SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Legendary Bay Area thrash metal band Death Angel found their recent European tour heading right into the midst of the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, with several members returning home sick with COVID-19.
For the band’s drummer Will Carroll, it was a terrifying, near fatal experience.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
In 2019, the group enjoyed one of the biggest years of their almost four-decade career. Death Angel put out a blockbuster album, scored their first Grammy nomination and played a series of sold-out concerts across the U.S.
In February, the quintet teamed with fellow Bay Area thrashers Testament and Exodus for an anticipated jaunt across Europe.
“It was kind of a like a heavy metal family reunion, you know?” said Death Angel bassist Damien Sisson with a laugh.
The three local bands embarked on The Bay Strikes Back Tour 2020 on Feb. 6th in Copenhagen with a busy schedule that packed 24 shows into 36 grueling days.
At the time, the coronavirus had ravaged china and was quietly picking up steam in Europe.
“We knew about the coronavirus and we knew it was spreading. But we didn’t think countries were going to be shut down when we were out there,” said Carroll,
“The data and the information initially was not…it wasn’t that strong. We couldn’t tell the so-called fake news from the real news, you know what I mean?” explained Sisson.
“When you’re on tour like that, you’re moving day by day. We’re like in a different city every single day. Sometimes you don’t hear about things for a while because you’re just in your little bubble on tour,” said founding member and lead guitarist Rob Cavestany.
Cavestany, Sisson and Carroll all spoke to KPIX 5 about their ordeal.
On February 25th, the bands got a sobering eye-opener. Their show in Milan was abruptly cancelled due to concerns over the coronavirus.,
“You started to realized this is getting sensationalized or this is getting serious,” remembered Sisson.
The tour carried on through Spain, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom. As it progressed, the threat became more real with sickness spreading among band members and crew.
“Quite a few people were starting to get fevers with the chills,” said Sisson. “Definitely I felt a fever. You know it was the back and forth between the extreme fever and the cold sweats.”
“I woke up in Manchester feeling run down. I just thought I was like brutally hung over,” remembered Cavestany. “All I remember is coming off stage and I was like, totally out of energy. I just felt rundown, like I had been run over by a truck. And I’m like, ‘Something’s weird here.'”
“I had a real intense fever and just a lack of energy,” said Carroll. “The sickness was kind of running around from person to person on the bus.”
After the tour-ending March 11 concert in Hannover, Germany, was canceled, the three bands headed to the airport to return home to the Bay Area.
“The gravity of the situation really didn’t hit us until it was time to fly home,” said Sisson.
“Just getting to the airport at SFO was kind of worrisome, because I didn’t think they would let us back in,” said Carroll.
“The whole pandemic thing was in our face at that point and we were just pretty concerned about not being allowed to get home,” explained Cavestany.
In the end, the band’s rigorous international touring schedule was likely what ended up getting them through customs without a hitch, despite people not feeling well.
“Since we fly in and out of there so often, they know us and recognize us. They were like, “Hey! Death Angel! You’re back! How was the tour?” They kind of waved us through without really looking at us or noticing that we were sweating profusely,” said Carroll.
After arriving home, members of all three bands were still sick and began getting tested for coronavirus, with a number of people testing positive.
Death Angel was forced to cancel an appearance at the Heaven and Hell Fest in Mexico City, stating in a Facebook post that half of the band and crew were ill since returning from Europe.
Testament lead singer Chuck Billy and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt all tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return.
Things turned far more serious when Carroll was rushed to the hospital and reported to be in grave condition.
Carroll doesn’t remember going to CPMC on Van Ness.
“My fever was so intense. I was kind of going delirious,” said Carroll.
He was admitted to the ICU, where he was put on a ventilator and into a medically induced coma.
Doctors took five pounds of liquid out of his lungs. During that time, his heart failed. He almost died.
The drummer remembered vivid, horrifying dreams during the coma.
“I was in hell, or you know what seemed like hell,” recalled Caroll. “And the devil was a woman and very scary looking. She had red skin and glowing eyes and fangs. She was sitting in a throne and laughing at me. It was a horrible, horrible vision.”
After twelve days in a coma and doses of the experimental drug remdesivir that is produced by Foster City-based biotech company Gilead Sciences, Carroll opened his eyes.
“When I came out of the coma, they couldn’t believe it. I saw I was in the hospital bed with machines all around me and hooked up to all these things; that was quite a shock,” Carroll said. “I was like, ‘What the hell is this?'”
Sisson got over his infection by hunkering down and sweating it out
“I was getting 14 hours of sleep. I wasn’t really eating,” said Sisson. “I was just getting water and no caffeine.”
As for Cavestany, he self-isolated, and stayed away from loved ones.
“I had a fever that wouldn’t quit for a like a whole week straight after I got home,” he said.
All three beat the virus.
Carroll has started physical therapy and plans to start drumming again by June. Cavestany is writing music and Sisson is itching to play it.
A new Death Angel album is in the works.
“We’re fighters I guess. We have a hard time giving up. We live for what we do and we’re looking forward to bounding back strong and getting back on stage,” said Cavestany.
They offered some advice to fans and anyone who doesn’t take the coronavirus seriously.
“This is the reality: it’s real and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” said Carroll.
The members of Death Angel also wanted to thank their fans for all their well wishes. They lit candles, sent healing vibes and prayers.
The band says that all helped.