When Heavy Metal icons Fifth Angel unceremoniously disbanded following the release of their stunning, Terry Brown (Bad Company, Fates Warning, Rush)-Produced sophomore effort Time Will Tell (1989), the thought of a full-scale reunion seemed implausible. However, following a series of remarkably well-received performances (most notably the 2017 Keep It True Festival), the group began recording what would ultimately become their Nuclear Blast Records debut--and first all-new studio recording in nearly thirty years--The Third Secret (2018). Recently, acclaimed drummer Ken Mary (Alice Cooper, Flotsam And Jetsam, House Of Lords), always a man of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among many other things, guitarist Kendall Bechtel becoming the group's lead vocalist and the long-overdue returns of axeman Ed Archer.
Todd: What were the catalysts behind Fifth Angel reuniting on a full-time basis? What made this time different?
Ken: “There was a reunion in 2010 and also in 2017 when the band played the (Lauda-Königshofen, Germany-based) Keep It True Festival. I was actually supposed to play, but I injured my shoulder and wasn't able to. That was a turning point when you say 'How did you get back together', ya know? I know I've said this before, but we're here because of the fans. A lot of bands say that, but in the case of Fifth Angel, that's literally one hundred percent fact. The Keep It True Festival was important because there were five thousand people singing along to every song, singing the words to every song, ya know? Obviously, we had an impact with certain people, ya know? I think those shows gave us the energy to say 'Well, maybe we should think about doing another record.'”
Todd: Were there other factors behind the delay? At that point, was the group still seeking a permanent vocalist?
Ken: “We'd thought about it in the past, but we've always had a problem finding a singer. And as you know, (original lead vocalist) Ted Pilot has a very unique voice, so trying to replace him definitely proved to be a challenging task. We worked with some really great singers, but when we finished the recordings, we would always say 'That's great, but it just doesn't sound like Fifth Angel'. ...So when we started working on the new demos, we'd always known that Kendall (Bechtel) is a great singer, but he didn't really want to be the singer. But he sang on the demos and he did such a great job that I told him 'You know what? You're just going to have to be the singer on these' and he says 'Well, I guess if that's what I have to do'. He reluctantly stepped into that position and that's really when everything really started flowing with us. It was very natural and easy after that.”
Todd: Am I correct in understanding that Ted had been repeatedly approached about re-joining the group, but politely declined the opportunity? I would imagine it would be rather difficult to quickly step back into that role.
Ken: “The band had asked him in 2010 and initially he was going to do it, but then he wasn't able to. They the band asked him again in 2017 and he had expressed that he would like to do it, but it's just one of those things where he's a very busy person. ...He had a career as a Endodontist, which I understand just changed. He now is heading up an aerospace company that sells components to Boeing, so I know he's a very busy, ya know? And if you're going to be in Fifth Angel, you're doing it for the love of the art. You're definitely not doing it for the money. I think that's the whole thing. I'm not saying money is his motivation, but I do know that (bassist) John (Macko) spoke with him and he told John that he hadn't sung in years and it would be very, very difficult for him to get his voice to the point where he would be any use to us. And I understand that, too because even as a drummer, if you don't drum for six months or a year and then sit down to play, it's just... You need to constantly be working. It's just like working out. If you don't work out and then sit down behind those weights, you'll be like 'Oh, my gosh. This is impossible.' ...You have to stay on it and he really didn't do that the last twenty years.”
Todd: Prior to Kendall officially becoming the group's de facto frontman, did you work with anyone else? With so many available, out-of-work vocalists, I would have thought a suitable replacement would have been located.
Ken: “The band had record some demos before Kendall signed on. We worked with some great singers, but at the end of the day, it didn't sound like Fifth Angel. That was a really big concern for us because if we put out a record and call it Fifth Angel, we have to make sure that it's like Fifth Angel. ...And now, we've got four fifths of the Time Will Tell line-up, so it was super natural. Once we pegged Kendall as the singer, everything else was a piece of cake. It flowed so naturally and so easily. This record wasn't a fight at all. A lot of people say 'We had to work really hard', but we really didn't have to. The songs just fell into place. They're great tunes and we were all happy with them. We're all excited about it and I think that this was the first time where we had done demos that we all felt really excited about. When we had sent the first three songs “We Will Rise”, “Stars Are Falling” and “Queen Of Thieves” to Nuclear Blast, they said 'Wow, this really does sound like Fifth Angel'. They were really excited about it and we were excited about it. When we sat back and listened, we were all like 'Wow, we really did capture something special here'. And hopefully the fans will agree with us. All you can really do is make an album that you're excited about and you're proud of and then hope the fans agree with you about it all.”
Todd: From your particular point of view, are there a lot of obvious differences between Kendall and Ted? While Kendall can undoubtedly handle both eras of material, there are obviously going to be certain differences.
Ken: “I think there's definitely differences, for sure. Ted is a very unique sounding vocalist, but I honestly think Kendall did an amazing job. The emotion and the power that the vocal tracks of this album have are kind of stunning, actually. And that's the whole reason we had him sing. When we finished the demos, I said 'Who are we going to get that's going to sound anything like this?'. I didn't know of anybody and neither did anyone else in the band, otherwise that's what would have probably happened. I think he brings something really unique. He's got a bit of a Dio flavor, so I jokingly call him 'Son Of Dio'. I think the passion and emotion that he has in his voice are super evident and I think it's a little undeniable, really. When you listen to it and you go 'Wow, I'm really feeling what he's singing'... When you talk about differences, I think they're different singers in terms of their tone. Ted has very unique sound that would be tough for anyone to emulate, but at the same time, I feel like we didn't really lose anything on the new album, ya know? He sounds great. When I listen to The Third Secret and compare it to the old albums, I do think both singers really capture some great emotion and feelings.”
Todd: In hindsight, prior to the group signing with Epic Records and the subsequent release of Time Will Tell, did the group feel as if they were on the verge of a breakthrough? Did you feel greatness was within your grasp?
Ken: “We always had a very pragmatic attitude and we were always very grounded. We expected that we would have a major label deal, like we were always talking about when that happens, you know. When this happens, when that happens. We had a plan. A major label was part of that plan and we achieved that goal. We never took for granted that everything was just going to go great. ...And we all understood, even at our young ages, that being on a major label really means nothing. There are so many different factors involved. You've seen bands that get signed to major labels and then the A&R rep that signed them gets let go from the label and suddenly the band's gone. There's so many stories of major label artists where they were signed, then recorded an album but the album never even came out. You've heard all those horror stories and there are plenty of them out there, so we were certainly aware of that, even being young. We never assumed anything, to be honest with you. We felt like we deserved to be successful and we certainly anticipated that we would get to a certain level, but we didn't take for granted that that was going to happen. ...As you know, there are zero guarantees in this business.”
Todd: When James Byrd left the group (prior to the recording of Time Will Tell), was there any concern that the group wouldn't be able to continue on without him? That had to have had a huge impact on the band as a whole.
Ken: “I don't think that really was the case. James Byrd is an incredible guitar player, but Kendall stepped in. It's really amazing that we ended up first of all with James and then with Kendall stepping in that's just crazy. It's really was a crazy situation that ended up being very fortunate for the band. I don't think the band went downhill at all. I think it was really a question of timing and I think we ran into a tidal wave that had rarely been seen in the music industry. You probably know what I'm going to refer to here, but the Grunge era was a tsunami that just destroyed everything. Whether you were a traditional Metal band, a Hair Metal band, a Pop Metal band or even if you were a Metal band Producer that wasn't at a certain level... Few bands that type survived and then later on did well. If you remember, the '90's were brutal even for huge acts like Metallica and Megadeath. ..James was actually going to play two or three solos on this record, he just couldn't do it because he was in the middle of moving his house and we had a deadline We were unable to do that this time, but we certainly will include him on future recordings if he wants to play and that also extends to Ted. We'll gladly have him sing on some songs. Whatever any former member can or want to contribute to it would be awesome.”
Todd: The '90's and certain portions of the new millennium really were a brutal time for the genre, weren't they?
Ken: “A lot of those bands had horrible eras in the 90's after the whole Grunge thing. You've got to remember that people that loved Grunge hated us. They despised everything that Metal represented. If you look at Metal, it was all about really knowing your craft and playing with excellence. You really had to hone your skills and Grunge was the complete opposite of that. Those fans hated us, Metal fans hated them and obviously the Grunge fans won out. ...They thought the future of music was going somewhere else. It was very unfortunate because if you look at the history of Grunge music, it only lasted for three or four years and then it was all but gone. It was a flash in the pan. ...Metal has been around forever and it's still around. But Grunge? Not so much.”
Todd: At what point did the collective members of the group realize it was all winding down? Was this obvious?
Ken: “We were all were fairly intelligent people and we saw the writing on the wall. We certainly would have loved to continue putting out new records, and I think if Fifth Angel had been established maybe a few years earlier, we could have continued. ...If you look at Queensrÿche, they came out in '83, and our first album didn't come out until '86. I think if we would have been around during the same era as they were, we both would have survived. They did very well and I think if we had reached a certain level before all of that kicked in, it might have been different for us. We might have survived that whole tsunami for lack of a better term. As the way things played out, we were smart guys and just said 'Well, we're going to starve to death', so everybody went and did their own thing. I joined House Of Lords and Ted became an Endodontist in Seattle. Everybody went their own way and did their thing. It was more of the industry having such a huge change that wiped us all out.”
Todd: It's a shame House Of Lords never achieved a higher level of success, especially considering the era in which those first two records were released. I've always felt Sahara (1990) should've been absolutely enormous.
Ken: “It's a great record in my opinion because it really was a band effect that was made the old school way. We'd all get in the same room and jam, record some demo tapes. The singer James (Christian) and I did a bunch of recording and a ton of demos for that record. We picked the best songs (Kiss vocalist/bassist) Gene Simmons and the band picked the best songs, so I somewhat agree with you. It's one of those albums that has stood the test of time, so to speak. I left after the tour for Sahara was completed and I left for different reasons than people think. I left because there was some very bad and very unprofessional financial things going on. It wasn't within the band, but it was within the organization and I just wasn't in the mood to put up with it anymore. I basically said 'I'm out of this'. I left and nearly everyone else on board for that album also conceded. After that, I couldn't tell you. I know they did one more record (Demons Down, 1992) and I know that it didn't do well pretty much for the exact same reasons we were talking about with the whole Grunge tsunami. I think House Of Lords was just another artist that got caught up in that storm They were just the wrong thing at the wrong time, really.”
Todd: You also recorded with Alice Cooper (Raise Your Fist And Yell, 1987). How do you look back on that era?
Ken: “Working with Alice was definitely amazing. It was a wonderful time and I look back on it with a great fondness. There were people within Alice's organization that made it clear that 'This is just a gig'. I'm not going to mention names on who that was, but everybody that was in the band knows exactly who I'm talking about. I'm not sure if it was Alice's intention that we not be permanent. Nobody ever said 'Hey, do you want to be a permanent member?' Nobody ever said that, but it certainly wouldn't have been a bad thing. Touring with Alice was awesome as well, but you certainly didn't get the feeling that it was going to be long-term from other segments of his organization. ...Everybody went on to do solo careers. Kip Winger went out and sold four million albums on his own (with Winger), I joined House Of Lords and we did pretty well and (guitarist) Kane Roberts went and did his own two albums (Kane Roberts, 1987, Saints And Sinners, 1991) for Geffen Records.”
Todd: To what do you attribute your continued success as a session musician? You have obviously worked on countless different projects and have been involved in several different groups throughout a truly lengthy career.
Ken: “I've been at it for a few years. I laugh because people always say 'Well, you were in five thousand bands'. I've been in a lot, but you've got to remember, back then they didn't have Pro Tools, so you couldn't fix any drum tracks. You had to actually play them. That's why I would get called up for so many records. If you look at the Chastain, Don Dokken and Impellitteri records, they are all records I was called in to do some work on. It didn't mean I was a member of the band, it just meant that I went in to do session work on it just like how (drummer) Josh Freese has plays on a million albums. That doesn't mean he's in a million bands and it's kind of the same thing with me. I was fortunate to work on a lot of different projects. That was a result of having studio session skills more than anything else. It was pretty easy for me and I think that's because I had a very well-rounded background as a studio musician. I played on all kinds of different music, so I was familiar with everything from Fusion to Jazz to Pop. For me, it was just a question of being prepared. You have to listen to an artist's library and find out what it is that they do and fit what you do with what they do. Does that make sense?”
Todd: How did you become a member of Flotsam And Jetsam? I was quite surprised to find that you had joined.
Ken: “I had listened to their last album (Flotsam And Jetsam, 2016) and was intrigued by the fact that you could really play whatever you wanted. Let's face it; there's been a long period of time where even if you have chops, unless you're going to get in some super complicated Prog band, you're not really going to be able to play anything. ...Flotsam And Jetsam is a killer record. I loved the vocals on it and I loved the songs. They had a tour and they were looking for a drummer and (guitarist) Steve (Conley) knew me. He said 'Hey, do you want to come fill in on tour?' and I was like 'Yeah, I think that would be fun'. ...And that turned into even more touring and all that. It turned into a little more than probably any of us thought it was going to. I think it brought a little bit of solidity to the band, I suppose. I think they've had some great players and if you listen back through their catalogs over the years, they really were a groundbreaking band. I think most people don't realize that they did break a lot of new ground. But they also ran into some unfortunate circumstances. I'm sure you know the story.”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? Any idea what type of set list you'll be working with once it begins?
Ken: “Nothing is etched in stone. We're certainly looking forward to doing what the marketplace calls for. We're really excited to see how everyone is going to respond to the album. You never know because we've been gone a long time. We certainly hope that people really love it and respond well to it. I guess we'll find out pretty soon, huh? If we were playing a headline show tomorrow and we were playing say fifteen songs, I'd say twelve of those would be off of the first two albums. There would probably be three songs off the new album. But I think honestly, at the end of the day, that's what people connect with. They connect with the feeling and the emotion that's coming out of the music. If I listen to the old albums, I feel something and if I listen to the new album, I also feel something. I think that's the bottom line. We could talk all day about all the differences in everything, but the bottom line is they both deliver very emotional performances. That's what the people will connect with.”
The Third Secret (2018)
Time Will Tell (1989)
Fifth Angel (1986)
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