Guitarist Kenny Powell tells about Omen debut Battle Cry
If American Power Metal (USPM) comes to mind, there are a lot of releases that were responsible for that style: Sirens, Ample Destruction, Metal Church, March f the Saint etc. 1984 was the breakthrough both for thrash metal and for power metal, but the power outfits became overshadowed later on. Omen’s debut album Battle Cry is often cited as one of the forerunners of the USPM movement and guitarist Kenny Powell was kind to give me some details regarding that record.
So Kenny, how and when did you discover the hard rock/metal music back in the day?
I was always attracted to the hard and heavy music. Back in my younger high school days. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.
What were the very first records/singles, bands that you’ve enjoyed a lot?
I remember buying my first single (out of focus) by Blue Cheer. It had Marshall stacks, double bass drums, distorted guitar. It was extremely aggressive for the time, I was hooked.
How did you end up becoming musician?
I really wanted to be a racecar driver but I couldn’t find a clear path to do it. I sold my racecar, bought a Les Paul & Marshall stack, discovered I had a knack for it and started practicing morning, noon and night.
How did your choice fall on guitar?
It seemed fast, aggressive, and dangerous. Just like the racecar.
What were your influences to become guitarist?
Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix. I didn’t want to sound like anyone else and developed my own sound.
Was Rapid Fire the first band including drummer Steve Wittig and vocalist/bassist Roger Sisson, that you were involved in?
Yes, Roger and I had played together for a while before we hooked up with Steve. At that point, things started to fall into place.
In 1980 you recorded a single School Days/Show Me Love. What can you tell us about this material?
It was our initial step into developing our writing style, becoming a professional band.
The band was based in Oklahoma. At which point did you move to Los Angeles?
At the time we did the single, we brought in a stand-up singer and a 2nd guitar player. It became clear they didn’t have the same commitment as Roger, Steve & I. Even thought we basically had an entire record written, we decided to lose the stand up singer and 2nd guitar player. Things fell apart, Roger and I progressed into writing more technical material and Steve went to Los Angeles to try his luck there.
Steve Wittig appeared then in Marquis de Sade, that became Savage Grace and he was replaced by Dan Finch III, is that correct?
Steve decided to return to Oklahoma and hook back up with Roger and I. Marquis De Sade turned into Savage Grace with a different singer and Dan Finch on drums.
You joined also the band in 1983. Were you perhaps familiar with their material Demo 1982?
I had only heard a couple of Marquis De Sade songs.
The band was featured with Scepters of Deceit on Metal Massacre II. Did it open any doors for them?
It got them the EP deal with Metal Blade.
Would you say that Savage Grace was an established band at thisp point? It seems, they had a lot of line up changes, including singer Douglas „Kelly/Kelle” Rhoads, who was the brother of the late Randy Rhoads…
They were an up and coming band. John Burke was singing whenever I joined.
You played on the The Dominatress EP. Could you tell us everything about this stuff?
I had only been in the band a few days when recording started. I was responsible for writing the music for the bridge and lead break in “Fight for your Life.” Most of the songs were already written. “Curse the Night” was my favorite song, it gave me a chance to showcase my lead guitar skills.
Did you play any shows in the ranks of Savage Grace?
I played a lot of shows with SG, including all the shows they booked before I told them I was leaving.
How about the early 80’s L.A. scene? What were your views on it?
It was obviously a very exciting time for me, having come from Oklahoma, where things were a lot more laid back.
In your opinion, was it divided into two parts? There were the glam/hair outfits, such as Dokken, Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P., Ratt etc. and the early thrash/speed/power ones, such as Metallica, Sceptre, Vermin, Armored Saint, Abattoir, Savage Grace etc.
It was 2 parts, but most of the bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Dokken were already out of the clubs and signed, by the time I moved there. My experience was more in line with Slayer, Armored Saint, Abattoir, Savage Grace etc.
Is it correct that Omen wasn’t actually a band at all, but more of an idea that you had for a band that you pitched to Brian Slagel of Metal Blade who already was familiar with your early work during the Savage Grace sessions, enthusiastically agreed to sponsor you?
That’s pretty much correct, though Steve and Jody we’re committed to the project while we were waiting to find the right singer.
How were you joined by drummer Steve Wittig, bassist Jody Henry and singer J.D. Kimball (R.I.P.)? What about their musical past?
Steve and Jody were committed to the project that became Omen from the start. We knew as soon as we could find a singer, I would leave SG and do our own thing. I was up front with Savage Grace that I would not be a long term member. Jody was originally a rhythm guitarist and did not want to play bass, after we tried again and again to find a good bass player and no one worked out I finally talked him into playing bass. He never called himself a bass player, he always said he was a four string guitar player!
You appeared on the Metal Massacre V. compilation with Torture Me. Did it help a lot for the band to introduce you for the fans?
Of course! That was the first song that was that was written for Omen. Though I had written “Battle Cry and Die by the Blade” while in SG.
You entered the Eldorado Studios, Hollywood and Track Record, L.A. to record your first album Battle Cry. What do you recall of the recording sessions?
We were all very excited. Everything was done in a hurry. We only spent a week on the entire record. It was great fun.
Was Battle Cry still a breath of fresh air, infusing NWOBHM with a heavy dose of speed, a formula that proved to be so potent that it became the archetype for all American power metal that would?
I never considered us a NWOBHM band, it was a sound that I had been developing for years, well before I heard any of those bands. We defiantly did not sound like an American band, that’s for sure.
Did Omen help to define the more epic side of burgeoning USPM movement?
I think we were one of the bands that helped invent power metal, that’s the only title I have ever put on the band.
Was power metal in its most formative years at this point?
I am not sure about that, it seemed that the trash/death bands took over quickly after the hair bands began to fade away. I really don’t like titles applied to music, mostly I think good music outlives titles, it seems that Battle Cry has done that. I always thought it would be something that would outlive the fads, it seems that it is more appreciated now than when it was released.
How do you view, that you took your influences from the NWOBHM, but you played them faster with different songwriting structures and with more aggressive vocal lines?
I love playing fast. I have always just tried to write what sounds good to me. It has never been a plan to copy or alter things in a certain style.
Did due to your heavy reliance on punk and thrash give Battle Cry a much more aggressive feel?
I love to be aggressive, it was why I wanted to race cars. Honestly I hated punk, I always thought it sounded like pop songs sped up to try and sound aggressive, but most of it is in major scales that is inherently happy. It has grown on me over the years, but I don’t think it has ever influenced my writing style. I had never heard a thrash band until I moved to L.A. Most of the basic music, at least the riffs and the scales were written while we were still in Oklahoma. We just perfected them when it became Omen and J.D. was perfect to sing that style of music.
Do you think that the bass is very present and provides a strong, melodic backing to your riffs?
Absolutely, it made everything sound more precise and more like a two guitar player band. Roger was a pure bass player, Jody did not want to play bass, or play lead guitar. He was a very precise picker and was originally brought in to fill out the sound.
Did songs like Prince of Darkness and Death Rider delve into the speedier side of USPM?
Just love to play fast, but I would become bored if every song was fast. We could have played even faster but I don’t want to play fast just for the sake of playing fast. If the song feels like it should be fast that’s how we played it.
Do you agree with that the album is utterly cohesive, everything has its place and fits together seamlessly, the riffs, the vocals, the song structures, the lyrics, the bass, the cover art – they all work together flawlessly to paint a picture of a medieval battle scene?
Yes, pretty much, it was amazing how it worked out. I had written the melodies and lyrics for Battle Cry and Die by the Blade but I can’t tell any real difference it to what J.D. wrote to the rest of the songs. It is like we were on the same page for years but we were only together for a couple of months before we did that record. I loved it because it freed me up to play guitar more and concentrate on writing music.
J.D. Kimball’s voice isn’t epic or melodic, a bit rough, but suits the music perfectly and reflects that Omen’s music isn’t as melodic as bands like Sanctuary or European power metal bands. How do you explain this?
Definately rough, but I thought he was melodic, I mean compared to the music. It could have turned out where the singer followed the guitar riffs and it would not have been nearly as interesting. It drives me nuts when the singer just follows the guitar line.
Would you say that there isn’t much variation, that goes throughout the album, yet every song is memorable and doesn’t bore the listener?
Yes, I am still amazed how cohesive it is.
Were there any shows, tours in support of the record? How did they go as a whole?
We did some touring, but not nearly enough that was needed to promote the record. That really sucks it could have been a much bigger record. We play more shows in one year now than we did all together for the first three records!
How would you sum up Omen’s career until the Escape to Nowhere record?
I thought we were very close to breaking big by the Curse but lack of support and the limited amount of touring we were doing caused cracks to start showing up and things crashed pretty hard. I never thought about giving up or slowing down. I always thought if worked hard enough the financial shit would come, we were too good of a band to fail. It still breaks my heart the way that line up came apart. I still play because of my love of the music, never been one to do for money or fame.
Kenny, thanks a lot for your answers! Any closing words for the Hungarian fans?
Keep the faith, follow your heart, fuck the rest of it, it won’t matter when your gone!