Guitarists from Exodus, Exciter, and Metal Church weigh in on the heaviness of metal in 1985



By Steve Newton

Blue Oyster Cult‘s Tyranny and Mutation. Aerosmith‘s Rocks. UFO’s Phenomenon. The Montrose debut. Back in the early to mid-’70s those albums forged a sound that critic Lester Bangs called “heavy metal”. They were dynamic and forceful, fast, loud, and proud. The bands that made them had super guitarists like Buck Dharma, Michael Schenker, and Ronnie Montrose, and great vocalists like Eric Bloom, Steven Tyler, and Sammy Hagar (he was better back then, believe me). Bands of that calibre were few and far between, and seventies “metal” fans cherished the high-energy rushes that tunes like “The Red and the Black”, “Sick as a Dog”, “Rock Bottom”, and “Rock the Nation” could provide.

Nowadays, those bands would fall under the “hard rock” category. In 1985, “metal” is something else. In the case of bands like Exodus, Exciter, and Metal Church–who play the New York Theatre this Monday and Tuesday–it’s a much more basic, sense-numbing type of music, with screaming vocals and lyrics that (to varying degrees) deal with death and destruction, violence, and doom. It’s definitely not the same stuff they played for you in Sunday school, but for a lot of kids it’s the cat’s pajamas. There’s a market for it, and bands like Exodus (from San Francisco), Exciter (from Ottawa), and Metal Church (from Seattle) are going after it.

In three separate phone interviews, I talked to guitar players in each of these bands. In order to get a cross-section of views from the heavy-metal front, I asked all of them the same questions.


How would you classify the kind of metal that your band plays? Is it “black metal”, “speed metal”, “thrash metal”, or something else altogether?

Gary Holt of Exodus: I don’t really like the term “thrash metal”, and “speed metal” isn’t too accurate, because we don’t do one hundred percent fast songs, you know. I’d just call it “power metal”.

Kurdt Vanderhoof of Metal Church: Well we’re definitely not speed or thrash metal. I mean we have some songs that are fast, but no. And we’re not black metal at all. We need the musical freedom just to be able to write whatever we want to write, so we’re trying to stay away from one type. How about just “heavy metal” [laughs].

John Ricci of Exciter: We like to consider ourselves like a “power metal” band. Because it’s not really thrashy like Slayer or Metallica or Anthrax. We’re more of a melodic band, we think.

What drives you to make the sort of music you do?

Holt: Just the intensity, you know. It’s so intense, and it just gets the blood goin’. It’s just what we like to play.

Vanderhoof: Just the fact that we enjoy hearing it, and playing it. It’s quite an experience to be able to play something that powerful.

Ricci: Well our influences are Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Motorhead. We just want to write good fast tunes.

Isn’t there enough horror and violence in the world already, without bands that focus on those things?

Holt: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there could ever be enough.

Vanderhoof: If you take it seriously, yeah. I mean “In The Blood” is basically about going to a bar and getting drunk and getting in a fight with somebody, you know. It’s not saying anything more. It’s something we have fun with, for the same attraction that you want to watch a horror movie, like The Exorcist or something. 

Ricci: Well we’re desperately trying to get disclassified as a satanic rock band, because it seems every time you mention Exciter people mention Slayer and Venom and all this.

Are you intrigued by horror, whether it be in movies or books?

Holt: Yeah I am. Very much. As far as movies go I’ve seen just about all the really classic horror movies, stuff like Evil Dead, Maniac and Bloodsucking Freaks. You know, Gates of Hell, all the really good gut-spitting, head-ripping kinda stuff. That stuff inspired me a lot. For books, I’ve always liked Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. And any good satanic books about witchcraft and black magic.

Vanderhoof: I get a kick out of them; I think they’re funny. Here again, if you take it real literally, you can really get lost in it.

Ricci: Well no, not at all. We just write the lyrics because they correspond to the heaviness of the music. That’s the only reason. We’re not trying to give the kids a message or anything like that.

Who were your biggest musical influences?

Holt: Bach and Beethoven and Vivaldi. And as far as metal goes, Ritchie Blackmore, Gary Moore, and live Jimi Hendrix kinda stuff.

Vanderhoof: As far as heavy metal’s concerned, it would be the basics: Motorhead. And I’m really into late-seventies punk.

Ricci: Well the guitar player from Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi, I like a lot. And I like the guitarists from Judas Priest, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton. And that’s pretty well it.

What do you think of “mainstream” metal bands like Motley Crue and Ratt?

Holt: Ratt I don’t mind too much, they have some good guitar playing and some really good production on all their records. But Motley Crue, I really can’t say enough bad things about them. They don’t have any talent, you know, yet they continue to make lots of money. The only person who’s halfway talented is Tommy Lee, the drummer.

Vanderhoof: I guess I could understand what they’re doing, but to me, the money talks louder than the music. And that’s where I have trouble. I personally don’t go for the makeup and the super long hair with the nylons on the arms. It becomes where the music is almost tertiary to the commercialism and the idea of “Well, let’s make good posters and then we’ll make an album.”

Ricci: Well we don’t have anything against those bands, you know. They’re kind of a different type of heavy metal than we are–and they’re more successful at it. But we’re positive that for the kind of music we’re playing there’s a market out there to make a solid career out of it. That’s the whole idea.

What do you think of Wham!?

Holt: Wham!? [laughs]. Someone needs to lower the bam on Wham!

Vanderhoof: I don’t think of them, you know [laughs]. I really don’t. Here again, it’s like another formula band, but on a totally different level. But I don’t care [laughs].

Ricci: Wham!? You mean those two guys? Well they’re kinda like a Hall & Oates clone, but they’re a good band.


To hear the full audio of my 1985 interview with Gary Holt of Exodus subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

…with hundreds more to come

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