Heavy metal in 2015 doesn't sound much like heavy metal in 1975, except when bands such as Demon Eye play it. Despite the prevailing trends of so-called extreme metal—death, thrash, doom, grindcore and so on—the Raleigh quartet returns the leaden stuff to its roots.
Their new sophomore album, Tempora Infernalia, takes cues from proto-metal lords like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer. Instead of an onslaught of indecipherable growls and assaultive riffing, Demon Eye divines righteous grooves from strong melodies and succinct songwriting.
Demon Eye emerged as an outgrowth of Corvette Summer, a good-times cover band dedicated to excavating hard rock deep cuts of the '70s. Demon Eye isn't a cover band, of course, but their attention to a fundamental principle of metal—making a song both heavy and hooky—makes their material feel classic.
Before a rehearsal in their Raleigh practice space, all four members of Demon Eye—singer/guitarist Erik Sugg, drummer Bill Eagen, guitarist Larry Burlison and bassist Paul Walz—convened to discuss those elemental attributes and some of the acts that established them.
[This cut from Deep Purple's fifth album, Fireball, was included on the original British release but excluded from international versions, including the one released in the States. Still, it gave Demon Eye their name.]
ERIK SUGG: We've never heard that song before. [Laughs.] I came up with the band's name when I was camping deep in the mountains in a town called Bat Cave. It was just me and my dog, so it got kind of creepy at night. The band had kind of gotten used to playing with one another [as Corvette Summer]. We were playing a lot of '70s covers. We were having so much fun doing that, we talked about writing songs more on the metal side. Something about that atmosphere—where it's sort of dark and ominous, a little unsettling—really lent itself well to coming up with evil guitar riffs.
I wanted to reference something that was influential to us and would cover the sound, but I didn't want to name us "Iron Man" or "Electric Funeral" or something obvious. Deep Purple was definitely a big influence. "Black Night" was another one I thought would be a little too obvious, but "Demon's Eye" was perfect. We just decided to take the non-possessive form.
BILL EAGEN: I was 14 when I got the Best Of with that purple Strat on the cover. Erik and I had that shared love of Deep Purple. They were the kind of band that could cover a lot of ground. That was always very cool because you could lose yourself in different parts of their albums. I got to see the MK II lineup. It was Guns N' Roses, when they filmed the "Paradise City" video, Deep Purple, and then Aerosmith at Giants Stadium in 1988. That's always been a huge influence on me.
LARRY BURLISON: It's the kind of thing we were raised on and love a lot.
ES: Deep Purple may have been the first heavy band in that late '60s, early '70s period that stopped doing things that were straight-up blues-based. They had more of a classical, modal sounding thing. It ended up being the foundation for a lot of that "shredding"-style guitar.
[This is the opener to Sabbath's sixth album, 1975's Sabotage. One of Tony Iommi's best, its brisk riff is immediate and powerful.]
ES: Whenever I do interviews with guys overseas, it seems like they all ask me what my favorite Sabbath record is. I'll send them the answer, and then I'm kicking myself because I always regret giving the answer that I gave. It's hard to choose your favorite Sabbath record.
PAUL WALZ: At some point or another, it's got to be one of the first two records, but you just hear them so much.
ES: They're a band that has almost become a whole genre. When they hear a stoner rock band or a heavy band, people are quick to scoff at them and say, "Oh, they're just doing the Sabbath thing." This song is unbelieveable. Actually one of our songs, "End of Days," the riff is influenced by this riff.
INDY: To me, Sabbath is the band of that era that sounds the most metal, not just hard rock.
ES: People talk about what makes something heavy. Everyone's quick to think it's guttural vocals; loud volume; crunchy, fast riffs. To me, it's more about the songwriting. Some of my favorite bands—Pentagram, great Swedish bands like Witchcraft and Graveyard—sound really heavy. Those guys are heavy without being over-the-top intense.
[Taken from the O.G. death metal band's most recent album, last year's A Skeletal Domain, it's a quintessential Corpse cut: guttural, violent and brutal. It's a model of and for one of the genre's extremes.]
ES: When it comes to death metal, I'm very selective of the ones I choose to listen to.
BE: It's not Deicide or something is it?
INDY: It's Cannibal Corpse.
ES: Right around the time I was graduating high school, a lot of my hometown friends started getting really into death metal. Obituary was the first one that was introduced to me. It was a bit too intense for me at the time. It was probably the late '80s, early '90s, and my ears were still adjusting to Slayer. These bands just made it even more intense, with the speed and the pummeling blast beats and the growling.
INDY: At this point, it feels like if you say you listen to metal, people imagine something like this. It seems like there's a real one-upmanship in metal to be more and more extreme.
BE: We played a few months ago in Brooklyn on a five-band bill. Four of the bands were playing grindcore. We were like Cheap Trick that night. It went over really well, actually.
LB: Where we talked about Purple and Sabbath, they could do whatever they wanted. This kind of stuff, you don't have that much range or freedom to travel within it. Either you're pummeling the listener or you're not.
[Taken from Dopethrone, the third album from the English doom legends, "Funeralopolis" expands upon Black Sabbath's legacy with its dark tone, harsh textures and almost geological pacing. It is a deliberate descendant of early metal.]
ES: Electric Wizard? "Funeralopolis?" I love this band.
PW: I've heard some, but [Sugg is] the big fan, man.
ES: But as much as I love them, I don't want to sound like them. Not everybody can play slow, long, plodding songs and make it interesting. It really takes some songcraft and aesthetic. This band is masterful at that. They were very inspirational for me when I started writing songs for this band, and this is one of those songs that I just can't turn up loud enough. I love Jus Oborn's singing. I think he's one of the best singers in a heavy band. I'm not sure if a lot of other listeners care about the vocals too much in metal, but to me it's a big deal.
LB: We all share that.
[By the point of their fourth album, 1994's Deliverance, COC had given themselves almost entirely over to their love for driving, early-metal riffs, thereby completing their metamorphosis from hardcore punks to hard-rock heroes.]
ES: What can we say about these guys? Legendary.
BE: Talk about doing your own thing and cutting your own path, and turning on a dime.
ES: They were the hardcore band, the punk rock band that made it OK to like Sabbath. Like, if you listen to their Eye For An Eye record [COC's 1984 debut], there's a Fleetwood Mac/Peter Green cover on there. There's Sabbath moments. They were a really amazing band in how they fused classic rock with hardcore, because that was a fucking no-no all the way. They just kept reinventing themselves.
[After leading The Misfits, singer Glenn Danzig found his greatest success by resurrecting the sound of blues-based early metal with his eponymous band. "Am I Demon," from Danzig's self-titled 1988 debut, is a meat-and-potatoes metal song, highlighted by his powerful vocals and John Christ's burly guitar playing.]
ES: Oh yes, good god—my favorite record in high school.
BE: I think the first two albums are required listening. I listened to this record one time for, like, eight hours straight.
ES: Every single song could have been a hit. It's non-stop.
PW: The whole band was great, too.
BE: It's these songs—that's something Demon Eye is all about. Riffs are cool. Jams are cool. But the first two Danzig albums to me are just Classic Songwriting 101.YOB, “UNMASK THE SPECTRE”
This article appeared in print with the headline "Eternal idols."