Satan’s rise continues. The NWOBHM veterans’ latest album is turning heads across the globe. Festival appearances at Frost and Fireland and Dominion are just around the corner.
But there’s always time for a beer.
Guitarists Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey joined Rushonrock’s Simon Rushworth and Rich Holmes in their favourite Newcastle watering hole…
It’s an early Monday evening in Newcastle’s Trillians bar.
For once, a band isn’t sound checking.
And that’s unusual for ‘Trills’, given its place as Tyneside’s venerated home of rock and metal – a bastion which has survived changing musical landscapes, city centre gentrification and a global pandemic.
On the wall is an enormous list of acts who’ve graced its hallowed stage. Sick Of It All. Napalm Death. At The Gates. Exodus. It’s a real who’s who of international talent.
However, we’re drinking with an entirely home-grown duo tonight.
Emerging in 1979, NWOBHM legends Satan were built on the same streets as Trillians. The same streets that, in the late 70s and early 80s witnessed the rise of Venom, Raven, Tygers of Pan Tang, Avenger, Tysondog et al.
Guitarists Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins are, therefore, on familiar ground.
And they have a lot to talk about.
With bandmates Brian Ross, Graeme English and Sean Taylor, they’ve just released Earth Infernal, their sixth studio album, and fourth since their 2011 resurrection.
The reception to Earth Infernal has eclipsed even that of their 2013 comeback, Life Sentence, or 2018’s sorcerous Cruel Magic.
And the boys are in demand.
On June 18 they’ll be playing the Frost and Fireland in Derry-Londonderry, alongside the likes of Cirith Ungol, Gama Bomb, Midnight and fellow North Easterners Mythra. It’s a spin off from California’s Frost and Fire festival, which was founded by Satan manager (and Cirith Ungol/Night Demon bassist) Jarvis Leatherby. More on him later.
And on July 31, they’ll be on North East soil for Dominion, the region’s first open air metal festival, which will take place in County Durham. Satan will be sharing a bill with Cradle Of Filth, Blind Guardian, Svalbard, Onslaught, Dawn Ray’d and more.
Indeed, Satan are a regular feature at metal fests across the world, thanks to a renewed interest in the band: interest that’s only accelerated since their ‘one-off’ reunion show at Wacken Open Air.
“We enjoyed it, but that was as far as it went,” Tippins says of that 2004 gig, sipping on a pint of Motörhead Overkill ale. “We’ve done that now, we’ve done a gig! To me, that was it.”
It wasn’t ‘it’.
The seed had been sown.
Satan would rise again.
The spark was back.
“As soon as we started playing again, it was like, ‘wow this is exactly the same’,” says Ramsey. “That’s why we got back together.”
By 2013, they’d released Life Sentence to a world hungry for authentic, ‘traditional’ heavy metal.
Satan’s 2011 performance at Germany’s Keep It True festival was, for Ramsey, a watershed moment. Songs from their debut, 1983’s Court In The Act, were greeted like long lost friends.
“Before the gig we went into the hall,” recalls the guitarist. “We weren’t headlining, we were third or fourth down on the bill and they asked us to do a signing session.
“We sat down behind a couple of tables and we were there for an hour and a half. It was basically the whole crowd!
“It was so weird because we never got anything like that when we were together in the 80s. We were playing smaller shows. It was nothing like that!”
Did that come as a surprise?
“It’s weird, especially as we weren’t together for all that time and you find out that people are still listening to Court In The Act,” replies Ramsey. “Some of them are the same age as our own kids!
“It’s the internet. The internet sort of ruins your life and then also builds other careers for you.
“People are selling less records, but on the other hand the kids can listen to what they like. We’re not relying on the press any more to tell us what to listen to.”
The US connection
Satan 2022 is a very different Beelzebub to the bunch of young North East lads trying to make it through the 80s metal minefields.
They’re signed to Metal Blade, who, ironically would have been a perfect fit for the quintet back in 1983.
They also don’t take any crap.
“You learn so much shit when you are younger that when you get your second bite of the cherry you set the boundaries… and you don’t let people take the piss out of you,” Ramsey asserts.
Satan also have some powerful allies.
And a long-held aversion to managers has been put aside, thanks to Jarvis Leatherby, who also looks after NWOTHM stars (and Tippins faves) Visigoth and black rock ‘n’ roll crew Midnight, among others.
Night Demon’s frontman has helped Ramsey, Tippins and co. build on their recent creative endeavours… and spread their metallic hellfire across the USA.
Ramsey says: “When we built it back up it was getting to the point where it was ridiculous. We were touring the States and we didn’t have a manager.
“Night Demon were supporting us at a gig in San Francisco. We turned up at a gig and the drum kit was unplayable. Jarvis sorted something out and said, ‘if you want any help I’m interested in helping the band out’.
“And that’s how it started. We had nothing to lose.
“He’s such a fan of the band. He was never working with the band to make money, he wants to see us succeed.”
Do Satan look back in anger?
In many ways, Satan have never had it so good.
Their post-reformation album run has seen their work appear in myriad Album Of The Year lists, and the festival bookings have come thick and fast.
It contrasts sharply with their first life, back in the 80s.
Ross, who fronted Satan for Court In The Act, departed in 1984 and made a slew of albums with Blitzkrieg. He was replaced by Lou Taylor, who had previously sung with Satan. The band then changed their name to Blind Fury and released Out Of Reach in 1985. “When we got Lou in the band he didn’t want to be in a band called Satan and we just wanted him to be the singer,” Ramsey explains. “We looked up to him. He was older than us. We felt what we were doing wasn’t working. In hindsight you think we should have just stuck to our guns.”
A second opus under the Satan moniker – Suspended Sentence – dropped in 1987, with Michael Jackson behind the mic, before another name change and the emergence of Pariah in 1988.
Two albums (The Kindred and 1989’s Blaze Of Obscurity) followed, but by the start of the new decade, the ‘Satan’ line-up had dissipated… and Ramsey and English went on to co-found influential folk metallers Skyclad.
It’s a convoluted tale.
And underlying Satan’s troubled first chapter is the wasted potential of Court In The Act, a debut revered by today’s NWOBHM enthusiasts.
Hell, even James Hetfield wears a Satan patch on his battle jacket.
“When Court In The Act came out someone sent us a photo of one of the main record stores in San Francisco and there were racks of Court In The Act, Ramsey remembers. “We got letters saying that in San Francisco we were are a big band! And we were saying, ‘we can’t be, no one has offered us a show, the record company says we haven’t sold any records’.
Negative press coverage was also a huge blow.
“We were ridiculed in the press,” says Tippins. “Reviewers were more interested in making a joke out of the name. We were poleaxed by the abject failure of Court In The Act. We really took it to heart. It broke the band up really.
“Looking back now we really should have done what we have done over the last ten years.
“We never really did that thing that we have done over the last ten years, which is to get some consistency going with the product, some continuity between the records… so it’s a body of work. That’s really starting to pay off now. If we had done that in the 80s it might have been a very different story.”
In a metal scene of Cattle Decapitations, Nunslaughters and Goatwhores, Satan could be considered a fairly tame name.
But did the band’s moniker – originally drawn out by a schoolboy Ramsey in the pair’s technical drawing class – kill their chances of stardom in those early days?
“We were into Black Sabbath and we thought it would be a cool name for a heavy metal band,” Ramsey recalls with a grin. “My mam said, ‘Are you sure? That’s a bit dodgy’. I said, ‘Mam we are a heavy metal band like Black Sabbath!’.
“None of our families were religious so we didn’t have any of that. They didn’t bat an eyelid until we started getting all the shit.
“When we toured with Running Wild in the mid-80s, Christians started turning up at shows trying to stop kids going in, thinking we were preaching bad things.
“Then you start to realise, is that holding the band back? And you don’t want anything holding you back.”
Maybe the jury is still out…
“It definitely didn’t open doors. But it didn’t hold us back either.”
There’s certainly no holding Satan back now.
Sure, the hands of fate could have been kinder to the Newcastle outfit (not to mention those miserly reviewers).
And Ramsey admits that the razor sharp, fast-paced and more progressive-leaning metal of their debut made them “stand out like a sore thumb” from the rest of the NWOBHM pack. “There was nothing like us,” he says. “But instead of getting separated in a positive way because we were different, it was negative.”
“I wouldn’t change anything,” muses Tippins as Trillians starts to fill up. “I have had a pretty good life. I wouldn’t want to change any of that by changing one thing in the past.”
Words by Rich Holmes.
Satan’s Earth Infernal is out now on Metal Blade.
Satan play the three-day Dominion Festival at Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens, County Durham on July 31. For tickets click here.