Toxik Reignite With Comeback Album “Dis Morta” (Interview)
New York’s thrash metal purveyors Toxik first showed up on the underground metal radar by appearing on the infamous Metal Blade Records’ compilation album Metal Massacre 9 with the punishing track “Deadly Wasteland.” After creating two cult thrash classics in 1987’s World Circus and 1989’s Think This, Toxik disappeared into obscurity and were mostly forgotten. Still, the band’s name was on the tongues of die-hard vintage thrashers.
After resurfacing in 2013, Toxik has slowly but steadily rebuilt their fan base. After a 33-year hiatus between albums, the band returns with its third full-length, Dis Morta (Latin for “This Death”). With the original guitarist Josh Christian joined by a new lineup–vocalist Ron Iglesias, guitarist Eric van Druten, bassist Shane Boulos, and drummer James DeMaria–the quintet has managed to capture the band’s early thrash roots, as well as adding a dash of technical/progressive wizardry to its 10 blistering tracks. During a recent phone interview, Josh discussed the band’s early days, its brand new album and more.
Toxic first appeared on the Metal Blade Records’ compilation album Metal Massacre 9 with the track “Deadly Wasteland.” What were those early days like and how did Metal Blade discover the band?
Like everybody else in those days, there was a cluster of talent that came in on the heels of the popularity of Metallica. But also just the popularity of tape trading. There was a real thing that was going on there for a while before the Internet. And we kind of had our own network and Toxik was very much a part of that. We came right out of that era of cassette trading, circa 1983/84-85. We were a product of that. And “Wasteland” was circulated on a lot of copies and cassettes. I've run into people all the time that have their original copy that they made from a friend. And we're talking about guys in Poland to Singapore; it was crazy how far our demo went out. And I think that's why (Metal Blade) picked it. I think that's actually how it ended up on there. It was popular in the tape-trading community; it was a popular song. It's how we got known.
The band then went on to create two really great cult thrash classics before splitting up. What were you out to accomplish back then, because it was a great time period for this type of metal and music in general.
I don't think that we necessarily realized, and I don't think very many people did, if any. It was kind of a special moment. And like any other group of young guys being raised in the ’70s and ’80s, we were just looking to rock out; we just were putting music out that we liked to listen to, basically. It was for us and our friends as much as anything else. But that's where the scene grew out of anyhow. We weren't lofty in what we were trying to do. I don't think we ever sat back and said, “One day we're going to be bigger than…” We didn't have that kind of thinking, we wanted to just write the best songs we can and put them out there and hopefully (people) like it. It was never more focused than that.
After a 33-year hiatus, the band returns with its third full-length album, Dis Morta. What took so long, and what were you doing during this gap in time?
We all took a break to raise our families. I speak for the majority of the people that I used to play with, but the newly formed Toxik, which has taken a few years to really congeal and become what it is. Everybody's kind of stayed in the music (scene), including myself, even though I was raising kids. The years that I was away from Toxik, I was still writing music on a professional level. I was actually doing some film composition and some interactive titles and that sort of thing. I was working on that and had some cover bands that I worked with, but also put out a few solo records. [I] never really stopped doing music, but I stopped doing Toxik. And Toxik came back online in the early to mid 2000s and we started talking about it again, nothing really came of it. And it really took us that long to decide that we wanted to do something with it. By 2014-2015, we're taking it much more seriously, and that led to now. It's been kind of a long road for us. We're certainly not flashes in the pan. And for what it's worth, that was our process.
With this new album and a renewed interest in the band, do you feel like you now have a new lease on life or perhaps a second chance to reintroduce yourself to older fans as well as pick up newer/younger fans?
Sure, that's always your hope, and that's kind of a tough question to answer. Because if you're answering it, when you say get a second lease, it sounds like we gave up our first lease. And I feel like it's just an extension of the first lease. And I'm not picking apart the question at all, but it's a funny one to answer. Is it a second lease? I don't know, I don't think people get second leases. I think if you were good enough the first time around that your first one got extended. And there's a fair amount of hostility towards older bands that come back in and just kind of coast on their reputation and take up a space that could be used by a younger band that maybe has something more to offer or just deserves a chance. I know there can be a little resentment out in the community about older bands and I understand that. I think maybe at a certain level as the writer in Toxik, I really was determined to write something that was actually useful, that actually had some merit to it. And it wasn't just a reproduction or a revisit; I didn't want to do the AC/DC thing where you never change your colors. I felt enough time had gone by, as a writer, that I could take what we had done right and maybe tweak it a little bit and come up with something that incorporated what we were, but wasn't exactly the same. And in the process, I think that's kind of what happened.
Since forming in 1985, people are still interested in Toxik after 37 years. That’s got to be a good feeling knowing that.
Totally! I absolutely am loving it. Because it's a little validation too, as a writer. I am super stoked when I hear people liking it because I look at this as real art. It's not just a metal thing for me, it might have started that way. I think it does for most kids; you put on your guitar, and it's basically your wand or your sword. It's the weapon that you're going out to the world with. But at this point, it's really an artistic expression for me. I think of it really seriously that way. It’s real; it’s not just campy wrestling metal. There’s an element to heavy metal where it's wrestling. That's not what this is, it's real. There's a lot of expression in it and I think you can hear that in Dis Morta. I think you can feel the gravity of it, it's mature in a lot of ways. And it's cynical, and angry and that shit weighs although heavier when you know it's coming from a place of experience. It's not just some kid spitting out something that he's seen in movies and Sci-fi. This is somebody who has lived the life and sat back and is now putting it back out in music. And that has a potency all its own.
As a concept album, the cover art by Alcides Burn parallels the subjects in the songs. How does the art tie in with the themes/song titles/title of album?
It's basically a light concept; it’s not a heavy-handed concept. You don't have to know the storyline to follow the record. The intro and the outro brackets a set of songs; it’s more like a collection of essays, let’s say. The elements on the album cover… you've got the world in the center, and you've got the skull. Now, skulls are sort of beat to death, right? The skull thing in music is just so overdone. But in this instance, it really made sense because we're talking about a world that is kind of determined, it would seem, to be self destructive. We have a very self destructive bend in our nature. And we surround ourselves with God. There was a philosopher, who's the father of social anarchy, or one of the principal founding fathers of the theory of social anarchy, (Pierre-Joseph) Proudhon. So, you've got these three elements. There’s this thing they call Proudhon’s trifecta, and it basically is the premise that we're in a prison of our own making. And it's our belief, that God is supported by a state, and then the capital, (and) the money that keeps it all going. Those three elements, basically create a circle around us that prevents us from evolving. And Dis Morta is roughly incorporating that. The three components on the album cover are the guns, the oil derricks, and the hands with the stigmata with the blood on them. All of the songs contained therein, roughly are built around all of those themes, except for “Straight Razor.” The record has a definite theme throughout all the tunes, except for that one song. But all the other songs deal with that subject in one way or the other.
Yourself and Ron Iglesias wrote the lyrics, what were some of your inspirations for the lyrics/themes/concept?
Right at that moment when this was happening, we were at the end of the Trump presidency. And wherever you fall in the political spectrum in the United States, especially, it's kind of irrelevant. We can all agree that it was just tumultuous times. “The Radical” is just basically a song about somebody who has gone through extremes through social pressure. It's got that recording of that crazy woman at the intro. Think of how unhinged that woman is, how much of a product she is at the same time though. It represents the devil in the mirror. We love to point fingers, but really we are that thing; that’s Dis Morta. We're self destructive as fuck. And until we get real about that, we're never going to have any change like we can. We can wrestle with it until we burn on the cinders that we're creating, but the reality is we will never have resolution to this. And the narcissism and the self destruction, all of that's built in and is contained in that, it's just self perpetuating. It's a really cynical record. Probably deeper than it needs to be for most metalheads, but it's kind of cool anyway. Maybe that's part of its passion, too, that it really comes from a real place.
Did you find yourself wanting to try anything differently musically or add new elements for this album compared to your previous albums?
Yeah, I feel that we've leaned definitely more on a technical death metal thing on this record than just thrash. We’re reaching into other territories in terms of the metal we're incorporating now, genre wise. I think that we still have the Toxik song structure that revolves around a heavy, catchy chorus, something that you can relate to. But musically, I feel like we definitely struck out a bit and got into some darker and heavier territories with it.
Do you consider Dis Morta to be a continuation of where Think This left off?
As a (music) writer, I really feel like this is the second half of Think This. There's a lot of second parts; “Technical Arrogance,” the last song on the first side of Think This is a cousin to “Hyper Reality,” which is the last song on the first side of Dis Morta. They share a similar spot, where I really go prog-techy. That's our most prog-techy spot on our records, and consistently has been that way. And there's a lot of other sort of synchronicities like that between the two worlds; the two records. And then socially what we're singing about, the lyrical content, is very much where Think This leaves off that Dis Morta picks up.
Toxik has gone through several member changes throughout the band's existence, but what's the camaraderie and musical chemistry like of this current lineup?
Like any relationship and someone you've known for 40 years, you're liable to have moments where you get along better than others. But that doesn't really change what you've done together or the respect that you have for one another. There's no one that's come in and out of Toxik that I have any real bad dealings with at all. And conversely, I'm really very respectful of everyone and what they've done. And I think it's pretty cool, because there are people in Toxik that are now in big bands like Overkill, and Flotsam and Jetsam. People come in and out of Toxik and go on and do very cool things, and I'm proud of that. It’s very cool that this band is a platform that way, that we're a part of something in that in that way. The current camaraderie and friendship and team value in the current lineup of Toxik… and I know everybody says this — but it's the God's honest truth — is the best it's ever been. Everybody gets along, no one steps on each other's toes, we travel really well together. We get stuck in little mini bus, or minivan tours where you've got five or six older guys, adult guys sitting on top of each other for five, six to 10 hour rides, sick rides together. Where if you were gonna get on each other's nerves, you would for sure. And we don't, we get along great. We all have a goal we're shooting for, we know what the objective is, and we work at it that way. We really do support one another and have a really tight family unit when we're playing out and working in the studio. We're all smiles on stage, man. We smile a lot on stage because we're having fun.
Lastly Josh, what's next, including touring plans?
In the short term, I've got the follow-up to Dis Morta already in the works. And the hope is that we can have at least most of the record in the can and ready to go by December. So that when we roll into January, we're actually mixing it. The next record is going to have much the same punch. We'll have it ready for August, which is a bit of an undertaking, and it's ambitious, but I think we can do it. As far as touring goes, we've already had an offer for a month in the States, we've got to get a little more money on the front end; the guarantees need to come up a little bit. But I think there's a real good shot that once the record comes out, you'll see us supporting it for months on end. I think there's enough road out there for us to get a month in the States, at least a month in Europe, and then a month between Asia and Latin America. So hopefully in the 12 months between those two records, we'll get three months of touring in.
Dis Morta released August 5th via Massacre Records.