25 years in the making, PENTAGRAM CHILE, are finally ready to unleash their debut album, and it’s made the wait all worth while and a true contender for death metal album of the year. OLIVIER ‘ZOLTAR’ BADIN meets ANTON REISENEGGER to find out what took so long…
Anton Reisenegger is a man that loves to defy time. Even if like most of his contemporaries he first picked up a guitar in his early teens, a couple of years later his penpals were riding high the wave of extreme metal and being sent overseas to record with fancy producers while he was struggling just to do gigs in his own country, let alone do an actual album. It was only at the turn of the century, when his now fully grown compadres were starting to drop the ball that he, on the other hand, was finally starting to reap the harvest of what he had sown. And now 44 years old and a family man living in the south of Spain, he’s never been busier. Although Criminal, his main priority in the early 2000s, has been put “on ice” until further notice, he’s been replacing the late Jesse Pintado in the international supergroup Lock-Up since 2009. In 2012, he also lent his vocals to his Uruguayan buddies of Inner Sanctum for their second album, ‘Christi Testamenta’. On the other hand, although it started to spread like wildfire last year that he was due to be part of United Forces, essentially a new version of S.O.D. minus Charlie Benante and Scott Ian, replaced respectively by Nick Barker and Anton, it sadly looks like this was “prematurely announced”. But in 2013, the big thing for him is the 25-years-in-the-making Pentagram Chile (originally called Pentagram but altered last year to avoid confusion with Bobby Liebling’s Pentagram) debut album, ‘The Malefice’; the long-awaited conclusion to a story that started in the mid-’80s for this young Chilean metalhead.
“I was already into Judas Priest and Iron Maiden but the first time I head Venom’s ‘Black Metal’, my jaw dropped to the floor,” he tells us. “I had never heard something so extreme and heavy!” Soon enough, Anton was performing his debut gig as a three-piece Pentagram on December 28, 1985.
“We were just teenagers. Meaning we were more interested in looking cool and wearing our homemade wristbands with inverted crosses than tuning our guitars,” he recalls with a laugh. He also recalls looking with envy at their Brazilian neighbours, whose scene was as fertile as it was chaotic. Anton actually remembers visiting the Cavalera brothers in Belo Horizonte right around the time of ‘Morbid Visions’, but back home, the constant pressure of the government, their parents and the police made things impossible for them. “We had everybody against us, including the metal scene that was then quite divided. It was still a dictatorship so we were almost weekly taken to the police station for no apparent reason, the police would raid half of our shows and shut them down. I still remember how my parents freaked out after seeing a magazine with a picture of me and various friends in front of one of the few record store that imported metal LPs, depicting us as violent gang members and Satanic worshippers!”
After two demos and one EP put out on the short-lived Chainsaw Murder imprint (set up by a former Celtic Frost roadie), the band soon faded into oblivion. Anton’s fatigue with the whole extreme metal movement lead him to form the more accessible and thrash-oriented Criminal in 1991. It’s only eight years later that through what remains their most covered song (originally available on their first demo, ‘Demoniac Possession’), by Napalm Death for their ‘Leaders Not Followers’ EP that a whole generation (re)discovered them. This sudden regain of interest first led to a proper reissue of their past recordings for a self-titled compilation through Piccoroco, a small label from Chile. And soon enough, Anton was reconnecting with his high-school buddies, guitarist Juan Pablo Uribe and drummer Eduardo Topelberg. But apart from producing a barely distributed live album (recorded on May 27, 2001 in Santiago), this first attempt at putting the machine back on track didn’t go very far. “I was in a very bad place on a personal level back then,” Anton reveals. “There were drugs around and things were not happening the way I wanted them to with Criminal so I had made the decision already to move to Europe to get a fresh start when we decided to do those few reunion gigs. To us, it was more like celebrating one last time the memory of Pentagram, especially since our demos had just been re-released, than anything else. It was still pretty expensive to travel from Europe to Chile so by moving out, I thought that there was no chance in hell anyway I could keep the band going. So to me, that was it.”
Anton blames the label Cyclone Empire for giving him the hunger to put Pentagram back into action for real. “In 2008, they approached me with the idea of once again reissuing all those old timers, but this time with a bonus DVD. Since the first edition was hard to find, I agreed and started looking for old pictures, videos, flyers and so on, stuff we could add to make it a cool release for the fans. And like in 2001, it made me both nostalgic and angry because I realised that not only our surroundings but also our own immaturity had prevented us from achieving what we had set out to do. So we started booking some shows in Chile, just to see if the feelings were there. And once we were sure they were, we started thinking about recording something.” Alas, although reports about a new album happened as early as 2009, Anton didn’t know back then that it would take them four years to make it a reality. “Tell me about it,” he yells. “See, we had specific plans for this. We made the announcement in 2009, we wrote it in 2010 and we were supposed to record it in 2011. But many problems got in the way, first of all with our drummer. See, I had flown all the way from Europe to Chile to do the album but once I arrived in Santiago, I realised that he wasn’t ready from a physical point of view. I was so frustrated that I took a few months off the project before resuming it, with a recording in the end that started in Chile yet was finished in the UK at our bass player’s home studio, who also happens to be Criminal’s bass player. And yes, when we got the last song mixed, I felt this gigantic weight being lifted from my shoulders. Plus, I was a bit afraid I had lost my sense of perspective, having worked on it for so long but honestly, the more I listen to it, the more I think it’s on the same level as our demos. Obviously we’re not 17 years old anymore but we really tried remembering how we wrote the old songs and recreating that. I understand that the old stuff is special to some because it takes them back to a time in their life when all this was fresh, but I hope not to disappoint them. I know that there are people out there who haven’t even listened to it but have already got a preconceived idea about it. To them, I’d say if you don’t want to give it a chance, why bother in the first place?”
Still, the cynical might actually jump on the occasion to, indeed, ask the question: yes, why bother? Why bother finally putting out an album more than a quarter of a century after their first initial ‘cult’ offerings, knowing that it will never have the same impact as those early recordings had on the then still-in-its infancy death metal scene? “First of all, I think we’ve managed not to ruin it and second of all, it is a vindication. We faced so many problems in the ’80s and yet we somehow created something that still matters to some today. So to us, this is like our second chance. We always had that thorn in our side that we never got to do an album. In a way, ‘The Malefice’ is just the album we didn’t get to record back then.”
(Originally printed in Iron Fist #7)
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