Death Metal - United States
The Witchhunt Full-length 2013
Paul Speckmann was born on September the 28th, 1963, in the North-West suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. From an early age, he dreamed of playing music, more specifically Rock 'n' Roll. Originally, he was inspired by the heavy sounds of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, among others. At age 16, Speckmann discoverd the sweet leaf a.k.a. cannabis, which he would reguarly smoke while listening to the aforementioned groups. One day, while walking the halls of Forest View High School (Arlington Heights, Illinois), Speckmann was approached by Ronald Cooke, as Cooke had heard him singing "All Good People" by prog-rock group, Yes. Ron Cooke was a guitarist in the band White Cross, and asked Speckmann to audition as singer. Speckmann agreed and, after a rather shaky audition, he soon joined the fledgling band. White Cross was mostly an all-covers band, performing songs by Sabbath, UFO, Ted Nugent and Thin Lizzy. Trying his best, Speckmann found encouragement as girls at school now looked at him in a new light. During the first year in White Cross, Speckmann began to take a serious interest in the bass guitar, something which had caught his attention since he was a child. Upon mentioning this to his band members in White Cross, and his friends, Speckmann was greeted with laughter and told that he would never be able to play. Determined to prove them wrong, Speckmann searched for a bass guitar. Around this time, he quit White Cross too, possibly because he realized they would never get anywhere just playing covers. (On a side note, after White Cross, guitarist Ron Cooke joined a band called Thrust, a heavy metal group in the Priest/Maiden-style, but they never achieved any major success, despite putting out one album and a split live LP with fellow Chicago act, Lazer).
Eventually, Speckmann found a bass guitar, in the form of a cheap Epiphone, only costing around thirty dollars. (Funnily enough, future bass player for Trouble, Sean McCallister, had originally intended to buy the bass, and was upset that Speckmann got there first. McCallitster would get his chance though.) One day, while walking home from his latest "female conquest", Speckmann bumped into an old friend from grade school and Cub Scouts, Steve Ahlers. Steve revealed that he was learning to play guitar, and Speckmann mentioned his interest in the bass. The two began practicing on a regular basis, as they were both fans of the same heavy metal groups. Still in high school, Speckmann met Marty Fitzgerald, a guitar player, in addition to being a year older than Speckmann. Both being passionate fans of metal, they agreed to form a band, along with Speckmann's friend Steve Ahlers. Such was their passion, that Fitzgerald dropped out of high school his senior year, and Speckmann followed suit, dropping out in his junior year. They both promised to start jamming together every day. Unfortunately, both their parents forced them to get jobs. Not phased by this, Fitzgerald and Speckmann began jamming a few nights a week (along with Ahlers).
Next task was finding a drummer, and after some gruelling work auditioning drummers over the course of 1982, the trio settled on a drummer from high school, called Joe Iaccino. Unlike the rest of the group, Iaccino did have some previous experience. For everyone else, this was their first "real band". Playing music in the vein of early Black Sabbath, the bands sound was naturally rather doomy, and the group suitably dubbed themselves "War Cry". After finding vocalist Rich Rozek, the band begun to pen their own compositions. At this time, the NWOBHM movement was in full swing, and War Cry found large amounts of inspiration in other acts from that movement, such as the great Witchfinder General and Angel Witch. Their approach became even more doomy, as a result of listening to those Sabbath-based acts. I have to mention at this point that the Chicago scene really begun to develop into something special around 1983. Emerging power metal acts such as Witchslayer, Slauter Xstroyes, Hammeron, Infra Red and Paradoxx were complimented nicely by the aggression of Zoetrope, or the doom of the godly band Trouble. A totally killer scene for sure, and one that would only get better !
War Cry made the step up to playing live shows in 1983. After calling the local club Haymakers (an infamous club in Prospect Heights, Illinois), gigs became frequent and after a while, better offers were given to War Cry. At this time, War Cry were drawing in many people, and live shows often consisted of covers of Sabbath, Priest, Angel Witch and even Twisted Sister. They soon became a fave among many people involved in the Chicago metal scene. In mid-83, War Cry entered Open Reel Studios in Lynwood, Illinois to record the legendary "Trilogy Of Terror" demo. The recording cost around 500 dollars, and contained four tracks; "The Executoner's March (Intro)", "The Executioner", "Wicked Warlock" and "Forbidden Evil". Needless to say, for the rather expensive price of 500 dollars, the tape was well worth it ! To this day, that demo remains one of the heaviest recordings ever to hit the metal scene, and for many is a totally cult piece of metal ! The demo never had a cover, and although War Cry had no clue how to promote it at the time, copies of it rapidly spread through the tape trading network, and War Cry achieved fame in the metal underground.
By now, War Cry were opening all the big shows, such as Joe Perry Project and Mountain. Nobody was jealous however, as the Chicago scene (like many early scenes) had great camaraderie. As expected, the oppurtunity to appear on vinyl came calling, in the form of Brian Slagel's Metal Blade Records. His prestigious Metal Massacre compilation series featured many promising metal acts, and had helped to launch the careers of Metallica, Ratt and Slayer, among many others. By now, three Metal Massacre's had been released, and War Cry were offered the chance to appear on the fourth, aptly titled Metal Massacre 4. Metal Blade chose the song "Forbidden Evil" from the "Trilogy Of Terror" demo, to appear on the compilation, so War Cry recorded the track specially at Pierced Arrow Studios, in Evansten, a suburb of Chicago. Metal Massacre 4 featured War Cry's fellow Chicago acts Trouble, Witchslayer, Zoetrope and Thrust (Ron Cooke's band). It also included Sceptre, who would go on to become Agent Steel. Apart from Trouble, none of the acts would go on to achieve any major success, although Lizzy Borden and thrash act Abattior both recorded albums (Abattior's was quite good actually, though Lizzy Borden just suck). Despite this, Metal Massacre 4 is really one of the more consistent Massacre discs overall.
War Cry recieved good response, and the disc helped them become noticed on the international scene. Future thrash act Forbidden Evil even took their name from the War Cry song (although the "Evil" bit was later dropped, and the band became known as just "Forbidden"). Despite this success, drummer Joe Iaccino had quit War Cry, and the search was on for another drummer. Bill Schmidt, a drummer who had been jamming alone in his basement with no previous experience, was eventually chosen (He had originally auditioned for War Cry the year before, but did not get the gig due to Speckmann being un-impressed with Schmidt's style). Schmidt played his one and only gig with War Cry at the infamous club Haymakers, before recieving marching orders due to an altercation with Marty Fitzgerald. It was clear he was a rather lively personality.
The Legend Is Born
(Master and Death Strike)
It was around this time that the roots of Master would truly take shape. During his time with War Cry, Schmidt struck up a friendship with Speckmann that would prove to be the seed of Master's formation. One day, Marty Fitzgerald played Speckmann the classic Venom single "In League With Satan". This changed Speckmann's and Schmidt's lives, and rather ironically, would lead to War Cry's downfall. Almost immediately, Speckmann and Schmidt wanted to play music in a more aggressive (though none less heavy) vein than War Cry. Coupled with the rising extreme metal movement, which included acts such as Motorhead, Metallica and Slayer, the two felt this was the way to go. As early as mid-83, Schmidt began writing songs based around these bands, and the beast known as Master was beginning to rear it's ugly head.
Becoming tired with War Cry, and eager to play extreme metal, Speckmann agreed to jam with Schmidt. He left War Cry in late '83. Speckmann and Schmidt began to jam reguarly in a storage unit located in Mt. Prospect, another small suburb outside of Chicago (and also Paul's home). Although it was only drums and bass at that time, energy and enthusiasm was fuelling both Speckmann and Schmidt, as they worked on many songs that were to become future classics. This new band was dubbed Master, by Rick Manson, bass player for Witchslayer. The name was taken from the line "You made me MASTER of the world where you exist" in the Black Sabbath song "Lord Of This World" (on the album MASTER Of Reality).
Even though he had left War Cry, Speckmann was offered the chance to open up for Twisted Sister and Queensryche (on their U.S. tour), with War Cry, personally by phone call. Not wanting to miss this oppurtunity, Speckmann called up Marty Fitzgerald with this proposal, and fortunately Fitzgerald agreed. The show took place in Palatine, Illinois, and is generally the most well known gig War Cry played. What happened to War Cry after that ? Well, apparently a deal was offered to them by Metal Blade, but Rich Rozek (vocalist of War Cry) never told the other members. He simply took all the royalties form the song on Metal Massacre 4. Maybe if Speckmann had known about the deal, he would have stayed ? Who knows. War Cry soldiered on however, but it was really all over by then. Speckmann had undoubtedly been a huge driving force behind War Cry, and the two demos issued after his departure were much more commercial in direction, fairly Motley Crue inspired garbage. Their live shows also had a more commercial direction. War Cry eventually came to an end in late '85. Even today, War Cry are held in high regard by many, often spoken of in the same breath as doom metal greats, Witchfinder General, Trouble, Pagan Altar and Pentagram (U.S.A.). Speckmann has kept contact with Marty and Steve, and they are still friends today (ahh). It is clear that War Cry are a cult act, and in fact Lee Dorrian quit Napalm Death in the late eighties to do something in the War Cry vein. As we know, he certainly succeeded, forming Cathedral, who have left a lasting legacy on doom metal. It would be nice to see all the War Cry material issued professionally one day, with those unreleased songs "Lucifer" and "Punish The Witches". This looks unlikely to happen though, as Speckmann said not all of the master tapes remain from the "Trilogy Of Terror" demo. Maybe someone will make a bootleg of all the stuff, hey ? No matter what, War Cry will always remain doom metal gods.
Anyway, back to Master. As 1983 turned into 1984, Speckmann's and Schmidt's enthusiasm was gradually reduced.
Master began auditioning guitarists almost straight away. 26 (!) guitarists were auditioned, yet none of them fit the style of Master, being either too rooted in the "traditional" heavy metal style, or just not having a clue what extreme metal meant. It seemed Chicago was a dead end when searching for extreme metal musicians, no matter how great the doom and traditional/power metal scenes were. 1984 proved to be a good year for extreme metal though, and emerging acts such as Hellhammer, Sodom and Bathory were truly pushing barrier's with their primitive and ugly noise, that was rooted in simple, d-beat rhythms. Speckmann has stated many times that these acts were all great bands (as if that needs saying, those acts fucking RULE). Also, the demo circuit was truly flourishing, with bands like Death, Possessed and Poison helping to shape death metal. Paul has also mentioned how he feels Death are alongside Master in creating death metal. Needless to say, Master had plenty of bands to draw inspiration from, and listening to Master's early songs, it is clear that this is what they did. Newer tunes, such as Speckmann's "The Truth" and "Pay To Die" were created in 1984, and Schmidt's songs (the ones he had been writing in mid-83), the instrumental "Terrorizer", "Master" and "Pledge Of Allegiance" made up Master's small, yet powerful repertoire. Schmidt took the vocal posistion, though no rehearsals were sent out to the underground, as they would have sounded rather silly with just bass and drums. A demo was out of the question. Speckmann began to write many of the lyrics for the future classics, and his lyric writing was quite different from other metal bands, much more punk-like, dealing with political and social issues such as war, religion and the negative impact of the media on the mind. These lyrics would reveal themselves to be absolute genius in later years, but for now, only Schmidt and Speckmann knew of them.
By late '84, things were at a low. Speckmann's father had died of a brain tumor, which must have been a pretty devastating blow to Speckmann, and Schmidt had accepted an offer from (later infamous) guitarist Louie Svitek (Zoetrope, M.O.D., Ministry, Mind Funk) to join local thrash metal band, Mayhem (not to be confused with the Norwegian act). Nothing was happening with Master, so Schmidt snatched the chance up. Though Master had not been put to rest, Speckmann was on his own and it was clear Master might not be erected again. Master went on hiatus. Angry and frustrated, Speckmann realized he would have to carry things on himself. Though it may not have seemed it at the time, this would be a blessing in disguise. Still wanting to carry on in the extreme metal direction, Speckmann started looking through the Illinois Entertainer, a music publication still in existence today. It was a desperate last try. Luckily, Speckmann found an advertisment looking for an aggressive metal outfit. The ad was placed in there by none other than Chris Mittlebrun, guitarist of the legendary Transgressor, another power metal act from Chicago. Mittlebrun was one of the 26 guitarists to originally audition for Master. At the time, he was still stuck in the "twin guitar attack" of bands like Judas Priest, with his guitar partner Hawk. The fact that Mittlebrun had quit Transgressor and was now looking for a heavier metal outfit was convincing enough for Speckmann, and he called Mittlebrun immediately. Mittlebrun came over and jammed with Speckmann, who then showed him the first Deathstrike song "The Truth", one that Speckmann had just finished working on. Mittlebrun liked it, and it was clear to Speckmann that he had finally found the right guitarist. Together, they opted for the very punk sounding band name of Death Strike.
Enthusiasm was back again for Speckmann, yet he still needed to find a drummer. Mittlebrun brought in John Leprich, a drunk with little playing ability. He suited the raw attack of Death Strike, a band where technical perfection was not an issue. To further balance out the sound of Death Strike, Speckmann chose second guitarist Kirk Miller. Speckmann had known Miller since he used to go out with Miller's sister. Miller was only 16 years old though, and lacked experience. However, he was needed to give Death Strike's sound that extra heaviness, and if he could play, he could play. Speckmannn's own compositions "The Truth" and "Pay To Die" became Death Strike classics, while Mittlebrun proved his songwriting skills by penning the solid thrasher "Re-Entry And Destruction". Fitting in with the general Speckmann style was the political lyrics. Mittlebrun's composition featured lyrics on nuclear war, with a rather grim outlook of "survive will the strong". Speckmann and Mittlebrun also penned a track together, and their songwriting relationship would be one that would go on to provide many classics for Master. The track "Mangled Dehumanization" had music written by Mittlebrun, and lyrics (about a being that destroyed everything around it) by Speckmann. Whereas Schmidt was the planned vocalist for Master, Speckmann had to reluctantly take over vocals in Death Strike. No-one else fit his vision. The problem was though, what did he know about singing in an extreme metal band ? His only previous experience was in White Cross, singing Sabbath and Purple covers ! This would prove to be another blessing in disguise for Speckmann though. Using the dry and throaty voice of Motorhead's Lemmy, the punk stylings of Venom's Cronos and the aggressive attack of Slayer's Tom Araya as inspiration, Speckmann carved his own voice, making it suit the political anger of Death Strike.
Six weeks of intense rehearsals followed, and by early 1985, the songs were ready to be recorded. Each song had become fully developed, and Death Strike knew what they were aiming for. In January 1985, Death Strike headed into Open Reel Studios in Lynwood, Illinois (the same place War Cry had recorded the "Trilogy Of Terror" demo) and laid down four tracks. (In order): "The Truth", "Mangled Dehumanization", "Pay To Die" and "Re-Entry And Destruction". The recording was on a small budget, and the band worked with an 8-track. Engineering and producing the recording was Frank Weber. Problems arose though, when John Leprich couldn't get "Pay To Die" down at the first session. As back up, Speckmann called Schmidt and asked him to help out Death Strike if Leprich didn't pull the track off second time. Previously, War Cry had recorded in one day, but it took Death Strike longer to get their demo down, and this was annoying to Speckmann. After trying for the second time, Leprich just barely pulled it off. Schmidt didn't need to come in, but this marked the beginning of communication between Speckmann and Schmidt again. Schmidt was now aware of what Speckmann was doing, and possibly realized some future was there after all.
Death Strike's cd featured a cover, with a black and white photo adorning the front. The photo (taken by Janet Reif) showed the band sitting on a car in a parking lot. Leprich has a baseball bat in his hand, and the band are decked out in black leather and black sunglasses. The picture actually came off pretty well, and Death Strike did not look like the sort of band you wanted to mess with. The bands name was written in Old English font. The demo's title was to be the rather brutal name of "Fuckin' Death". It fit the music. This too was added to the cover in Old English font. The layout was designed by Michelle M. Basso and Speckmann. Two promotional pictures were issued, both showing the band standing outside some sort of factory in Chicago, still decked out in their black leather and shades. One photo is in black and white, the other colour. The colour one has Leprich with baseball hat in hand. Once again, the band looked pretty menacing, especially the gigantic figure of Paul Speckmann. The black and white photo was the most well distributed one. From the pictures it is clear Death Strike are older than most of their underground counterparts. Bands such as Death and Possessed were all a few years younger than Death Strike, and it was really the Exodus and Metallica generation that were Speckmann's age. Speckmann's band however, were playing music far more aggressive than those bands, and he really was part of the first wave of the death and black metal bands. The demo was the first available product from Death Strike, as no rehearsals had been released prior to it, and a live show was still far off (hence no live tape). The band had given no interviews either (it was doubtful anyone knew of them), so Death Strike were a little known act for sure. Maybe followers of War Cry and Transgressor had heard of them. But outside of the Chicago metal scene, they were an unknown act.
This all changed in March 1985, when "Fuckin' Death" hit the underground extreme metal scene. Almost immediately, it was met with praise and favourable reviews in fanzines (though glossy mainstream metal mags such as Kerrang and Metal Forces wrote that Death Strike were a Slayer rip-off ! Idiots !), and became wanted by many tape-traders around the globe. Through the tape trading network, Death Strike became very well known, as "Fuckin' Death" passed from person to person. Everyone was impressed, and it was not hard to hear why. From the first few seconds of "The Truth", the fury of Death Strike's music made itself apparent. Here was a band that was so devastating and brutal, that they had no contenders. Their sound was akin to a huge fucking tank rolling over a city, obliterating everything. They sounded like WAR. It was clear to the fans of the underground that Death Strike could be placed with the other death metal acts of the day such as Venom, Sodom, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Possessed, Mantas/Death, Bathory and Poison (the black metal act from Germany). Death Strike's style was a little different to those acts though, as Death Strike had political lyrics. Anyway, the truly face-ripping production gave the tape it's raw edge. The guitars were HUGE buzzing noises, completely distorted and very vicious. Mittlebrun's lead work was quite distinctive, differing from the metal underground, and it is clear he too, showed much promise. Speckmann's bass gave a strong bottom end to the sound, with it's booming tone. Leprich's drums were solid sounding, with no evidence of any weakness in his playing. His double bass rolls were INSANE, and his style perfect for Death Strike. In my opinion, he's Death Strike's secret weapon. The highlight for many was Paul Speckmann's vocals, however. No other metal singer sounded like him, and his singing approach had a lot in common with punk acts such as Discharge, Anti-Cimex and Crude S.S. His voice was full of hatred for the system, and he was no doubt angry at his father's death. The vocal attack on "Pay To Die" had a cry of anguish at the end from Paul, and this is a simply spine chilling moment for me. With his groundbreaking aggressive vocals, Paul would go on to be one of the founders of the death metal vocal style, along with Jeff Becerra (Possessed), Kam Lee (Mantas/Death/Massacre), Chuck Schuldiner (Mantas/Death) and Tom G. Warrior (Hellhammer/Celtic Frost). Morbid Angel and Sepultura both asked Scott Burns (producer at Morrisound Studios, Florida) about the recording techniques of Death Strike (and Master), such as whether Speckmann used any effects or how Mittlebrun had such a heavy tone. Barney Greenway from Napalm Death cited Kam Lee and Paul Speckmann as his two main influences. It is clear "Fuckin' Death" had a big effect on the underground.
Another interesting (and different) aspect to Death Strike was their punk sound. Their riffs were definitley solid, METAL riffs, but their delivery was very punk sounding. On first listens, Death Strike sounded more akin to Discharge than death metal. This was because Speckmann had begun listening to punk legends such as Discharge, G.B.H., The Exploited, Minor Threat etc. Many metalheads probably found Death Strike's style to sound quite new, but I'd recommend "Fuckin' Death" to any punk fans. It's a shame the demo didn't make it into the punk underground. 19 years after the demo's release, the impact is clear. Death Strike were partly responsible for the emergence of grindcore, and acts such as Terrorizer, Repulsion and Napalm Death all cite Death Strike (and Master) as a big influence. Terrorizer in particular, owe a lot of their style to Death Strike/Master. In my mind, Paul Speckmann never bettered the hate-filled fury of "Fuckin' Death", and I highly recommend you hunt that demo down and play the fuck out of it. An essential piece of extreme metal history for sure, and my favourite release from Speckmann.
The Beginning Of The End
(The re-formation of Master and their eventual demise)
Just one of the many people impressed by the demo was Bill Schmidt, who made sure to get his hands on a copy. Upon listening to it, he no doubt was blown away and realized that Speckmann had managed to capture the sound they had originally intended to create with Master. A few months after the demo's release, Bill called Speckmann and begged him to let him join Death Strike. (On a side note, Schmidt had been offered a place in Megadeth, but when he asked Mustaine what he was in the music for, Mustaine said "you know, the chicks". Schmidt hung up immediately. I bet he regrets that now !) Death Strike were now hot property in the underground, and Mayhem (Schmidt's present group) had a smaller following than Death Strike. (Mayhem only ever managed to issue a few demos, which were fairly good). Bill was anxious to join Death Strike. Speckmann knew of Schmidt's songwriting and drumming skills already from the early Master days, and as John Leprich was a drunk and incapable of delivering all the time, Schmidt was accepted into Death Strike. Another change was kicking out guitarist Kirk Miller, who was inexperienced to say the most, and really just a session musician for Death Strike. On July the 4th (Independence Day in America), Bill was let into the fold. In that time, a 15 minute Death Strike rehearsal had been released (that had been taped by Troy Dixler of Devasation (a Chicago death metal band)) and spread around the underground. Death Strike were on the map ! Despite this, the threesome decided to re-name the band Master, as they felt this stood above Death Strike. So Death Strike was put to rest. Master were back !
Another side-effect of Death Strike's impact was the emergence of extreme thrash/death metal act's in Chicago (Death Strike's home). What had previously been a haven for power metal bands now became a promising hot-bed of thrash acts. Bands such as Mayhem (Bill Schmidt's former group), Macabre (pioneers in the death/grind field), Mutilation, Aftermath, Solemn, Natas (later called Not-Us, and thanked in the re-issue of the "Fuckin' Death" demo on Nuclear Blast Records in 1991), Orsis or the godly Devastation (who released the classic "Creation Of Ripping Death" demo in 1986, a totally killer death metal band to say the least), all made up the thrash scene. Lastly, Terminal Death, who were good friends with Master, Devastation and Mayhem. One of their member's Shaun Glass would go on to trade a Master rehearsal without Speckmann's permission. Cheers Shaun ! In a few years, ego's would come in to play and wreck the scene, but for now, Chicago was booming.
With a line-up now in place, Master continued to write new songs. Schmidt was eager to keep Mittlebrun in the band, having witnessed his songwriting talent, and the classic team of Speckmann/Mittlebrun worked together to come up with new songs. Two new ones emerged from them, namely "Unknown Soilder" and the classic "Funeral Bitch". Schmidt brought his three tracks that he had wrote for Master in the early days ("Terrorizer","Pledge Of Allegiance" and "Master") and Speckmann planned to use the Death Strike songs for Master, as both bands were in the same style, and some Death Strike songs were originally written for Master. Not wanting to record a home made demo (as many death metal bands did. Those were the days !), and wanting to keep up with the studio recordings of Death Strike, Master opted for a more professional approach (they were older than many death/thrash acts after all). After Paul's father passed away, he had left Paul an inheritance of quite a bit of money, and Paul chose to invest this in Master. With the money, Master decided to record an album in a proper studio, then wait for a deal from a label interested in producing and releasing the album. Speckmann made Schmidt promise to sign the first decent deal they recieved. The band headed into the more professional Seagrape Studios in Chicago, Illinois, and began recording tracks to make up their debut album. The tracks decided upon were "Master", "Unknown Soldier", "Funeral Bitch", "Terrorizer", "Pledge Of Allegiance" and the Death Strike tunes "Mangled Dehumanization" and "Re-Entry And Destruction". In a stroke of genius, Master released rough mixes of the tracks to the extreme metal scene. The tracks could be bought from the band themself, but once they got out, they were traded around at the speed of light. Firstly, 5 of the tracks were released, followed by the other 2 later on. Without a doubt, these were the recordings that made Master in the underground. Since their name change from Death Strike, people realized that Master were the same band, and more fans were picked up along the way. Once again, its easy to hear why.
These 7 tracks were the unchallenged ultimate in heaviness and power, and no other band could stand up to the collosal force of Master. In comparison to Death Strike, the tracks were now slower, but this only made them heavier. Speckmann realized that, rather than the all out thrashing aggression of Death Strike, by keeping the hatred firmly under control, immense power and heaviness could be achieved. "Re-Entry And Destruction" became a limb-crunching monster, with a HUGE booming bottom end. "Mangled Dehumanization" seethed with new vigour. Bill Schmidt's drumming was far superior to Leprich's, and actually quite different. With his style, Schmidt created the classic "Master-Beat", a head pounding rhythm that gave a solid backbone to the brutality of the riffs. There were drawbacks however. As the recordings were carefully laid down over a period of a few months, some of the original fury in Death Strike was lost as a result. That demo had been recorded in one day with the adrenalin pumping. Master had as much time as they wanted, so the music was bound to be less furious. It was, but it gave Master time to develop their sound to it's full potential. One let down though (for me) was Speckmann's vocals. In Death Strike he sounded aggressive as fuck, angry and hate filled. In Master, some of the aggression was missing. His vocals were also recorded differently, double-tracked in some cases, and his voice sounded akin to Jeff Becerra's at times, while sounding like a low-tone growl like Kam Lee's at others. There was no problem with this, I just preferred the punk sounding Speckmann of Death Strike. Either way, his vocals in Master (more so than Death Strike), were massively influential to death metal.
Production was still raw, although Speckmann's bass was buried a bit, merging with the drums (only making the "Master-Beat" sound heavier). Mittlebrun's guitars were buried a bit too, and once again, I preferred them on Death Strike ! This time round however, he had created his own tone, which was painfully sharp, almost razor-blade like. One hell of a tone for sure ! The ultimate highlight was Schmidt's drumming, which dominated the recordings, going boom-boom-boom-boom, pounding as fuck ! He also contributed vocals on his own tracks (excluding the instrumental "Terrorizer", for obvious reasons), and came out sounding more passionate than Speckmann and just as brutal. His voice is maybe overlooked in the creation of death metal.
The catchy Funeral Bitch was immediately heralded as a classic, and the lyrics were still political too. The song "Master" dealt with being yourself, free of any boundaries imposed by idols, church, state etc. Some inspirational stuff there. The delivery was once again very punk sounding, though maybe less so than Death Strike. It was clear Master were a metal band. Mittlebrun's guitar playing was only better, highly original and standing out from the metal pack. Master were now the ultimate in heaviness, and I recommend you get your hands on these tracks and play them loud, VERY LOUD. I garuantee your neighbours will think a bomb has exploded in your house. You have no idea about brutality until you play Master at maximum volume. They are brutality in it's simplest, purest form!
The impact of those seven tracks is what made Master famous. Majesty (who's name is a piss-take on Master) featured a HUGE Master influence in their demos. They later changed their name to Terrorizer (taken from the Master song, yes) and pioneered the grindcore movement, with their music heavily in the Master-style. Their live shows often included a cover of "Funeral Bitch" too. Napalm Death credit Master (and are set to cover them on their Leaders Not Followers Pt.2 disc) as an influence. Repulsion were inspired by Master. Righteous Pigs, as fans of Master, helped Speckmann get a deal with Nuclear Blast Records (but that's another story). Benediction (check out their logo. Master, anyone ?), Carcass (Bill Steer often praised Master in his Phoenix Militia fanzine). Even Nihilist (later Entombed) from Sweden are influenced by Master. Listening to Death circa October '85, one can hear a large Master influence in songwriting and vocals (although admittedly, those songs were later dropped). Nausea (related to Terrorizer) are other Master followers. Master's impact was largely on the grindcore genre, even though Master play death metal.
All this would become apparent in later years though, and for now Master continued to crush everybody with their awesome power. Fanzines around the globe gave the band praise and favourable reviews, after hearing the rough mixes. Eventually, Don Kaye (later of Kerrang and Roadracer records fame) invited Master down to his college radio show on WBCR in New York to promote the advance tape of the LP. Master agreed to come, and Speckmann and Schmidt made the journey to New York in a broken down car without windscreen wipers. Unfortunately, they were caught in a downpour. A friend Wally Hall tagged along as he had family in Long Island, New York. While there, Wally and Speckmann walked around town, but Schmidt opted to sit in the car with a baseball bat ?! Anyway, halfway through the radio interview, Master were escorted out of the building for using too much foul language on air ! The college police took them off the campus. This may have seemed a loss, but it was not. After the interview, Don Kaye set them up with Combat Records. It appeared Master had a deal !
One of the major factors instrumental in Master's downfall was their meeting with Kim Fowley. Fowley was a major name in the music scene, having produced/managed/co-wrote songs for bands and spotted many up and coming groups. He had worked in many genres of music, but rock had remained his big talent. The group The Runaways (featuring Joan Jett and Lita Ford) were completely his creation. Alice Cooper and Kiss had songs co-written by him on their albums. As for the more aggressive side of rock, Fowley had produced a live record for legendary punk band, the Germs. It is still a wonder why he ended up working with Master, a brutal death metal band. Anyway, through Seagrape Studios Master were introduced to Fowley. Being a big name in the rock world, this was no doubt pure luck for a band like Master to end up with him. Fowley became friends with Schmidt (no doubt impressed by Schmidt's rock star-like ego), and offered to help manage Master, despite having no experience with extreme metal. Rather suspiciously, Schmidt's mother entered the picture here (probably because she realized her son was going on to big things), and started working with Fowley and Schmidt on Master. Odd, isn't it ? An intrusive mother/wife/girlfriend always leads to a bands downfall it seems. It was also around this point that Schmidt persuaded Speckmann to invest in huge amounts of equipment with the money from Speckmann's inheritance from his father. Leather, studs, a Simmons electronic drum set, mikes, mikestands, headphones and a Tascam recorder were bought with the promise from Schmidt that they could jam in his mother's basement. It seemed Master were becoming a professional band !
Around this time, Speckmann was also becoming aware of Master's popularity across the world. The band were receiving letters from all around the globe, each one filled with praise for Master. It became clear to Speckmann, Schmidt and Mittlebrun that they were part of the uprising death/black metal movement, and key figures like Chuck Schuldiner wrote to him reguarly. Acts like Kreator (Speckmann has said how old Kreator (the best Kreator) is one of his fave bands), Morbid Angel and Death were breaking boundaries with their extremity, and it must have been pleasing to know Master were part of this. On the streets of Chicago, people would come up to Speckmann yelling "MASTER !". All this without having released an album and played live. Thirdly, the band hardly did interviews and no pictures were seen of them. The band were a bit mysterious in ways. Unlike acts such as Death and Repulsion, who reguarly released rehearsal tapes, Master never did. The only Master rehearsal (like Death Strike's one) had been recorded by Troy Dixler of Devastation when they were hanging with Master, then traded around the underground. It's of note that the tunes "Rabid Anger" and "Live For Free" were on these tapes, tunes never heard in their studio versions.
The prestigious deal from Combat finally arrived on December the 31st 1985. Master were on a high. The contract offered Master a five album deal (incidentally, this was the same contract Death signed the following year). However, when Fowley read it, he saw that little money was offered to the band for five albums, and he strove to change it. The thing he didn't realize was this was an INDEPENDENT label, and Master were an extreme metal band. They weren't about to get a major label deal. Although they had a deal, one problem that would have to be sorted was Chris Mittlebrun. He had become too caught up with girls, dope and partying, and seeing as Schmidt and Speckmann were doing most of the work for Master, he was let go. By now it was 1986, and a new death/thrash metal group were forming in Chicago. The group featured Troy Dixler (ex-Devastation), Shaun Glass (ex-Terminal Death) and Tony Ochoa (ex-Solemn). Mittlebrun was invited to join them, and he did. As a result, the new band, known as Sindrome, became a "super-group", because all their members were already big names in the underground. The band would go on to big things, issuing two AMAZING demos, but never getting a major label deal. (Ironically, Mittlebrun was kicked out of the group in '88, as he was into partying etc.). With Mittlebrun gone, the search was on for another guitarist for Master. It would not be too hard to find a guitarist this time, as Chicago had a booming thrash scene, not to mention thrash being much more popular across the globe in '86, than it was in the early days of 83/84. Finally, gutarist Alex Olvera of the thrash band Assault was selected. Master said in an interview that they knew Alex was the right guitarist for Master for a while, but just kept it low. When the time came, he would join. (Personally, I think Mittlebrun rules his ass, and I think Master knew that too.)
The new line-up were ready to record, but the deal still hung in the air. Combat offered them a deal for an EP, which would feature two of Speckmann's songs, and two of Schmidt's. Due to good planning, Speckmann also owned the many songs he'd penned with Mittlebrun, so they could be used later. The idea was to shelve the recordings originally intended for the LP/EP (the recordings now floating around the underground), and record tracks for Combat specially, as they were going to give them money to record. Then, the EP would be released to build up a following (outside of the underground). Based on how much it sold in each city, Master would know where to tour. A tour of Europe was also in the works too. In the meantime, Master planned to do one show in Chicago, in which they knew EVERYONE would be there. The band hardly ever practiced, but when they did, their live show was shaped up. Master were now bigger than ever, young and hungry for success.
The success though, would never come. Fowley, convinced Master were being ripped off, added changes to the deal, along with Schmidt and his mother. Schmidt, being an only child with a big ego, believed Master could do better. When the deal was presented to Combat, they laughed and tore it up. Master had lost their deal. This didn't seem a problem at the time though, as plenty of other record labels were around. Master had created their own death though, as time would prove. They were young, and had made a vital mistake.
Even if they were to look for another deal, the relationship between Speckmann and Schmidt was worsening each day. Speckmann, obviously bitter at Schmidt causing Master to lose their deal, had also noticed that Schmidt was overly reliant on him. When Speckmann's inheritance ran out, so did Schmidt. Speckmann had been giving money to Schmidt's mother to keep Schmidt residing at her house. Without a home, Schmidt wouldn't be able to operate properly, and Master would be killed ! Secondly, Schmidt had mood swings that were that of a manic depressant, and Paul had to keep a lot of pot on hand for him. It all came to a head when Schmidt traded one of Speckmann's power amps to the bassist of Iron Cross (another Chicago act) for a quarter of pot. Speckmann, obviously enraged at these problems, coupled with Schmidt having lost the deal, decided to break Master up. (Another little known factor was that people had sent money for the advance LP to Schmidt, but never got it as Schmidt kept the cash. As a result, Master lost some of it's credibility in the underground.) In the fall of '86, Master came to an end. Looking back, it was a mistake to get involved with Kim Fowley, but even if they had not, Schmidt would still have caused trouble later on, and Master would have ended there and then. The large amount of money invested in equipment for Master was lost. Despite this, Speckmann still says he believes Schmidt is a genius when it comes to music, even if his ego gets in the way.
One last mystery, and after-thoughts on Master's existence.
Master's break-up was not reported in the underground for quite some time, as Master were never one to keep in contact with fanzines. After a while though, fanzines accepted that Master had broke up, even though no confirmation of this ever reached the underground. In October of '86, a live tape emerged, dating from Ocotber the 11th and at a place called "The Warehouse" in Chicago. The line-up was Speckmann/Schmidt/Mittlebrun, and it appeared the band had reformed. Their set was a short one lasting only 35 minutes, and I still am yet to hear this tape so I can't offer anymore info on it. The gig was supported by death metal legends Devastation, with the place being (as predicted) packed, with all the cool metal fans from Chicago attending. To this date, this remains the only gig the original line-up have ever played, so it's fairly legendary. A flyer with a live picture on it had been spread around (only 100 copies), and that picture is now a rather infamous one, featuring Speckmann and Mittlebrun thrashing around on stage, with Schmidt barely visible behind his drum kit. The Master mystery would continue for the duration of the year, but by early '87, it was once again clear Master were dead. Why the band reformed to play the gig is still unsolved (anyone know ?), but what I suspect happened is Speckmann just wanted this to be the swansong from Master, and what better way to go out than playing a gig with the classic line-up ? Master were gone for sure in 1987, and that marks the end of the classic days of Master.
In retrospect, Master's influence is certainly overlooked. They would eventually get their chance to record a debut album, but it arrived in 1990, way too late to make any impact on the death metal scene, as fans were engrossed in Obituary, Athiest, Morbid Angel and Death. Throughout the 1990's, Master stayed together, going through many line-up changes and have managed to issue 5 albums to this date (2004). If Master had managed to release their debut in 1986, they would no doubt be held in high regard. But history is done, and Master's early recordings live on in the underground, and perhaps it's better that way. Like ALL of their fellow death metal acts in the first wave, the material Death Strike/Master recorded in their early days remains their best. I strongly recommend you hunt any recordings from 1984-1986 down, and grab them without hesitation.
To sum up Master's impact, they helped invent grindcore and death metal, and for many death metal bands (REAL death metal bands, not the Cannibal Corpse clones), listing Master as an influence is almost second nature. X-Ecutioner/Obituary never hid their Master influence, and bands like NunSlaughter, Exhumed and Pentacle all list Death Strike/Master as inspirational to their noise. Majesty/Terrorizer/Nausea, Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs, Repulsion, Benediction, Entombed and Obituary all owe their bit to Master. Even if your not a fan of those bands, if your a punk or whatever, have a listen to Master, and I'm sure you'll like them. For fans of heavy, face-ripping music, Master are mandatory.
of , which is