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Rob Thorne – Guitars/Vocals for Sacred Oath

Date: 3/27/09
Interviewed By: Rich Catino


1. Sacred Oath released "A Crystal Vision" in 1987 and didn't record a follow up until 2007 for "Darkness Visible". Why such a long hiatus?

ROB: Well we were young when we recorded "A Crystal Vision", we were just in high school so people don't realize being at a young age that was one of the contributing factors to why the band broke up after that album.  When the shit hit the fan in 88 it was easier to just say "fuck this" and walk away and we were too immature to realize what we had with Sacred Oath.  Then when we got older we knew it was time to get back together.  I mean we did put out an official bootleg called "A Crystal Revision" which has a strange story behind it but we really didn’t have any new material until "Darkness Visible".  

When the band split I went to college for four years for music composition and got my degree, I wrote two rock operas (one called America the Beautiful), I did two albums with Soundscape.  So I’ve always been busy.  And when we got together in 1998 to do the bonus tracks for Sentinel Steel it was great but being busy with our lives/projects at the time getting back together wasn’t gonna happen.  In 2005, all of a sudden I had time and by this point Kenny and I had been hangin out a lot and I said to him “you know… Sacred Oath is probably the best thing we had ever done”, because there was this love for what we achieved on that first album and it had survived for all those years in between “Crystal Vision” and “Darkness Visible”. I mean when we went to Europe people were showing up with the original vinyl pressing of “A Crystal Vision” and there is something special about that.  So that’s how we set about getting Sacred Oath back in action.   The rock operas came about because I was very into prog metal in the 90s and not into that whole hardcore/extreme metal thing, like the Pantera Phil Anselmo vocal.  I’m a melodic singer and there was no way you were gonna see me sing like Phil.  The rock operas are cool but not my best work, haha.   I’d like to rework those. 

2. Are you happy with the reissue of “A Crystal Vision” put out by Sentinel Steel Records?

ROB:  Yeah they did a very nice job and it was a key element to getting the band back together.  Dennis Gulbey from Sentinel Records, was a fan of Sacred Oath and when I was busy in the 90s with Soundscape he got in touch with me and said “did you ever think of reissuing that first Sacred Oath album because there is a really big cult following for you guys in Europe”, and I was like “wow, really?”.  I mean I was out of Scared Oath for like ten years by then.  So Dennis said it would be great if you guys could record a couple news songs for this reissue.  So me and the guys got back together, started jamming on the old songs and making new music but that didn’t get added as those bonus tracks.  But then in 2005 Kenny (Evans) our drummer said “man did you listen again to those songs, its pretty damn ferocious, people should hear that”.  So when we were recording “Darkness Visible” we said lets throw those songs out there for the fans and that’s when we said we were kinda back as Sacred Oath.  So we started jamming again with Glen Cruciani and Pete Altieri and ‘Darkness Visible” happened out of that, then we went to Europe to do Keep it True Festival and that’s how we got the live recording “Till Death Do Us Part”.  But when we went on tour Glen and Pete had commitments that prevented them from touring so then Scott Waite (bass) I brought in from my other project Soundscape and Billy Smith on guitar was one of my guitar students for many years and I offered him the gig because he had that fire and passion for heavy metal.  So it worked out. 

3. So Billy and Scott played on the latest self titled Sacred Oath album?

ROB:   Yes, they are on the brand new album.  They are also on the “Till Death Do Us Part” live album. 

4. Why did you feel Scared Oath were ready to release a live album after releasing only two studio records?

ROB:  Literally, I mean literally, Rich, at the end of our first night in Europe at the Keep It True Festival I’m out by the soundboard and this guys got a laptop and I said “what’s this about?”, and he said “I recorded the show”.  I was like “multi track”.  So he sent me the disc and I was like “damn, that’s a great show”.  I have a studio at home where I have been producing all of Oath’s music for years, so I said let’s put out a live album to let people know the band are alive and kicking, and that will buy us a few more months to finish another studio album.   And now here we are with the new self titled album coming out in May. 

5.  Who writes the music and lyrics?

ROB: I write all the lyric accept for “Order of the System Lords” and “Mistress of the Setting Sun”.  Scott, when he writes, he prefers to do the words and music, and I basically write the vocal lines.  But I basically write all the music and lyrics, I the self titled album I wrote nine out of the fourteen songs and twelve out of the fourteen lyrics.  I have always been the primary songwriter but this time around it was great to have Kenny step up and co write three songs on the album with me.  And Scott (who was also writing with me in Soundscape) came up with two songs on his own  that we thought showed another side of Sacred Oath that we were into so we added them as bonus tracks. 

6. On the new self titled album, our Metal Asylum staff writer Kevin Alba who reviewed the cd, said he heard Mercyful Fate in the guitar work for “Buried Alive”.  Are you influenced by Hank Shermann and Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate?

ROB:  O yeah man, we are very influenced by Fate.  At the same when we recorded “A Crystal Vision” Pete and I were mesmerized by Mercyful Fate’s “Don’t Break The Oath”.  We got into playing metal obviously under the influence of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Kiss, but when Fate came out with “Melissa” and “Don’t Break the Oath” that sound we surely identified with and latched onto it.  And a lot of people over the years have compared Sacred Oath to Mercyful Fate which is such a compliment.  Obviously I don’t sing like King Diamond but its something in our music.  Clearly no one sounded like Mercyful Fate, they were so unique and their dark aura and mystique found its way into our sound.   I mean not even as a solo artist has King Diamond been able to capture what is on those first two Mercyful Fate albums.   Not even when Mercyful Fate reunited in the 90s were they able to recapture what they did with “Melissa” and “Don’t Break The Oath”.  And what is cool is that Sacred Oath were able to open for Mercyful Fate when they toured for “Into The Unknown”.  It was just incredible.  I can still remember sitting in Pete’s car listening to “Welcome Princess of Hell” being like “I can’t believe what this stuff is”. 

7. Aside from Mercyful Fate, who are some of Sacred Oath’s other influences? 

ROB:  O man, all the stuff from the early mid 80s, Metallica, Queensryche, Megadeth, Sabbath, Priest, AC/DC, how can you not be influenced by those bands, at least if you are playing heavy metal.   I was a huge and still am an Ozzy Osbourne fan, “Diary of a Madman” and “Blizzard of Ozz” are just incredible and Randy Roads I always aspired to play like him.  At the time, being twelve years old, that’s when you begin to identify with music and finding out what is yours and in many ways you get stuck in that moment.  I am eternally that twelve year old kid who made a promise to himself that this is what I believe in and this is what I want to do.   And its such a part of who I am.  When I write for Scared Oath there are no guidelines even though we are considered to be a true metal band.   I hope there is a difference between our albums because if we didn’t we truly would be stuck in a moment in time.  We had no intentions of this new record (self titled) being a recreation of 1988.  But oddly enough it does have all the attributes that made all the music of the 80s so great; melody, power, lead guitar work.  Not only do you have the aggression and energy of what metal music is all about, but you have great songs. 

8. Also, Kevin who reviewed the new self titled cd, said he felt the music sounded classic, yet contemporary.   Do you know why he can hear this?

ROB:  Look, we wear our influences on our sleeves.  People ask me what I listen to now and I’m a vinyl collector and when I listen to music I put a Rainbow album on, or I just bought the Judas Priest “British Steel” remaster.   I go to my collection and I say “O…I’m gonna listen to “Killers” (Iron Maiden) today.  Does that mean I’m trying to copy that, no, but obviously it comes out in my writing.

During the day I am a guitar teacher, and of course then I’m learning about these bands like Lamb of God, Children of Bodom, Unearth, and I think it all comes through in the music I create.  But I think I have still managed to stay current even though I don’t listen to a band like Bodom.   I do like them.  See… many of these bands don’t have good vocals and I like melody in a voice.  But I saw Bodom at the Hammerstein in New York and I was really impressed.  I mean Alexi Laiho I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.  Great player and he is star quality.  Just because I’m not into a vocal style doesn’t mean I don’t give em respect. 

9. Speaking of newer music and the more extreme metal sounds that emerged in the 90s (which is still popular today).  During that time when these melodic less artists became popular, did you grab on to any of the European bands that didn’t really get recognized and gain a sizeable fanbase in States until the late 90s early 2000s?  For example; Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Hammerfall, Gamma Ray or Edguy. 

ROB: You know I really didn’t get into that sound much but I’ll tell ya who I did have a brief obsession with and that was Angra and their album “Holy Land”.  When I heard “Holy Land” I was absolutely floored by the musicianship, the creativity, the native sounds of their country.  I was as floored by that like I was when I first heard “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska” by King’s X.   Or like when I first heard “Master of Puppets” from Metallica.   “Holy Land” I though was Angra’s most artistic and diverse album, and what they released after that was really good too but I just found something special in “Holy Land”.   I’ve never subscribed to the whole “metal is all about hatred and anger” thing, metal is a complete picture.  And that is one of my criticisms of a lot of the new bands today because I don’t feel they are being honest.  Now you hear a record with non stop aggression with lyrics all about aggression…nobody’s always like that. 

10. Well what I find interesting is that many of these younger bands, like Lamb of God, Trivium, Shadows Fall, Bullet For My Valentine, all started out yelling and screaming all the time.  And now when you listen to their newer albums there is more melody in the vocals and the guitar playing. 

ROB:  Yup, well I will tell ya Rich, the melodic metal is coming back a bit.  I have this small following of metalheads  who I teach guitar to, and they are all starting to discover all the bands we grew up on…Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, Sabbath, these kids are discovering that its important your metal has melody, harmony, good song structure, great guitar work, a hook doesn’t hurt (hahaha), along with the heaviness.  I mean the screaming metal vocal thing has been around for almost fifteen years and its gotten old, quick. 

11. What are Scared Oath’s touring plans?

ROB: Well, as of now I can’t confirm anything yet.  I know we will be doing shows in Europe and the U.S. but we have a couple irons in the fire and they could be potentially big for us.   With this ITunes exclusive thing we got going on it could really be a career altering move for us.  ITunes really made a big deal our of our live record “Till Death Do Us Part”, I mean they put it up there with Judas Priest’s “Unleashed in the East” and Maiden’s “Live After Death” which is incredible.  So with this new album we have coming out, ITunes said they wanted to get way behind us.  They chose the song “Counting Zeros” as the Discovery Download Pick of the Week for April 7th.  That’s huge, that’s a minimum of 300,000 downloads, we NEVER had that kind of exposure or promotion ever.  Its major status.  ITunes also wanted to have an exclusive right to pre sell the album for five weeks before the record hits store shelves, and at a price of $5.99.  So that’s why we haven’t made our touring plans. 

The album is coming out in two editions, a deluxe with four bonus tracks and the regular edition with ten songs which is the one ITunes will be selling.   We also made a video for that song “Counting Zeros” and we just found out it will be debuting on Headbangers Ball and their Blog.  Is that fucking huge or what, haha?  I’m just like, damn.  The stars are lining up for Sacred Oath. 

12. If you could pick who Sacred Oath could tour with, who would it be?

ROB:  O man, well I always swing for the fences, Rich, and knock on wood its been paying off.  But who do I wanna tour with…well Iron Maiden and Judas Priest!  I don’t know if that’s gonna happen, haha, but we will see.  But I think Sacred Oath should be on tour with bands of that caliber.  God, if we could get on a tour with Trivium or even Dragonforce (who many people compare us to which I don’t understand because Scared Oath’s music has so much more soul than that).  But that Dragonforce stuff is video game music and its not my thing.  I guess people compare us to Dragonforce because that’s the only band they have been exposed to with guitar solos, haha.   But like you just said, the bands who came before Dragonforce, like Helloween, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, are the originators of that sound and style and those bands have substance to their music.  They write songs and don’t have to play the music a hundred miles an hour to get attention. 

13. What is the most satisfying, and disappointing, thing about making music in 2009? 

ROB:   You know that’s a great question.  Making music is always satisfying for me because I’m compelled to do it.  If I couldn’t make music I would be driving everyone around me crazy.  With this new Sacred Oath album (and the last four other albums I have produced), I have felt I really know what I am doing in the studio.   But working in the studio, engineering and producing, took a long time for me to get comfortable with my work and I am feeling very good with what I have been producing lately.  

The disappointing thing, and don’t get me wrong I am all about technology, ITunes, the internet and what it has done for the band, but these kids are not about owning a physical product, they just wanna download it onto their phone.  Twenty years ago it was all about the album, now the album is alike a commercial to get people to buy concert tickets and T shirts because that’s how bands make their money when no one is buying music anymore for the entire album.  It devalues the album.  And with all the pirating everyone can just download the music for free, too.  So that takes away sales for the band.  And it costs money to record an album, so if everyone is downloading it for free, how are we gonna make money to put food on the table?   So that’s the disappointing part of being in the “music business” today. 

14. Is Scared Oath’s debut album “A Crystal Vision” still available and if not are there plans to reissue and/or remaster it? 

ROB:  Another great question, you’re the first person to ask me that and it’s a very timely question because the album just went out of print a month ago.  See my licensing contract with Sentinel Steel Records is up and they want to renew.   They are sold out completely on their stock but I don’t want to renew with that label because the way things are going with this band I don’t see a need to.   I’ll just issue it through Angel Thorn and lineup a distribution contract like I did for the new album.  And I will probably go back to the original cover and booklet artwork, remaster it without the bonus tracks from the reissue.  But it is available on ITunes.   When I go back and listen to that album now I’m like “damn, we were like seventeen when we recorded that album”, just a bunch of kids in high school having a good time.  And to know it has survived to this day and it has such a cult following, its pretty friggin cool. 

15. Plans to release a DVD?

ROB:  I would love to and when we got the tracks for the live album I asked to see the video footage because guys were walking around with cameras, but the footage was awful.  It was dark and grainy.  I would love to do a DVD but right now I am just focused on lining up this tour and promoting the new cd.  Plus we just put out the live album “Till Death Do Us Part”.  So it will be a while before we do a DVD. 

16. If you had to bring five albums with you on a desert island, what would they be? 

ROB:  O man…ok if I had to live with only five albums for the rest of my life…definitely Ozzy Osbourne “Diary of A Madman”.  That album is what inspired me to do this in the first place, plus, I think I have spent my whole life aspiring to match that level of artistic expression that Randy Rhoads and Ozzy achieved on that album.  That record is just a masterpiece and when I listen to it I automatically get this peaceful feeling and go back to being that twelve year old kid again.  Another one would be “Screaming for Vengeance” from Judas Priest.   When I heard that one I said “I wanna play guitar like Randy Rhoads and sing like Rob Halfrod”, haha.   Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is just a masterpiece of course.   “Ride the Lighting” is special too but its not “Puppets”.   I use to think King’s X’s “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska” is up there but I haven’t listened to it in so long maybe its not as special to me as I thought.   But I loved that album.  The next two albums…I’d have to put in Crosby Stills and Nash “Deja vu”…Yeah, put that in there just to fuck with the metalheads, hahaha.   No…I love that record, that’s a landmark album.  I remember buying Iron Maiden “Killers” and that album.  I also like a lot of classical music like Beethoven.  Classical music is very heavy metal, look at how much of it is in metal.   And for my fifth choice…I do love Megadeth “Peace Sells” but...Mercyful Fate “Don’t Break The Oath”, gotta have it. 

Official website:  www.sacredoath.net 

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