Some people say that “Fortune favours the daring”. I have to admit that I was always supportive of this idea, and today I am presenting you with the perfect example: that of Anton Reisenegger – frontman of the Chilean-formed outfit Criminal. After a few ups and downs, that only strengthened the band’s will and determination, Criminal have released their latest opus “Sicario”. If you like traditional Thrash/Death with a slightly modern “touch”, then this is an interview for you.
Hi Anton, and welcome to the metal section of Get Ready to Rock! It looks like you had to wait for your fifth album to be released in order for things to start happening for the band, but now everything seems to be working well. You must be quite relieved!
Anton: Well yeah, things are starting to happen, but it's still a long way to the top, hahaha! We've had some major ups and downs in our career so far, so yeah, you can safely say I'm quite relieved that things are going all right now.
One of the most important, and obviously difficult, decisions that you had to make was to move to the United Kingdom five years ago. What influenced you in choosing this part of the world as your new home? Was the future of the band your main objective at the time?
Anton: Not really, to be honest. For me it was a personal decision first and foremost. I felt sort of trapped in Chile, like my life wasn't going anywhere, so one day I just decided I was going to leave everything behind. Fortunately, in the long run I managed to keep Criminal going, because I honestly wouldn't be able to even imagine my life without playing metal.
Do you think that you would have managed to achieve the same things if you had continued your musical quest back in Chile?
Anton: No, not at all. I actually think the band would have broken up had we stayed in Chile. There was a lot of tension going on before I left, a few bad business decisions were made as well, so we weren't really going anywhere.
Well, the band does have a new album out that is called "Sicario" - the Spanish word for "assassin". How does the title of the album relate to Criminal's musical style in the year 2005?
Anton: Well, the meaning behind "Sicario" is very extreme. In fact, the lyrics to the title track deal with teenage assassins, and it's all based on facts. So, how does it relate to our music? I think our music is very brutal and very real. It's a very street-level sort of thing. It's quite epic in certain ways, but it's got this hardcore aspect, that makes you think of rotten, polluted cities, instead of magical lands with dragons and elves.
I found very interesting the fact that quite a few major magazines gave a warm welcome to your new album. Was that something that you were prepared for?
Anton: We had obviously hoped for it, but the reactions really exceeded our expectations. But we're very careful about it. We know it's just reviews that won't necessarily make us sell more albums. We know we have to go out there and play live, really get the name out there, and it's gonna be some hard work, but it's what we've wanted to do for all our lives.
Your previous effort "No Gods No Masters" was released only a year ago. Why did you decide to come back with a new album at such short notice?
Anton: I think we had a problem with the fact that "NGNM" somewhat misrepresented us. I mean, for our long-time fans in South America it wasn't a problem to digest this really extreme, experimental album, but here in Europe it was the first thing that many people heard of us, so the idea they got wasn't right. I mean, don't get me wrong, we didn't sit down and plan the way we wanted the new album to sound, but I think deep down inside each one of us wanted to show the world what we're able to do as a band.
If you had to compare these two releases, which one would you say is closer to your idea of a classic Criminal release?
Anton: Definitely "Sicario". I love "NGNM" and I wish bands were allowed more often to do something like that, to just experiment with their sound and let their creativity flow, but we all know what the reality of the metal "market" is right now and you've gotta watch each step you take. That doesn't mean I don't like "Sicario" or something, but it was definitely a "safer" album to do. But if people like it more, there you go... Maybe on the next album we'll be able to find a balance between the straight forward, in-your-face stuff and the more experimental material.
"Sicario" brings together elements from many different "schools" and "periods" of extreme metal music - both old and new. Now, South American bands prefer a more "traditional" approach to extreme metal. Why did you guys chose to follow an ‘out of the norm’ direction?
Anton: I've never liked to be labelled "old school". I have no problem with naming my influences with Dark Angel and Kreator and stuff like that, but I think when you label yourself as "old school" you immediately limit yourself to a certain audience. Add to that the fact that within the band we all like our metal from every period, from Sabbath to Maiden to Metallica and Slayer to Pantera to Strapping Young Lad, so why limit yourself? The cool thing is that almost every review says that we do mix old and new influences, but that it never sounds dated, that it's all coherent and that it kicks ass!
The majority of the songs that are featured in "Sicario" are mid-tempo compositions, with perhaps the exception of "Shot In Your Face" where you almost transform yourself into a Black Metal band. Do you find the process of recording a slightly less fast composition to be more challenging?
Anton: I've never really thought about it that way, but what I can say is that the more mid-tempo stuff usually works better live. On "NGNM" we had a lot of blast beats and really fuc*ed up parts, but in a live situation, especially if you don't have your own engineer and stuff, it all gets too confusing sometimes, whereas the new material is tailor-made for live shows. But thinking about it, I do think that it's a bit more challenging to do many different rhythms instead of just keeping it fast, fast, fast all the time. By the way I remember an interview with Cronos in the eighties where he said pretty much the same thing, hahaha!
Most artists that I have so far interviewed have a problem in choosing their favourite songs in the first few months after the release of their album. Do you have the same problem? Are you in a position to name those songs that you feel more attached to?
Anton: No, I don't have a problem with it, even though it's still in the process of changing a lot. And there's another thing; it's quite obvious that you feel more connected with the stuff that you wrote yourself. But anyway, at the moment, my favourite tracks on the album are "Walking Dead" and "The Land God Forgot".
Andy Classen is a well-known producer, but apart from Dew Scented, most of the other bands that he is working with sound totally different from Criminal. Was it your choice to work with him in the first place?
Anton: Yeah. I liked the fact that he was able to work with many different bands, making them all sound good, but respecting their identity, and that's what we wanted. It was a fluke though that it all came out THIS great. I mean, he could have been an as***le, couldn't he? But he turned out to be so cool and 100% professional. It was just a pleasure to work with him.
Every producer has his own way of doing things inside the studio. How would you describe your collaboration with Andy, and which are the things about him as a professional that impressed you the most?
Anton: Well, I think the actual recording process didn't differ too much from what we were used to doing in the studio. It was just that he was always completely focused, always striving to make everything perfect. It was actually a relief to have someone in the studio for once that was more demanding than ourselves. We just had to concentrate on playing, and oh, how we did!
Did you enjoy your time at Stage One Studio enough to consider working there again? Any strange or funny incidents that you would like to share with us?
Anton: I wouldn't doubt it for a second going there again. The only problem with Stage One is that the surroundings are really boring. I mean there's NOTHING. It's probably a blessing in disguise though, because you don't get distracted, but after we were finished working every day it was just sitting around drinking and talking boll*cks. I don't think there's any funny stories either. The good thing is that we found a brand of beer, which was under 5 Euros a crate (10 litres), so imagine what happened then!
I was quite surprised and at the same time really pleased to see that the European version of the album will include a re-recorded version of "Self Destruction" as a bonus track. Any specific reason for making such a decision? What about the Japanese release?
Anton: Well, we decided to include that song because it's one of our "classics" in South America. I think you can safely say that every metaller in South America knows that song, and since the album it's on was never released in Europe, we thought we might as well introduce it to the people over here. Don't know about the Japanese version yet, if there's gonna be one at all, but the South American version includes a different bonus track titled "Stop Believing", which is a new song that was written during the album session but didn't make it on the album.
I assume that the majority of your fans are from South America, but I would be very interested to find out which other places in the world have been favourable to Criminal so far.
Anton: Well, we seem to have quite a few followers in the USA as well. We toured there once and it was great, and we keep getting e-mails from fans complaining they can't get our CDs over there.
Are you guys going to make a full tour for the promotion of "Sicario"? Which are the places that you would like to visit this time round?
Anton: Right now we've just been confirmed to play a few shows in the UK in December with Arch Enemy and Strapping Young Lad. Other than that, I don't know yet, we might as well jump on one of those package tours. I would really like to visit Spain, Portugal and Italy, because I think we might in a way be more connected to the audiences over there. But really, I just want to play everywhere!
Would you prefer to make a short but headlining tour, or to open for a bigger metal band as you have done in the recent past?
Anton: I don't think we have the status to headline yet, so we might as well go out and support a bigger band. We will headline in South America of course.
You have shared the same stage with some of the biggest metal bands - Slayer, Overkill & Testament, to name a few. Which of these bands have been the easiest to work with and how constructive was that whole experience for the way Criminal present themselves on stage?
Anton: Well, I think the shows that helped us the most were when we supported Sepultura on the "Chaos AD" tour. They were becoming huge and we were just starting to get popular in South America, so it was perfect timing. Other than that, I don't think we've ever had any problems when supporting other bands. It was funny that we've had to lend our gear twice though. Once we were opening for Slayer and we're all getting drunk and high and stuff, and all of a sudden there's Paul Bostaph in our dressing room asking to borrow our drummer's pedals. And then Exodus, their whole equipment had been mistakenly shipped to Argentina so we lent them our guitars. They were never the same afterwards, hahaha!
Do you see yourself pursuing the Criminal dream in the years to come? Which are the band's short-term goals?
Anton: We just need to get the name out there, play live, so people start recognising us and our music. I don't like to set any concrete goals, I just take it as far as it goes! And it will go on for quite a while, believe me!
Anton, the last words are yours!
Anton: Thanks for this interview and for your support. It is highly appreciated! And to your readers: Check out "Sicario" because it's gonna blow you away! Pure aggressive South American thrash metal! Yeah baby!
Interview © 2005