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Monthly Archives: January 1999

Sanctorum – 1999
Dennis speaks to Melanie… on the eve of the Apocalypse, 1999

MR: What is your present lineup?

Dennis: Well, our present lineup is incomplete. Currently we still have
Dennis M Downey, Jr.: lead guitar
Joe Waltz: drums
Brian Bergeron (ex December Wolves): bass guitar.
Duane Morris (ex Decrepit & Incantation, From the Depths): rhythm Gtr

We are still searching for a full time vocalist. We recently parted ways with Mike Daimon (ex Vocals and Rhythm guitar) because of personal and ethical differences, which left us the task of enlisting new metal warriors into our fold. I would also like to add that we still have (Metal Steve) Steve Vitantonio as our business/booking manager. The site is in bad need of an update… I hope that if our webmaster sees this it will encourage him to do so. As for merchandise… well we are finally pressing 500copies of our CD “Gods of Forever” with some bonus tracks. We had 300 in November of ’98 that sold out in 3 or 4 weeks, of course in my infinite wisdom that money was spent on beer and equipment (hence the need for a manager).

MR: Can you give me a brief history of Sanctorum?

Dennis: SANCTORUM started in concept during the summer of 1997 by Dennis M Downey, Jr. (guitar) and Chris Noble (drums). Our goal was to create metal true to itself and to exemplify the ideals of what metal is supposed to be. Later that summer we joined with Mike Daimon (guitar/vocals) after the break up of Cleveland, Ohio’s Noctuary. After writing, and scrapping, a few songs and working through several concepts we came up with the name, SANCTORUM, as our moniker. Shortly afterwards Dennis and Mike had to part ways with Chris for personal reasons, then joined drummer Joseph Waltz (ex-Ohio Noctuary) and recruited Rhiannon (Somnus) to help out with the bass duties. SANCTORUM’s debut stage performance was in Toledo, OH at Whit’s End with Pavement artists Master, and several Toledo locals. Later, Master played at the Phantasy Nite Club (in Cleveland, Oh) performing along with SANCTORUM, and other Cleveland locals. SANCTORUM performed many shows in Ohio and Indiana these first formative months to great reviews and much positive feedback. Since the beginning I have had a revolving door of sorts on the bas guitar slot, we’re on our fourth. After Rhiannon, Duane Morris (FTD) played bass for 6 months, then Steve Rolf (Hope Banished) and finally Brian Bergeron. We now have Duane Morris back, as our second guitar player, and will be trying out vocalists.

Dennis: On Halloween of ’98 we released our full length CD demo, “Gods of Forever”. We printed up 300 copies (as stated above) and made several hundred 2-song promo tapes to hand out at shows after the demand was still there for our music. We’ve also recorded several tribute songs for Dwell Records. We’ve been on the following tributes: Judas Priest (Hell Patrol), Ozzy Osbourne (Bark at the Moon), Black Sabbath (Under the Sun), Slayer (Evil Has No Boundaries), Kreator (Riot of Violence), and are currently recording Destruction’s “Mad Butcher”. We plan on returning to the studio, once we have a vocalist, to record a 4song EP (maybe a 7″) containing new material we’ve been writing the past few months.

MR: What are your present musical and lyrical influences?

Dennis: Being the main songwriter (and also the main lyricist on the new material) I am never able to say which band inspires me. I hear comparisons to older metal, such as Maiden and Priest, and new European metal bands etc. I do listen to a lot of early ’80’s metal, today’s more extreme metal, classical (Bach & Mozart are my favorites), and classic rock. I never like to compare SANCTORUM to any of our metal forefathers in describing our sound. Our sound has the power and might of armor-clad warriors galloping into battle, one that over comes you and subjugates you with its majesty. We are guitar-driven and oriented towards anthem-like melodies, huge harmonic structures, and grand solos. This is truer of our newest material, which I would say comes very close to achieving the true metal we strive for. I try also to make the classical influences I throw in there non-stereotypical of the ones used so often today. We use no keyboards and I don’t try and emulate Malmsteen (though he is a great musician). I would say my playing style is unique within the realm of modern metal. I like players from Page, Iommi, and Blackmoore to Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, K.K.Downing, and Glenn Tipton. I take influences from whatever I listen to, I like to try and emulate the feel of a violin’s legato phrasing, and prefer a brassy tone to punch through. Also a lot of today’s greats amaze me and push me further yet still; Michael Amott, Jesper Stromblad, Astennu, and the guitarists from Children of Bodom, a lot of modern Power metal guitarists are also leading the charge into a more majestic and virtuosic playing style.

Dennis: Lyrically, I also can say there are few things that I take as definite influences. The two main sources of inspiration are history and mythology, usually of a Celtic nature. I pull ideas from historical texts constantly, sometimes stories from my personal past pop in and dark tales of magic and mysticism of course. My favorite song of ours is called “Heroes of the Dawn”; it’s taken from Celtic Myth, Arthurian legend, and of course too many viewings of Braveheart. The basic story is of the glory of battle and never giving up at all costs. For me use of Celtic influences is a rather personal thing, I’m an angry drunken Irish fuck that grew up with my Pappap telling me stories of the old country and legends he heard as a child. To this I added the Battle of Mt. Badon legend combined with what I was feeling about that story to get it just right. Our demo as a matter of fact is a story I related to Mike Daimon after hearing the lyrics to the title track, “Gods of Forever”. It’s a seven-part story about Alexander the Great. Though he is never mentioned in it, we added him being immortal, and Mike added his element of good-v-evil for control of his destiny, you can still get a vibe of who it’s about. Mike wrote those lyrics and fit them perfectly to the music.

MR: What music styles and genres do you listen to, outside of the style you play with the band?

Dennis: *laughing* Ok. Everyone can laugh at Denny now! I listen to a lot of nonmetal!! I’m listening to some Steely Dan as I’m writing this, after listening to some Pink Floyd earlier. I listen to metal most of the time, but I also listen to a lot of Classic rock, Classical, Irish folk (any Celtic folk in general actually), Jazz, Country (hey I live in the country), Blues, avant-garde, some Goth and new wave, soundtracks, anything but rap and modern pop music. I say modern because I like Michael Jackson’s earlier stuff (I even have Thriller on Vinyl!!!!) and even like Disco. Some of my favorite non-metal bands are Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Bad Company, Stevie Ray Vaughn, ZZ Top, James Brown (*laughing*), I like music that makes me move, has great musicianship/ songwriting, has emotional depth… and of course you can pound beers to. Some of my favorite Classical composers are Bach, Mozart, Holzt, Vivaldi, Mussorgsky, Wagner, Rachmonanof, Beethoven, Liszt, Berlioz, Pompadouris (he wrote the Conan soundtrack), Peganinni, etc. I like composers whose works are extravagant, virtuosic, and above all majestic. However, for me metal is what I always return to and relate to best. I think metal is (and should be) the ultimate combination of Rock attitude and Classical Brains with the might of the gods and a feeling of transcendence.

MR: You’re the classical and theory guru of Cleveland! Describe two of your favorite songs and their composition. What key elements should fans listen for, and stuff like that?

Dennis: To limit the vast number of songs I love and consider favorites is really unfair to the songs themselves. I live, breathe, and immerse myself wholly into music to a degree that most find bizarre. To make it easy for myself, but seemingly longwinded to others, I shall start with my favorite classical composition. I must say it’s a toss-up of three: ‘Lacrimosa’ (from the Requiem) by Mozart, ‘Mars, Bringer of War’ by Gustoph Holst, or ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’ by Bach. I shall choose Bach’s masterful and triumphant piece, its what you, the reader, are most familiar with I’m sure. The composition retains one basic thematic vibe almost throughout: that of dark, foreboding, majestic, and glorious evil taken lightheartedly. Imagine the mythic Lucifer descending from the heavens in fire only to restore himself to dominion over mans dark desire and malignancy. I think Bach had something of this story line in his head, along with his documented madness and substance abuse, for the forging T&F in Dm. This was written between 1708 and 1717 while concertmaster and organist in Weimar. This was a time when his inner battles would shine through in his use of chords and harmonies disdained by the church (I must note that some of his works were considered too horrific by the church and he has been suspected of Satanism by some). On first listen you will be most impressed by the infamous beginning (Toccata- Italian for improvised introduction) with its powerful beginning notes like a lightning strike and its sickening virtuosity to its frenetic cadenza and final resolution. Finally the Fugue itself (It-Fugare, to chase) which sounds to me like the four horsemen of the apocalypse turning to a child’s music box that plays only happily evil music before returning to majestic splendor. Another way to describe any fugue is like listening to several conversations at once, with voices coming and going and responding to each other only to come to synchronicity upon resolving the piece. Basically one thematic melody is stated and repeated while improvising variations of the original in different voicings, each one chasing the other.

Dennis: My Favorite metal song has to be Aces High, by Iron Maiden. It has everything a metal song should have. There are great anthemic riffs and melodies, virtuosic solos, and a story of glory in battle. The rhythm demands a fist pumping the air and the chorus needs to be sung with. If there are any three words that should fit any great metal song they would be: Powerful, Majestic, and Aggressive. Aces High meets all these requirements with a timeless quality most current bands will never be able to match.

(see? what did I tell you! It’s the Theory God of Cleveland. – ed.)

MR: What do you think of the underground metal scene? How do you think it has changed during your involvement?

Dennis: The underground metal scene is ridiculous, especially in Cleveland. Its probably the best scene in many peoples opinions, I tend to agree with that, but its extremely unfocused and fragmented. I see four major subgroups in the local scene: The Extreme scene/ The Hard-core scene/ The ‘I want to be like Pantera when I grow up’ scene/ and the ‘I have no talent and bad music but we have naked chicks on stage’ scene. These scenes never work together as one unit for mutual benefit, instead the biggest bands in Cleveland oppress the more talented extreme Melodic/Grind acts and support the untalented retards who know nothing of metal beyond Korn and Limp Bizkit. Its very frustrating here (as elsewhere) to play a show, something big gets planned for the extreme scene here and the bigger bands book a show for the same day with media support and the same songs they played to death 5 years ago. We here in the Cleveland Extreme scene all try to fight this, but to little avail since we’ve all been too jealous to support each other much it seems. I look at the other bands in the melodic/grind scenes and I feel pride in my heart for them. We have a great talent pool here, but little unity. When I got involved in this scene I was a ‘nobody’, since then becoming friends with a lot of other musicians and supporters of metal. I can say it has gotten a lot better in my eyes. There are more bands here than 7 years ago, more shitty ones, and less loyalty on the fans part because the lack of unity had eroded media coverage for several years it seems… The past one and a half years however we have weeded out the weaker bands and have an improving sense of unity and brotherhood it seems. There are some heroes as well in this: The local College Radio DJ’s, some of the local promoters and clubs are kickass in giving us some overdue respect and attention, and above all some local musicians have stepped up and started business enterprises specifically to better the scene.

MR: From your point of view, what’s the scene like in Cleveland *cough* nowadays?

Dennis: Well, I got pretty longwinded on my last answer and covered this. To be specific then I guess I will take my hat off to some of the scenes great bands. From the Depths, Somnus, Soulless, Regurgitation, All That Is Evil, Blood Coven, & Descend all make this a very diverse and talented scene.

MR: What are your current goals and aspirations for the band?

Dennis: First goal for the new year- get a vocalist with power, balls, and presence while getting everything else music-wise refined & more majestic. Of course we plan on recording a 4-song EP sometime in late spring and re-releasing our first CD with 2 bonus tracks. I definitely want to get signed and receive recognition, both personally and for the band (yes, I’m an arrogant asshole). We are striving continually to better ourselves and refine what we do in search of that pure/true metal. I am aspiring to better my sound, stage presence, and my technique. In improving my own performance I will make the band, as a whole unit, sound better. Of course we plan on doing the NJ and Milwaukee Metalfests in 2000 and to be playing out again by the end of February.

MR: When can your next release be expected?

Dennis: I am almost positive our 4-song EP will be available by mid-summer. It is something I look forward to recording and performing on, the songs we are writing for it are by far our best material yet. Joe, our drummer, has improved immensely since our first CD to be an outstanding drummer (maybe the fastest in the area). Also since the addition of Brian Bergeron we have a dedicated and solid bass player with experience. There are more solos and grandiosity to these songs, more anthemic melodies to stick in your brain, they’re faster and more aggressive, and finally- they’re catchier as well. We have two songs done so far (“Heroes of the Dawn” and “Forged Upon the Anvil of Time”) and are working on a few others (“The Mountains of Majesty”, “Books of Madness”, “Beneath the Wings of the Scarlet Raven”, & “March of the Winter King”). Also, as mentioned before, we are going to be re-releasing our debut CD with two bonus tracks sometime in February (maybe).

MR: What was the response from the first demo? Do you feel that releasing the first demo to the Internet has been a positive step?

Dennis: The response was rather mixed towards our demo CD. I would say it is very good in some parts yet suffers with a couple bad songs and an energy level below that of our live performance. We are a great live band and I feel that those who have seen us live were a little disappointed by the slower tempo to some of the songs, but were happy for the great production. Those who never had the chance to see us live think the CD is great and ask why we’re not signed to a major label. I think we could have sold more CDs had we pressed more of them. We have gotten a lot of requests for CDs via the Internet, that’s a lot of lost money and people who are missing out on some great metal. It has definitely been a positive step to be on the net; the first exposure a lot of people had to us is through our website.

MR: What do you think of the Internet as a band or marketing tool, and in general?

Dennis: I think the Internet increases the possibilities we have available for self-promotion and for finding other bands across the world. With the advent of the Mp3 it’s now possible for others to preview songs of yours via the Internet, and to sell your CD without having to mail it. I see this as a great thing, even if people are pirating our music I see it as free advertisement. It has now become a necessity to have a website and email account for band promotion now, it makes it easy to introduce yourself to other bands (send them your URL and sign their guest-book then they know how to reach you). Its also a good way for selling your merchandise, not that we’ve exploited this possibility yet. I see the Internet becoming even bigger in the future, soon enough it might replace the mail, all promotional material, the radio, magazines, stores and catalogs, just about everything will change.

MR: What can fans look forward to seeing live?

Dennis: My drunk ass stumbling around playing too fast, Duane & Brian going nuts (Joe’s too tiny to see behind his kit), and the spirit of metal in the air. Our live show is going to lose the cheese; we have found ourselves and are focused to being true to what we do. I’m not saying that we go up there looking like everyone else; we do wear our metal gear so to speak. It will be a more entertaining show, we might start using explosives and fireworks during our set (we use a fire-eater and blow flames on occasion), the spikes of course will stay, no corpse paint, and no onstage orgies with children.

Dennis: The music is only getting better; it will be even better live. Since we are getting a full time vocalist to do nothing but sing that in itself will improve our stage presence. It will free up the second guitarist to play fuller parts so I can therefore have more freedom. Duane’s sound is thick, full and heavy; his tone blends great with my articulately angry tone, Brian’s tone is like thunder in the mountains. Just this alone will improve our sound, but what really adds the icing to the cake is how we’ve changed some guitar and drum parts to take advantage of our new sound. We’re even more powerful and majestic now than ever before, and the aggression has tripled.

MR: *grin* Any funny or horror show/studio stories?

Dennis: I have lot of these; shall I go with the most recent? Why not. Just a few weeks ago we were at a local club watching a Motley Crue tribute band, drinking massive amounts of alcohol, molesting the local women (well Joe was at least), and enjoying some classic tunes. I guess Joe was dancing with the wife of one of the guys in the tribute band, some schmuck knew her husband didn’t like the fact that she was grabbing his cock, so the husband said some words. Even though Joe is not very big he has balls the size of cantaloupes, so he blasted the guy once in his face then jumped on him to beat his ass. This immediately broke the entire club into a huge brawl, hairspray fags against us and a few friends. What pisses me off is that I was in the shitter when this happened, the band didn’t stop playing for a couple minutes so I had no idea what was going on at first. When the band stopped I heard the commotion, pinched, then ran out to see every table knocked over but two, a few bloodied and beaten glam rockers, Joe knocking over a shelf and our friend Dennis punching out the window. Feeling left out I returned after the cops left and knocked some guy out… breaking the last two tables. Needless to say we were banned from this club until we heard the owner had to sell because he couldn’t afford the repairs his bar needed after we were done with it.

MR: Is song or lyric writing collaborative, or do certain members do certain things?

Dennis: When we still had Mike Daimon on the band I wrote 80%-90% of the music while He and Steve Rolf (ex-bass player) both contributed riffs. Mike Daimon did write the entire song “Gods of Forever”; I helped arrange it and wrote the harmonies and a few melodies. At that time Daimon was writing the lions’ share of the lyrics, while I supplied some of the story lines. Joe has always been an important part of the writing process (and business part for that matter). He has some great ideas for arrangements and song structure, while also having the opinion from a fan’s perspective (if he doesn’t like something it usually won’t work). As it stands now, and for the material on our next release I am writing 100% of both music and lyrics. This is a situation that I enjoy, I can now focus more on getting what I think is the best music possible out and not have to worry about bad lyrical content.

MR: Where did you get your band name? Who came up with the idea?

Dennis: Actually, SANCTORUM was not our first name. When it was just my self and Chris Noble we were going to use the name “Shades of Grey” or “Erebus”. A week or so after joining up with M. Daimon he came up with Sanctum SANCTORUM as a name (saying it was a Latin phrase meaning a place of solitude). I thought sounded cool, except I had to point out that Latin-to-English dictionaries work just like a regular dictionary (using different declensions of the word to slightly change the meaning). Sanctum is the actual place of solitude, SANCTORUM is more possessive (e.g., of a lonely place). It is also a place where a priest, or wizard, goes to study their trade in solitude. After I pointed this out to him and arguing over it for a day or two we settled on SANCTORUM.

MR: Do you find it hard coming up with original material?

Dennis: Not at all musically, the challenge for me is lyrics. I always have musical ideas going on in my head, like a radio station only I can receive that plays 24 hours a day and almost completely drives me mad at times. There have been times when talking to people I zone out for a minute or so then grab my guitar to try and play along, that attempt in itself is also a source of creation. When I make mistakes to what I hear in my head I come up with even more ideas, mostly melodies and bits of riffs. That’s how Heroes of the Dawn was written, I heard it in my head as a complete song and played it once at home then showed it at practice only making one small change since then. Of course, since I listen to more than metal, I get ideas from all styles of music in my head as well. I know some people will think I am nuts to say this is how I write my music, but its how I do things and if that makes me wacky I am proud to be a nut-case.

Dennis: Lyrically its not as easy, I come up with good story line on a fairly regular basis. How I work it is get the song written, figure a story that fits thematically with the song, title it, then write the lyrics to fit the music. I like words to be to the point and clear in meaning. This in itself is a challenge, to have the lyrics fit with music and have a coherent message. At this point I have a lot of songs and half songs with no lyrics and only a working title.

MR: Whom would you say, within the realm of extreme/death metal, do you sound least like?

Dennis: With our melodic sound and our European metal/classic rock feel I would say that bands like Suffocation are farthest from our style. We do have a great degree of technicality to our music, and an aggression that can only come from America. But also in the same sense we could fit better in Europe, where our style is given better credence than bands in the “Chug/Death” style. I do not say this to put that genre of metal down, Suffocation is one of my favorite bands, I say that as a description of picking style and rhythmic feel.

MR: Is anyone in Sanctorum involved in any other bands or projects?

Dennis: Yes, currently Joe has a Black/Folk metal side project going on by the name of Black Trinity (He’s been doing this for about 2 years). Duane is the Vocalist/Rhythm Guitarist for From the Depths, which is his main band. It works well that Joe is in two bands, it gives him a wider outlet for his style. In Black Trinity his drumming is very different, a lot of blast beats and strange atmospheric parts ranging to simplistic folksy beats. This is not to be seen as a side-project for Duane, he does both full time with complete dedication; I say FTD is his main band because if it came down to choose he would be more inclined to do FTD than SANCTORUM. Outside of SANCTORUM I do compose some classical pieces for my own enjoyment and pleasure. I wouldn’t call it a side project however; it’s not something I would pursue just yet for lack of time. I am actually planning on making time for this late next year, and possibly putting some compositions on tape. The best way I can describe it is not being like Glenn Danzigs “Aria”, new wave/goth bullshit, or John Tesh. It’s arranged for strings, guitar, brass, and woodwind sections, though it would be possible to rearrange it for keyboards. I would also like to write an Opera, maybe make it a Metal Opera to be performed live.

MR: What is the funniest thing you have seen lately?

Dennis: The Mentors’ video “Tits, Ass, & Pussy!” is the funniest video I’ve ever seen. It’s quite funny also that I am just now discovering what the Mentors are all about. Not only does the video have some great music it also has plenty of tasteless sleaze and simulated scatology, as well as an appearance on a Christian Talk show by El Duce. This is a classic that I think everyone should see, even if you just want the shock value of it.

MR: If you could tour with any 4 other bands, who would they be?

Dennis: To limit this to four is tough, there are so many kick-ass bands out there that we have played with and are friends with. Somnus, From the Depths, and Soulless would be great to tour with; they’re great bands and good friends of ours. The same goes for the Vladimirs, Estuary of Calamity, and Thorns of the Carrion (from Cincinnati) also Abominate, Assisting Sorrow, Dark Moon, & Lucifer’s Hammer; these are great bands we have jammed with and enjoy hanging with. Also, national bands like In Flames, Dimmu Borgir, Incantation, and other brothers of metal. I would also like to tour with Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Merciful Fate or King Diamond solo. I don’t care who it is really, just as long as they drink beer and are true to themselves.

MR: What do you feel Sanctorum brings to the scene?

Dennis: I’d like to think we add an element once absent from the scene, a missing link so to speak. I’d also like to think we up the ante a little bit, we were a shock to people at first around here and I’ve noticed that some bands have pushed their boundaries outward a bit since they’ve first heard us. First of all, only one other band in the Cleveland Extreme scene has a ‘lead guitarist’ in the traditional sense with Matt Sorg of From the Depths, and no other band brings that ’80s metal and classic rock sound to the stage. Part of this because of me, I grew up listening to ‘guitar heroes’ and I try to be one now, to be over the top with it almost to the point of going overboard. Nationally I think we still have that missing link effect, though the differences aren’t as stark and there are many great ‘lead guitarists’ out there that kick my ass, not many try to be over the top and timeless the way it used to be.

MR: What kind of musical direction can we expect from Sanctorum in the future, now that extreme metal is trying to make a comeback?

Dennis: I plan to keep true to my mission of finding the true and pure metal that is in me. We are going to be faster, more powerful, more majestic, with more melodies and solos; we shall construct glorious anthems for the warriors’ soul. From my playing you shall hear better solos and acts of courage and valor upon my axe, as a whole we shall be more uplifting and bigger. Basically, there are no labels for the direction I want SANCTORUM to take. I can assure you all that our next release will be 10 times better than our last, and our last was pretty damn good too.

MR: You’re unsigned. The euphemism these days for that, is “independent release artists”. I’m not saying that as a “slam”. What are you guys looking for in a label? What do you expect to gain should you become “signed”?

Dennis: Blah! I hate that term; it’s almost as bad as ‘underground’ as if we’re a bunch of moles or something. First of all, though we are unsigned, we are not independent in the garage band sense. We are doing plenty of recordings for Dwell records on their tribute albums. But, admittedly, we would like to be a signed band. There have been offers before, mostly a waste of my time, which we’ve turned down. A lot of ‘labels’ out there are just trying to rip bands off and make a buck from our hard work as musicians and self-promoters. What I want is a label to front us money for a recording, mass produce it, promote it internationally, give us a fair amount per unit sold and help us with merchandise. Sponsoring us for a tour with an established act and a European tour would be great as well. That may seem like a lot to ask for, but I think we deserve it, especially since I see bands that aren’t worthy of being signed get promoted to death and treated like gods.

MR: Any parting words of wisdom to the masses, fans, bands, etc…??

Dennis: Stick to your guns and be true to yourself and your music. This goes for everyone, even fans. I see fans of metal hop from one bandwagon to the next and badmouth the bandwagon they were just on. Metal demands honesty, for it is the most honest of musical expressions, and it is the most powerful and majestic love and respect it for what it is, was, and what it should be, not how people tell you. One final word of ‘wisdom’ for musicians, play your instrument with passion and play well, that is your most formidable weapon in the fight for metal purity.