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Maxel Black (Penetrator)

Interview with Maxel Black from Penetrator
by Grigoris Chronis at 02 August 2005, 7:57 PM

There are certain albums, coming out of nowhere sometimes, that make you realize/confirm that there STILL are bands capable of writing pure Metal (most sub-genres included) songs with no tendency for being in any fashion. I was thrilled with Canadian metallers Penetrator and I wouldn't miss the chance for a brief talk. Read what frontman Maxel Black had to state for his band, Canada and Metal music in general - and also witness what an inaccurate question can end up causing… (shithead Greg…)

Maxel, how are you doin’ over there? It’s starting to get really hot down here in Greece. What about Canada?

Things are cool with the band Greg but the weather right now is hotter than hell here in Toronto and the humidity will make you melt. Toronto has had three weeks in a row of heat alert for the city. The rain has been sparse and many farm crops in the province have been lost to drought.

Do you all live in Toronto? I’m not that familiar with the map of Canada but I think this country develops extreme climate variations e.g. from the North to the South.

Three of us live in the Greater Toronto Area of Toronto, while Angry hails from Hamilton, Ontario. The weather is as diverse as the regions of the country. Canada is the second largest country in the world, spanning five different time zones and surrounded by three oceans.

Anyway with the weather, let’s chat a little bit about Penetrator’s bone crushing same-titled debut release. Apart from my congratulations for this splendid effort, I have to re-define my question: is Penetrator your first album? There seems to be an Unleash The Fury album (a self-financed release?) prior to your deal with Sonic Age Records. This - in addition - can lead us to a brief Penetrator bio for our readers.

Penetrator was formed by Bess, Simon and me in <December 2003. Angry Dave joined forces in January 2004. Originally we set out to record a four song EP called Spread The Mind. The songs kept coming and a decision was made towards making an album. Our independent CD Unleash The Fury was released in June 3rd, 2004. Our CD was available with worldwide distribution and continued to sell steadily.

There’s a long distance from Canada to Greece, that’s for sure. How did you come in contact with Sonic Age Records in the first place?

Our manager received a referral from a CD sale to Sonic Age shortly after our demo hit the streets.

Apart from Sonic Age Records, did you come in contact with any Canadian/U.S. Metal labels?

Yes, we had sent promotional packages to all the labels in the U.S.A. and Europe. Some of them had communicated with us. A couple of local Canadian labels were interested in us but they couldn’t take us any farther than Canada. Our interests were to conquer the world and Canada would follow after we made it elsewhere.

Your record label seems to do a great job with its roster. How do you feel about their support so far, from your side?

Sonic Age Records have plans for touring the band in Europe and Penetrator are very pumped about bringing this power to the continent. Distribution in our home country is lacking. Everyone is asking for the CD and there are none available unless you order them. Aside from the new CD cover (that no one seems to like), Sonic has given us great CD reviews and radio exposure in Europe. Presently Penetrator are developing and funding our own video for Adulteress. We also campaign the PR work, mailings, band promotion, magazine/press and artistic development for the interest of Penetrator. Both the label, Metal Queen Management - our manager - and ourselves are working very hard to spread our music. Simply put, we have the goods, songs and show to make it bigger.

Into the music now: I will start from something that drew my attention in the first place. After listening to your album for the 5th or 6th time (ready enough to focus on my review for the mag) I found myself admitting that Penetrator’s music is (maybe) the finest renewal of all the basic Heavy Metal elements we adore in today’s standards – mainly in terms of production and mixing. I can only build a connection with Roy Z’s work during the last years (Bruce Dickinson, Halford and some other 1000s of bands…). To cut a long story short: I love the e.g. early 80’s Judas Priest era and I worship your album. Yet, the same goes for my eighteen year old cousin who likes e.g. the Priest’s Painkiller sound. This is, for me, the band’s strongest plus.

Thanks for the review! I enjoy all the same music that you adore. I guess our band appeals to the young and the older. Even people who don’t like Metal like our band. This band is so versatile it really is an A to Z in the Alphabet of Metal and we are proud of our music accomplishment.

 Penetrator is not of average duration compared to nowadays’ standards. Nine songs for 33 minutes is something one would object to. Was it your choice to release an album with an 80’s time extent? Did you play the songs faster in the recording sessions? \[Laughs]

We had jammed a 10th song but it could not be completed for the album in time. The business plan behind the release was to attract a record label to sign us. SAR treated the CD as recording quality and wanted to take the CD as is. SAR asked us to record a couple of new songs but we were not into investing or spoiling the original sound perfection of the disk. The industry standard is about 42 minutes and I for one was objective to the idea presented to me at the table. It was never my intention to release Unleash The Fury in the world market at 33 minutes or go ahead with the CD as is. What I wanted to happen was to record the entire CD master piece again in a killer world class studio with a couple of new songs, otherwise forget about it. At the time not everyone shared my philosophy and opinion and those who favored this decision may they bear the critical weight of it upon their own mind.

Even if it’s not that obvious for a fresh Metal fan, I think that Penetrator (the band) carries the members’ roots/influences/likes straight into the music. At a point in time I found myself being in Britain, right there with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, whereas at other times it was like the late 80’s American Power Metal feeling had grabbed me by the balls. Last but not least, specific songs/parts do have this up-to-date (not modern) vibe that 00’s Metal bands present. I, eventually, can entitle your album as complete for every taste.

Penetrator’s music is a spectrum that goes from heavy hard Rock to power Metal and Thrash. This is a 21st century release that picks up 80’s music where it left off and explores the genre with post modern perception of the art.

Starting from the production, could you give us some additional details about the recording sessions? You know: which studio did you use, the process, any obstacles you confronted. Did you or Bess handle any production duties?

Unleash The Fury was recorded at The Sound Lounge in Milton Ontario. Engineered by Simon Vanderzand and produced by Bess Ross. There were no problems during the recording.

I have a feeling that it’s easy to come up with lots of compositions in Penetrator. The perfection in technical skills and the experience each member carries present a rather smooth way the tracks are rolling in Penetrator. I mean, you seem pretty conscious of what you’re doin’. Should I refer to great chemistry in the band?

This is the best band I’ve ever been in due to each member’s professionalism and lifelong dedication to the art. To date, we have 25 songs that we play with more to come for the next CD which will sound incredible when the production is completed.

Really, who’s the main composer? Or is it a team work? Judging by Bess’ riffwork…

Bess riffs all the time and when he plays something that rocks heavy he’ll tell me about it over the phone the next day. When he introduces the riff to the band, we all start writing our parts from there. We write all of the music as a band and everyone shares how the song evolves during the writing process.

And as regards to the lyrical content (authors, style)?

I get inspiration from authors H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice and Clive Barker for writing styles for our songs. As a band, all the members add a line or two for a song if everyone agrees that it sounds heavy. Penetrator’s subject matter reflects our personal experiences or within the band. Often we will think of a name for a song and build lyrical content from the song title conception.

Should we feel safe that you’ll insist on this musical style? You know, it’s not that difficult to get fooled by the mainstream Media and re-arrange your sound into something that can be more accepted by the modern music Market.

Our style and musical exploration will continue as a band, as we seek new heavy feels and experiment with our Power Metal direction. I think it is safe to say we will not sell out like other bands, like ourselves had done during the 90’s. If we didn’t believe our music wasn’t relevant any more in the modern market place, Penetrator as a band would no longer exist. It is our experience playing live that confirms our belief in ourselves that we kick mother F&*@#ng ass and we blow away everybody we play in front of because we are gods of Metal power.

Really, what’s your opinion on other Rock/Metal sub-genres out of the bands ideals? Be it Nu, female-fronted Gothic or any hyper-technical Prog, Metal music offers a vast variety of tastes.

I love it all for one reason or another and I think it is great that so many people have embraced hard music after all these years. It makes me smile that Metal Rock is alive while other trends tend to fade away like their fans. Many anticipate a Metal age to return to the music world and strike with a vengeance. I just want to be there when it happens and celebrate Metal’s triumphant return.

How easy/difficult is it to play in a Metal band in Canada? This country used to have a strong roster of Rock/Hard/Metal bands, but what’s up right now? Do you think the Press/Media and (or) the fans will embrace Penetrator’s music?

Canada imposes challenges for Metal music compared to the American and European music scenes. Canadian fans are in a different head space. If a Canadian band is selling well outside, Canada fans will jump on the band wagon. That’s the confirmation they need to hear, that a band is OK to get into.

You were on tour during the last months. Your impression on the shows? Did you have a good time?

We had great shows and impressed everyone that we played in front of. Every place we played in the States we had big stages, drum risers and rabid fans who ate up the band’s music. We had an excellent time and look forward to touring the U.S.A. next year.

Are there any plans for a major (North?) American tour in the summer? Any festivals? I guess Europe awaits to see Penetrator live some time in the future, though I’m aware of the difficulties caused by distance.

Penetrator will play two festivals. One in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada on August 13th and the other in Thunder Bay, Ontario, War on the Shore Festival on August 29th. We hope to fill our schedule with lots of festivals in 2006.

Out of curiosity: your opinion on all these 70’s/80’s Rock/Metal bands reunions (Queen w/ Paul Rodgers, Judas Priest w/ Rob Halford, Black Sabbath w/ Ozzy, Accept, Motley Crue etc). Do you think there is more for these bands to offer – except maybe for a memorable live show? I love all these classic acts but sometimes I think that someone has to retire at this level and preserve his musical treasure, preventing himself from even being humiliated e.g. Led Zeppelin. (From the answer below you’ll notice I’m a high-class jerk; I should have asked …blah blah blah… as e.g. Led Zeppelin did. Led Zeppelin refers to preserve his musical treasure and in no way – of course – to humiliated. Obviously, Maxel understood the opposite of what I had in mind and thought I was speaking about LZ with fury… I still have the answer below, so as to have the chance to see my shitty mistake every now and then!)

Well for starters after drummer John Bonham died, Led Zeppelin did a class act by disbanding in the first place. When Robert Plant and Jimmy Page reunited, the tour and the new album was called Page & Plant not Led Zeppelin. Your perception of the Led Zeppelin legends humiliated themselves are inaccurate. Their show was both surprising and in step with the dynamic duo of old. Leave it up to the fans to decide when a retro band/artist should call it quits. If something more is offered than memories from these bands be thankful.

Thanks a lot for your spare time, Maxel. I really hope we will have the chance to see you here in Greece some time. Last words belong to you!

We love Greece and encourage fans to contact Penetrator or Sonic Age for more information on the band. Look to see you next year.

Stay Metal. Maxel, Bess, Angry and Oggie -,


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