While the core members of the stellar heavy metal musical conglomeration known as Metal Allegiance are not keen on using the term ‘supergroup’ to describe their project, it’s pretty hard not to do so when you look at the assemblage of talent that has participated in creating the self-titled debut album for this collective.
At its heart, Metal Allegiance is a meeting of the minds, talents and skills of some of the best and brightest stars of the heavy metal universe, all working under the band’s banner in a manner that is egalitarian, ego-free, and most importantly, pulse-poundingly impactful as a musical entity.
The nine songs on Metal Allegiance’s first offering, set to be released on Sept. 18 worldwide by Nuclear Blast Entertainment, are as remarkably free of pretense as they are powerfully energizing and fist-pumping. In short, this could be one of the best true-blue heavy metal albums to blast its way into the consciousness of music fans for quite some time.
According to project/band co-founder, Alex Skolnick, who also happens to be the lead shredder and co-founder of the legendary thrash metal band Testament, that was the general idea.
“It’s amazing to hear it now as a finished product. We were tapping into all the energy of these amazing musicians and the great stuff that was coming out of our jams. We wanted this to be the album that we all wanted to see come out. There are albums coming out all the time, maybe we like some more than others or maybe we like certain parts of them, but we wanted to create an album that hit you full on with every note of every song. That was the point, and we find we’re just not hearing that these days,” Skolnick told Music Life Magazine.
“We just wanted to put our collective energy, creativity and experience together and make something unique and something that’s needed. We thought, ‘hey, maybe we can be the ones to do it.’ And honestly, I wasn’t sure until we got into a room together and the whole thing happened and we got to know each other better as people and as musicians that the mission became clear. This needs to be the album that we all want to hear, no matter who is putting it out.”
The ‘we’ Skolnick is referring to are the three other so-called ‘core’ members of Metal Allegiance. As a quartet, they wrote all of the songs, co-ordinated the production and all the studio time, and have been with the project since it started as simply a group of heavy metal stars playing kick-ass versions of classic rock and metal covers back in 2014.
Those three are project brainchild Mark Menghi, a music industry insider and damn good musician and songwriter in his own right. Pals with many of the top luminaries of the heavy metal genre, he pulled in Skolnick, Megadeth’s bass master Dave Ellefson and genre-shattering drum legend Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Dream Theater) as the foundation for a live covers project that came to be known as Metal Allegiance.
Featuring guest appearances from current and past members of Lamb of God, Slayer, Exodus, Mastodon, Pantera, Trivium, Kings X, Hatebreed, Sepultura, Machine Head, Lacuna Coil, Anthrax, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Periphery, Death Angel, Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Fozzy and even from the likes of Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, Wolfgang Van Halen and both Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell of Motorhead, Metal Allegiance is definitely something special to behold.
“We were having so much fun playing live, but this album still came about as kind of a surprise. A year ago if you would have told me that this album would be coming out, and we would have the full backing of Nuclear Blast and that Rolling Stone would premiere our first video (for Dying Song, featuring and extraordinary vocal performance from Phil Anselmo) I would have thought you were joking. I never would have guessed it could happen,” said Skolnick.
“But sometimes the best things in life are those that aren’t planned, right? We were all on one of those metal music cruises and decided to get together and start writing. Around Christmas and New Year’s we had two separate sessions up at Mike Portnoy’s house, and the material just kept coming and coming. It really wasn’t planned as an entire album of originals. Initially we thought well maybe we could do some covers and mix in a few original songs because Metal Allegiance really just started as a glorified cover band. But as we kept writing we were coming up with so much great stuff, we figured we weren’t going to need a cover song.”
In fact, on the Deluxe Edition they did do an all-star rendition of the Dio classic We Rock, in homage to the late great metal/hard rock genius Ronnie James Dio. It features vocal takes from Mark Osegueda (Death Angel), Fozzy and WWE star Chris Jericho, former Judas Priest and Iced Earth frontman Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, Canadian Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist, Arch Enemy), Testament’s Chuck Billy and Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza of Exodus.
Each of the other songs has all or most of the core four members of Metal Allegiance playing on them, with guest vocals on all of them, and guest instrumentals on some.
- Randall Blythe of Lamb of God appears on the searingly powerful lead-off track Gift of Pain, with Gary Holt (Slayer/Exodus) trading lead solos with Skolnick. Troy Sanders of Mastodon sings on the Sabbath-esque Let Darkness Fall, with Rex Brown (Pantera, Kill Devil Hill) playing a few bass lines. Anselmo gets his aforementioned turn on Dying Song, while the hard-driving Can’t Kill the Devil sees Chuck Billy on lead vocals and additional lead guitar work from Phil Demmel (Machine Head) and Andreas Kisser of Sepultura.
In the first of two duos, the breathtakingly evocative vocals of Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia mesh perfectly with Osegueda’s on Scars, while Doug Pinnick (Kings X) and Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) both sing on Wait Until Tomorrow. Matthew K. Heafy (Trivium) sings and plays lead guitar on Destination Nowhere, while Osegueda does an amazing solo turn singing the brilliant and incendiary track Pledge of Allegiance.
“As the songs were taking shape we started hearing different types of voices on each one, imagining who could sing on it. Some of the choices we made for vocals were determined by who was actually available over a very short window of opportunity. But I think that it helped in the shaping of the songs that there wasn’t a singer in the room dictating certain things. The album wasn’t written around one particular voice – the songs could apply to many different voices,” Skolnick explained.
“We basically just asked around the room, ‘do you know so and so? Do you know this person or that person?’ And that’s how we brought people in. Inevitably one of the four of us would know that person or we would know someone who knew that person. It was also a great example of how modern social networking can help with things like this.”
Once the writing was done, Portnoy laid down the drum parts, since they were already working out of his state-of-the-art studio. After taking a break where the members all scattered back to other projects, they reconvened in New York to record the instrumentation and vocals. Skolnick now took over the nuts and bolts of the sessions, particularly in working with the guest lead guitarists.
“The torch was kind of passed to me and I would do my parts and focus a lot on the overall production. I was also talking to the singers about their parts. We all had different roles through this process and we all just filled in doing whatever needed to be done. It was like we were all back being in a hungry young band again,” he said.
“A lot of the guest spots were guitar parts so I picked out the parts for each song and I decided where I wanted to solo and then made room for the guest soloists. I would talk to them and explain where they were playing and who was playing after them if there was more than one guest. We would bounce ideas around and we would send each other licks or studio takes back and forth. It was an amazing process and a lot of fun.”
Skolnick explained that while they had a definite goal of creating a memorable and important heavy metal album, none of the core four expected the Metal Allegiance album to be so raw, so dynamic and so insistent – very much like one of the great epoch-shattering thrash metal releases of the early 1980s when the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Testament and Exodus were bursting onto the scene.
“I think if there was a direction that we were looking for, it was more in that classic thrash direction. Listen, you’ve got a guy who has spent most of his career in Megadeth and you have a guy who has done a lot of time in Testament – inevitably some of that is going to be there. But it’s not what we’re all about. There is that classic heavy metal sound of bands like Black Sabbath, and we do explore some other genres too. We just felt free to do whatever came to us in the moment,” he said.
“For me there were times when I wanted to channel James Hetfield and others where I was in more of a Randy Rhoads and even a Jeff Beck groove. I mean if you listen to the instrumental Triangulum that’s on the album, we get pretty heavy into prog and of course there’s no better person than Mike Portnoy to play that kind of stuff. That song is basically ideas that I just added to an already fully-fleshed out composition of his. It was a song that just wouldn’t have worked with anyone else but Mike and me.
“This was a band that was born out of a live experience. We had played all these shows doing covers as Metal Allegiance for a while. So the challenge was to capture that experience but will all new original material. And believe me it was a challenge, but a fun one. There are a lot of special moments on this album.”
Even for the four primary members, scheduling live dates is an exercise in logistical wizardry. Trying to incorporate as many of the guest players on the album for these shows is even more of a chore, but it also means that from night to night, there will be a different lineup and a lot of surprises when Metal Allegiance is on the marquee.
An album launch show has been set for Sept. 17 at the Best Buy Theater in New York City, followed by a couple of other shows in the New York area, one in Mexico City and another in Japan later in the fall. For the Sept. 17, Skolnick said about half of the personnel who played on the album will be onstage, making for quite an array of stellar talent.
And as far as Skolnick is concerned, Metal Allegiance is going to be around, in one form or another, for quite some time.
“This has been a refreshing experience for all of us. And the people who have heard the album have said the same thing – that this is something that’s needed for metal music. The four of us have felt so good about this project and it’s great that we’re able to share it now with listeners because we do feel that this is the injection music needs right now. Metal is about the fans, and we as musicians are fans too, so this album is for all of us.”
For more information, visit www.metalallegiance.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.