There are usually two prevalent schools of thought regarding the birth of a heavy metal supergroup:
- Who's in it?
- Does the landscape really need another one?
Regarding Death Dealer, a more literal thought can be applied when splitting the word into two. Namely, upon listening to debut album War Master, one may think: This is a really super group.
Comprised of Cage vocalist Sean Peck, guitarists Stu Marshall and Manowar co-founder Ross "The Boss" Friedman, bassist Mike Davis of Rob Halford's solo band and former Manowar/current Jack Starr's Burning Starr drummer Kenny "Rhino" Earl, Death Dealer sounds intent on damaging eardrums and pounding metalheads into submission while leaving them breathless, yet wanting more. With high-pierced, multi-octave screams from Peck on the track "Death Dealer" (see -- and hear -- video trailer at left) and speed metal traversing throughout the disc, Death Dealer should be a force to be reckoned with once it gets a full-blown tour lined up in the United States.
Peck and Friedman also bring interesting side stories regarding San Antonio. Peck was close to joining fellow San Antonians Donnie Van Stavern and Bobby Jarzombek as the replacement for vocalist Tony Moore in Riot. Friedman, meanwhile, played a gig at Fitzgerald's Bar in March with San Antonio's Manowar tribute band Blood Of My Enemies.
I spoke last week via phone with Peck and Friedman:
Q: Ross, when you were here in late February (view Into The Pit link in blue at bottom), I remember being blown away when you played me a couple of songs off War Master. At that time, you guys were just waiting for the record deal. Can you talk about the label you landed with and summarize what has happened since that point?
ROSS: We finished the record. We have a distribution deal in Europe. We have a record deal in Japan -- Rubicon Records. And in the United States right now, we have our own distribution, but the record's been doing really fantastic, I gotta tell ya.
Q: Ross, was the writing a mostly collaborative effort from everyone?
ROSS: Yes, of course. We did a lot of co-writing together. One of us would have the main riff, and the rest of us would chime in.
Q: So Sean, how many wine glasses have you shattered with that voice of yours?
SEAN: (Laughs) I usually just scream into the glasses. I'm thinking about taking the wine glass-shattering thing on the road as a solo act. Yeah, it's fun because this album covered a lot of different aspects of metal. You know, thrash, Painkiller-type stuff, King Diamond-type stuff. So I got to use a lot of different voices. It definitely pushed me to the limit, and it's probably my best vocals, I think.
Q: Even though you've been a singer for more than 20 years, there are going to be a lot of people out there who are going to be turned onto you for the first time with this record. There's probably going to be those people who say, "Wow, they must have used some studio magic, can he pull it off live?" Obviously you can, and I know you've dealt with that a lot, but what would you say to those people?
SEAN: You gotta come to the show, man. I pride myself in the live gig. That's the real payoff as an artist -- the live performance. Most of the time, I've got all my tools. If you can't hear yourself through the monitors, I just go for it. I don't even care if I can't hear. I'll lay it on the line, like metal should be. The people who have seen the shows, the four that we've done so far, were just totally saying, "I've been going to metal shows for 20 years; this is the best metal show I've ever been to." And I'm like, "Dude, it's the first show we've ever played together." They feel weird. We're like, "Dude, we're just getting warmed up."
Q: Ross, when a band names a song after itself -- such as Iron Maiden or of course Manowar -- it has to be a hard-hitting type of tune people won't forget, particularly in this case when it's the first song on the first album you guys do together. Was that the main objective with the track "Death Dealer?"
ROSS: I think more -- yes, it's true it's the name of the band and it's kind of a pronouncement -- mostly, we wanted to have that scream at the beginning of the record. Once you hear that scream, you know what you're in store for the rest of the record. It's the greatest scream I've ever heard, I don't know. I've been in some bands with some good singers.
SEAN: There he goes again!
ROSS: (Laughs) I'm sorry, but I'm amazed when I listen to it. It's remarkable. But you know, listen, it's up there. I won't say it's the greatest. It's up there, Sean.
SEAN: You can say it's the greatest.
Q: For both of you -- tell me your favorite track off the record and why.
SEAN: I've been with this record for a year now, and I always go back and forth. The one that I usually go back to, I love "Curse of the Heretic." I love the ending, I love the middle with some cool King Diamond stuff. The second part of that chorus where it hits higher. But I also love "War Master" and "Death Dealer" too. I like the faster ones.
ROSS: I don't know. Today, I love "Devil's Mile." That song has such a great hook to it, such a great beginning, how Sean sings it, the orchestration, and it builds up. And it lets you go again at the end there with the orchestration coming in. That to me is fantastic. I love Stu's guitar work, I love everything.
Q: That's a good segue, Ross, because I was about to ask, how do you and Stu split up the guitar duties? Is it on a song-by-song basis?
ROSS: Yeah, I mean the most important thing about this band is whatever it takes to get it done, that's what we do. It doesn't matter who does what as long as it's done to the best of our abilities. I don't care if I don't play anything. If he thinks that I should play it, I'll play it. And when I tell him, "That's your part," we push each other on these parts constantly to the best that we can get. I've been in this business so long, all I care about is what's the right thing to play there. I don't care if I have to play 10 notes or 10,000 notes, whatever's going to be there, it's going to be the right solo. And Stu feels the same.
Q: Ross, we spoke last time about how you and Rhino have Manowar pedigrees but were not in that band at the same time. How much of a drawing card for you was his presence in Death Dealer?
ROSS: Well, yeah, I always wanted to play with him. When Stu goes, "I've got Rhino," I go, "Oh, my God. That cinches it." Because I love the guy, and he's a great drummer, and we do have something in common with the "M" band.
SEAN: (Chuckles) The "M" band.
Q: Sean, you get to answer the tour question: specifically, when can we expect you guys in San Antonio?
SEAN: It's going to be 2014. We're about to announce a big tour at the beginning of September, but it's not going to be in San Antonio, unfortunately (chuckles). We're trying to figure the best way to approach the United States. I can tell you Cage will be in Houston Oct. 19 (with San Antonio's Immortal Guardian) if you want to take a little drive down the road. I've only played shows in Texas one time. We did San Antonio with my other band, and it was one of the best trips I ever had. I distinctly remember San Antonio because of Zombies, that place. Definitely when we get the United States lined up, Texas is going to be a crucial part of that.
Q: Sean, keeping with the San Antonio theme, how close were you to joining Donnie and Bobby Jarzombek in Riot?
SEAN: (Laughs) Do you know those guys?
SAMME: I know them very well.
SEAN: Well, I was talking to Donnie for awhile. I'm a big Riot fan, of the Thundersteel and The Privilege of Power albums. I was talking to these guys before they got Tony (Moore) for the last record. They flew me up again in December, so I started talking to them. They sent me some songs. He's (Donnie's) real hard to get a hold of, man. That's the thing about Death Dealer. We're all talking every day, we're communicating. It's like a viking ship, and everyone's pulling an oar every day. Donnie disappears for 3-4 weeks at a time, no response to anything. I got a little frustrated with how that working environment was. If I get excited about something, I'll put my mind to it, and I make it happen, especially when I'm passionate about something, and that's really the driving force behind Death Dealer. I kind of just let it fade off. They sent me some music, and I sang a track -- what's the song called -- "Riot" off the Immortal Soul record? (read SAMME's review here)
SAMME: Yes. Wow!
SEAN: "Dude, you literally gotta track it in five minutes. I've gotta hear it." I'm really not a big fan of that kind of thing. So that got us talking, but I'm really focused on Death Dealer right now. So I kind of made a difficult choice not to pursue it any farther even though I'm a big fan of the guys' work.
ROSS: I've got to say, I agree with Sean about other things I've been asked to do. I'm just too jazzed up about this record deal. I think we've got an enormous band, a piledriver in heavy metal. I think this is what's needed right now for heavy metal.
Q: Ross, I had a chance to talk to you obviously before and during the time you were here playing with the tribute guys Blood of My Enemies in March. But I never got to see you afterwards. So what was it like being here and playing with those guys?
ROSS: Well, you know what, those guys are really great. They're really cool guys, and my partner and I were going to produce their original material. The singer, Mallz (Mauricio Contreras), I think he's fantastic. He's a young guy who's 22 or something like that. He's got a big future ahead of him. He's got a fantastic voice, great guy. I thought the shows -- I mean you were there, right? -- were real good.
SAMME: Yeah, I was there (see footage here).
ROSS: They came out and played the s--- out of those songs.
Q: Sean, changing gears a little bit, I have to know, what were you doing with an 8-foot boa constrictor at a Judas Priest concert?
SEAN: (Laughs) Yeah, I'm a big Priest fan, so I was freaking out. We were opening for Priest, and I definitely wanted to make a statement. I was just talking to Ripper on the phone the other day. He remembered that show. I couldn't believe he remembered it. I set it down on the last song, looked back, and it got completely tangled in K.K. Downing's just myriad of cables. When you ever get a snake wrapped up, it's almost impossible to get out. I was like, "Oh, my God!"
ROSS: A snake was wrapped up in his snake!
SEAN: They were freaking out, mortally afraid of a giant snake. Somehow I got it free really quick. It was like a miracle that I got the snake out of that crap.
ROSS: You'd have the animal rights activists there.
SEAN: I've gotta dig up the video somewhere.
SAMME: Oh, there's video? I'd love to see that.
Q: What can you guys tell me about the album cover for War Master? Obviously, it's got a power metal feel, some similarities to the Manowar stuff and even the Jack Starr Land of the Dead album that you played a song on, Ross. Who did the cover, what was the concept -- whoever wants to answer that one.
SEAN: A guy named Marc Sasso. He's doing a big Dio tribute album that's coming out, a bunch of huge names for that, and he's doing the art for that. He does all the Dio stuff, Killing The Dragon stuff, and I started having him doing some Cage stuff. We wanted a warrior, bad-ass, but something other than just a barbarian with a shield and helmet. We wanted to put him in a barbarian-type of environment. Some blood and gore and the violence portrayed. We really like how it came out and the reaction from the fans. They just love it. Now we just have to put it on a T-shirt and put it out to the world.
ROSS: We have the warrior pak that we're selling to the hardcore fans. It includes a lot of stuff: Autograph pictures of the band, blah blah blah. But the liner notes and Marc's sketches of the stuff -- those things are mind-blowing, if you look at his pictures, the black-and-whites. You should see how great of an artist he really is.
Well, guys thanks for taking the time. It's always a pleasure. I wish you guys the best of luck with the album and the live shows, and even if you can't hit San Antonio next year, we'll settle for Austin or Corpus Christi. Thanks again.
ROSS: Jay man! Thanks, and see you soon.
SEAN: Everybody out there that's listening: Death Dealer.co. Get a hold of us, and thanks a lot, man!
It pays to subscribe for free to the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner, no matter where you live. Do so at the top of this article for exclusive interviews, concert announcements, reviews, and all things metal. You can also "LIKE" the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner Facebook page, follow along on Twitter and check out his YouTube Channel.