DEAN WELLS: MESHIAAK TURNED INTO SOMETHING SERIOUS PRETTY QUICKLY
After a brief misunderstanding that leads to our chat being postponed for twenty hours, I'm finally on the phone to Meshiaak's Dean Wells, who is safely ensconced in his studio and ready to chat. This is undoubtedly good news, since regular readers of MetalTalk will know that we're rather keen on this band and even keener to find out a bit more about them beyond the mere fact that they've released something of a corker in debut album 'Alliance Of Thieves', which is reviewed below.
Actually, the last bit of that sentence is wrong – the album actually comes out through Mascot Records on August 19th, but it's been a firm favourite in the MT office for some time now, so it feels like it's been released to us. But what do you care about that? You, like me, want to know more about 'Alliance...', right? So let's stop the waffling and start the questioning...
Dean - can you tell us a bit about how the band got together?
"Danny and I spoke about getting something together a couple of years ago. I knew he was leaving 4Arm [we're talking here about Meshiaak singer/guitarist Danny Camilleri –Ed.]. I was actually working on the demos that would have been 4Arm's next album, and just from being friends with him I knew he was thinking about leaving.
"A little bit of time after that I said 'let's just do some stuff together', because obviously although I've also got Teramaze which is a more progressive band, I've never really been in another band where's there's another strong songwriter, like Danny is, so it would be different for me. Basically we were just demoing songs here in my studio, figuring out what we wanted to do; there were no rules.
"I have a different style to Danny so we thought 'let's blend our styles and see what happens'. That's when we put our first song online, a demo of 'Alliance Of Thieves'. The response was crazy good! Especially with no promotion – we came up with a bandname and thought 'let's make this into something'."
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You've got a pretty well-known drummer – how did that come about?
"We were looking for a drummer and we spoke to a mutual friend of ours called Chris Maric, who does PR for a lot of bands in Australia, and he mentioned Jon Dette. Luckily Jon Dette was in Australia at the time with Iced Earth, so we went and had a chat to him, sent him five or six almost completed demos and he liked the stuff so much that he said 'I want in!', right at the start.
"It went from being a project to being something pretty serious very quickly. Then I got Nick Walker in on bass, another mutual friend, and that was that. Once we'd decided this could be a pretty cool thing it came together very quickly. It was very natural."
You say that response to that first track was amazing and I've yet to see a bad word anywhere about the album. Were you surprised by the response so far?
"Yes, what we've seen so far, and what the label have heard... obviously this next month is going to be very review-heavy... but everything so far has been amazing. There seems to be a buzz that probably surprised us a bit. Like I said this was just something we decided to do and let's see what happens, but we've created something pretty cool I think, and people will like it who are into straight-up metal, I think."
For sure, it's certainly one of the best albums of the year of its type I think. What I like best about the album is that it doesn't seem over worried about modern metallic mores, or what labels or the mainstream metal media are pushing as being cool in 2016. It's very much its own record.
"That was the idea. Personally, if I was going to do something else, I needed it not to be like Teramaze. That's very different to Meshiaak, a bit more in line with instrumental music, more progressive. With Meshiaak it was just the music we wrote. There was no other motive, we didn't stop and say 'this isn't trendy enough', or 'that's not fast enough', so it's very good to hear your response to the music written in that spirit."
It also means you've not painted yourself into a corner for the next album, doesn't it? You've the freedom to move wherever the mood takes you with it.
"Exactly. We want to keep it exciting. I think that's the only motive we had. We went to back to our influences as kids – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Annihilator – all those sorts of bands – and now of course our drummer plays in most of those bands! Which I think is probably why he found it so appealing, because of that sort of influence. It's an easy flow at the moment."
You say the next month is going to be review-heavy; You've been in the business a little while now – is this the time when you get nervous, still, or do you very much just take these things as they come?
"Probably not nervous. I get excited, and more so about the fans. No disrespect but reviews and all that sort of stuff are cool, but I'm more concerned that people who like this sort of music are getting it. With Teramaze it's the same thing; if people like what you do as a songwriter, then really that's the essence of playing music. Everything beyond that is a bonus. So I get excited more than nervous, especially with Meshiaak. If people don't like it then that's cool too. I've done this before, Danny's done it before, Jon's done it before. You can't please everyone."
You certainly can't! Now, you alluded to the fact that Jon is very much an in-demand drummer. How will that impact on Meshiaak's touring aspirations going forward?
"To put it in its most basic form - he's the Meshiaak drummer. At the moment he's on tour with Anthrax, as a fill in for Charlie Benante. And those dates move from day to day as to what he's going to do. But we also have the same manager – Tom Maher who manages Anthrax also manages Meshiaak, and he also manages Teramaze now so we're all sort of parts of one family. So we can tour and organise things under the one roof. It's the same with the label – Teramaze and Meshiaak are both on Mascot. We had other offers but made sense to be there. So it's as good as it can be in terms of trying to schedule things."
And at least you've got one bloke who knows where everyone's going to be at any given point.
The press release that came with the album singles out Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Machine Head as influences; Given what you've already said about fashioning the band from your early influences sonically, would you say those four bands form the cornerstones of Meshiaak's sound?
"Yes and no. For me early Metallica and Megadeth are what I first started learning to play – 'Master Of Puppets' and 'Rust In Peace' and it's the same for Danny. But we didn't go back and listen to those albums, we wanted songs that had that energy and initial excitement to them.
"For me writing and producing the album, I had to put my metal hat on as opposed to my prog hat. Both our styles come from that era, but we're very different players so we were almost judging each other's parts. He would here a riff and add a tail to it, or he'd hear something and say 'there's too many notes!'
"Listen to the album – 'I Am Among You' is more me, whereas Danny is more something like 'Chronicles Of The Dead'. That's how it came together. It's quite a natural process which is really cool."
So when are we going to be seeing you live in Australia?
"Realistically we're going to be playing overseas first rather than Australia, because that's where the opportunities are. If we play in Australia it will probably be on the back of touring with Anthrax or someone like that, and how it ties in with Jon."
And here's the review of 'Alliance Of Thieves'...
Blimey. You get to hear a lot of music in this line of work, as I'm sure you can imagine. So much indeed that an awful lot of it – most, if we're being honest – just coalesces together into a sort of amorphous mass of riffage and shouting that just rumbles along in the background as you go about your business. It takes a very special racket indeed to cut through the background noise, let me tell you.
So I say again – blimey. Because Meshiaak have produced an absolutely stunning peach of an album that not only cuts through the standard issue sturm und drang being churned out by the world and his wife, it absolutely leaps out of the speakers, scrags you around the neck and positively demands first your attention, then your adoration for the entire length of its three quarter-hour duration. And, mark my words – its attention and adoration that you are going to be happy to give.
Opening with the straight-up thrash assault of 'Chronicles Of The Dead', it's clear from the get-go that Meshiaak mean business. Sleek, modern (yet decidedly classic) thrash is the order of the day, with the band (formed around the core creative duo of former 4-Armist Danny Camilleri and Teramaze's Dean Wells) powering through the track not like first-album wannabes, rather giving of the unmistakeable whiff of returning thrash Titans, Lords of all they survey and then some.
But if 'Chronicles...' is a meat n' spuds statement of intent, second track 'It Burns At Both Ends' is a revelatory disclosure of true meaning. Aggressive, yet undoubtedly refined, this jackhammer of a song lays waste to all in its path with a majestic Heavy Metal assault powered by the consummate drumming of Jon Dette.
You read that right. Slayer and Anthrax man Dette is behind the kit throughout on 'Alliance Of Thieves' and his propulsive percussion work gives this album an undoubted edge. His dynamic contribution to '...Ends' is an absolute highlight, but the man absolutely, well... slays throughout.
'I Am Among You' is much heavier, much simpler in intent and ultimately slightly less successful in grabbing the attention than some of the other tracks here; that said, it succeeds entirely in its mission to snap necks, and the solo midway through the song from Wells is absolutely sublime.
Indeed Wells plays out of his skin on next track 'Drowning, Fading, Falling' too, adding some fine, tasteful shredding to the mix as Dette pulls out salvo after salvo on the kit and Camilleri – pleasingly avoiding the trap of adopting a death metal growl throughout – intones with passion and no little fire in the belly. If Trivium could sound this good as a ‘modern thrash' act in 2016, they'd be a very good band indeed.
By which I mean of course that if Meshiaak were from America, they'd already be media darlings. With the decidedly metalcoreish 'At The Edge Of The World' being first in line for single of the year plaudits all over a slavering mainstream metal media. It might well end up that way, of course – if there's any justice it will do, as the song has the sort of emotional refrain Bullet For My Valentine would kill for without ever descending into mawkishness or worse still, commercial pandering. Apart from anything else, it's another big nod to the fact that Meshiaak are more than just another thrash band.
Did somebody mention thrash? 'Last Breath Taken' has got absolutely bags of the stuff, dripping with class and once again driven with ruthlessly calculated precision by Dette and rhythm buddy Nick Walker. 'Maniacal' carries on the battery, almost as if the band want to remind you that they are, at heart, a bunch of hi-top wearing young pups at heart, but that doesn't mean it's just simplistic 1986 worship we're talking about.
There's an absolute, consummate mastery of the medium being displayed here that absolutely reeks of brilliance rather than tribute or some sort of post-modern tomfoolery, and it's a mastery that practically renders this band – at this point – beyond criticism. This is absolutely the real deal. So much the real thing in fact that Dette, initially brought on board simply in a session capacity, knew immediately on hearing 'Alliance...' in demo form that he wanted to be a participating member of the band moving forward. A very sensible move!
The title track is another undiluted piece of classic, pompous, epic thrash, but the band saves the best till last – you kinda knew they would, didn't you? – with the utterly over the top magnificence of 'Death Of An Anthem' rounding things out in glorious style, building slowly to an almost Queensrycheian conclusion amidst yet more top-shelf lead work from Wells.
Absolutely stunning, then, and absolutely recommended if classy, and classic, thrash and metal is something that sets your pulse racing.