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Xentrix interviewed by The Impaler
In March 2006, I was half a decade removed from my time living in the UK and we all were nearly 2 decades removed from the glory days of thrash metal. In the digital age, neither time nor distance matters much; and when it comes to music, time matters not at all. Thrash metal will live forever. Here’s an interview I conducted with one of the UK’s biggest thrash bands: Xentrix. The interview was featured in Mass Movement 20 I believe. It was definitely in the Spring of 2006.
Since the time of this interview, my subject - Xentrix guitarist Kristian ‘Stan’ Havard - has formed a fantastic new metal band called Hellfighter, which also features former Xentrix members Dennis Gasser (drums) and Simon Gordon (vocals), as well as Den’s brother Mel Gasser (bass) and former Kill II This guitarist Pete Smith (guitar).
Those of us who were lucky enough to be a part of the Thrash Metal Revolution back the 80s and early 90s may be feeling our ages these days, but that doesn’t mean we are quite ready to hang up our high-tops and acid-washed jeans… OK, best to leave those jeans to the old photos perhaps! The Bay Area, New York, and Germany got the most attention for their thrash bands, but the UK wasn’t out of the game, offering up a range of killer thrash acts including Acid Reign, Onslaught, and of course, Xentrix. With four albums on Roadrunner and one more on Heavy Metal Records, the lads in Xentrix had a good run. The full original (classic) lineup of Dennis Gasser (drums), Paul ‘Macka’ MacKenzie (bass), Kristian ‘Stan’ Havard (guitar), and Chris Astley (vocals/guitar) recently got back together to have a little fun and show the kids that thrash metal will never die. Mass Movement sent Timothy ‘The Impaler’ Schwader to get the skinny from Mr. Havard, who is about the nicest bloke in the world, to find out what’s going on in the world of Xentrix. For continued updates, bookmark their official website at www.xentrix.co.uk and help me petition Roadrunner Records to get their back catalogue back in circulation. Now let’s get in that circle pit and find out what Stan’s got to say….
Mass Movement (The Impaler): Thanks for taking the time to do this for us. The Mass Movement crew are excited as hell about this!
Stan: No problem, we all can’t believe that people are still interested in the music we made sooooooooo long ago.
MM: The reunion is comprised of two small club gigs only, then (both of which will be in the past by the time this sees print)? Nothing more in the foreseeable future?
Stan: At the moment…they are they only two shows we are doing, I want to stress that this is not Xentrix reforming, we haven’t got the time, energy and soul that you need to be a band. That’s not to say that we aren’t taking these shows seriously, hell no; this is full on, back to war mode, balls-out time.
MM: So, the first show….
Stan: We have just done our first gig to paying people in 13 years and it went great, we were all a bit nervous about playing and what peoples response would be, but when we played a song off our first record (‘Shattered Existence’) called ‘Balance Of Power’ – people were singing along to the chorus, and headbanging, and it just all came flooding back!
MM: If it all feels right, and you have enough fun, is there a possibility of a full-time reunion in any capacity? Either making a go of it again (ala Death Angel, Nuclear Assault, etc) or just keeping the lines of communication open to either have some recording sessions or perhaps meet up to play once a year or something like that?
Stan: We talked about maybe writing some stuff and recording it, and then just putting it on the internet so people can download it for free, the idea being that if we did record anything it would be for us, just so we could make metal music again, not to try and conquer the world and sell records.
MM: Thrash was never just a musical style for those of us who understood it. It was a lifestyle. We were always hardcore about our thrash, we lived it and loved it. And still do, with fierce determination. Give me some thoughts on THRASH – what it means to you, how you got into it, your favorite bands/aspects, maybe your least favorite things.
Stan: I LOVE thrash metal! When I was 12 years old I was into Maiden, Priest and Sabbath (I still am) and then a friend of mine played me this band called Venom and I thought ‘what the hell was that?’… It sounded a bit too noisy and messy but it was more extreme than anything I’d heard before. Then about a year later I heard ‘Kill ‘Em All’ and thought ‘wow!’ They had taken all the aggression and excitement that a band like Venom had and refined it with musical talent and melody. Some of my favorite bands were (and still are) Anthrax, Testament, Slayer, Forbidden, Megadeth, Sacred Reich, and of course Metallica. I first saw Metallica in 1985 at the Monsters of Rock festival at Donington. They were awesome! I then saw them again with Anthrax supporting on the ‘Master Of Puppets’ tour 10 days before Cliff was killed; both bands destroyed that venue. That will go down as my all-time favorite show. I also saw Testament supporting Anthrax, and as much as I love Anthrax, Testament blew them away. They had a real thrash edge that’s hard to put into words. They started the technical thrash thing, that spawned bands like Forbidden and Vio-lence. There is nothing I love more than to listen to Eric Peterson throw out those massive crunch riffs (‘Disciples Of The Watch’, ‘First Strike’, ‘Over the Wall’… the list is endless!) and then stick on top of that Alex Skolnick’s blistering lead work…. Fucking great! I’m in thrash heaven! One of the great things about thrash was also the fact that you didn’t need to have the most expensive clothes. In fact, the shittier the better. OK, you could argue that the high tops, ripped jeans (preferably black), band shirt, and bike leather was a kind of uniform. But it was such a relief from the big haired make-up wearing chicks with dicks (the Bon Jovi/Ratt thing) that I welcomed it with open arms. I’m struggling to find something that I don’t have fond memories of. Maybe if you asked me in ’89 I’d have plenty, but right now, looking back, it’s all good.
MM: What do you think of modern bands taking big chunks of the thrash sound and incorporating them into other elements to create ‘the new thrash’ (i.e. Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, etc.)?
Stan: I fucking love Killswitch – they are one of my favorite bands! Simon, who was the singer that replaced Chris [in Xentrix], introduced me to them and he actually liked them so much he bought me ‘Alive Or Just Breathing’ and sent it to me saying ‘listen to this’… I was hooked straight away. Then when they released ‘The End Of Heartache’ I thought, ‘fuck, this new singer is amazing!’ I thought, ‘I bet they can’t pull it off live’…. Wrong! I saw them at Download last year: Awesome! I think metal is in good hands at the moment: Arch Enemy, In Flames, Fear Factory, Machine Head… ‘Through The Ashes Of Empires’ is such a fucking good album, it’s in my top 10….
MM: Most of the bands in ‘the new thrash’ style really exist in the ‘metalcore’ scene, an amalgam of modern hardcore and modern metal. Back in our day this was the crossover movement, always a fringe group of thrash. How involved/interested were you in crossover, and bands like DRI, etc?
Stan: To be honest I never liked much crossover stuff. I liked a bit of Biohazard. Does that count???
MM: Um, no! haha! I know your biggest shows and tours were with pretty ‘pure’ thrash bands – Testament, Sepultura, Annihilator, Tankard – but you also played with Skyclad and other bands that were always adding new elements to the thrash template. What do you think of the various offshoots of thrash, and what do think Xentrix added to the evolution of thrash?
Stan: I liked Skyclad, but mainly because they were nice guys. The folk metal thing didn’t really do it for me. I’m not saying it was shit, just not for me. I’m more of an out and out METAL kind of guy. I did like the White Zombie groove metal thing. I suppose that came from thrash in a way. I never got into the funk thing, what was that band called… Mordred. And Death Angel went a bit like that as well. Hmmm… not great I’m afraid! To be honest, I don’t really feel we made that much of a difference. Maybe I should just lie and say ‘fuck dude, we were the most important thrash band of the time, we paved the way for all this metalcore stuff… fuck!’ [said in a fake American West Coast accent]….
MM: The thrash scene was as insane in the UK as it was anywhere else during the heyday. What are your best and worst memories or thoughts of the UK scene?
Stan: Some of our best memories are from the first tour with Sabbat. That was the first time we got to play to bigger crowds. We learned a lot from that tour, and the vibe was cool. We got on really well. I remember atEdinburgh, Martin had a throat infection and reckoned he could just about do the gig but not the soundcheck. So Andy [Sneap] asked Chris to step in and do the soundcheck with them. They did ‘Creeping Death.’ Also, we used to get on really well with Slammer. They once invited us all over to a party inBradford; I drank so much I puked in the bath! We had a great laugh with those boys.
MM: I know that Xentrix got some big breaks over the years from the media: finding members and getting early support through Kerrang!, getting attention from Roadrunner Records through a great review in Metal Forces, and the legendary BBC Friday Rock Show appearance that gave us your cover of ‘Ghostbusters’… Any comments?
Stan: Looking back, we were very lucky with Roadrunner contacting us and saying ‘why haven’t you sent us your demo?’. And we had a journalist called Dave Galbraith who really helped us out in the early days. Also, getting the Rock Show thing was super cool.
MM: Speaking of ‘Ghostbusters’ (you knew we would be!) – what would you say to anyone who misunderstands the use of humor in your music?
Stan: ‘Ghostbusters’ was a joke song that we used to play live and people would go mental when we did. The idea of a thrash band playing anything that wasn’t serious as fuck was totally taboo, which appealed to us because we didn’t give a fuck about what anyone thought. But after a few years of playing it we got pissed off with people thinking we were a comedy band and only knowing us for that one tune, so we stopped doing it about ’92, I think. But when we do these shows, if people shout enough for it, then we’ll have no choice. To be honest it’ll probably be good fun and hopefully the place should go insane.
MM: Last question about this, but UK thrash in general has a bit of a reputation for not being as serious as US and European thrash thanks to things like ‘Ghostbusters’ and, well, basically Acid Reign as a whole (though I love those guys). OK, that wasn’t a question. Any comments, though?
Stan: I actually liked Acid Reign more when they were serious. I thought ‘Obnoxious’ was a great album. But notice how they did ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ after we did ‘Ghostbusters’… hmmm… and Lawnmower Deth did ‘Kids InAmerica’…. We made it cool to do crap eighties songs in a thrash style!
MM: Xentrix reunited in 1999 for a one-off show with all 6 former members sharing the stage. How was that?
Stan: It was great fun. It was for my 30th birthday and I hired Fox LaneCricket Club, which I’m sure means nothing to you, but when we started out that was the place you put your band on. It was an invite-only thing, but it was a great night of metal! I had loads of friends playing cover tunes, and then we ended with Chris doing Xentrix stuff, and ‘Master Of Puppets’… oh, and ‘Fuel’… and I was totally rock ‘n’ roll and I smashed a guitar – it was a cheap second-hand thing, about £30.
MM: OK, a few personal questions, if you don’t mind. You and I are about the same age, and I have read that you have a deep love for the Scorpions, one of my all-time favorite bands. What’s your favorite era, album, song, lead guitarist? (Mine are: the Uli Jon Roth years, ‘In Trance’, ‘Sails Of Charon,’ Uli Jon Roth)
Stan: Wow Scorps, eh?… hmmm… era I’d say ‘Lovedrive’ to ‘Blackout’; album I’d say ‘Tokyo Tapes’, that’s such a great compilation of Scorps tunes, but I also love ‘Blackout’ – good choice with ‘In Trance’; I think I’d say ‘We’ll Burn The Sky’… when they do that tune now it’s awesome; and I’m not sure about the lead guitar thing. I love Uli’s solos, some of them are so melodic, but I think Mathias just has the edge. I saw them with Judas Priest last year and I saw them inGermanyat a weird festival thing they did, and his playing is so fluid, he makes really hard stuff look so easy. He’s super cool.
MM: You’ve stated that ‘Master Of Puppets’ is your favorite thrash album, and again, we are on the same page there. Can you tell us why you love the album so much, and what you think of what’s become of Metallica today?
Stan: Just listening to the beginning of ‘Battery’ makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It just was the album that changed it all. The song ‘Master Of Puppets’ was a such a great blend of power, aggression, and melody, and at the time it sounded state of the art. When you’ve got tracks like ‘Sanitarium’, ‘Disposable Heroes’, and ‘Damage Inc’ on one album, you’re onto a winner. If you’ve seen (which I’m sure you have) the film ‘Some Kind Of Monster’, then it looks as though that band is over. They don’t really appear to be a band, just people trying to remember what it was they used to be so good at. And that whole thing with that psychiatrist guy was embarrassing. I hope I’m wrong and their new album is metal as fuck, but we all know they’re a spent force, don’t we?
MM: Oh, yeah! For many years now, in fact. So, what have you and the other lads been up to since Xentrix called it a day back in ’95? Do you continue to play music on a regular basis, even if it is just noodling around on your guitar at home?
Stan: Yes, after we decided to end Xentrix, Simon, Andy, Dennis, and myself carried on playing cover tunes in local pubs and clubs just to keep playing music, but I stopped doing that about 5 years ago. I now have a video production company doing corporate, and training, and the odd music video. We have done videos for My Ruin, Rachel Stamp, Akercocke, plus Kill 2 This and a few other no-name bands.
MM: You’re a huge Rugby fan (we’ll even give The Warriors a shout-out on your behalf!)… Do you play at all, or do you just enjoy being a spectator?
Stan: No, I don’t play. Have you watched rugby league? It’s insane! Those boys are hard as nails! No, I’m quite happy to stand there with my beer in my hand and shout out what they’re doing wrong. Thanks for the shout-out though. The way things are going at the moment they need all the support they can get!
MM: Back to Xentrix… are there any plans to reissue your back catalogue? That would be sweet! Pack ‘em full of bonus tracks, like the BBC Sessions, some live clips from Hammersmith Odeon, maybe a dance remix of ‘Ghostbusters’ by a top UK DJ team (haha!), you know….
Stan: I don’t think so. I was taking to Eric Saunders – a big Xentrix fan who is the drummer for Stuck Mojo and Fozzy about this when he came down and had a jam with us. He said that a guy in the States who has a small label that releases old stuff like ours (I’ve forgotten his name) had approached Roadrunner about doing this and they wanted $10,000 just for them, so it was a non-starter. So I’m afraid it’s back to EBay.
MM: Guess we should wrap this up. Thank you so much for your time. I wish I could catch one of these reunion shows, and I will hold out hope (however crazy of me that may be) of seeing you play one of these days. Any final thoughts you care to add?
Stan: Thanks for the interest… Keep in touch… Cheers!
Photos courtesy of the official Xentrix website, used for promotional purposes only.
Interview conducted by The Impaler * follow The Impaler on Twitter: @impalerspeaks