Guitarist Zhema Rodero about Vulcano’s debut Bloody Vengeance
The breakthrough of Sepultura helped a lot of bands to make a name for the South American metal scene. I think it is and was always unique for metal fans, especially in the 80’s among tape-traders. But before Sepultura, there were a lot of metal outfits that were playing brutal music. One of them was Vulcano, and in this interview, former guitarist Zhema Rodero told us about the band’s debut, Bloody Vengeance.
Zhema, before I’d ask you about Bloody Vengeance, tell us please how did the Brazilian metal movement start and develop as a whole? What were the roots of it?
In the very beginning of the 80’s there was a small scene into the most radical way to do heavy metal. It was a transition from 70’s heavy metal to N.W.O.B.H.M. and it happened a mix with British punk, too. That situation was the fuel in inert state and the ignition was the oppression of military dictatorship and the catholic church. Those two situations together gave life to heavy metal more aggressive with themes about satanism, war and liber sex. When finally the songs of Venom arrived here, wow! It was a boom!
Would you say that the 1980’s were not a kind period for South America? Did it leave its mark on the public mood?
Certainly, all countries in South America were under military dictatorship regimes, there were no individual freedoms and so in a way it shook the young people of that time! So the rock, heavy metal and punk attitude was like a temporary escape.
Were you isolated from the rest/other part of the world?
Ten out of ten families here in Brazil did not have the money to even buy a color TV, so try to imagine a trip to the USA or Europe. Only five percent of wealthy families could get travel, musical instruments, cars, clothes and something like that. There was a class of artists, singers and their bands that made money here, they were all helped by the Brazilian media of TV and radio, but only shit music.
There were three regions from where Brazilian thrash (extreme) metal was originated (Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) and the most prominent of the three scenes was from the city Belo Horizonte, do you agree with it?
Not exactly! If you look at Sepultura and a dozen more bands it will seem so, but São Paulo had hundreds of metal bands, thrash/black metal. The main and most important difference was that São Paulo did not have a label that supported the bands Cogumelo Records did. In Rio de Janeiro the scene was very small. In the second half of the 1980’s, between ’87 and ’89 bands appeared on all over of Brazil.
Was the first thrash metal (or speed metal) album released officially in Brazil a split one, titled Ultimatum between Dorsal Atlântica and Metalmorphose?
That album was release in the same year that Vulcano released Live album, 1985. The first release of speed metal was Stress with homonymous album in 1982, I think.
The first Rock in Rio festival was held in 1985. Was it a great event in the country? Did it help a lot to put Brazil on the map of heavy metal and so the land latched into the heavy metal circuit?
Rock in Rio 1985 was very important because it managed to recruit a new generation of fans for heavy metal. It was the meeting of that scene, which we talked about at the beginning of this interview, with a new generation that was emerging. So from the first half to the second half of the 80’s, the scene in Brazil grew 150%.
Vulcano evolved from an earlier project, called Astaroth, that was formed in 1980 and was the vision of you (bassist, guitarist, and chief songwriter) along with Paulo Magrão and Waldeci „Carli Cooper” Carli. Could you sum up this early period of the band for us?
These two friends and I can say rightly because even today we are friends and we talk frequently, they came from two different bands. Carli Cooper from Sangue Azul and Paulo Magrão from Kataclisma. They were bands with a progressive hard rock vein and I was more focused on American southern rock and because of that it took us a while to find the correct way for heavy metal that was happening in 1980 and 1981. In this period we had the name Astaroth, but it didn’t last long until we reached Vulcano. We did a few songs and some are on our single 7” Om Pushne Namah.
Was it the really first outfit for all of you that you were in?
For me it was my first experience playing in a band and with more people, for the two of them, not because they did it before.
What made you to rename the band to Vulcano? Did you name yourselves after the god of fire from Roman mythology?
No, this name, despite belonging to that mythological god, was not for that reason. It is quite complex to explain, but everything is related to the number six, the number of the Sun, the Magic Square of the Sun, things like that. I can talk a little more about this, but it will occupy several pages of your ’zine.
Was it difficult to find enthusiastic members for a heavy metal group and to acquire standard performing equipment at this point?
Here I need to divide your question into two parts. It was very easy to find people to run together with a heavy metal band, because at that time we were passionate about heavy metal and our time was totally dedicated to that. On the other hand, we simply had no access to musical instruments and equipment, our money was sufficient to purchase low quality instruments made in Brazil.
Did you start to entrench yourselves in the underground scene? Were you aware of the existence of the tape-trading/fanzine network that existed around this time?
Yes, it was through this network of tape traders and fanzines that the bands came to us. The news came through them.
You started out playing material in line with the N.W.O.B.H.M. How and when did you discover the faster, heavier, more brutal and aggressive bands?
Exchanging and buying tapes from people in Europe, especially from Germany, Belgium and France. As soon as Welcome to Hell arrived here on tapes, then each tape and fanzine we bought, brought a new band. In that same time, the same happened with the bands of the Bay Area, California.
You turned into something much faster, heavier and overall extreme in just one year, right?
Almost that. In 1983 soon after the release of our single 7”, Paulo Magrão, Carli Cooper, and the other guys left the band and I was alone. So I formed a power trio with me on bass, Johnny Hansen on guitar and Renato on drums. These guys made everything faster and more aggressive, but with the recruitment of Angel for the vocals we changed almost completely in 1984 with the demo Devil on My Roof.
Was it a logical, conscious decision to turn to that direction or was it a natural progression?
It happened in a natural way. I believe it was the combination of different musicians than those who started the Vulcano.
Is Vulcano among the founding fathers of Brazilian metal and the first extreme metal band in Brasil and perhaps in South America as a whole?
Yes, we are among the founders, but I do not believe that we were the first. A lot happened at the same time at that time and as the information network was deficient, it cannot be said that there was a first.
You recorded the eight-track Devil on My Roof demo (1984), featuring Angel Uruka (previously Satanic) on vocals. Did his arrival allow the band to switch from Portuguese to English lyrics?
Angel arrived after the demo songs were ready and we had already decided to change Portuguese to English, but there were already songs sung in Portuguese so we decided to leave them in this language.
Did you spread this demo around trying to make a name for the band, to attract labels’ interests, to draw the fans’ attention to the band etc.?
My first purpose was to record the demo to take to record labels with the intention of recording a full lengh vinyl. This was the reason why there are no sales copies. If someone offers a Devil on My Roof cassette for sale it is probably not an original one.
Do you think that the Live! LP made the band’s name known worldwide? Was by this point Brazilian heavy metal just taking shape and Vulcano seized the throne of it?
I do not believe that the Live! album made Vulcano to be known worldwide, but it certainly made us known in Brazil. Bloody Vengeance was responsible for taking Vulcano beyond South America.
Did this material serve as a preparation for Vulcano to record Bloody Vengeance?
Both albums were ready almost at the same time. At the time of the recording of the Live! album, some of the songs on the Bloody Vengeance already existed and we also played them live. It was all very fast from one album to another.
When did you start working on your debut? How long did it take you to come up with new songs?
It was all very fast! For you to have an idea the show that was recorded on the Live! album took place on August 17 1985 and Bloody Vengeance was recorded in April 1986.
Did you build quite a following in your homeland prior to releasing this record?
Yes, Vulcano was maybe the best known band with the most fans here in Brazil in 1985.
Is it correct that you were playing some Bloody Vengeance songs on your shows some months before the album official release?
Sure. As I told you, the demo Devil on My Roof from 1984 already features the song Ready to Explode, for example. We didn’t stop and wait for something to happen, we continued to compose new songs, day after day. And we did a lot of gigs and continued to compose. The concert that appears on the album Live! was the set list that night, but on other gigs we were already playing Spirits of Evil, Dominions of Death and even the song that gave the album its name Bloody Vengeance.
What do you recall of the recording sessions? From what I know, it was recorded and mixed in 24 hours…
Vulcano never had money available and it is still true today, so it was necessary to record and mix in the shortest possible time. I remember we started recording on a Saturday at noon and finished it on Sunday night, obviously we took a break to rest. I also remember that the album was very short, just over twenty minutes, so Carli Cooper and I wrote the track Voices from Hell and asked for help the guys from the band Golpe de Estado who came to visit us and I used their voices to produce that song. It is also a fact that the title song, Bloody Vengeance was recorded with the lights off and only candlelight to get that atmosphere.
Are the songs on this album quite similar in structure or the music is pretty much straightforward from the beginning to the end, except for some slower doomy riffs or transitions at times?
I don’t know exactly if those songs have a standard structure or even a formula to be followed. I can only say that currently we would not be able to compose that way again. It was something unique for the time, I think.
Did the album benefit from an inspired combination of songwriting and brevity?
That album benefited from being original and different from what the bands were composing at that time. Regarding the length of the album it was something of mine, I really believe that an album cannot exceed 32 min. not to become bored.
Bloody Vengeance demonstrates a raw style typical for its time; featuring relentless thrashing from start to finish and although doesn’t offer any great surprises, it must be admittedly one of the most extreme releases from the period. How do you explain this?
I must credit that to drummer Laudir Piloni. On Live! album 1985 he performed with a little more withdrawn and somewhat restrained, however in the recording of Bloody Vengeance he broke free and decided to do something more radical, so he used severals blast beat. That made the songs faster and more extreme.
Was the main goal of the band to be as fast and aggressive as possible?
Certainly, both on the following album Anthropophagy from 1987 we were even faster.
The overall sound is a bit like Morbid Visions of Sepultura (although it came out a few months later), the vocals are kind of similar also, but Angel has something unique on his voice tone that makes it different. What’s your opinion about it?
We didn’t know about Sepultura in ’85 when practically the Bloody Vengeance songs were composed, so it shows that the two bands were influenced by the same style of metal. Angel has a natural overdrive in his voice, he made no effort to sing that way, it was natural. It was a pity that it did not develop in the English language.
Is the feeling here an absolute outpouring of energy and violence and the music carries over the spirit Vulcano put into this record very well? Is the accent on straight ahead evil?
It was a scream stuck in our throats at a time when we were all young, angry and without much perspective ahead.
Do you mind that the sound quality is extremely raw, but in 1986 in Brazil to record an album and to put it in stores was a very expensive work?
In addition to the recording costs being extremely high, other factors were added, such as not having access to good instruments, amplifiers and Efx pedals and also the lack of producers and engineers with knowledge in heavy metal recording.
Did this quality fit in the band’s identity?
Obviously I would have liked to have achieved a better result when we are referring to the quality of the recording. Nowadays I keep a balance between a lot of technology and none of it.
The sound didn’t hold back the power and fury that’s contained within these 8 raging tunes, did it?
I believe that the sound contributes to keep that nervous atmosphere on that album.
What do you think about that the origin of the extreme Brazilian sound can be traced back to this album and Vulcano practically opened up South America to the idea of the early extreme metal sound?
I think what we did on that album had no intention of being the best and most successful album of the time, we just did what we knew how to do and it worked! On the other hand, we contributed to building a South American way of extreme music.
Did you manage to compete with albums such as Beyond the Gates, Darkness Descends, Reign in Blood, Doomsday for the Deceiver, Game Over (just to name a few, all of them were released in 1986) in terms of aggression, brutality, talent, quality etc.?
What were the shows, tours in support of the record? How about Festival da Morte?
We did a lot of gigs and festivals in that time. We got a good result with the album, a fact that allowed me to produce great Festival here in São Paulo. I brought Sepultura, Dorsal Atlântica and many other bands to share the stage with us. Festival da Morte was an event produced by Mutilator’s Silvio SDN in Belo Horizonte in 1986. Vulcano was a headliner and played Guerrilha which I think was a project of the guys from Sepultura. The next day we travelled together with Sepultura back to São Paulo because they were going to record Morbid Visions.
Not only did Vulcano have a heavy influence in the Brazilian metal underground but also underground metal in general…
I don’t really have that perception, but it probably must have influenced it in some way.
Zhema, thanks a lot for your answers! What are your closing words for the Hungarian readers?
I thank you for the opportunity to show the ideas behind the band and the readers for their patience in reading this far. Remembering that this year 2021 Vulcano is turning 40 years old and to celebrate this fact in October we will release our 17th album.