The Florida death metal boom of the late 1980s is well-documented. It seemed like everyone who could growl and pound out some fast riffing was getting signed, releasing records and touring relentlessly. Many of those bands became legends. However, a handful ended up falling through the cracks, for one reason or another. One example was Solstice, a dynamic band that bridged the gap between thrash metal and death metal in a way that very few bands in the country were doing. They released two albums through SPV/Steamhammer in the early 1990s then vanished for over a decade. In 2009, they, with an amended lineup helmed by original guitarist Dennis Munoz, released “To Dust” and have been clawing their way back ever since. In 2012, Divebomb Records released “Pray for the Sentencing,” a two-CD package containing the band’s first two albums and a special remix/re-recording of the 1995 album “Pray” to a starved fan community.
Also instrumental in the band’s return was legendary death metal journeyman drummer Alex Marquez, whose name should conjure fond memories for old school death metal fans. Having recorded and toured with the likes of Malevolent Creation, Demolition Hammer, Resurrection, Divine Empire, and Disincarnate, the man was primed for percussive fame. But life, as it always does, got in the way, and he went underground for several years. But now he is back, stronger than ever, and we are lucky to have spent some time with him before embarking on Solstice’s “Sentenced to the Torture Chamber” North American tour!
At one point in time, you were the litmus test for gauging how good a death metal album could be. But then, all of the sudden, you disappeared for a really long time. And sadly, it seems like the scene had forgotten about you and your contributions. What happened?
I had a lot of personal stuff and demons to conquer all at the same time. And then once I worked through that, then I got sick. I’m still dealing with that, but I’m playing through it. I’m recording again and playing out, so things have been starting to come back around for me.
And now, you’re back in full swing, but this time around, you are working with bands that are even more underground than those bands you were playing with back in the day.
Well, those bands used to be underground, it’s just that over time, they eventually got popular. [Laughs] Demolition Hammer is a perfect example of how popular a band can get even after it stops existing. For me, though, it’s not really a matter of staying underground. If I like the band, I will generally try to help them out wherever I can. And if I REALLY like them, like this band from Panama, Antagonized, I will also record with them. They’re really good friends of mine. And Sargon speaks for itself! Frank [van Kwartel], their singer was such a beast, and his whole attitude towards metal made me want to work with them.
So, exactly how did you fall into all these great bands that are now considered legendary in underground circles when they were still getting their feet wet? I mean, you were with Malevolent Creation, Demo Hammer, Resurrection, and even on the Disincarnate demo!
I had been friends with Phil [Fasciana, guitar] and Brett [Hoffmann, vocals] for years, and we had always talked about playing together, but there were these weird little things. Like, at first, I was a package deal with Tony Choy the day they wanted to get rid of Jason [Blachowicz, bass], so that didn’t happen. So, then I started Solstice with Rob [Barrett]. And then they asked me again, but that time I was a package deal with Rob, and it just happened that their guitarist, Jon Rubin had left. They were doing “The Ten Commandments” tour at the time. I remember they asked me to join the band on a Sunday, and by Friday, we were already doing a show. It worked out well, because I had been a fan of theirs for years. It was an easy transition. Solstice was already around, so we cut “Retribution” and the first Solstice record right around the same time, if I remember correctly.
With Resurrection, they had lost their drummer, and Dave Scott simply called me and asked if I’d be interested. So I learned the material and did their album. Demolition Hammer, I was a huge fan of! They found my number through the Obituary guys, called me, and I went up to New York two times for rehearsals. We banged out “Time Bomb” and did a small tour, and the rest is history.
The Disincarnate demo, [laughs] we were actually staying at James Murphy’s house while we were doing the Solstice record. Since Rob wasn’t very good with leads at the time, we asked James to do some dual-leads with Dennis [Munoz]. And he said, “Hey, I’ll do some things for your record if you play on my demo.” We said hell yes; that’s how that happened. It was a trade-off. [Laughs]
So what criteria do you look for nowadays when working with bands? It appears that in the past handful of years, you’ve worked with nine or ten bands already.
It all starts with them asking me. Then I’ll listen to the material, and if I dig it, usually I’ll do it. Sargon was pretty weird, because I was in Panama at the time with my sister trying to run a bar. And they contacted me there. I wasn’t really interested in playing at the time, but they basically begged me to listen to the song, and I was blown away. So I did it. Antagonized were friends of mine…essentially, if it’s cool, and I believe in the material, I’ll do it. I won’t do anything just for the sake of doing it.
Has the evolution of the death metal scene affected your playing style?
Yeah, it’s just ridiculously fast now. But I’ve never really been about speed, except on double-bass. I’m pretty groove-oriented, and I like it when things slow down. It’s just that everything out there is a thousand miles an hour, and that’s just not my cup of tea. It kinda bums me out that there is so little groove anywhere anymore. I will admit that the drummers are insane. I will say this, though, there is no drummer out there right now better, in any way shape or form, than Derek Roddy. He’s my favorite drummer right now.
With regards to Solstice, do you have any theories as to why the band did not get the recognition it deserved when it was active the first time around?
I think part of the problem was when we were playing with Malevolent, Solstice was being regarded as a side-project when it really wasn’t. We enjoyed working with Phil, and jumped at the opportunity to do it. But then Rob joined Cannibal Corpse, and it all went to Hell. I really don’t know. But nowadays, it’s interesting, because people from all over seem to know who Solstice is. Yeah, it sucks that Rob can’t be a part of this now, but in reality, he only played on the first record. From then on in, it was Christian Rudes; he did “Pray” and then “To Dust” without me. He is, and always will be the guitarist/vocalist for this band. I’m sorry that people don’t want to see it that way. I hope people can appreciate us now how always hoped to be seen.
That’s something that has always blown my mind. For Florida being touted as a hotbed for metal bands for many years, Solstice and Hellwitch were somehow swept under the rug.
That band is the most bizarre thing, ever! [Laughs] How that band never made it big will be a mystery for the rest of my life. Not only are they amazing, but Pat [Ranieri, guitar/vocals] is the coolest dude you’ll ever meet. He deserves every good thing that comes his way. It’s just so unfortunate man…I don’t know…it just happens.
I say the same thing about Exhorder, man. They were another band I thought was going to make it, because Pantera sounded like them. But they got the short end of the stick. Make no mistake, that whole sound, especially Phil Anselmo’s singing, was taken from Exhorder. Raped Ape was another great band. Their demo material was amazing. The changed their name to Paingod and got signed, and that album was okay (I’m not going to say anything bad about it). But their earlier material was just amazing. Demolition Hammer was another victim of death metal, because they weren’t. They were doing their own thing that was just as heavy.
But now, there are kids wearing homemade Demolition shirts, which is cool. They’re bootlegged or whatever, but they’re going out of their way to make them, which is f***ing awesome. I even saw a kid from Malaysia with a Solstice shirt, and WE NEVER MADE SHIRTS! That was awesome.
So what exactly is the state of Florida metal these days?
It’s a piece of sh**! There are a few bands here and there, but nothing really blowing up. Ace’s Records is gone, and all these staples of where this stuff came from just doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just sad. And it’s like that around the country. But San Antonio is a place I would want to live; it’s actually where Dennis lives. Metal is still really big there, it’s just amazing. There’s a great record store there called Hogwild. And there’s a bar called Bond’s 007, and it’s totally metal. I walk in and there’s a mural to Dio on the wall, and I was like, “I’m home!”
How did the reissues come about? Did Divebomb Records come to you, or did you plan this?
Divebomb actually came to Dennis. I wasn’t actually back with the band yet. So they went to Dennis and got the ball rolling. I did want to get some demos on there, but we couldn’t find a copy. I eventually found one, but it was already too late. [Laughs] Maybe we’ll put the demo on when we do the new record. I definitely want to get it out, because it got us signed.
But oh man, I’m really happy with the reissues. The mix came out so well, it sounds like we recorded the album last week! I swear to God, it sounds so new and fresh. I just hope we can ride this current wave of thrash and add a bit of extra, classic authenticity to it. I’m not going anywhere! I’m still waving the flag of old school death metal. They can slow me down, but they can’t stop me. That is absolutely impossible.
Catch Solstice on tour this month on the following dates:
June 6 in West Seneca/Buffalo, NY at Rockin Buffalo Saloon
June 7 in Brooklyn, NY at The Acheron Club
June 8 in Allentown, PA at Jabber Jaws Bar
June 10 in Baltimore, MD at Ottobar
June 11 in Washington, DC at Comet Ping Pong
June 12 in Raleigh, NC at The Maywood
June 13 in South Carolina at venue TBA
June 14 in Atlanta, GA at 529
June 16 in Birmingham, AL at Zydeco
June 19 in Dallas, TX at The Rail Club
June 20 in Houston, TX at Walters
June 21 in San Antonio, TX at Bonds Rock Bar
June 22 in El Paso, TX at Bombardiers Niteclub
June 23 in Albuquerque, NM at The Armory
June 24 in Scottsdale or Phoenix TBA
June 25 in Los Angeles, CA at Overtime Bar & Grill
June 26 in San Jose, CA at Johnny V's
Solstice's "The Sentencing" will soon be available in a limited edition vinyl pressing via Repulsive Echo Records!
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