Canadian Thrashers Razor Return After 25 Years With Blazing New Album “Cycle Of Contempt” (Interview)
What a difference a quarter of a century can make. Canadian speed/thrash metal masters Razor have returned after a 25-year gap between albums with the most exhilarating record of their almost four-decade career: the lethal Cycle Of Contempt.
When discussing Canadian metal, a few pioneering bands at the forefront of the country’s metal scene always make the top of the list. Prominent bands such as Voivod, Anvil, Annihilator, and Exciter are always mentioned (my apologies for leaving out any readers’ favorites). Guelph, Ontario’s Razor usually stands right beside those other influential Canadian bands. Formed in 1983, Razor released their breakthrough debut EP Armed and Dangerous the following year, unleashing a vicious and raw speed/thrash metal assault. Razor went on to record seven full-length studio albums and toured relentlessly before taking a hiatus from 1992 to 1996. They briefly resurfaced in 1997 with Decibels, an album of songs original guitarist Dave Carlo wrote right before breaking up the band, and was later persuaded to release with newly written vocals.
Returning after 25 years, Razor has a new lease on life, and they sound as vicious as ever on Cycle Of Contempt. In the below interview, Dave Carlo tells us why the band initially split up, how the new songs were created, the band’s difficult early days, the laser-focused new album and more.
Cycle Of Contempt is the band’s first full-length since 1997’s Decibels. What took so long and how does this album compare musically to that release?
The reason we're back and why it took so long to get a new album was because of the Internet. When it became high speed, which is the early 2000s, the world started discovering the band again, and a lot of younger people too. And our popularity got a little boost then. And it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. By about 2010, we realized that we needed to get back and start playing regularly. Then by 2015/2016, it became obvious to us that we should make a new album, because there was a demand for it. Decibels is a very unique recording. It was made at a time when we were retired. I didn't really… and this isn't a criticism of the album, because some people really liked the album, some people maybe not as much as other Razor albums.
But I wasn't that involved in how Decibels was made. It was made in the ’90s at a time when thrash metal people weren't really paying attention to thrash metal or caring that much about it. I made that record as a favor to my singer because he wanted to record the songs. I'd written those songs in 1992, they were going to be a follow-up to what ended up being our final album before we retired, Open Hostility. So, those songs sat there for five years and never got recorded. And they never had lyrics written to them. Bob, our singer wrote lyrics over that five year period and then he just called me one day and said, “Dave, if I can put a deal together to get this released, do you want to record it?” And I said, “I’ll do that.” But I wasn't involved in it. So Decibels didn't have a lot of micromanaging in it. Cycle Of Contempt, my production is all over this. My opinion and my way of wanting this record to be is all over this. So, I'm responsible if you don't like it, it's my fault. If you like it, it's a band performance. We all put it in our efforts and everybody deserves the credit. But I certainly put my stamp on this one.
What led to the band’s brief hiatus from 1992 to 96? I think you originally planned to resurrect the band in 2012, but that's when you were diagnosed with cancer.
What happened was, I actually planned to retire and never bring it back ever, after ’92. I thought that was it and I'll move on to something else. Again, Decibels, we made in '97 and it kind of looked like we were active again, but we really weren't. We didn't start getting together to play an occasional show between '97 and I'd say 2010. We just played an occasional show here and there more for fun than anything. And then by about 2010, we started looking at realistically putting the band back together on a regular basis. And then I got cancer and that slowed things down for a couple of years. And then when I came through that OK around 2014, we started getting down to playing on a much more regular basis.
I love Canadian metal and you always hear about the Big Four of US thrash. When a big four of Canadian metal is mentioned, it’s usually Razor, Voivod, Exciter and Anvil. Is this an accurate assessment and does this moniker matter to you?
We’re always gratified that we're always included in the list. I've seen different bands on that list over the years, but every time I've seen that list, Razor is always on there. So that to me is just gratifying and I'm just happy that people consider us to be part of that group that pioneered the style of music that we're playing.
Was it a conscious effort to try and recapture that classic sound on Cycle Of Contempt or did it just happen organically and is it just built into the band’s DNA?
I'm the music writer, in all instances. The lyrics sometimes are done by different guys. But in the case of the music, I felt very confident that I can put together a record that was going to appeal to the old school Razor fans. And I just wrote the album using the same approach I used back in the day. Maybe I was a tiny bit fussier than I used to be. My standards are higher than they used to be, because I'm older. I felt like I still had the creative ability to do it. And I still think I do. So that was never an issue. It's funny though, because over the years, the guys in the band would say, “I don't know Dave if you're gonna be able to write another album.” They kept challenging me. I’d tell them, “Don't worry about it. I'm sure I can. I'm sure I've got the ability to do that.” When we got this together, they felt pretty good about the new material. So, we'll let the world tell us what they want. So far, the reaction from the media who has gotten a copy of the full album is really been awesome. And the people who’ve heard the one song that has been released so far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. So it's been really gratifying to see that.
These songs are really strong, anthemic, and concise. I think your growth as a songwriter, player, and lyricist has heightened since the last release. What do you think has led to your confidence as a songwriter?
I think it's age and raising my standards. And also being very aware of what it was about my earlier releases that I felt were lacking in the earlier releases, things that I wanted to make sure we didn't do those things again. The earlier releases, the biggest issue I had with the earlier releases was the fact that I don't think we could have done them any other way. But we used to go into expensive studios with very little time. We had a choice because our budgets were fairly low. So we could have gotten into a mediocre studio and spent a long time there. And we would’ve still had sound quality issues, performances would have been solid, but the sound quality issues would have been there. Or you could go into a very expensive studio, state of the art studio, and work in a rushed way, but get the better sound quality and maybe some corners had to be cut in terms of accepting performances that were less than what we thought were perfect. That's what we chose to do. So, going back to listening to those old records, I hear performances that I think could have been better for the musicians, myself included of course. Now we feel like we did a much better job in that area.
I think the sound of the band is so tight. What's the band chemistry like between you, Mike Campagnolo, RIder Johnson and Bob Reid?
This is by far the most fun and the best lineup I've ever been a part of, on every level. I feel the musicianship, the camaraderie, the personality fit together. We really are a family, we really get along well, and we really enjoy each other's company. And these are guys who I travel with all the time and spend a lot of time with, so that's a wonderful thing. I feel like I finally found the exact mix that I want for the band for the guys.
“Flames Of Hatred” kicks the album off wonderfully. Did you know it was going to be the clear cut opener? And what's cool about it is that the same crowd chanting that starts the album ends with “King Shit.” Was that meticulously planned out?
I thought that when I put the album together. How are we going to start the album and how are we going to end the album. I thought it’d be a lot of fun and would be cool after 25 years to have something like that. That Razor chant comes from an appearance we did in Germany in 1999 at the Wacken Festival. We were brought there for a show and they were chanting us and we got the recording and used that and I thought it was cool. I think it's a great way to kick off certainly after not seeing us for 25 years.
What are some of your lyrical inspirations for some of these tracks? Specifically “Flames Of Hatred,” “First Rate Hate,” and “Cycle Of Contempt”?
On this album, we have three people who wrote the lyrics. I did about half of the album, Mike our bass player did three songs and Bob our vocalist I think did three. Mike still has that same sweat to his lyrics that he had back in the ’80s. Mike's obsessed with the end of the world for some reason, and it seems to come out in all the songs. “Flames Of Hatred” I wrote. I try to write songs to get people to just try to think, I just try to provoke people's thoughts about situations. Sometimes I write just as flat out events on where the themes have to do with overcoming somebody who's done something to, either stab you in the back, or double cross you. It’s almost like that revenge kind of theme with that Charles Bronson kind of vibe. And then every now and then I'll provoke thought with something like “A Bitter Pill” or “First Rate Hate.” There's a bit of a thing on religion there. But it's also about just being operated on in terms of people trying to con you out of your money and promising you something that they have no business promising you in exchange for your money.
I write songs that make people think about things like that. That's kind of how I like to approach my lyrics. And Bob has had a few dark moments in his life, too. He pulls from those kinds of things, too. He wrote some pretty cool songs on this album too. He wrote “King Shit,” which is the last song on the album. I didn’t really like that title for a song, but it had to be called that because it just made so much sense. Because it's about a guy who's running a company, he runs it like he's the Emperor and he doesn't care how anybody feels. He makes decisions that are all about what's good for him. And the people that work for him are meaningless to him, except that he can use them for making money. So it's written from the perspective of the guy who runs the company, and he's daring you to quit your job. I think it's more of a wide open thing that people can apply to any situation they might have experienced in their own lives.
The album cover is also a great way to bring back the band’s mascot. How does the title and the art and the themes all tie together? Who was artists and what kind of direction did you have to give to him?
His name is Jan Yrlund, he’s from Finland. He has his organization called Darkgrove Design. He has some amazing album cover art on his website. And how I found him was I was looking for the best people I could find to do a metal album cover. I really wanted to have high standards. And so we found him. He's actually partners with Ken Kelly, who's the guy who did the Kiss Destroyer album. So, he's working with the best guys. I just gave him the overall concept that we were trying to deal with; excessive greed. There's nothing wrong with being a successful businessman and making a living and having all the good things in life and taking care of your family and not denying yourself anything. But there are people that just want all the money, even if they don't need it. They're not doing anything with it and that's not helping anybody. And those people drive me nuts. So that's kind of a strike back at those guys. That ridiculous level of greed that is not necessary. Once you've got more money to spend, then you're good. Now you look around and see how you can help the next guy. And our buddy from Shotgun Justice is back, and I love that. He’s grown his hair long. That's the only change. He’s holding one of my guitars and he's enacting a little justice for us.
With the production, were you involved with the mixing, mastering recording and what were you going for sonically?
I produced the whole thing and I micromanage it. I really micromanage it. I was so fussy and I took so much time with it. I did not master it. Of course, mastering went to a gentleman in Los Angeles, he did a wonderful job for me. With the help of Relapse, they set us up with that. The actual mixing and the production decisions and the sound decisions, and the all of the mixing, I did most of it. I had a couple of consultants that are a couple of guys who are credited as project consultants; just people I know in the music industry whose opinions I value highly who were brought in to a run a few ideas by and get a few suggestions from. But for the most part, I did most of it.
I’d like to test your memory just a little bit and ask you what the early days of the band were like? Was it difficult to get tours outside of Canada?
It was tough, because the biggest problem we faced here in Canada was the style of music we play. The Canadian Music establishment — I’m talking about managers, agents, record companies, promoters, all of them — they did not understand the heavy music. They just, they didn't get it, it was too heavy, too hard edged for them. They laughed at bands like Razor, but they also laughed at Slayer. And they laughed at Metallica in 1983 and ’84. They thought this was a fad that was gonna just go away and never amount to anything. So we couldn't get management that could help us get networked with other bands and other agents and other managers that would get us some tours so we could spend some time on the road and build up our fan base. And that really hurt us in the US, especially because we weren't down there at all. In fact, we didn't get to the US until 1988. We didn't even get to play in the US. For the first four years of the band we weren't there. Here we are only 90 minutes away from the US border and we didn't get down there. We were just dumb young guys, we needed direction and help. We didn't have access to it.
And the same thing with Europe… because we had signed with a Canadian label, they didn't help us with much because it wasn't a metal label. It was “all kinds” of music label and they were spending their money on other artists and Razor was just a band that made economical records for them that sold fairly well. So they didn't do anything really to help us. They did give us one video, the “Evil Invaders” video. But they didn't spend time helping us find a manager or agents and Europe… we had the record deal in Canada and the European label that did our albums, they didn't want to help us come over to Europe because we weren't their artists. We were on a different label. So we were really in a situation where most of the time we were playing only in Canada and that was it. And that's really what I think prevented us from getting the word out like we wanted to. And so many people over the years, guys my own age saying, “I didn't even know about Razor. I didn't know you guys wrote back in the day and I never heard you guys.” We still got people who are just discovering us that are my age, and that's great. I'm so happy that they are finally discovering us. But that's what I think stymied us a bit back in the ’80s. So now we're going to try and find all those people that we think would have liked us and should hear us.
Razor has successfully survived almost 40 years now. What would you like the legacy of the band to be and do you think that you'll do anything special next year to celebrate 40 years?
We're definitely going to get out and play as much as we can. And we definitely have America as a big part of our plans. I want to spend more time in the US maybe than anywhere else playing if we can, because I’m getting a lot of inquiries and a lot of interest. And we've got the structure that I wanted back in the ’80s, and I've got it now. So let's use it and let's get out there and have some fun. That's really what I want to do next year, we're just going to do as much ass kicking as possible. I hope the album goes over the way I think it's going to, and if it does, our momentum will continue. Then we'll look at maybe we'll do something cool for the 40th anniversary. That sounds so old; 40th anniversary! That makes me feel like such an old guy!
Cycle Of Contempt releases on September 23rd via Relapse Records.