Drummer John Slattery about Cyclone Temple’s 30-year-old masterpiece I Hate Therefore I Am
Although 1990 seemed to be the last good year for thrash metal, in 1991 saw the light some excellent thrash releases as well, being Time Does Not Heal from Dark Angel, Arise from Sepultura or Dreaming with the Dead from Ripping Corpse the best examples. By no means should we forget I Hate Therefore I Am from Chicago’s Cyclone Temple. The record celebrates its 30th anniversary, so it was a good reason to interview former drummer John Slattery about this masterpiece.
Before I’d ask you about the excellent I Hate Therefore I Am record, I’d curious like to know, all of you being based Chicago, do you think that Trouble and Zoetrope were the first original heavy metal bands, who were actually really heavy and not hard rock in the town? Were they the first to maybe define a sound of heaviness in the scene and everyone kind of took that sound a little?
Thanks for the kind words about the I Hate… record. Trouble and Zoetrope were certainly pioneers in the Chicago scene. I would say though that many bands, including ours, wanted their own identity while giving credit to the bands established before.
They (Zoetrope and Trouble) were the earliest bands that brought everyone together, weren’t they?
The Chicago scene was different than say, the California Bay Area scene in the way that I mentioned before. My take is that most bands wanted to provide something unique to them, but also recognize their common ground, literally. The scene wasn’t quite as unified and even incestuous as the Bay Area.
Does it mean that they opened the doors for other outfits that were popping up later on?
Maybe doors were opened for some bands due to their proximity to Zoetrope and Trouble. But for us, any door that was opened was pushed opened by Greg Fulton’s tenacity and entrepeneurial spirit. Seriously.
Was the early Chicago metal scene a traditional heavy metal one?
I’m not sure what is meant by traditonal vs. non-traditional. But I do know that I could hear and see common influences of Sabbath, Motörhead, Priest, UFO/Schenker and many others.
Do you think that Zoetrope, Trouble, Witchslayer, Slauter Xstroyes (previously Naj, White Which), Hammeron and a little bit later Thrust, Paradoxx, Snowhite/Znöwhite, Iron Cross, War Cry (incl. Paul Speckmann), Mayhem Inc. etc. belonged to the first wave of Chicago’s metal?
I think that’s fair to say. I would add Macabre to that list, who are still active today.
Was it a kind of camaraderie among the bands back then?
I seem to remember bands having a healthy sense rivalry mostly. Sometimes it could get ridiculous. But this environment produced unique and excellent bands. And a definite camaderie among many.
While Znöwhite have been credited for helping to pioneer thrash metal in Chicago, Master/Death Strike were responsible for the emergence of death metal. Do you agree with it?
Again, probably accurate to say that. But Macabre has to be included here.
How about the club scene? What were the venues that started supporting the metal scene in Chicago?
The Thirsty Whale was a mainstay club responsible for putting on a lot of metal bands. The Aragon Ballroom, Cabaret Metro were two major venues that were the Chicago dates for national/international tours by heavy bands. Also Malo’s in the area west of Chicago. But there were also a lot of local venues that weren’t solely dedicated to metal shows that a metal promoter could use, such as Exit, Avalon, Medusa’s, etc. There was a time in Chicago when metal, punk and goth bands could share a bill or two.
On the Metal Massacre IV compilation appeared five Chicago bands (Trouble, Zoetrope, War Cry, Thrust and Witchslayer). In your opinion, did it help a lot to attract the fans’ attention to the Chicago based outfits? Prior to this Znöwhite featured with the song Hell Bent on Metal Massacre III in 1983…
Most definitely. The Metal Blade compilations really provided great exposure, including for the Chicago bands.
Would you say that at the mid 80’s emerged the second wave of the Chicago metal scene with a lot of talented bands such as Devastation, Sindrome, Terminal Death, Transgressor/Firestorm, Genocide/Mass Genocide, Impulse Manslaughter etc.?
I didn’t quite see it as a second wave, but more of a continuation of what had been brewing for a while.
Cyclone Temple wasn’t of a neophyte pedigree, the band was born out of the ashes of Znöwhite, including vocalist Brian Troch, guitarist Ian Tafoya (aka Greg Fulton), bassist Scott Schafer and drummer John Slattery. Is it correct that Brian replaced Debbie Gunn at this point and John was involved in Tools of Ignorance earlier?
After Debbie, Greg wanted to try working with a male vocalist, hence the hiring of Brian. And I did come from working with the instrumental band Tools of Ignorance before joining Znöwhite.
Was immediately Brian the first choice or were there other singers auditioned as well?
Dawn Crosby from Detente (later Fear of God) auditioned after Debbie left and before Brian joined.
How did the Act of God album fare back then and did it differ a lot from the previous releases of the band?
When I joined Znöwhite to tour for Act of God, it seemed at the time that Roadracer Records was behind it and the people at the gigs really enjoyed that material, as well as the older songs.
You performed for a brief period of time as Znowhite, but after signing with Combat Records you decided to change the name of the band to Cyclone Temple. Were there any interests in the band from other companies as well?
There were, and Greg would have the details on all the conversations that he had then.
Since all of you were experienced musicians, how long did it take you to come up with new songs? Did all of you have the same musical influences, taste and interest? Were you on the same wavelength both musically and personally?
I enjoyed the fact that there was a blend of tastes and influences with us in the band. Greg grew up on the South Side of Chicago with R &B, blues, soul, funk and pop as well as the rock music that was out at the time. Scott and I especially had a common love for progessive rock. Throw all that in with our love of metal/hard rock and those were the ingredients that went into what we played.
Was the Words are just Words/Why single released, because the label asked you to hear any material? Was it a kind of advance/promotional tape?
That was promotional copy for the I Hate… record put out by Combat/Relativity.
When did you start working on the debut I Hate Therefore I Am?
I think the material was being worked up in bits and pieces since 1989 or so. And I remember that we deliberately set out to put together a real cohesive group of tracks to shop to a new label. Brian recorded these on a 8-track recorder in our rehearsal room around that time. These demos are included as Land of the Greed, Home of the Depraved put out by Divebomb Records a few years ago.
Were you prepared to track the material, when you entered the Normandy Sound in Warren with engineer Tom Soares?
We were very prepared for the basic tracks before we got into the studio. There was a bit of room for new ideas as we tracked though. The outro section for In God We Trust was more of an improvisational vamp there, for example.
Do you think that this doesn’t really feel much like a continuation of Act of God?
I feel that it branched out more, especially with melody and song structure. Not to mention having Brian on vocals, which was a featured change.
While Znowhite approached the genre with ferocity that might bring to mind a female fronted Slayer, I Hate Therefore I Am is closer to the Bay Area bands (or even Artillery), your brand of thrashing is about as fast and flashy as anything heard out of a number of late 80’s offerings out of Exodus, Testament etc. How do you explain this?
I think thrash as a genre was just evolving and progressing, regardless of the region.
Does the album have more of a gradual sense of build up and climax that fits in with the thrash style and has a far more concentrated dose of high-impact riff work and speed relative to other early 90’s outings?
I see it at as further evolution of Greg’s songwriting, which added more melody to the power and speed.
Do you consider it a topnotch thrash album with load of catchy riffs and aggressive tone, excellent rhythm section, superb vocals and awesome cover art?
I’m proud of this work, yes.
Did Greg Fulton sound totally mean and aggressive yet so melodic and delicate so effortlessly and simply overwhelming at the same song? Did his complex interesting structure keep a high level?
Greg’s style was and is distinct in its soulful, melodic qualites that never compromise on power and speed.
How do you view that the material is generally very well written, instantly catchy, and fairly memorable? Are you very seasoned musicians and songwriters? Did all of you provide a stunning example of your capability?
We used everything in our musical arsenal at the time.
Did Cyclone Temple succeed in keeping the tracks and the album as a whole interesting throughout because of the variation within and between them? There’s rhytmic variation, melodic, clean/acoustic, very fast paced aggressive thrashy sections, guitar solos, and great vocal melodies, which combined make for an intriguing, but also headbang inducing listen…
The ordering and pacing of the record works very well in my biased opinion.
Do the songs have a real development and a more emotive vibe than the usual thrash materials had?
We were of a handful of thrash bands that wanted to explore soul and melody more deeply without compromising power and speed.
Did the band much like Heathen on Victims of Deception make high quality thrash metal with progressive touches and experimental passages, creating a unique and very interesting sound and drift further away from standard thrash patterns, making I Hate Therefore I Am surprising, interesting and impressive upon every listen?
We did not directly refer to these bands’ works, though very good. Our environment, time and collective influences resulted in the sound that was put in the record.
Is it correct that the lyrics of this entire album have a number of common elements with the more confessional and introspective character of the 90’s? E. g. In God We Trust has a certain tinge of sarcasm to it…
Confessional, introspective yes. But commenting on social conditions, too.
It’s not only well written, but a well played, well produced thrash metal release in the more sophisticated end of the spectrum. Were all of you satisfied the end result with?
The production was very much of its time (such as the snare sound), but I am still very satisfied when listening back to it in the present.
What were the shows/tours in support of the record?
We went on the road a few times around the United States. Just about every state in the U.S. Bigger halls as well as smaller clubs. We toured a lot in those days.
Do you mind, you arrived on the scene at the worst time, right when thrash metal was beginning its fall, so the album came out too late and unjustly failed to make its mark?
This could be seen in retrospect, but we were just doing our thing. I am however grateful that we’re still talking about this work. 30 years later!
If Cyclone Temple were formed earlier and this album would have been released in let’s say, 1985 or so, it would have been a major hit?
Some bands just deserve more recognition than they have received, Cyclone Temple and the awesome I Hate Therefore I Am in particular is another sad example of this…
We had our time. Many ups, some downs, but no regrets.
Would you say that thriving thrash bands continued to thrive (The Big Four), but the genre gave up on any others that attempted to break into it; death metal was a newborn waiting to mature and dominate the new era and the grunge wave started burgeoning as well?
When I look back a many years since that time, bands on the Earache label and the death metal bands from Florida were an offshoot movement and were an interlude before the massive grunge phenomenon. But metal has always gone up and down in popularity. Being more commercially successful one year and going underground the next, and getting popular again, etc.
Did the band’s unique sound stands up to this day and even the lyrics are relevant?
I feel that it does. The lyrics still hit home. Shows how much society has its work to do.
Sony Music bought out Relativity Records in the early 90’s and shortly thereafter shut down the Combat label, dropping all of the acts still on the brand, including Cyclone Temple. Did it lead to Brian’s departure?
I believe that it was a contributing factor.
Four years ago Divebomb Records released the Land of the Greed, Home of the Depraved compilation. Can you tell us more about it?
As I mentioned before, these recordings come from Brian’s taping in our rehearsal room in Chicago. I like the raw, heavy quality of it.
Do you still keep an eye on what’s going on in the underground scene?
Yes, the independent scenes are where my favorite music lives. Could be metal, ambient, goth, classical, etc. Oakland/San Francisco has a pretty respectable scene for heavy music. An updated sound with a nod to its heritage, like Kowloon Walled City.
Thank you for your answers! What are your closing words for our readers?
Thanks a lot for acknowledging Cyclone Temple, and the I Hate Therefore I Am album as a legacy work and for keeping independent heavy music alive! Take care!