The Band: Damien Thorne
The Man: Ken Mandat (guitars)
Interview by Vpower
Damien Thorne is a US band with its roots deep in the 80s, something we can clearly appreciate in their new record, “Soul Stealer”, but they still have the skills to give also a modern touch to their Heavy Speed Metal. To talk about the band and his music we have with us one the founding member, Ken Mandat, a very talented guitarist, a man with a clear vision of what he wants to achieve.
Hello Ken and congratulations for you fantastic new album “Soul Stealer”
Hello! Thank you very much. We are very excited to have finally released this album, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.
But before talking about the new album let’s focus a little on the band’s history. Because Damien Thorne was born some years ago... in the glorious 80s. What memories do you keep of that time?
There are too many memories! The early 80’s was a great time for metal. Especially from Chicago, where we are from. Many great bands, and the club scene was very strong. If your were in Chicago at that time you could go to a venue and see great metal bands almost every night of the week. Whether we played at a large venue or a small club, our fans alway came out in force and were very supportive.
Golden times, yeah. By the way, the band was named after the boy in the horror novel/film The Omen. That boy was really terrifying, wasn’t he? How many times have you watched the Omen?
Yes, I have seen that movie many, many times. We were all very interested in the horror movie genre at the time, and we thought that when it came down to choosing a name for the band, a person’s name carried more weight than using an “ adjective” such as “Slayer” or “Enforcer”, or other similar type names that other bands were choosing. So we chose Damien Thorne.
In 1986 you released your first album, the acclaimed “The Sign of the Jackal”. But you were not able to go on your promising career at the moment. What happened?
When the album first came out, the labels didn’t have money to put us on tour in the European countries, and that is where the album was selling. We toured in the US for a while, but the album didn’t get much publicity here, and was not selling fast enough for the labels to invest in us. So right before we were to record the second album, we lost our record deal and were on our own.
In 2001 you returned with “Wrath of Darkness”, the album that originally was meant to be published back in the 80s. How did you feel about it after so many years? Did you change something in the songs?
That album was recorded “live” back in 1986. We didn’t have any money for a proper recording session at the time, so we went into a small studio and played those songs live. It took us about 2 hours to record the entire album! The sound quality is not great, but it shows how tight the band was at that time. Some of those songs are very complicated. I am very proud of that record. Originally we didn’t release it because we thought that eventually, we would get money to re-record it, but that never happened. In 2001 I just decided to release it as is.
What a story! Now that you are at full speed it would be great to record it all again... Let’s travel back to the present. Damien Thorne is formed by new faces except founding member Ken Mandat, an awesome guitarist. Do your mates treat you as an oracle or just as another mate?
They treat me like shit!, No, i’m kidding. None of that stuff matters in this band, everyone is treated equally. Some of the members may be new to the lineup, but they are guys that we have been friends with for many years already. When we get new members, it is usually from our inner circle of friends. We don’t usually get strangers in this band. That is why the band is still going after all these years, because we are friends first.
Ken, I suppose in the composition of the new songs you lead the way, with your experience and skills. Do your mates contribute with their own ideas? How is the process?
The process is simple, everyone contributes. Usually me and Rick Browz (bassist) will come up with the main riffs and structure of the songs, then we will play through the ideas with the full band, and everyone will contribute ideas and opinions until we are satisfied with the arrangement. Then we all focus on lyrics with a lot of contribution from Warren Halvarson.
Well, talking about “Soul Stealer”, what more surprises me about it is the mix between old and new sounds. That is really amazing, but you manage to add the Heavy and Speed Metal touch in a so natural way too
Yes, well the new sounds come from the fact that we do have new influences in the band with the addition of keyboards instead of 2 guitars, but the original song writing style that we have had from the beginning is still there as well. I think we are really evolving as songwriters and it shows with this album. If you like old school metal, but like a fresh approach, this is the album for you.
It’s very cool in fact the sound of the keyboards, so classical, and how they fit, most of the time as a background melody, with the powerful riffs and rythms. How did you get that approach?
I think it just came out naturally when we started writing these songs. We are big fans of bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow, Dio, etc. Adding the keyboards to the mix gave us a little more freedom to express those influences into our songwriting. We couldn’t do that before.. When you only have guitars, you really only can go one direction with metal music, and thats being fast and heavy. With the keyboards, we can still be fast and heavy, but we can add more feeling and dimension to the songs.
You truly get it. But the surprises do not finish just there. The last song, Trapped, delivers neoclassic riffs, a la Imperittelli. You are a very flexible kind of guitarist, Ken, aren’t you?
Thank you for the kind words. I am a fan of many different styles of music and as a schooled guitarist, I have always studied many styles as well. I am a musician first, and a music teacher as well. I play all styles very fluently and several other instruments.
Awesome. I know this is a difficult question, but this “Soul Stealer” might be your best album ever?
Well, yes a difficult question. I am very proud of all our records for different reasons. I love this record, so as of now, yes it is my favorite. But they are all good in my biased opinion. The first record was intense and ground breaking on some levels. The second we recorded “live” so it captures what we truly sounded like at that time, plus featured 2 members who are not alive anymore, so it has meaning to me. Haunted Mind is a great speed metal album and gets overlooked some times as well..
Taking in account all your albums and your history, Damien Thorne deserves a better place in the book of Metal history?
Well, not sure what we really deserve, we can only control what is in front of us, and hopefully make good decisions. All I can do is keep making Damien Thorne music and hope that someone gets some kind of enjoyment out of it. We love what we do, and we will do it as long as we can. We have never sold out, or worried about what others think.
Ken, how did you recruit the new members? It was a tough task or you just put a note on the Facebook and wated for the candidates to appear?
No, we usually recruit members who we are already friends with or from bands that we are friends with. Very rarely do we get someone that we don’t already know.
A better option, no doubt. What are your main influences as a guitarist?
There are too many to list! But my favorite guitarists have always been guys like Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads, Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Jimmy Page, Uli Roth,Jeff Beck, Robin Trower. Those guys to me were the most inspiring to me as a player. They all have unique styles and you can hear the influence they had on millions of guitar players to come after them.
You are a man of good taste hahaha I buy you the whole pack! What are the touring plans?
Right now, we are planning to start 2016 in the Netherlands at Very ‘Eavy Festival. Uli Jon Roth is headlining that fest, so I get to share the stage with one of my guitar heroes! Can’t wait for that show! After that we have a few shows in the US.
It sounds great, I pray to the Gods to get you around Spain… And last, but not least, it seems that Damien Thorne has sped up for the last years. Do we have band for many years to come?
Yes, we are here to stay! Hopefully we will start recording another album in 2016, as well as a re-release of Sign of the Jackal to celebrate its 30th Anniversary. So we will be busy.
Those are very good news, indeed. Thanks Ken, it was a pleasure to talk to you. If you wanna add something...
Just a special thanks to everyone who has supported us throughout the years, and for years to come. And thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk to you and the fans!