Destiny’s End – Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller

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[This entry is a work in progress. There will be frequent updates to the text and photos in the near future. -P]

Demo-lition Derby

Since Destiny’s End was in the throes of accepting one of two recording contract offers in September 1997, we didn’t quite shop around a demo to labels. Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast were pursuing us based on the recordings they’d done previously as New Eden. DE did, however, record pre-production demos so that we’d have a roadmap to navigate by in the studio. Pre-production for Breathe Deep the Dark began in fall 1997. We recorded the basic tracks (rhythm guitar, bass and drums simultaneously) live with two mics on either side of our Francisco Studios rehearsal room. Yes, in that ever so lovely industrial slum of Vernon southeast of downtown L.A. The mics were fed into Dan DeLucie’s big 16-channel mixer (he’d bought it off New Eden guitarist Horacio Colmenares) with tape-out cables connected to a cassette deck. We didn’t have enough mics for a “proper” recording, so we made do with the band blasting away at full volume and the two mics placed in front of us. The drums were really the only instrument that suffered from that room-miking method. Because we weren’t multi-tracking, there was no way to go back and punch-in small mistakes. At times small flubs were apparent on the pre-production tapes. It wasn’t the point to be 100% perfect. We were shooting to test out the overall song arrangement. After the basic tracks were done, usually in one or two takes, Dan and I would either stay after rehearsal or schedule separate sessions to overdub our guitar solos on his four-track. Pre-production gave us an idea of how songs would sound in their complete form. Most of the tracks we demoed were done instrumentally 2-3 months before singer James came to L.A. to overdub vocals in November. James was around for a long weekend, and we four instrumentalists guided, coached and encouraged him through many of the tunes. Dan was the most experienced in making vocal suggestions, but I had plenty of ideas about what should be sung over the few tunes I’d brought to DE.

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Front of Francisco Studios, Vernon, CA

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Train tracks and back of Francisco Studios, Vernon

The last track we demoed was my “The Obscure,” in December. James had already returned to Houston by that time, so I sang the rough vocal patterns (horribly out of key, mind you!) in an eleventh-hour one-take mad dash. I hadn’t done much singing at that point in time, just a bit of growling in previous band attempts. I wasn’t happy with my performance, but Dan got a genuine kick out of my Alfalfa-esque rendering of “The Obscure.” Out of key is putting it mildly.

“Nope, dude, that’s a keeper!”

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Alfalfa’s legacy of “The Obscure”

He wouldn’t let me do a re-take. I suppose I could’ve been more forceful about it, but I let it slide. After all, who the hell was ever gonna hear it save for James? We mixed down “The Obscure” quick, without any effects on my Alfalfa squawk. (A sidenote: bassist Nardo had a really rough time saying “Obscure,” so it became “Ob-suh-cure!”) Rather than wait for the mail, we gave the tape to engineer Bill Metoyer when he was going to record James’ vocals in Houston. Mind you, we didn’t tell Bill what was on the cassette. The plot thickens and becomes more hilarious. At some point during Bill’s Texas jaunt “The Obscure” tape wound up in James’ car stereo.

“James, you really sound like shit on this song,” Bill grimaced.

Rivera broke it to Bill, “Uh, actually that was Perry.”

Some good comic relief, without a doubt.

Now, I could just plonk the links to download the 1997 DE pre-production demo right here and

Buckwheat sez “Otay, read on!”

leave you in peace. But I’m not going to do that. 😛 Nope, you’re either going to have to endure another several pages of my ramblings or scroll down and ignore them to get your grubby little paws on the music. I’ve been known to babble a lot. I’m a nostalgic bastard. So sue me! To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the release of Breathe Deep the Dark in 2009, I posted a friends-only entry on Peregrine’s Prattle detailing the events that led up to my joining DE and recording the album. It’s time for them to become public and slightly updated below. Read on if you dare!

In some ways I find it hard to believe it’s been over ten whole years since I joined forces with four of the former New Eden musicians to form a new epic power/progressive metal band. In others it seems like eons since my exit from Destiny’s End in April 2000—nearly three years after my induction. Seeing as 13+ years have passed, I figured it was high time to reflect on my DE experiences and write a bit about them. On one hand DE was incredible and something I felt (and feel) very proud of, on the other the band caused me its share of frustration, bad vibes and let-downs. A double-edged sword you can read about here on the Falcon’s Fortress, especially in the entry on Joe Floyd’s original mix of Transition, our second album. Before we get to Destiny’s End, I’m going to take you on a musical growth journey. Lily pads on the proverbial metal pond or flagstones along the path.

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Me, James, Dan, Bessie and Mike Grant at the DeLucie pad in Alhambra, CA, ’98
Suburban Death Metal Shock

Shortly after I began playing guitar in my early teens I tried like mad to form a band with some like-minded young metalheads. Becoming a musician was an enormous part of the arduous trials and tribulations of my teenage years between 1988 and 1993. There were tons of failed attempts at forming a metal band while still going to El Camino Real High School (or ECR for short) in Woodland Hills, CA. Total suburbia, as in the flick Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The Valley as it’s affectionately known to some. To others it is Porn or Silicone Valley. Take your pick, it all adds up the same. There’s plenty of superficiality to go around. If you listened to uber extreme metal you were an outcast. Maybe, like me, you were an outsider already without the music. I was one of maybe a dozen kids at ECR entrenched in the metal underground. Even though metal became my lifestyle when I exited junior high school, a course of events caused me to put the whole band notion on the backburner. Instead of constantly looking for people to jam with, I concentrated more on writing (fiction and non-fiction as well as songs) and improving my axemanship—especially lead playing and the heavy/bluesy rock side of the coin.

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At Death’s Door comp cover (1990)

Forming a death metal band was something I was hell-bent on between 1990 and ’92. Maybe I was digging a chasm for myself to fall into if I didn’t watch out. As Chuck Schuldiner put it the track “Out of Touch” on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns: “To be extreme, so it seems / Is a mental crutch / To cover up for those that are completely out of touch.” Not only did I dig that extreme style, it seemed the best way to shock and gain respect from those who bullied, mocked and didn’t understand metal geeks like me. When they saw the creepy, demonic artwork on those t-shirts, they gave you wide berth! Initially my plans included my best friend at the time, Jesse Wenick, and a slightly older dude named Mike Artis who wanted to play bass. I met Mike Artis through my school chum Terrence Johnson. Terrence, an African American bused in from Inglewood, was every bit the metal geek I was. Until Terrence got busted for stealing cassettes on a Target outing with Artis, he kept me company in P.E. class, babbling about bands. A kooky but influential character, T introduced me to King Diamond in ’89. We traded tapes until his theft bust and subsequent exit from our white suburban wasteland. Meanwhile, Jesse and I took up guitar at the same time, fooling around with his estranged ex-recording engineer dad’s folk guitar before we both got our first electric axes. Jesse, unlike me, was not really moved as I was by Death, Carcass, Venom, Sadus, Obituary and other go-for-the-throat metallers that Mike Artis introduced me to. In my eyes and ears, Metallica, Exodus, Anthrax, Testament and Slayer were the thrashy gateway drug to the more extreme acts. In the same manner, I’d imbibed my first alcoholic sips of heavy rock via Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Scorpions, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Rush. Though I owned the entire ’70s Aerosmith catalog, they inevitably took the backseat by Oct. 1990, when the compilation At Death’s Door was released. The decision to hock my Aerosmith cassettes was two-fold. What meager cash I scraped together from my pizza joint job was spent on my first guitar. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you that I bowed to peer pressure from Mike Artis.

“Yeah, that’s rock, but this is brutal metal! Don’t be a poser.”

In a manner of speaking, posing could also entail adapting machismo “evil” trappings like inverted crosses and pentagrams to intimidate people. In my junior year at ECR’s school of hard knocks I learned a solid lesson about personal identity and adopted a credo “I alone decide what is cool for me.” And, yes, Aerosmith exuded coolness, in my book. Their first five LPs are essential hard rock masterpieces as far as I’m concerned. But, on the extremely heavy side, I was drawn hook ‘n’ sinker to the band simply named Death. There’s a nifty documentary indicative of my life and the bands I followed during my days (daze) in the early ’90s death metal scene, Thrash ‘Til Death, featuring some cool period footage of Death honcho Chuck Schuldiner (just follow the link to YouTube).

Weekly pilgrimages were made to record stores like Moby Disc, the Record Trader, the Rock Shop (in Hollywood), Rockaway and most importantly Wild Rags. Wild Rags was the west coast hub of death metal, much as Ace’s Records was the hotbed in the U.S. extreme metal capital, Florida. Where Moby Disc flogged promo copies at heavily discounted prices, Wild Rags was strictly high-dollar new and obscure demos from across the globe. Uber-unknown acts such as Greece’s Horrified and Varathron, Poland’s Vader or Swedes Necrophobic went through my collection, along with the aforementioned SoCal locals like Demoltion, Sarcastic, Immorally Demonic and Sadistic Intent. Along with record hunting and mapping out the course for our band, Mike A. and I hit local thrash and death metal gigs at the Reseda Country Club, where we’d watch hometown acts like Immorally Demonic, C.O.A. (Cholos on Acid), Demolition, Sarcastic, Brainstorm and Sadistic Intent. On one outing I even saw Psychosis, featuring my future friend Kragen Lum on guitar and vocals in that early incarnation. My first big gig was German thrash kingpins Kreator (on the Coma of Souls tour) with Morgoth, crossover skate-punk thrashers Excel and Seattle splatterheads The Accused. The Kreator gig was a metal capitulation for me. They melted my 15 year-old mug. There was frenetic energy emanating from the stage and maniacally moshing audience. If Mike and I could only manage to scrape a full band lineup together and get signed… That seemed to be a mutual dream. I know it was the ultimate goal in my mind. But little did either of us realize at that impressionable age that being signed to even a large metal indie label didn’t lavish you with loads of loot. It was definitely my dream though, and through some dogged determination I reached destiny’s doorway.

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Death-trasher in hair growth transition with a Charvel Avenger

Only a few months into my sophomore year of high school, Jesse and Mike got on each others nerves and some immature bullshit caused a major rift between me and Jesse. After Jesse and I had the falling out, I continued the quest to form a death metal band with Mike Artis. He cribbed our ludicrous band name from a British Warhammer role playing game book: Vulgular. Regardless of who this character/creature was, the name sounded suitably evil, so we stuck with it. In early ’91 we’d met up with an Israeli second guitarist, Shachar Eldar. Shachar took lessons at the same mom ‘n’ pop instrument shop me and Jesse had ever so briefly. Mike, Shachar and I jammed once with a young drummer who likewise once attended Woodlowe Music, making a racket in Shachar’s parents’ Warner Center apartment. Shachar and Mike were nearly the same age and could drive. Though I’d passed Driver’s Ed at 15 and gotten my learner’s permit, my dad was vehemently opposed to me driving at 16. My mom went along with his antics. They claimed the insurance would be murder. Therefore, no car for me until I was 18. Fortunately I had older friends! No wheels of my own made me just that much more of an outsider than I already was.

I began hanging out with Shachar alone to hash out dual guitar parts. Just as Mike once introduced me to Death, Kreator, Voivod, Morbid Angel, Sadus, Autopsy, Obituary, Nocturnus, Coroner, Pestilence, Atrocity, Pungent Stench, Entombed, Dismember and Grave, Shachar hipped me to Possessed’s Seven Churches and Sodom’s super low-fi debut In the Sign of Evil. I was always more of Celtic Frost fan when it came to the first wave of black/death metal. But undoubtedly I was more of a sucker for Venom than any of the second wave of black/death/extreme metal (save for Death, damn it!). Venom’s violent and vicious sound was still immersed in rockin’ riffs and guitarist Mantas’ pentatonic solos. Shachar shared some of my taste for heavy/progressive rock. As a matter of fact, he accompanied me to see local progsters Strange Tongues at Mancini’s in Canoga Park. Strange Tongues, heavily influenced by Rush (my massive heroes!), featured my high school pal Mark Rivers’ older brother Aaron Rivers on bass and my future Sampson Advertising co-worker Edwin Alpanian on guitar. Thanks to Shachar’s badgering the bouncers let this underage punk-ass metal kiddie inside the venue.

Over the course of a couple of weekends Shachar and I recorded some of our tunes for a demo utilizing his desktop stereo’s primitive overdubbing functions. My contributions to the seedling band were “Vulgular,” “Thirst for Blood” and “Prince of the Dead.” Mike didn’t play bass on it, but did growl some. The drum tracks, if they can be called that, were achieved through the percussion functions of Shachar’s brother’s keyboard. Laughable by anyone’s standards! I typed and printed the lyrics and pinched a demon graphic from an Ultima computer RPG bestiary. Shachar and I headed to the photocopy shop and laid the thing out. Huge fans of Death’s Spiritual Healing LP, we dubbed the demo Defacing the Future. It was one of Shachar’s song titles too, a nod to the Death track “Altering the Future.” He was friends with the Israeli death metal band Salem, and wanted a recording to show his friends when he flew to Israel on his summer vacation.

Shachar sent me a letter from Israel early that summer informing me that he’d formed a group with his mates using Mike’s band name and that he was playing our tunes (half of which I’d written). He said that the Israeli Vulgular played a gig and were well-received, especially when their vocalist threw raw meat, a la W.A.S.P., into the crowd. He said the young metallers in Tel Aviv referred to his Vulgular lineup as ‘black core.’ This obviously bent me out of shape, but it really infuriated Mike Artis to no end. It was similar to what happened to Chuck Schuldiner when the other members of Death (the so-called ABCT Project) went off on a European tour without him in 1990. I tried to keep my cool about it, but I was still fuming. Still, I managed to ring Shachar when he returned to L.A. He told me he wasn’t really digging the death metal thing anymore, that he’d hacked off all his hair and was going punk. Shit happens, as they say. My hair was finally long. I’d bucked my parents over the hair issue since I was 13. My dad would shout “long hair is for queers” and threatened to get medieval on my ass if I didn’t get a haircut. Maybe it was my good grades, or perhaps it was “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but the lengthy locks prevailed.

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A ponytailed Venom fan in West Hills, ’91. B.C. Rich Virgin, Carvin X-100B, Digitech GSP-21 Pro and Marshall 4×10″

Mike and I soldiered on as Orcus, a moniker at the top of my band name list. Orcus is an alternate name for the Roman god of the underworld, so perfect for that style of metal. I’d smashed my Vulgular demo master cassette into a gazillion pieces and tore up the cover in a momentary fit of rage. (If anyone’s got a copy of the tape and/or the cover, please get in touch! You’re holding onto mega-rare infantile metal history.) Beyond Mike rendering a new logo and possible first demo artwork, Orcus really never progressed much beyond the concept level. I wrote tunes on my own and co-wrote some things with Mike. But were they cohesive? Not really. I still remember the doomy opening riff to a tune I called “Illusions of Reality,” which was similar to Death’s “Land of No Return.” Sure, we had musicians wanted ads out and got plenty of responses. True, I got my first actual rehearsal studio experience with Orcus. But were we on the level to play clubs and keg parties like the musicians I knew at high school, death-thrashers D.I.A. (Death is Art)? Hell no! Brothers John (guitar) and Fred Haase (bass) were our age, but they were skilled musicians. Same notation for D.I.A. drummer Mike Terrabotto and rhythm guitarist Steve Murillo. Their vocalist, Jason Cooke, growled powerfully from his gut. Vulgular and Orcus were all bark and no bite. We made Tom G. Warrior and Hellhammer look like Yngwie J. Malmsteen-type virtuosos.

First we had a single jam with a rock drummer named Jim from my high school. We didn’t click one bit, probably because Jim could keep a tune moving and we couldn’t. Some of the song titles I was futzin’ and foolin’ with were “Descent into the Maelstrom” (after the Poe story), “A Whisper in the Darkness” (based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness”) and “The Outsider” (as in the Lovecraft yarn). Next we tried out an Armenian drummer named Armin, from Glendale, for about a month. He brought a guitarist, Daron, along a couple of times to our jams in the rec room of a Glendale park. A Glendale upstart death/grind band calling themselves Intolerance rehearsed before us on our first Glendale jaunt. We didn’t have much time to work on music, and it just seemed like the other two guys were more concerned with playing Slayer and Megadeth covers than originals. Many moons later I realized that we had actually jammed, however briefly, with Daron Malakian, who became the guitarist of massively successful System of a Down. We got ousted from the park, our last two “sessions” taking place at an hourly rehearsal studio in Burbank. Nobody seemed to have much of an attention span for stringing complete songs together (me included), and Mike wasn’t having much luck growling and playing bass simultaneously. I handled the mic some at the last jam, but it was dreadfully clear Mike A. and I were back at square one band-wise. Though we spoke to a few more musicians who responded to our ads or those I met at high school, Orcus died before there was ever a complete lineup or a single recorded song in ’92.

At the high-point of our friendship, Mike A. and I saw Death live at the Whisky in Hollywood on the Human tour. I was utterly blown away by Chuck Schuldiner and co. at that Jan. 16, 1992 gig. They oozed tight metal professionalism. Cynic chaps Paul Masvidal (guitar) and Sean Reinert (drums) elevated Death to a higher plane of intensity. Ditto for touring bassist Scott Carino (filling in for the absent Four-String Hippie of Doom, Steve DiGiorgio, who had commitments in main band Sadus). If Spiritual Healing hinted at Chuck’s love for progressive metal a la Watchtower and Queensryche, Human and the subsequent tour showed the full complex effects. Because he was 18 and attending community college, Mike managed to yank me out of class so we could see Morbid Angel, Entombed and Unleashed at Spanky’s Cafe in Riverside. By comparison, Morbid Angel came off as having stilted egos, bellyaching about the small size of the venue. Entombed slayed the young crowd of punk-ass death metal kiddies, despite the fact that shouter L.G. Petrov couldn’t make the tour.

As fate would have it, Mike Artis and I drifted apart. Did he flake out on our regular jam/hang session? Did I not bother phoning him when he failed to show? What difference did it make? I went back to the woodshed and tried to develop my axe wielding skills. I thought better of trying to form a band without the necessary skills to get the job done. Instead, I concentrated on getting my writing career off the ground. I spent most of Summer ’92 listening to Rush while prowling the neighboring hills near what was then Ahmanson Ranch, writing the opening chapters of a first fantasy novel and reading heaps of weird fiction by Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, Edmond Hamilton and others. I figured I’d address the band scene when the stars were right.

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Students Against Drunk Driving shot from ECR ’93 yearbook.
“If you’re gonna get pissed, catch a cab, matey!”

By 1993 I was pretty sick of the stagnating death metal genre. Sure, I was a fan of Death, Carcass, Sadus, Sacrifice, Entombed, Atheist, Cynic and several of the more melodic death metal acts. The attitude amongst many death metallers in the early 1990s was that anything without growled vocals was “pussy.” As a result, the glut of mediocre sound-alike bands was really grating on me. I’d let my older friend Mike Artis’ opinion cloud my judgment where music was concerned back then. Nearly two years my senior, he was someone I looked up to. Still, I had a pretty stark awakening of my own. I needed to be me. When you carry a chip around on your shoulder, karma will bite you in the ass. That’s just a fact of life one must learn. It’s a realization I had while I was still relatively young. I got some sense knocked into me, and it didn’t take long to really find myself. Aside from a few bands, I pretty much stopped buying straight-up death metal albums. On one our many ’92 visits to Wild Rags Records in Montebello Mike bought Cathedral’s Forest of Equilibrium. Not only did it feature former Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian, but it was on the Earache label. We popped the tape into his car deck, and he was instantly dyspeptic about the doomy sound. I, on the other hand, found the slow Sabbathy riffs appealing. Foreshadowing of a future fracas? What I was listening to and playing shifted more towards the 1970s heavy rock movement and traditionally sung ’80s metal. The video for Fates Warning’s “Point of View,” alongside several of Queensryche’s tunes and vids from Operation Mindcrime and Empire piqued my prog metal pulse, as well. So, comparatively, I was only a die-hard death metal fan for a couple of years. Whereas I’ve been a fan of heavy rock from the formative years (roughly 1967-1974) for almost as long as I can remember. What’s the point in having tunnel vision so narrow you never play more than one particular style of metal? I think the beauty of real heavy metal is that there’s a lot of ground you can cover. I saw a lot of folks totally ignoring the roots of metal, but I fell head over heels for those early bands: Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Mountain, Judas Priest, etc. 

In (Search of) Rock

I briefly played in a rock covers band in 1993-94. My older brother’s best friend, a former child actor-turned screenwriter named David Wagner—no relation to the singer of ’60s rockers Crow—was the singer. Our bassist Mark Austin dug some of the same hard rock acts I did but was big into alternative. My fuzzed out guitar tone and original hard rock riffs made the rest of the pop-inclined band members duck and run for cover. They were always telling me to ditch “that Jimi Hendrix crap.” Falcon was one of the names I had on a list when considering what to call the covers band if the rest of the guys would actually relent to continuing as an original band. We rehearsed for a brief while in two different ZBT frat houses near California State University Northridge. Some of the rehearsals may as well have been gigs. We had a bevy or beer swilling onlookers. Later we took to jamming in David’s parent’s garage in an exclusive guard gated Calabasas community. David’s folks allowed us to rehearse in the backyard gazebo whenever weather permitted. In a precursor to what was to come, Dave skipped out on rehearsals for nearly a couple of weeks while filming a commercial for (how ironic is this one?) Fruit Loops.

On the eve of our first gig at a keg party in nearby Agoura Hills, the band was jokingly named Toucan’s Gazebo. I grimaced at the newfound moniker. I wanted to call it Falcon (after the bird and the ’60s Ford), but was just happy to be playing with a full band for once. They forced insipid current radio staples down my throat, which I played begrudgingly, but I was all ears and fingers when it came to Bad Company (“Shooting Star” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”), Lynyrd Skynyrd (though I would’ve chose something more catalog than “Sweet Home Alabama”), Queen (“Fat Bottom Girls”) and Aerosmith (“Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way” and the Beatles’ “Come Together” in Aerosmithian style. It didn’t last beyond that keg party. The drummer bailed out before the final notes to our closing song had been struck. On the way to Jerry’s Deli in Tarzana after the kegger I locked my brakes up when a reckless driver in a speeding Corvette cut me off at the Haskell Ave. off-ramp in Encino. I crashed my shit brown ’81 Ford Mustang into the guardrail. (The car only continued to get progressively shittier than its color!)

Several days after the party gig I had a brief breakfast meeting with singer Dave and bassist Mark at an old Canoga Park greasy spoon diner called T-Bows to discuss whether we’d continue playing, but things just fizzled out completely. They were nice guys, but we just weren’t on the same page musically. Dave was too white bread for my loud, raw, hairy and unkempt heavy rock ‘n’ metal lifestyle. I filed away some riffs in my head for further use later on in the real Falcon—my baby—which eventually saw the light of day in the 2000s.

At Fate’s Fingers

At the Fates Warning and Dream Theater gig in Hollywood in ’94, I met up with another prog metal freak named Dino Khoe (a/k/a Dr. Mosh). Dino was a die-hard nut for Fates Warning and DT, not to mention Queensryche and plenty of the traditional ’80s power, progressive and thrash metal acts. Dino didn’t play an instrument, but he had friends who did. He introduced me to his pals Joe Pippin (bass) and John Kisner (drums), both of whom were trying to get a prog band going with a singer named Casey.

I made the trek out to Buena Park, just over the Orange County line, to jam with Joe and John a few times, but it was clear that they considered my idea of a fantasy-inspired traditional power/prog metal band too dated. The tune I started to show them, titled “World Within Glass,” was an epic heavily influenced by the old ’80s guard of metal titans like John Arch-era Fates Warning, Maiden, Priest, Queensryche, with a wee bit of Rush thrown in for good measure. Joe and John were thinking more along the lines of a neo-prog rock project (think Marillion and Yes), so the jams were called to a halt fairly quick. We all loved the Ray Alder-era Fates Warning material, but there just wasn’t enough common ground. Joe drove all the way out to my house months later in 1995 with a “business proposition” for me which turned out to be—a very dreaded word—Amway. Needless to say, I wasn’t interested in the lame and very infamous pyramid scam. Joe later wound up playing bass for Ocean Seven, a Ray Alder-era Fates clone band who nabbed my friend Michael Grant as their singer briefly. I kept in touch with Dino, Joe and John, mostly through email and YTSEJAM, the official Dream Theater email list. Though Fates still floats my boat, DT lost me with the milquetoast followup to their third album, Awake. As bizarre as it sounds, when DT lost keyboardist Kevin Moore, it was all downhill for me. What about “World Within Glass?” Well, the song remains unused. Though I performed it solo for my  Commercial Guitar class final at Pierce College in ’94, I’ve never used it with any of my bands.

Also in ’94 I became close friends with a NoCal metalhead and weird fiction fan named Rob Preston. Rob had/has the most ridiculously expansive collection of anyone I’ve ever met. It was through Rob that I obtained  tons of incredible recordings by cult bands like Cirith Ungol, Pentagram, Witchfinder General, Internal Void, The Obsessed, Solitude Aeturnus, Revelation and Count Raven. Rob also put me in touch with metal legends like John Perez (Solitude Aeturnus), Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death, Testament, et. al.) and Rob Garven (Cirith Ungol, a band I absolutely worship!). On my first visit to Rob Garven’s pad with the other Rob, many myths about the metal indie labels were dispelled through tales of Cirith Ungol’s career.

A Deathly Meeting

In Summer 1995 I bought a ticket to see Death on their Symbolic tour with openers Nevermore. A stalwart Death fan since 1990, I had also gotten into Nevermore’s self-titled album and Sanctuary’s two discs (featuring singer Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard). While waiting in the long queue in front of the Roxy on the infamous Sunset Strip in Hollywood, I bumped into bassist Mike Bear, an old acquaintance from El Camino Real High School.

Mike and I hung out for an hour in line and spoke of fave metal acts and the band Mike was forming with his two guitarist pals Ed Laing and Hector del Angel, both of whom showed up at the Death gig. As Mike already had band members I didn’t immediately ask for his number, but I did recall that he worked at Tempo, a record store in Northridge. First Nevermore thrashed my world, then Chuck Schuldiner and company delivered a pile-driving set and impressed the hell out of me, Mike, Ed and Hector. I found both Ed and Hector to be similar to Mike—down-to-earth, unassuming metal musicians. In other words, a true rarity, even today. I hoped I’d be seeing their band live in the months to follow.

I took a jaunt eastward for over a month. I stopped in Ohio for PulpCon (an annual convention for geeks like me who dig vintage fiction mags from roughly 1920-1955 or so), hanging out with fellow metalhead and book-maniac Rob Preston and our hippie pal John Desbin. Then it was on to New York to visit my grandparents, hang out with weird fiction pals and do plenty of research on fave author Frank Belknap Long. Weirdist friends Scott Briggs and Hubert van Calenbergh joined me on an afternoon exploration of Manhattan’s 48th St. music stores like Manny’s and Sam Ash. Other than that trip to 48th St. I didn’t touch a guitar for a month. I returned to L.A. with renewed determination to delve into guitar and form a band.

I wasted no time in driving out to see if Mike Bear was still working at Tempo Music. Lo and behold, he was! A lasting friendship began that day. Whether it was a coincidence or not, Mike informed me that his guitarist Hector had left the band. He asked if I’d be interested trying out. I jumped at the offer.

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Jesse Scott Wenick (1975-1994)

Mike Bear and I met for dinner at the strip mall down the hill from my folks’ place in the West Valley. We discussed our checkered past, a deep, serious and also very humor-filled chat. While Mike and I used to “shoot the shit” during mornings back in our first couple of high school years, we were just acquaintances. My former best friend Jesse had befriended Mike and formed a band called Pessimist with him following our 1990 falling out. Jesse had blown his brains out with a gun obtained in a drug deal in 1994. Mike wound up at the scene of the terrible incident, though he wasn’t involved in the drug scene. Quite the contrary, Mike had tried to get our friend Jesse back into hanging out with a better crowd. Much of our conversation surrounded our old mutual friend Jesse and other trials and tribulations of being a malcontent teenage metalhead. Another schoolmate of ours, guitarist Matt Fogelman, ODed on smack not long after Jesse died. Matt, like Jesse, had been helpful in my early musical development, but he didn’t live long enough to record and tour in a pro band. I explained my misgivings to Mike about the chip I’d had on my shoulder when I first started playing guitar. Mike unravelled both some misadventures he and Jesse had together. He was honest, sincere and understood where I was coming from. Unlike me, Mike had actual experience playing live with a metal band. He had played bass, post-Pessimist, for Ascension with two ECR students and a couple of guys from Verdugo High out in Tujunga. We immediately realized we shared similar philosophies and outlooks on music and life. All that was left was an actual jam, which we got around to over the next couple of days at Mike’s mom’s old house on the hill across the street from our old high school.

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Me ‘n’ the Mockingbird, 1995 (photo by Mike Bear)

Mike’s band was in transition. Guitarist Ed and drummer Jason were very tentative about continuing, which left Mike and I to spend countless afternoons and nights jamming, hanging and becoming best of friends. Mike showed me his and Ed’s songs—even one of Hector’s complicated tunes that he was allowing us to continue using. I in turn showed him some of my song ideas. Mike recorded me on his 4-track cassette recorder playing the riffs to one of my songs, “The Fortress Unvanquishable” late one night through Ed’s tiny Samick 8” practice amp—nicknamed “The Ick.” Using some home studio trickery, we managed to make the “Ick” sound nearly as big and crunchy as a Marshall half stack. We also recorded versions of “Fortress” and my other tune “Flame of Life” (which later was retitled “The Obscure”) with just guitar and bass. Amp-wise I was very unhappy. I had this crappy old Carvin X-100B tube head for a while, but loved my trusty Marshall 1982A 4×12″ cab. Guitar-wise I was just starting to build my arsenal of neckthrough B.C. Rich guitars. I had bagged a rare Rico Mockingbird in ’95 and snagged a butchered USA Warlock off Deliverance guitarist George Ochoa through a Recycler ad.

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Am I really two-faced?! Photo by Mike Bear, ’95


The Calm Before Stormhaven

Mike Bear and I had become inseparable friends. He was a stickler for timing and tight right hand rhythm, and he pushed me to improve my playing. Mike coached me through his songs, which required tons of right hand dexterity. After a few weeks Mike and I went to guitarist Ed Laing’s in Tujunga. We instantly clicked after I showed him a heap of riffs I’d written. Ed began to teach me his songs, including an untitled one he liked to refer to as “A minor Waltz” because of its 3/4 time and key signature. Weeks later drummer Jason Rarick reconsidered his position, meeting Mike and I for lunch on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. After a few days Mike and I joined Jason for a jam in a shack on the large lot that belonged to Jason’s stepdad in nearby Sun Valley. After running through some of Mike’s tunes, we began to show Jason some riffs from my “The Fortress Unvanquishable” and “Flame of Life (The Obscure).”

To give you an idea of how much a song can evolve in a year and a half, you can right click below and “save as” to download short MP3 clips of the extremely rough first demos of “The Fortress Unvanquishable” and “Flame of Life (The Obscure)” from fall 1995 with me on guitar and Mike Bear on bass. I altered much of the “Fortress” song structure and tacked on the eerie clean tone part (“Idle City”) by 1997. While I was slowly learning how to “trim the fat,” I was also quite ambitious with my arrangements. Sometimes a little too ambitious. One of the complicated riffs towards the start of the clip was kinda out of time, so I took pains to revamp. These demos were so rough that, though I’d written second guitar parts, they were recorded with a single guitar and bass only to preserve the initial arrangement somewhere for safekeeping besides in my own head.

“The Fortress Unvanquishable” 1995 rough demo clip
“Flame of Life (The Obscure)” 1995 rough demo clip

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Stormhaven in 1996, L-R: Ed Laing, Jason Rarick, me, Mike Bear

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Me, Mike Bear and Jason Rarick’s cymbals, early ’96

For a span of a few months we met twice a week at the jam shack to work on our tunes. Saturdays Mike would usually pick me up in his Ford Ranger II, and we’d cruise up the 118 Freeway with the metal cassettes cranking loud ‘n’ proud. I’d been temping long-term at the Motion Picture & TV Fund Bob Hope Health Clinic in Hollywood. As a medical records clerk, I fielded calls from plenty of celebrities about test results. I vividly remember actors John Saxon and Forrest Whittaker calling. After work I’d rush straight over to the jam shack for practices, even though I often got shafted on lunch breaks (either late or never!) and was stuck in L.A. gridlock for a grand total of nearly three hours a day. I needed the dough. Grin and bear it. No lube. Putting it mildly, I was dedicated.

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Ascension circa 1993
(Juan Martinez, Ed Laing, Jaime Morales, Mike Bear, Frank Lima)

Having a bit of cash, I upgraded amps, thankfully. Following in my pal Prototype axeman Kragen Lum’s footsteps, it was a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV head. The hook-up for the amp came through Mike’s friends Dave and Jacques Lilivois. Jacques had replaced Mike on bass in Ascension, the band Mike and Ed Laing had been in during our senior year of high school. Ed, already a budding luthier, helped get my vintage B.C. Riches into shape. We were tuning to E-flat, like Slayer and many other thrashers once did. Hell, even Jimi Hendrix and Thin Lizzy adored that tuning. It made the guitar sound slightly heavier and also allowed clean vocals some room if the singer had a limited range.

We had a band meeting and scheduled to have another of the Lilivois brothers record our demo a few weeks down the road. Mike was going to sing for Stormhaven. He’d once tackled vocals on an Acension tune, so we figured he was best qualified for the job. But we had no PA in the jam shack yet, so hadn’t heard any of our music with Mike’s voice. Our songs included Ed’s aforementioned “A minor Waltz” (I toyed with calling it “Dark Vision”), “Bereft,” and “Death Before Adulthood,” Mike’s tribute to fallen friend Jesse. Potential band names were sorted through, and we settled on Stormhaven, chosen by drummer Jason. No one particularly dug my top choice, “Obscure.” Before one of our Saturday morning practices we had Jason’s then-girlfriend Sheila snap a roll of photos, including some of us seated in the bed of Ed’s pickup truck. Excellent Sunland/Tujunga imagery!? Jason drew a band logo, and I scanned and cleaned it up. I penned our bio during the week. A condition of continuing to use the jam shack meant we had to clean out the unused back partition, which was heavily water damaged and crawling with maggots. But, hey, it beat shelling out wads of dough for a proper studio.

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Metal brothers unite! Mike Bear (bass) and yours truly in Sunland, ’96


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Ed on the Rhoads, me on the “Mock”

All seemed to be proceeding well until one Saturday when Mike rang me instead of picking me up for our usual jaunt down the 118 and 210 freeways. He was sick and needed to rest. I told him I wouldn’t mind going to practice with Ed and Jason even if he couldn’t make it. Mike told me not to bother, as Ed wouldn’t be there either. Mike had already called Jason to let him know that he and I wouldn’t be coming to practice. Ed on the other hand hadn’t called Jason to cancel. Jason figured he’d at least get in some practice time with Ed, so he still went out to the jam shack. Remember, this was in the pre-cellular era. After waiting for over an hour Jason got extremely pissed off and tried to call Ed. Ed was still at home, with no plans to leave. Jason and Ed had an enormous argument over the issue, and decided not to continue with Stormhaven. It was a sad blow for Mike and I, as we felt we were finally making headway with a metal band.

Our grand plans of cutting a demo that month were effectively scrapped. Mike and I had hung out with Greg Christian from Testament at a Corona, CA gig during our Stormhaven days, and our bright hope of opening for the famous Bay Area thrashers in SoCal was dashed. Jason had a house warming party at his new apartment, which made the breakup even more official. Try as we might, Mike and I couldn’t convince him to continue on with us even if Ed wouldn’t be in the band. Jason was pretty tired of playing metal, and Ed was concentrating on classical and repairing guitars.

Mike and I wasted no time. We flooded various outlets like The Recycler, Music Connection and BAM with our musicians wanted ads. We got a few responses, primarily flakes or people who didn’t read our ad too closely. Soon we spied Prototype’s bassist-wanted notice. Prototype had oozed tight professionalism when we saw them open for Death in summer 1995. We both knew they were on the level. Mike and I were out grocery shopping for one of our late-night post-jam feasts when he asked if I’d be angry if he auditioned for Prototype. One of our metal rituals was cooking various wacky dishes while blasting tunes in the kitchen.

“Hell no!” I told him. “We don’t have an actual band anymore, and we haven’t been able to find anyone who’s even close to joining our new thing.”

I gave Mike a bright green light to try out for Prototype. Mike was a shoe-in for departed Protoype bassist Steve Gambina. He fit Prototype like a glove, and we became fast friends with Proto-dudes Kragen Lum (guitar) and Vince Levalois (guitar/vocals).

An Obscure Prelude to Destiny

In attempt to better my lead playing I was listening to tons of virtuoso shredder guitarists. I went through a huge Yngwie Malmsteen phase between the ages of 17 and 22. Fusion shredder Al DiMeola was probably the only one of that group who stuck with me. Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine and Joe Satriani recordings went through my collection, but Yngwie was my fave of the bunch in my teens. I wound up at an Yngwie show in 1995 and struck up a conversation with a guy I spotted in line wearing a Forbidden t-shirt. Forbidden was one of my fave thrash metal bands. This guy, a recent transplant from the east coast, turned out to be singer Michael Grant (Legend Maker, Onward, Crescent Shield). I told Mike Grant I was a guitarist in search of band members or a metal band in need of my services. Somehow we didn’t exchange numbers until I bumped into him at another metal show, but we eventually began hanging out. I figured I’d interest Mike Grant in singing for my band once I got it together. So, in a twisted way I guess I can thank Yngwie for involving me in a new scene of people.

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The Eye above the Mantel
by Frank Belknap Long –
My first Tsathoggua Press chapbook

I spent the latter part of 1996 bandless. I didn’t jam with anyone other than Mike Bear—and even then, just for “shits ‘n’ giggles,” as they say. Most of my creative effort went into my small press publishing business, Tsathoggua Press. That is when I wasn’t working myself into the ground rewriting reports on injured workers for a tiny business run by a greedy family out of a two bedroom Tarzana condo. I slaved and punched a clock while the owner’s young daughter chewed her cock-shaped eraser. Was I imagining it, or were the SoCal “society people” actually that crass and lackadaisacal?! Lunch was half an hour. Fifteen minutes of which I’d waste waiting for another car with the remote to exit so I could get out of the bloody underground garage. My greedy employers wouldn’t give me the opener. The other fifteen minutes were spent rushing up to Ventura Blvd. to a fast food drive-thru and scarfing down a cheeseburger or two before rushing back to work.

The job, the lack of a band—and also my diet—were contributing to an overall lame feeling. Mike was pretty busy with Prototype, but we proposed to start a metal zine together, considering I’d already published close to ten issues of Yawning Vortex and several chapbooks. We put together a flyer for Subterranean Legacy, wrote some reviews and I even did a few interviews (with Sadus bassist Steve DiGiorgio and growler Nik Chevalier from Florida’s Naphobia) before it was clear that the zine would never get off the ground. That didn’t daunt our friendship, though. On one occasion, just before I quit the lame job, Mike and I hit Leo Carillo beach long after midnight with another friend and talked about the uncertain future, both in music and life in general. Plenty of good advice was offered up under a looney moon.

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Ana Greco on the Rhoads, me on the ‘Gull, ’02

Living in La La Land often meant crossing paths with high-profile music personalities. One fascinating foray saw me purchasing one of two Jackson Rhoads Prong axeman/vocalist Tommy Victor was selling. Mike Bear and I drove down to his Hollywood rehearsal/crash space, and I settled on a metallic purple Japanese neckthrough. As I was testing the axe out, Tommy asked, “So, what are you doing band-wise now?” I was wary and wooly and just said I was doing my own thing. Though Prove You Wrong and Beg to Differ got some airplay in my parts, I just wasn’t interested in the industrial/electronic experimentation angle of future releases. Around the formation of Artisan I sold the Rhoads to my metal sis and twin-axe wielder Ana Greco. Though I’d used the Rhoads to record parts of Breathe Deep the Dark in ’98, there are no photos of me slinging it to my knowledge. A funny coincidence, further down the freaky freeway: a young drummer named Aaron tried out for Artisan in 2000. He was offered the job, but instead wound up playing with who else but Prong!

I placed musicians wanted ads for quite a while, not getting a single response. I was growing tired of sitting on my ass, and my “day job” was really annoying the hell out of me. I schemed to have Mike Bear and Kragen Lum from Prototype guest on a demo/EP recorded on more of a project basis under the banner of Obscure. I was going to call the demo Tales of the Weird, and it was to feature the tunes “The Fortress Unvanquishable,” “The Obscure (Flame of Life),” “Breathe Deep the Dark” and “Solar Winds.” (“Solar Winds” morphed into “A Choice of Graves” in DE.) The phone rang unexpectedly after work one night. It was a response to my ad. I automatically figured it was either a bassist or drummer, but it turned out that this guy was actually a journalist by the name of Jon K(onjoyan). Jon saw my list of influences, which included Death and Cynic alongside Fates Warning, and was pretty amazed someone was still into metal bands like that in the barren mid ’90s. Jon and I talked for over an hour about metal, and I mentioned the project I was doing. I drafted up a little promo sheet for Obscure and sent it Jon’s way.

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Since I couldn’t find a full-time drummer I settled on either Jason Rarick or John Kisner to help out just for the recording. They both seemed willing enough. Now all I needed was the dough to finance studio time and rough recordings of the tunes to teach the others. I began teaching Ed a few riffs, figuring his tighter right hand rhythm would supplement my raw approach. I also had one jam with Mike and Kragen in the old Prototype rehearsal room in West LA. At this point I was still revising the songs. Having a very pro musician like Kragen around really rubbed off on me. I took his suggestions to heart because he had so much more experience in bands already. I was giving my tunes a slight facelift and planning on having another jam with Kragen and Mike, but ended up jettisoning the Obscure project altogether just a few weeks later when a better opportunity—what became Destiny’s End—presented itself. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The need for continuing with Obscure was eclipsed by a situation that came out of hanging with a group of LA metalheads.

The Prototype connection was an important one. Not only was my bro Mike Bear their bassist, but Kragen Lum had become friends with Linda Delucie, a girl who was working at Century Media. We discovered that Linda’s brother Dan was apparently the guitarist in a power metal band called New Eden that was playing some local gigs. The New Eden singer, Victor had  some serious drug addiction issues. Mike Bear went with Kragen to the Whisky in Hollyweird on an odd weeknight to check out New Eden wedged in between a bunch of alternative acts. We heard through the grapevine around the time I was plotting my Obscure project that James Rivera, the vocalist of Texas metallers Helstar, was singing for New Eden. Sentinel Steel zine publisher Denis Gulbey, who had started a label and released the New Eden CD, put James in touch with the NE  guys when they were having trouble with singer Victor. We likewise found out that our new pal Mike Grant had auditioned for New Eden before James. I was acquainted with Sentinel Steel because they’d run an interview with Chuck Schuldiner (by intrepid metal maven Nat Vlahovic) that dealt mostly with his plans for Control Denied, the post-Death band he had formed with a proper vocalist. In the same issue was a big James Rivera interview—a tirade against his ex-Helstar six-stringer Andre Corbin. As coincidence would have it, Chuck had actually asked James (amongst others like Nevermore’s Warrel Dane) if he might be interested in singing for Control Denied.

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Mr. Pibb, “Put it in your head!”

The first time I met Dan Delucie and Bessie Mantas (as in the Venom guitarist or Chuck Schuldiner’s first band name—who later became Mrs. Delucie) they must’ve thought I was either possessed, an alien from beyond the curved rims of the universe or a nitrous oxide freak. Perhaps all of those things rolled into one!? Linda Delucie had hooked us all up on the guest list for a Grip Inc. gig at the Showcase Theater in Corona. The whole group was out for an evening of metal mayhem: Mike Bear, Kragen Lum (and I believe Vince Levalois, correct me if I’m wrong?) from Prototype and Mike Grant. After seeing Dave Lombardo and company bash out some tunes we headed down the road to Honey’s, an all-night diner. Talk turned to Pat Boone’s new album of white-bread easy-listening style metal covers. An overload of caffeine (Mr. Pibb?!) combined with my night-owl energy sent me into a laughing fit while imagining Mr. Boone covering Death’s expletive riddled “Sacrificial” (off Scream Bloody Gore). Laughing fit isn’t quite the phrase I was looking for. In short, I completely lost it. Ever get punch drunk from caffeine and staying out till all hours of the night? Used to happen to me often in those hoary days of burning the post-midnight lamp.

Following the Grip Inc. gig there were lots of outings with the entire group of metalheads, including Ula Gehret, Tanja Shoor—now Wagner, wife of former Metal Maniacs editor Jeff. Linda wound up dating Mike Bear, and we spent a lot of time hanging at the DeLucie’s pad in Alhambra. I got to know Dan pretty well, and he asked me early in our friendship to co-edit his metal newsletter Netherwords and write half of the reviews. He saw the work I’d done on the Tsathoggua Press chapbooks and knew I could help keep him from drowning in the stack of promos and demos he was receiving. I told him about Subterranean Legacy and said I could even throw some reviews intended for that aborted zine into Netherwords. So, Dan and I initially were co-editors of a zine instead of the dual metal axe team we later forged.

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Tray card of New Eden’s Through the Make Believe

We released one issue of Netherwords together, in which I coincidentally reviewed the New Eden debut CD Through the Make Believe. Dan was vaguely aware that I was a guitarist, but he’d never heard me play. The issue was never raised ’cause Dan was one of two NE guitarists. He played alongside Horacio Colmenares in New Eden. The night New Eden opened for Fates Warning at the Showcase Theater in Corona bad vibes and change was in the air. It was actually my first time seeing New Eden, ’cause I hadn’t gone with Mike to their Whisky gig—or one at a total dive bar in the Valley called the Toby Jug. Likewise it was the first time I’d ever met their new singer, James Rivera, who’d been with Texas band Helstar in the ’80s and early ’90s. I enjoyed New Eden’s set. Despite the fact that I didn’t dig the religious lyrics on their CD or the band name I thought they were definitely pro. They weren’t quite as dark as the bands I listened to—more upbeat like Helloween at times.

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Before New Eden went on stage I spotted a blonde chick wearing a homemade New Eden shirt. I enquired which bandmember she was with. “Nardo,” she told me. I hadn’t met bassist Nardo Andi (actually spelled Andy) yet. When I was in DE and shared the same side of the rehearsal room and stage in D.E. with Nardo—and I was working at a porn graphic design and advertising house—he told me that the blonde chick was porn starlet J.R. Carrington. She was on quite a few of the box covers we designed at Sampson West in good ol’ Reseda. As they left the stage and packed up their gear, I could just sense Dan was in a foul mood. He seemed really perturbed about something. Hanging out with Linda and Mike Bear outside the Showcase we ran into James and started talking for a bit. He was complaining about not getting any effects on his voice from the live sound engineer. James had his son Jakob with him, and we were keeping an eye on the kid while the guys kept coming in and out of the club with their gear. Dan, bassist Nardo and drummer Brian were peeved about guitarist Horacio. I figured they’d just sort it out. I learned that night that New Eden had two record deals on the table from Nuclear Blast and Metal Blade. I chatted briefly with James, but didn’t really get too personally acquainted.

At Destiny’s Door 

A few days later I got a fateful call from Dan.

“Perry, I know you play guitar. We just kicked Horacio out and I was wondering if you’d be interested in jamming with us. Do you have a demo I can listen to?”

“Well, man,” I began, “I don’t have a recording with a full band, but I’ve got some rough guitar and bass only recordings of my song ideas I can let you hear.”

“Cool,” he replied. “Bring ’em down with you on Saturday to the house and we’ll jam.”

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That Saturday afternoon I showed up at Dan and Linda’s pad. I barely showed Dan the tape while he explained the situation: Horacio had been sitting on the contracts for a few months and hadn’t let the rest of the guys go through without getting a lawyer involved. They felt Horacio was being too controlling and monopolizing the songwriting, so they decided to find another axeman. Dan gave me the old New Eden demo Savage Garden and an unreleased tune that didn’t make it on the debut CD Through the Make Believe which he told me was written mostly by bassist Nardo. It was on Mike Grant’s New Eden audition tape under the title “Anonymous” with a different set of lyrics. Dan showed me a few riffs, and I in turn played some of my own. He chugged some rhythms and had me solo over the top. I suppose I impressed him enough to warrant more interest. My homework was to learn “The Hunger” and “Cold New World” off Savage Garden and the newer track (formerly known in its Mike Grant incarnation as “Anonymous”) which James retitled  “Under Destruction’s Thumb.” I went home and crammed for hours, rising every few seconds to rewind the tape. “The Hunger” and “Cold New World” had Nardo’s riffs in them, bolstered by ex-NE axeman Oscar Gomez’s 6-string interpretations.

Dan called me back to check on my progress. I told him things were going well and I’d learned the songs. He asked me to go down to the old New Eden rehearsal room in Vernon to meet up with the rest of the guys the following day. I holed up in my room and drilled the tunes more, then carted my gear off to Vernon, an armpit of a town south of Downtown LA. Nardo and Brian were in the jam room. But no Dan. He couldn’t make it, they told me. I figured it was because they wanted to see if I could hold my own without him. In hindsight? I was right! Nardo helped me lug my Marshall cabinet up the stairs, ’cause the elevator was busted. After some quick introductory banter Nardo, Brian and I got down to business. We worked through the three tunes pretty quick, and it was clear to me that things were meshing more than with 99% of the musicians I’d jammed with before—though maybe not quite as much as with Mike Bear and Ed Laing. Brian was a double bass monster. He rarely if ever backed away from 16th and 32nd notes on his kicks. Nardo’s gear was a rag-tag rig consisting of a creaky Crate head and a secondhand Trace Elliot 4×10” cab resting atop a blown Peavey 2×15” bin.

Dan kept checking up on me by phone, and all three guys told me to come back night after night. When I had gone for three consecutive nights I began leaving my rig in Vernon, and even brought down my old Digitech effects unit to throw some delay and reverb on solos and clean parts. On one bizarre occasion, after we’d been jamming for about a week, an old guitarist acquaintance of Brian and Nardo’s knocked on the rehearsal room door. He peeked in and asked if they were still looking for a guitarist. He didn’t bring his axe, and he was over a week late in responding to Brian’s call. After Brian pointed out that they were already seeing what I had to offer he took off, obviously bitter over not getting a chance. My consistent, pro attitude and reliability paid off. If I told someone I was going to jam, I showed up. Unlike a lot of flaky musicians.

After a few jams Dan began coming down, and we started to work out who would play main parts and who would play harmonies. I usually wound up playing the harmonies. On other occasions later I’d play the chord progression behind Dan’s theme parts, as in the chorus of “Rebirth.” Dan also showed me his latest song, written not long before entitled “Clutching at Straws,” which Horacio wasn’t keen on. There were tons of complex harmony parts, including a harmonized double lead.

When a week and a half had passed it was clear that the guys liked jamming with me. The first day Dan joined us I played a few song ideas for them, and they liked most of what they heard. I was worried that I wouldn’t be given much input in the songwriting department, and even told Mike Bear so on one of our late night quests for food on the west end of the San Fernando Valley. “If they won’t give me the space to write,” I said, “I’ll just go ahead with the Obscure thing so I can record my tunes.” Mike pledged his bass playing if I were to go ahead with Obscure. But I never resorted to the “solo” technical metal project. Dan, Brian and Nardo seemed really pleased with my progress, and unbeknownst to me they’d already phoned James to say they felt I was their new guitar man. James in turn replied to them that if they felt I was the right guy for the job, then as far as he was concerned I should be welcomed into the fold. Of course no one informed me of this, so I was still in suspense—and busting my brain at home to come up with solos once I perfected the rhythm parts.

Two weeks whiz-banged by, and I was told that James was back from Texas and was going to show up at rehearsal so I’d have a chance to play with the full band. We ran through our set of four or five songs, then James waltzed in half-way through “Under Destruction’s Thumb.” I was a little nervous at first, but that began to wear off quick. Until one of my straplocks malfunctioned and the strap began to slide down my shoulder.  I was freaked I was gonna drop my B.C. Rich Warlock—or that I’d hit all kinds of bad notes, but I somehow managed to hold onto the thing and finish the tune. James then ran through “Cold New World” and “The Hunger” with us. “The Hunger” had become “Sinister Deity” and “Cold New World” was renamed “Unsolved World.” When he gave me the news that Dan, Brian and Nardo had said I was their man—that he agreed before even seeing me play—I was ecstatic. After all, James had been around the metal scene since I was an elementary school snot-nose. I’d owned the third and fourth Helstar albums since the early ’90s, and so figured James had to be a pro. Though my ex-death metal conspirator Mike Artis had eschewed metal with high-ranged clean vocals in my high school days, Helstar fit in with the Malmsteen-like neo-classical shred guitar I devoured in my late teens.

James told me that when he heard how young I was—a mere 22—that he expected he’d show up and find some dude with baggy-ass pants hanging down around his knees, short hair and a face fulla piercings. I broke the disappointing truth to him: my taste in music had solidified in my early teens. I was a total longhaired heavy metal maniac long before the rise of Seattle grunge. Nirvana and Pearl Jam didn’t come into vogue until 1991 at which time I was a staunch supporter of thrash and death metal bands. Traditional metal was the music I loved. Did I want to join? Hell yeah, I told them. “Even though I’m used to playing slightly heavier stuff and tuning down to E flat or D, I dig what you guys are doing.”

denews Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online
The first Destiny’s End press release, Oct. ’97

IMG 0007 Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online
Proud owner of a 1976 B.C. Rich Eagle

So, there you have it, folks. At the age of 22 I was about to start living the dream I’d been having since I was still in junior high school of playing guitar in a recording and gigging metal band. After we packed our gear up we adjourned to the Francisco Studios garage. We stood around drummer Brian’s car and tried to plan out our next moves. There were two record deals on the table, and we all agreed on taking the Metal Blade one, as they were locals in SoCal—out in Simi Valley, just north of my familiar Chatsworth stomping grounds. We figured we could keep good tabs on Metal Blade and visit the offices whenever we needed to do some band business. James particularly liked the idea because of his history with Mike Faley, now Metal Blade president, who once managed Helstar, not to mention Bill Metoyer who had recorded and produced Helstar.

Dan and James had both gotten the name and address of a music attorney named Mark Abbatista, who had also served as manager for metal band Wrathchild America. Wrathchild had been signed to a major label, so we figured we’d be in good hands. Wrathchild, Dan and I knew, had recently changed their name to Souls at Zero. Likewise we were searching for a new name. We all brainstormed and wrote down lists. Brian and Nardo wanted to use their first band name, Shadow Insane. Dan and I vetoed it. Dan had Destiny’s End at the top of his list. I, of course, had Obscure and… Noctuary, the title of one of my fave collections of Thomas Ligotti’s mindbending short horror tales. The latter wound up being taken by a SoCal death metal band. Obviously, we settled on Dan’s top pick.

We rang up Abbatista and made an appointment. The five of us showed up at his swanky office in West L.A. Abbatista was affable but very adamant about us not getting our hopes up too high about seeing any money out of the deal because metal was at its lowest ebb point in two decades. He said that Souls at Zero had recently been dropped from their label and weren’t seeing any dough. He promised to get all of the funky (monkey?) business out of the Metal Blade contract, especially the “leaving member” clause which stated that none of us could do anything for a year should we quit the band prematurely. Another clause we were quick to have Abbatista change was the one in which Metal Blade tried to take a hefty percentage of our publishing and merchandising money. We were smart to have that taken out, as t-shirt money would keep us out on the road for a month and a half in the U.S. Not to our credit, though, we allowed Metal Blade to usurp 25% of our publishing, essentially making them a sixth member of the band. We were told by Abbatista that Metal Blade wouldn’t relinquish this and that most of the time they snaked 50-75% of a band’s publishing.

The contract was speedily negotiated between Abbatista and Metal Blade’s lawyer Will Howell. James had already flown the coop from San Diego back to Houston. Meanwhile, The three SoCal DE dudes and I worked our asses off on material for our first album. Since we were due to hit the studio shortly after New Year’s ’98, we recorded pre-production demos of the new tracks in our rehearsal room.

James was only actually in SoCal with us for a few days, and I’d hardly begun to get acquainted with him. When I briefly drove him around, I blasted obscure cult metal bands he’d never paid attention to, like Sortilege from France, Manilla Road, Pentagram, Cirith Ungol, Heavy Load (Sweden) or Warlord. I drove James up to Simi Valley for a visit to Metal Blade’s office, where he introduced me to label pres. Mike Faley (Brian Slagel had promoted himself to CEO). I also met a few other Metal Blade employees, befriending a guy named Jim Mills who was an aspiring death metal vocalist. Faley and Metoyer came down to the DE jam room and were quite impressed with our tunes and performance.

While driving James around I rambled a little about listening to some bands who’d had a history of drug abuse—like Megadeth—and that I figured people had learned something since the ’80s. James kinda fell silent when I made those statements. I had to wonder, and I had a haunting notion that the issue of musicians consumed by drug addiction would later come back to bite me in the ass. Didn’t it always do that?

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Multi-Track Recorder

Dan owned an ancient Vestax 4-track recorder which he got repaired and cleaned up. By November I’d gotten Dan a killer deal on a brand spankin’ new Tascam 4-track machine. Dan intended to send the Vestax home with James, so that he could overdub vocals on demos with some help from his cousin Dave. It would mean less trips to L.A. We worked into the wee hours of the morning with James on Thanksgiving weekend. During our second to last session Nardo got a bug up his bum to clean our rehearsal space at about 1 a.m. We had a cardboard drum we’d been using as a trash can which Brian had brought from his job and a bunch of papers and stuff behind the amps on the side of the room I shared with Nardo. It didn’t make much sense, but I didn’t pay much attention. I was too busy helping Dan and James out, revising lyrics and manning the vocal effects unit and knobs on the 4-track. The next day we convened to finish James’ vocals in time for all the sports fans (not me!) to watch the bowl games at Dan’s pad in Alhambra. We noticed, just as we were leaving that Dan’s old Vestax recorder went missing from our jam room. Hadn’t Dan brought it with him in its original box and left it in the rehearsal space? We all remembered him doing that, but maybe we were wrong. We figured we’d find it sitting at Dan’s pad when we reached Alhambra. Sure! He’d forgotten it at home. Happens to the best of us. But… nope. No 4-track. That’s when I remembered Nardo’s sudden speedy room cleanout. I had every right to be worried, didn’t I? Hadn’t Nardo recently been busted for possession of crystal meth? Dan and the future Mrs. DeLucie, Bessie, thought I was overreacting, but I somehow managed to get them to return to the studio with me to search the room and the dumpster in the garage. I tore the room upside down, while Dan prowled the dumpster. Minutes passed. Dan crossed into the room holding the empty 4-track box. Were my suspicions correct? Had our own bassist stolen Dan’s gear that he intended to bestow on James with the intention of hocking it? I still wonder to this day what happened exactly. I prefer not to think the worst of people, but it was a nagging question. In the heat of the moment I told Dan that if anything of mine ever disappeared from the jam room that I’d probably be pissed off enough to quit. That is if the offending party wasn’t summarily sacked. It wasn’t so much that the 4-track was worth wads of cash. It couldn’t have been more than a $100 piece secondhand. No, It was the principle. At our next rehearsal I made it crystal clear how livid I was about the 4-track being ripped off. If it’d been an inside job, the offending party realized he’d better clean up his act or the band itself, on the threshold of some high profile recording and gigging, would be at stake.

Thankfully, the case of the mysterious vanishing 4-track faded into the background, as we threw ourselves feverishly into preparation for recording Breathe Deep the Dark with engineer and co-producer Bill Metoyer at Mark Zonder’s studio, Bill’s Place, in NoHo. Metal Blade invited us to their ’97 xmas bash at their Simi Valley headquarters. Calling the MB party awkward as all hell is an understatement. Again, despite the fact that I was a massive fan of several early Metal Blade bands, I/we seemed to be getting the cold shoulder. Jeff Duncan (Armored Saint), Betsy (Weiss of Bitch) and Dave Carruth attended. I tried to strike up a conversation with Jeff by mentioning that a friend who sold secondhand guitars had an old Gibson SG with his stencil on the case. I threw in how much I absolutely adored Armored Saint, especially their Symbol of Salvation album, but he clammed right up. I admired Duncan’s axework as much as I did/do Ray Alder’s voice and Mark Zonder’s skin bashing in Fates Warning. Was I in any way to blame for them not being very personable? My opinion hasn’t changed on the subject of the lame competitive and egotistical nature of the band scene. If you’ve got the talent, more power to you, I say! Rock star ‘tudes are one of my pet peeves. There should be room for everybody. Apparently I’m not the only one who experienced things of this nature. Cirith Ungol drummer Rob Garven commiserated with me repeatedly about the bullshit he and his bandmates endured at the hands of superficial Sunset Strip nonsense. Aside from the MB staff and the DE dudes, I only really chatted at length with guitarist Dave Carruth. His now ex lady and singer Betsy didn’t even say hi or boo to us. Was there an “Ignore me!” bumper sticker stuck to my forehead?!

dandelucie Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online
Dan DeLucie

We DE dudes got some traveling under our belts between 1998-99, and I even bonded some with Nardo on the road. Though he was toking a lot of weed, his speed habit seemed to have abated to a certain extent. He’d been ordered to attend diversion classes and had his license suspended as stipulations of the possession arrest. Drummer Brian Craig, though covered with tats, hardly ever even drank beer anymore. Brian regaled us with tales of his wasted youth up in the Bay Area. Though Dan would often call something black and Brian would see it as white just to disagree, they joined me as the voice of reason and organization in DE. Dan and Brian were men of their words, and I only remember them flaking on one rehearsal much later in the game.

briancraig Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online
Brian Craig

While I was the final member to complete the DE puzzle when we formed in ’97, I was offered the space to write after proving myself in a two week long audition. When Dan and Brian conceded to my creative input, I was compelled to take DE very seriously. Where some of my compositions were long and somewhat overwrought pre-DE, I learned to trim the fat. Brian was very helpful with excising the extraneous riffage. Some keyboard jockeys on the ‘evil web’ can hide behind their monitors and claim what they want about my position in the band. They haven’t got an inkling of the truth. They weren’t there. Though Dan is older, he respected me as an equal a great deal of the time. If he offered criticism, it was constructive (like “slow down and play a lead that means something.”) In terms of creativity and sheer hours spent honing the music, the two of us were the “driving force” behind DE. Brian was not only a killer drummer and arranger, but a logistics man. That came in handy shipping our gear to Texas a couple of times to do some touring. Dan and I often had little guitar summits at his pad separate from rehearsal. I ask you, people, why would I have all of this material if I wasn’t a painstaking archivist and major-rager behind the scenes? The truth be told, the proof in its proverbial pudding. 

Now to the music itself…
Destiny’s End – Pre-Production Demos 1997

Right click on the links below and “save as” to download the MP3s!

1. Rebirth

James kicks this one off with a piercing falsetto scream. We knew it’d be the opening track on the album and wanted to start off with a stunner. Dan wrote the lyrics, filled with in-jokes about New Eden and Helstar. “Returning from an empty eden” and “burning deep in the stars.” It was about those guys having a second chance after Helstar and New Eden. An intensely fast DeLucie-penned track. I always thought the first riffs sounded like Swedish death metal (if we’d only tuned our axes down). Nope, in DE we tuned to plain ol’ standard E. Whereas, in Stormhaven, I was in Eb.

2. To Be Immortal

Dan sure loved his Rachmaninoff and other classic composers, didn’t he? A fast, galloping verse and plenty of harmonies. Drummer Brian Craig wrote the lyrics, about an emperor-type fellow seeking immortality through imperial conquest. Brian read legal thrillers a lot, and it was a shame he didn’t write more DE lyrics.


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Anthology I first read “Fortress” in!

3. Idle City / The Fortress Unvanquishable

My two-part epic with lyrics inspired by Irish fantasist Lord Dunsany’s short story “The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth.” Lotsa Middle Eastern melodies. Dan’s harmonized opening solo puts the icing on the cake, and the rest of the lead work is mine. A conglomeration of various influences: Death, Sacrifice, Savatage, Testament, Rainbow, Uli Roth-era Scorpions and maybe even a little Al DiMeola. I laid the foundation for this one back in ’95. There were a few minor alterations, but it’s very close to how I envisioned the tune when I was 20. I tacked on the eerie clean-tone intro for the final DE version. Brian Craig helped slightly to nail the arrangement.

lorddunsanysepiatone Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online
Lord Dunsany (1878-1957)

4. Breathe Deep the Dark

My second contribution to the band. It became the title of our debut album. Lyrically I was heavily inspired by H.P. Lovecraft (“The Outsider,” “The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath,” etc.), Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of the dying future continent Zothique (“Empire of the Necromancers,” etc.), Edmond Hamilton’s “In the World’s Dusk” (note the line “Survived alone in the world’s dusk”) and M.P. Shiel’s post-apocalyptic novel The Purple Cloud. The first line of the song is a paen to Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, while the main riff betrays my love for Death’s Spiritual Healing LP. The chorus crunches a la Forbidden’s Twisted into Form. It’s also safe to say I learned a few thrash techniques from my friends, Prototype. Originally there was only a single guitar part on the chorus. I don’t ordinarily listen to fan suggestions, but we had a visitor at the rehearsal room who said the part might sound cooler if one guitar was doing something different. So, I wrote the arpeggiated second guitar part on the spot for a dash of spice. It follows the main chords, albeit in a higher register. The bridge is very Maidenesque, boasting a snake-charmer lead courtesy of Mr. DeLucie and Nardo’s Steve Harris-like walking bass line. My solo was pretty short and succinct. Too bad I played the wrong harmonics on the demo!? I always thought James’ vocal melody on the chorus sounded like Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Kinda nifty and different for metal.

Famous fantastic mysteries 194906 Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online

purple cloud Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online

5. Where Do We Go

Dan’s tune with lyrics by James. Simply put, this one questions what happens when we human beings die. “Where do we go? Is there something out there?” Dan, Brian and I were the heathen bastards in DE. No religion for us. You’d often find Brian and Nardo (good pals mind you!) debating religion at 4 a.m. while we were on the road. There’s a small double harmony from both DE axemen, and Dan plays the only full-scale solo.

6. Clutching at Straws (Instrumental)

One of the most complex DeLucie contributions. Dan and I spent a lot of time perfecting the dual lead which happens twice in the song. Listen to how Dan and I harmonize chords on the chorus before it goes double-time. A clear example of how, even when I didn’t write a DE song, I brought a lot of creativity with my harmonies and idiosyncratic articulations. Boy am I glad I changed my solo on the album version! The demo one’s kinda shonky.

7. Idle City / The Fortress Unvanquishable (Instrumental)

Without vocals you can really hear some of the subtle nuances of this tune! We sent this instrumental version off to James in Houston with my lyrics. He stuck the cassette in his car stereo and put a boombox on the seat while he sang along. He let us hear the result, including his rendering of “spectree” instead of “specter.” (Sure, I’d used the “proper” British spelling ‘spectre,’ but that’s no excuse!) I was mortified when James told us he’d played the bastardized boombox recording for Brian Slagel. Fortunately Slagel seemed to understand it wasn’t a proper demo. As a matter of fact, he intimated to me only a couple of months later that “Fortress” was his fave track of our first batch.

8. Sinister Deity (Instrumental)

This was an old New Eden song, formerly known as “The Hunger” on their Savage Garden demo. James reused an old set of Helstar lyrics for it, but that’s the only relation it has to his other band. Inspired by Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s version of Scarface, it’s about a devious drug lord. I didn’t have a solo in this tune, but there were a lot of harmonies and rhythm breaks to keep me occupied. That’s Dan wailing away on the lead break.

9. Thief of Life (Instrumental)

The studio version of “Thief of Life” was meant to be our Japanese bonus track. Here it is sans vocals. We laughingly referred to this sucker as “Thief of Beef.”

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Frank Belknap Long (1901-1994)

10. The Obscure (Instrumental)

See the top of this entry for a hilarious anecdote about demoing “The Obscure.” Another tune I brought with me to DE. It didn’t change drastically from the arrangement I had in ’95. Probably my fave author of all-time is Frank Belknap Long. FBL was Lovecraft’s best friend, but also a talented writer in his own right. I owed a lot to FBL’s yarns “Flame of Life,” “Giants in the Sky” and “The Timeless Man,” lyrically speaking. Originally, “The Obscure” was titled “Flame of Life,” and the chorus still bore that phrase. James had a nasty habit of putting a few words into one of my songs to take lyric credit. (James kept trying to put “fortune” into the chorus, but the word is future. You can see him slip and revert to “fortune” in the video of our first SoCal gig.) Being that I was a mere 22 when I joined DE, I let it slide and didn’t ponder it until nearly three years later, when it was painfully clear I was being short-changed. The truth be told, “Breathe Deep the Dark,” “The Obscure,” “Fortress” and were products of my crazy creative cranium. Conceived by me and dating back to 1995-96. James didn’t read any of the weird tales by H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long, Clark Ashton Smith or M.P. Shiel which inspired “The Obscure,” “Fortress” or “Breathe Deep the Dark.” Another thing I need to clarify for fans: James doesn’t play an instrument. He only sings, and doesn’t compose the tunes. Occasionally he comes up with vocal melodies, but most of the songwriting work was tackled by me and Dan DeLucie, with arrangement assistance from drummer Brian Craig. From a lyric perspective, Over time, I did manage to hip Dan to heaps of pulp SF, horror and fantasy writers. He dug Edmond Hamilton so much that he ended up using Hamilton’s “In the World’s Dusk” as the basis for the Crescent Shield tune “The Last of My Kind.”   

fbloddsf Destiny's End - Pre-Production Demos 1997 / Memoirs of an Inconsequential Metaller | Cirith Ungol Online
Frank Belknap Long’s Odd Science Fiction (1963)
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