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Hirax Frontman Talks New Album, Classic Thrash + Love for Vinyl

Katon W. De Pena - Hirax - 'Immortal Legacy'
Steamhammer SPV

For fans of classic thrash metal, it doesn’t get much better than the ’80s. The music that came out of that decade is legendary and will stand the test of time. Living up to those roots, long-time thrashers Hirax are celebrating the release of their latest studio album, ‘Immortal Legacy,’ 12 tracks of unadulterated classic metal led by founding member Katon W. De Pena.

As De Pena prepares for a European tour set to launch in April, he took a few minutes out of his nonstop schedule to chat with Loudwire about all things thrash, from Hirax’s roots to why he still wants his music pressed on vinyl.

What has it been like promoting ‘Immortal Legacy,’ your first studio album in five years?

It’s more overwhelming than any album I worked before. You know, the profile of the label [Steamhammer SPV], the profile of the band, we’re all really professional people. Everything possible is being done to get it out to the masses. It’s a crazy time and really busy. It’s cool, we are putting 100% into promoting this record. I’m really happy.

Talk about the lineup on this album. You’ve said you’re really happy with the personnel.

My main lineup that has been with me for awhile is Lance Harrison on lead guitar and his brother Steve on bass and our drummer Jorge Iacobellis. We brought in some other musicians to play on the record, too. It was so stellar. We brought in Rocky George from Suicidal Tendencies and Jim Durkin from Dark Angel, these guys are making guest appearances and are doing amazing guitar solos. Finally, we brought Juan Garcia from Agent Steel, too. It’s a very special record in a sense that we’re bringing a bunch of history together. These guys, I’ve toured with them or played with them or even just know them from the Los Angeles metal scene. It was awesome having them come in the studio and bust out these solos. It was amazing what they did on the record.

‘Immortal Legacy’ is a nonstop rocker, and it feels like a punch in the face — in a good way! You’ve said that this record is getting back to your roots. What did you mean by that?

We grew up on the early stuff, bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest, stuff like that. Really, though, we just want you to know we haven’t forgotten where we come from. Bands as they grow sometimes thin out their sound or overdo their production. We stayed true to what we love because that’s how we started over 30 years ago. The roots are there, but we have more weapons, there’s more in our arsenal. It’s fast, it’s heavy, it’s aggressive. There’s a lot more on this record, it’s a deeper record, but it’s still very true to our thrash metal roots. And, having Bill Metoyer produce it is a nice throwback because we worked with him in the ’80s. To have him produce this album happened by chance when he was at a show in Los Angeles and told us he was interested in producing the new record. He was on our list of producers we wanted! The record is really big sounding and that’s what we were going for. We wanted it to sound epic, and that’s what we got with Bill.

With you getting back to your roots, you still somehow make the record shine in 2014 with a modern sound. In addition, ‘Immortal Legacy’ has a pretty sick album cover, too.

We’ve always had a pretty illustrious artist lineup for our records. We’ve had guys like Pushead in the early days, and have worked with other really good artists. On the last record we had Ed Repka. With this record, I got an email from this guy named Philip Lawvere. I thought it couldn’t be Philip Lawvere because I thought he had been dead for years. Finally, I confirmed it was actually him and he was alive! Basically, he and I started talking about cover art for the record. Once I told him the concept of the record he was totally into it.

This was his first oil painting he’s done in over 25 years! He sent me a photo of it from Greece and as soon as I saw it I knew it was the right cover. It’s reminiscent of the older thrash style and it just fits us. Plus, I grew up on bands like Molly Hatchet and Uriah Heep and Nazareth, so it’s kind of got that feel to it. It’s rich and it’s a real painting. I didn’t want digital stuff, I wanted a real painting. I think the fans who buy our music are going to freak out when they see the cover. It’s epic and it goes right with the music. The 12-inch vinyl of the record is a gatefold so when they listen to the music they can actually read it like it’s a book.

Speaking of vinyl, I’d love to hear why you decided to press ‘Immortal Legacy.’ In today’s day and age of digital distribution, it seems like it’d be much easier to not do the vinyl thing.

I’m cool with all formats because I just love music. Whatever you’re into, you should be able to buy it that way. Even when vinyl wasn’t that popular, we still did it. There was a period when people weren’t buying it that much, but we were still making it for the fans who wanted it. And, I love vinyl. There’s nothing better than taking the record out of a sleeve and putting it on a turntable if you’re a music freak like me. There was no option not to do vinyl, we made sure we did it for ‘Immortal Legacy.’ You want to give your fans 100% and that’s what we did with this record.

Fans had to wait 5 years for this new album. Will long-time Hirax metalheads dig it?

Oh yeah! I think what’s cool about our fans is that they are really hardcore. We came up from the underground and we are proud of that, we’ll never turn our back on that scene. The fans always get us fired up and they’ve inspired us to make a great record. A lot of the hard work we did is because the fans have pushed us. I think they’re going to be f—ing stoked. It’s relentless, just like you said. It’s like being run over by a f—ing freight train!

‘Immortal Legacy’ is available at Amazon as a CD, digital download and vinyl.

Listen to Loudwire's Exclusive Album Stream of 'Immortal Legacy'

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