This is a band that deserves respect. Fifth Angel have been here for nearly 40 years and have released two classic melodic metal albums in the eighties and one worthy successor in the new millennium. Now, the band is entering its fourth decade of existence risen from the ashes of the pandemic, crucial line-up changes, health and family issues, to release a new album that proudly wears the Fifth Angel name on its cover. We have been given the chance to talk to band founder Ken Mary about the (fourth) secret of staying true to their legacy and loyal to their fan base.
-Hello, Stoyan – how are you doing this morning?
Well, it’s not exactly morning here, haha. Doing fine, workday is over and it’s time for a heavy metal interview. Five years since the excellent last album, after a pandemic and a line-up change, the band is here again, with a fantastic new album. How hard was it to persevere through all difficulties?
-Well, it was not easy and it was not just Covid. After the pandemic, some of the guys had personal issues. During the process of recording, one of the guys couldn’t play his instrument, because he had troubles with his hands and we had two other guys who had problems with their elderly parents, who need to be taken care of. So it was a slow process, the album took us about two years, but we feel very happy about how it all turned out.
The album even exceeded my expectations – you all did a great job. The press release states the solo guitars have been recorded with Jim Dofka in the studio. How did you come up working with him?
-Jim is a friend of mine and I played on his record. We’ve been going through some weird times and had troubles meeting deadlines. People have been talking about how were we going to continue without Kendall and I’ve been answering that we had to take three other guys to replace him, haha. It was a difficult thing obviously because we’ve always had amazing guitar players in Fifth Angel. Now we had a little family of guitar players who helped us on that record, like Steve Conley from Flotsam and Jetsam, Jim played solos on the album, Brent Barker who is in the video, and these are all incredible players. Do you remember the “Pumpkins United” tag on the new Helloween line-up? So, this is kind of like “Angels United”. A lot of people stepped up and of course Ed Archer was in charge of the rhythms, as he always does, but the bottom line is we had to get the record done. Fortunately, everybody was really cool about it and enjoyed working on the record and everybody is proud of the album.
Now with Steve Conley joining Fifth Angel, the connection with Flotsam and Jetsam is even stronger. How big a part did you play in convincing him to join the band?
-Well, he helped in a huge way getting this album done. He is a fantastic player and a friend – we’ve worked on tons of different projects together. When we ran into trouble, I turned to Steve and he has never disappointed with what he brings to the table, which is his incredible skills.
When Angels Kill is a double concept album, based on apocalyptic events. Can you share something more about the story within the lyrics?
-Absolutely. The concept focuses on a character named Phoenix. He is a young man caught in these world events. What we are trying to do is make the listener feel like he is there, first hand. There’s news recordings, speeches and various sound effects. It’s probably the darkest record we’ve done, there’s a lot of drama that happens in the story. There’s four main characters: Phoenix, Dylan and Lana are members of the Resistance that is starting against a global tyrannical leader, who is the fourth main character. I don’t wanna give away too much, but it is basically a story of Phoenix trying to survive and thrive in a very dark world. There’s a love story and a story of survival that are happening. I think that’s enough to be revealed at this point.
I’ve been talking to Lee Vickers, another colleague from Velvet Thunder, and we’ve been sharing the same opinion that this new album is staying true to the Fifth Angel name. What do you think is the main “ingredient” that keeps the sound of Fifth Angel so distinguishable all these years? Every song can instantly be recognized as Fifth Angel even if there are at least 10 different band members who have played in the albums so far.
-Haha, that’s funny for you to point out. Honestly, we still have the core of the band, Ed, John Macko and myself and we’ve been in the band since the beginning, which helps. We also know when something sounds like Fifth Angel or not and in fact that’s the reason The Third Secret took so long to make. We were very nervous about putting out a record that maybe didn’t sound like Fifth Angel. We tried writing many times in the past and it just didn’t sound right, it sounded like a completely different band. It didn’t happen until Kendall, John and I started writing together and there was that chemistry again. We finally came up with something where we said “wow, this is very cool music and it sounds like Fifth Angel”. There was a lot more pressure for The Third Secret, because that was the first album we made after nearly 30 years. We know that the first two albums are considered classics in Europe and we thought how we were going to do something that is at this level. So it was very stressful to do that album, whereas with When Angels Kill, there was less stress, because we knew it sounded like Fifth Angel, which is not always an easy thing, when you have albums that were written in three different decades. It comes down to the fact that we sort of know instinctually what Fifth Angel is supposed to sound like.
I’ve been curious why did you decide to use a new band logo this time?
-We felt that it suited the title. We actually already had this logo for The Third Secret, but didn’t feel it fit the album. We still use our old logos, but this one has a sword in it and we thought it was very appropriate to use for an album called When Angels Kill. But we use the old ones too for t-shirts.
Please tell us something about vocalist Steven Carlson, for whom this is the first recording with Fifth Angel. He has done an amazing job. How did you come up working with him?
-Working with Steve was great. He is a very skilled singer, very professional and a nice guy. Everybody in the band is pretty chill and relaxed and so is Steve. We had the words pretty much written and I had demos that I had sung on. Then he would do his thing on it and add his ingredient. It was actually a very smooth process. Sometimes, when you are recording, it could be very difficult, take a lot of time and be very painful. This was the opposite. He delivered great emotion and great tone and I agree with you – we are very, very happy with the vocals.
I actually didn’t know you were a singer as well, haha.
-Yeah, I’m actually singing all background vocals on the album and Steve and I have voices that seem to blend very nicely together. But this is not something new for me – I actually sang backgrounds on The Third Secret and on the first album as well.
Ken, I can’t miss the opportunity to ask you about some news on Flotsam and Jetsam? When can we expect the new album?
-It looks like March of 2024. This is what we are looking at right now. We are working on it now and it’s actually a process where you have to deliver it to the label many months ahead of time, because pressing vinyl now takes a while. I think it’s now down to three months and it was eight or nine months some time ago. This is actually one of the reasons why When Angels Kill took so long to release – it took five months to press the vinyl and the label wanted to have the vinyl at the same time they had CDs, which makes sense. I think the problem is getting solved now – it’s almost back to normal, which is two to three months.
Is your playing in Fifth Angel influenced by what you do in Flotsam and Jetsam and vice versa?
-Well, I can’t say I can completely isolate the two, but I can say in Fifth Angel it’s a little bit simpler. Flotsam is a very weird band because we are all playing everything at hundred miles per hour and somehow it is musical and it works. Fifth Angel is a little bit more streamlined but yes, I can say that my drumming is probably influenced by Flotsam and vice versa. You definitely approach different music differently. In Flotsam I can go nuts and play very aggressive and fast, which is not applicable for Fifth Angel.
Do you plan to come to tour Europe any time soon? We know it’s becoming more and more difficult financially for the US bands to do tours in Europe.
-We are certainly working on that. We are trying to do something in the fall and we will see if we’re gonna succeed in that, but you are correct. It’s getting very difficult for overseas bands to travel to Europe just because of the costs. Just to fly the band over, if we are five guys, we are talking about eight thousand dollars. And that’s tough when it’s coming right off the top. There’s other expenses as well – all the travels have gone up, the fuel, the technicians, the sound men, roadies, guys that are setting up your gear – all of those costs have gone up and in some cases even doubled. And this affects even bands that you thought were bigger.
Thanks, Ken. Please pass over to the other band members our gratitude as fans about releasing such a great new album and living up to expectations.
When Angels Kill will be out on June 16th through Nuclear Blast and you can pre-order it from HERE