usually a reflection of where we are at in our lives at that time. I would guess our next album will be different than A&O in a lot of ways.
The first half of the album have the infamous Chris Kozlowski at the production helm, how was it to work with Chris ?
B – It was great. He is so knowledgeable about music and he gets great sounds. He is easy to work with, get along with… And he’s a great host – we crashed at his place. He and his lady Sandy are great people – two of the best folks around. It’s cool just talking to him about music, old 70’s heavy rock – doom, etc…. Plus he is such a fan of the style of music we play so we don’t have to explain our sound to him. He understands us.
Your new label Martyr Music Group, how pleased are you with push and support from them so far and how did you hook up with them ?
B – I can’t say enough good about Martyr. Maria has done more for us than any label would have. She has gone out of her way for us. We all know her and trust her and she believes in the band. We aren’t just another product to her. She’s gotten us some amazing press and she advertises constantly. When Mary joined the band she was working with Maria for Hammerheart America. Mary let Maria listen to our Turn For The Worse EP. Maria really liked it and approached us about putting something out via Martyr. Right place right time you know?
Talking about the lyrical standpoint, how pleased are you with them and is there any specific subjects here ?
B – I’d say there are some specific themes in my lyrics. I am very self-critical but for the most part I am proud of my lyrics. I think they are real because they are from the heart. They have specific meanings to me but I leave it up to the fans to determine what they mean to them.
Since Proving Ground, there is two new members in the Penance camp, can you introduce them where do they come from and how pleased are you with the new lineup ?
B – Mary Bielich, bass, was an old friend of ours from here in Pittsburgh. She has played with Derketa, Mythic, November’s Doom, Wormhole (just to name a few)…. When she moved back to Pittsburgh from Chicago we asked her to jam with us (since Ron had left the band to move to California). She brought Matt Tuite, guitar, back with her. We had not had a second guitar player since Brian Goodbread left the band in 93 so we asked Matt to come out as well – and lo and behold it worked !!! Matt has been in Wickerman (who used to be on Hollywood Records) and Mustache.
Its been several years since you played in europe, its about time that you get over here is there any chances for european Penance mob to check out the band after the release of this album and for those Penance fans that havent had the chance to see the band live yet what can they expect and what is the main difference between Penance Live and Penance Studio ?
B – We just really are not in the position to tour. We can’t afford it. We don’t have European distribution for our albums. Martyr is small and based in the US so it wouldn’t be economical for Maria to send us off to Europe to tour when our label is US based. All of us work – some have full time jobs. In have a daughter now. Terry and I are both married. It would take someone flying us over to enable us to do it. Thus far we have no offers or anyone interested. I’m not saying it could never happen but it doesn’t look likely at this point. We wish we were in the position to do even a week or 2 overseas. We just play straight on live – no stage effects or anything. We keep the focus on the songs. We try to be energetic and play well. The studio is a very controlled environment – live we’re a bit more loose but we try to be well rehearsed and professional, try to play the songs close to the albums without being overly nitpicky.
More on Live, you have made loads of shows so far fill us in on one good show and one really bad that you have made through the years, any great memories ?
B – My favorite gig is probably still the first show I did with the band. It wasn’t necessarily us playing the best we ever did but there was an atmosphere about that show that made me feel like I was part of something special rather than just another band. The crowd response floored me. It was exciting ! My worst gig with the band was definitely Emissions From The Monolith in 2000. I had been having some throat trouble and I really sang like ass. It was embarassing. I’m super sensitive an critical about my voice and I was really pissed at myself after that gig.
You have been going for a good 15 years now since the release of that DreamDeath album, that makes you one of the premiere frontfigures in the underground doom scene, a scene that have expanded a lot over the years. How do you view the scene today and how is the underground scene in the US at the moment compare to overhere ?
B – In general it seems to me that the Euro market for metal is much much better than it is here. Traditional metal is a tough enough market here let alone being a doom metal band . Its very much a cult scene right now. There are great bands – Place Of Skulls, Earthride, Internal Void, Abdullah, Slow Horse, Warhorse… Goatsnake (until they broke up)… us. We’ve gotten tremendous press for Alpha & Omega and yet we still have a hard time selling CDs so I’d say it is tough here. I truly believe we’d do well in Europe. It seems like even US fans hold European bands over US bands….As for the scene today – I think its as good as it has ever been. A lot of great new bands like Earthride, Place Of Skulls, and Warhorse… From a purely fan perspective I think the bands are great, creative. I think support for the scene is weak but then again, when was it ever really very strong. Even the most popular doom bands never sold hundereds of thousands of albums.
What is happening at the moment in the Penance camp, fill us in on your next plans ?
B – We’re kind of laying low. Trying to do some writing and figure out what kind of album we’re going to do next. We aren’t gigging very often right now. Things are in a flux. I think there will be another Penance album but I am not sure when or even what it will sound like. Everyone is into so many different kinda of music. It could be very doomy or metal in parts but more straightforward and rockin in others – We may try a few things that could be perceived as out of character for us…. More jammy in spots. Who knows? It’s a push pull between all of us and none of us want to be pigeonholed. No touring plans at this time. We may do a track for a Nazareth tribute album and we had talked to Earthride about doing a split 7 inch with them. But I don’t know if or when that will come out.
Thank you ever so much for the interview, Alpha & Omega is one of the best discs of 2002 on my list. All the best wishes and all the best of luck.
B – Thanks so much Gabriel ! We appreciate you talking to us and we thank all of your readers and our fans for being so supportive over the years !!!
By Gabriel Lilliehook
Looking for more Penance news and info visit their excellent website at www.penancemusic.com
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Review of Alpha & Omega at rec17.html