SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — A legendary Bay Area thrash-metal band that has been through hell and back over the course of nearly four decades, Death Angel is now up for their first Grammy Award.
Last December at Slim’s in San Francisco, hundreds of fans lined up early for the first of two of the band’s annual sold-out Another Death Angel Xmas shows, an ongoing tradition inspired by the Beatles that has been happening for the last six years.
“These guys are awesome. I love this music,” enthused fan Lydia Allen.
“They’re very inspirational,” said Leslie Pickford.
“It’s amazing,” added Death Angel fan Michael Precale.
As the crowd jammed the floor, Death Angel hit the stage.
The two San Francisco holiday concerts came at the end of a grueling five and a half week North American tour across Canada and the U.S. that was packed with 32 shows.
During that time, traveling on their tour bus somewhere near Calgary, the band got the news about their Grammy nomination.
“He opens my curtain on my bunk and just started shaking me,” said guitarist and founding band member Rob Cavestany.
“It blew my mind. It absolutely blew my mind,” said singer and founding member Mark Osegueda.
The news quickly spread to family and friends who scrambled to congratulate the band.
“All of our phones had been blowing up,” remembered guitarist Ted Aquilar.
“The whole bus started getting more and more excited,” said bassist Damian Sisson.
“It was a hell of a way to wake up,” laughed drummer Will Carroll.
Death Angel were nominated for “Best Metal Performance” for the title song from their latest album, Humanicide, which was released on Nuclear Blast Records last May.
“It’s pretty overwhelming, exciting and nerve wracking at the same time,” said Aguilar.
“Humanicide” is about the end of the human race.
“My role in that song is definitely to keep it quick and to just kick your ass,” explained Carroll.
“It’s a well-executed — how would I say? — uplifting, yet dark thrash song,” laughed Osegueda.
The original line-up of Death Angel first came together 38 years ago in 1982. The five original members were still only teenagers, all cousins of Filipino descent living with their parents in Daly City and Concord.
“Yes, they started very young,” said Winnie Cavestany, Rob’s mother.
Their parents brought them to a Kiss concert at the Cow Palace and they were hooked.
“Within five minutes of seeing them, I knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up,” recalled Osegueda.
“That is what we wanted to do with our lives,” agreed Rob Cavestany.
The band’s name had an unusual origin.
“I used to wonder, ‘Who names their band Death Angel? If you interview the other guys, I think they’ll tell you: 14-year-old kids name their band Death Angel,” said Sisson with a chuckle.
“They walked into a bookstore and saw this novel called Death Angel. And that was the name,” said Aguilar, who joined the band as rhythm guitarist in 2001.
“We wanted something like Black Sabbath. That was like, the coolest band name. So that was our version of Black Sabbath,” said Cavestany.
The original version band included Gus and Dennis Pepa (rhythm guitar and bass, respectively) and drummer Andy Galeon along with Cavestany and Osequeda.
The band played small gigs around the Bay Area, quickly building a following as the quintet followed in the footsteps of Bay Area thrash-metal pioneers like Metallica (whose guitarist Kirk Hammett would produce Death Angel’s 1985 Kill As One demo) and and Exodus.
The demo helped the band score its first record deal with Enigma Records before any of the members had turned 21. With the release of their debut album The Ultra Violence in 1987, Death Angel became one of the leaders of the Bay Area thrash-metal movement as it moved into the late 1980s.
“Just think of heavy metal that’s very souped up, revved up,” said Carroll.
“It’s just something that gels very naturally with teenage angst,” laughed Osegueda.
“Their music? Well…umm…from hearing it for so long, I’m getting used to it,” admitted Rob’s mom Winnie.
The band would eventually sign to major label Geffen Records for the release of their third album, appropriately entitled Act III in 1990. Death Angel had a blast, opening for their mentors in Metallica and appearing in a People Magazine feature.
But while touring in support of the album, just months before the group was slated to be the opening act on the Clash of the Titans Tour with fellow thrash bands Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, Death Angel suffered a terrible bus accident in the Arizona desert on the way to a concert in Las Vegas.
“We were going fast down the freeway. We were going supposedly 75-80 miles an hour,” remembered Osegueda. “The driver fell asleep and lost control. We kind of flipped and went on our side and slid like that for hundreds and hundreds of feet.”
Several band members were injured, but drummer Galeon suffered severe head trauma in the crash and would have to go through major reconstructive surgery. Death Angel’s refusal to hire a long-term replacement drummer and continue touring led to a rift with Geffen.
The band was eventually dropped by the label. Legal troubles followed.
“We were just inside of a nightmare at that point in time,” remembered Cavestany.
“I had had enough of it,” said Osegueda.
Death Angel would split up, with Osegueda temporarily leaving the music business altogether and moving to New York. The remaining members would eventually move on to play new music that mixed metal with funk and alternative rock under the new moniker the Organization. It wouldn’t be until years later in 2001 when Death Angel was invited to participate in Thrash of the Titans — a San Francisco benefit concert for Testament singer Chuck Billy who had been diagnosed with cancer — that the band would reunite for the first time.
That concert served as a catalyst for Death Angel and several other bands to reunite permanently. Since then, the group has released six albums and toured the U.S. and Europe countless times. Today, only Mark and Rob remain from the original band. Cavestany now has a son.
“I just see him as my dad. He’s a real cool dude,” said Aidan Cavestany.
The current line-up of the band has been going strong for over a decade. This weekend, all five members are headed to the Grammys ceremony for the first time.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, this is really happening!'” said Carroll. “We grew up watching the Grammys. You see all your heros.”
“If it wasn’t for music, I’d probably still be a virgin,” laughed Sisson.
And despite the hardship and challenges, Death Angel still perseveres.
“I can’t even imagine my life without playing music. It has literally defined me. It’s part of my DNA,” said Osegueda.
“For every time that you get up, you get knocked down. You need to be able to withstand that and keep coming back and believing in yourself,” said Cavestany.
Immediately after the Grammys, the band packs up for another European jaunt where they will share the stage with thrash-metal brethren Testament and Exodus for The Bay Strikes Back Tour. Their first stop? Denmark.