Satan are a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band that was formed in 1979. They have three full-lengths—1983’s Court In The Act, 1987’s Suspended Sentence, and 2013’s Life Sentence—and one EP—1986’s Into The Future—to their name.
Over the years, Satan have been known by a number of different names. From 1984-85, they were called Blind Fury, and released Out Of Reach in 1985. They subsequently changed the name back to Satan. By 1988, they had changed their name to The Kindred, and eventually, Pariah. During the Pariah days of 1988-89, they released two albums: The Kindred and Blaze Of Obscurity. In 1990, a folk metal band called Skyclad was formed, which featured guitarist Steve Ramsey and bassist Graeme English of Satan and Pariah, which still is around today. By 1997-98, Pariah reformed and released the album Unity. Satan reunited in 2004 for a brief reunion, and since 2011, have kept their Court In The Act lineup intact.
Satan will be playing at Brooklyn’s Black Bear Bar on April 11 and Philly’s Kung Fu Necktie on April 14. I recently caught up with Ramsey to discuss Satan’s most recent album, Life Sentence, the band’s name changes, Skyclad, and more.
What is your favorite memory from when Court In The Act came out?
At the time, it was really exciting. When I recorded the album, I was only 18 years old. We were very young and had just signed this deal with Roadrunner Records, who had seen us at a show we played in Holland.
Basically, at the time we weren’t having much success in the UK, but we were heading over to Holland a lot, especially to the infamous Dynamo club. We were doing a lot of shows over there. That’s where the real interest happened in the band. The main thing I remember about that era is the gigs we did at the Dynamo club before it became the big festival.
You changed the name of your band to Blind Fury from 1984-85. What was the catalyst that made you choose this decision?
A couple of things. We changed our vocalist; Lou Taylor, the new vocalist, didn’t want to be in a band named Satan. At the time, music like death metal and black metal was becoming more prevalent, and we were being associated with that. Our music had really nothing to do with that.
We had a feeling that when Court In The Act came out, it didn’t have any blazing glory. In the two main magazines in the countries we were in, Kerrang! gave us a very poor review of Court In The Act. Aardschok magazine in Holland gave us a very indifferent review. That made us feel like we were doing something wrong. Then we changed the singer and the name. Even the style of music changed as well.
On your album Suspended Sentence, you had a song called “Suicidal Justice.” Can you explain the meaning of justice in that?
[Former vocalist] Mike Jackson wrote the lyrics. The lyrics are basically about the evils of politicians—politicians wanting to govern everybody and tell them what to do. It sounds like what he is saying is the only way out is suicide, to get away from these people that are controlling you.
What were some of the more high-profile political situations that were going on in the UK at that time?
We all come from the Thatcher era. It was where the rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer. I felt like Thatcher was really in it for making business and people rich. In our working class background, the poor people were suffering. We come from Newcastle, which is in the North of England. A lot of people relied on coal mining to make a living. That is how the working class got by. She closed all the pits down and there were a lot of people out of work. We had that sort of resentment towards politicians. That was a catalyst for a lot of the lyrics we wrote as well.
You also used the name Pariah in 1988-89. Were you feeling like outcasts during this time period?
Yeah. Definitely musically, we didn’t seem to fit in. It seemed like whatever we did didn’t seem to fit in. We were different compared to everyone else. We felt like that and the word seemed to suit exactly what we were.
Can you explain your desire to make folk metal in Skyclad after the thrash-like music you were making in Satan?
It came together by getting involved with Martin Walkyier, the vocalist. At the time, Pariah had just split up. Martin had just left the English thrash band Sabbat. I had done some tour managing for them in the UK. He was up here, he had a girlfriend who he had a child with, and was going through a bit of a down period in his life. I said to him, “If he would like to get together, and if he had some ideas…”
From listening to what he was trying to say in his music, we came up with that style of music to match the lyrics. That’s how all the paganism came to fruition in the band. It seemed like it needed to sound like folk music. That’s how we introduced the violin on one track on the first album. It was basically a thrash metal album with one folk metal song on it. The other bits of the violin are just because we hired a guy in the studio to do a few bits. The song was popular and that spurred us on to do more of that style.
Please tell me about writing the song “Incantations” from Life Sentence. The beginning has a really dark and haunting tone to it.
Russ [Tippins, guitarist] came up with the words in his head, and we were coming home from the Keep It True Festival. That sort of kicked the whole thing off. On the ride home, the line spells from the Book Of The Dead came into his head. He had this idea and was like, “What am I going to do with it?”
He didn’t have any music for the idea. I would send some riffs and ideas, and he took one of the riffs, which is the main riff in the song. He sort of started it up and it all came together. He liked the Arabic tone and it fit perfectly. He did a bit of research on the Book Of The Dead and there was an Egyptian book that contained incantations that must be recited at the king’s burial that bestowed life after [death].
Can you share what Life Sentence’s song “Personal Demons” means to you when you hear it now.
That was one of my favorites when we were rehearsing it. I love that style of music. It’s a riff that Russ came up with. He also wrote the lyrics.
It started out when we first started playing it we called it “Drive-In Confession.” It was based on a dying millionaire who suddenly develops religious faith. As he is dying, he takes on religion to try and save himself. It was inspired by the line in the Book of Matthew that says, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” The whole song is based on that idea that taking on religion in the hope that it will help you when you move on in the afterlife. The title was changed to “Personal Demons.” It sounds more like a Satan song than a song about personal confessions (laughs).
As a closing word on Life Sentence’s recording sessions, what do you feel like musicians of today should realize when getting ready for pre-production and post-production time in the studio?
When we came to the studio, the pre-production was a lot of rehearsing. When it came to going in the studio, it took like, one or two takes to put these songs down because we knew them so well and played them so well together. For pre-production, the most important thing is doing the work beforehand instead of going in the studio and thinking you are going to create this gem on the spur of the moment and thinking, “Whatever, you can fix it in the studio.” The whole album was played virtually live. That’s the way we put it together.
For post-production, we tend to not do many overdubs, but there are some there. We always made a point not to put too much stuff down on the songs in the ‘80s that we wouldn’t be able to perform live. We are not ones for doing a lot of extra material and then when you try and play the song live, it doesn’t really sound like the song. Obviously there is going to be some little things like backing vocals. The songs in general are just playable after you hear them on the album.
Any final words?
Just the fact that we can’t wait to come over to the States and play some shows. We never got a chance to do that all the way through the ’80s. I haven’t had the chance to do that all the way through the ’90s and 2000s with Skyclad. We are really happy. We played in Montreal last year and there were people coming up from New York, all over down the East Coast. We are so happy that we are going back and doing some shows.
Satan will be playing at Brooklyn’s Black Bear Bar on April 11 and Philly’s Kung Fu Necktie on April 14. For more information, go to satanmusic.com.