By: Robert Cavuoto
The phrase “metal super group” was custom-made for the newly launched Animetal USA. The group is comprised of singer Mike Vescera (Obsession/Loudness) as Metal-Rider, bassist Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Dio) as Strombringer, guitarist Chris Impellitteri as Speed King, and drummer Jon Dette (Slayer/Testament), as Tank.
And as if that wasn’t enough metal for you in one band, former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman arranged the tunes, along with Chris. As a result, the new band contains all the metallic riffs, solos, and powerful vocals you could hope for, as evidenced by their self-titled debut, which has already been gold-certified in Japan and hitting the #1 spot on Amazon’s Hard Rock Heavy Metal chart and #2 on Amazon’s Anime chart in Japan.
Additionally, the members manage to put a new spin on the heavy metal concept, as they’ve embraced an anime-driven look, complete with futuristic make-up and costumes. I was able to speak with guitarist, Chris Impellitteri aka Strombringer about this new project and how he’s bring his shredding abilities to the Anime world.
Robert Cavuota: Tell me how Animetal USA was formed?
Chris Impellitteri: It was put together by our record label, Sony. They really had the vision for this band. They thought it would be an interesting mutation if they took the Metal world and the Anime audience and permeated them together. They would help us find a market, an identity, and people who would listen and come to the shows.
Basically, they had looked at a band out of Japan that had done this, around 1991, it was called Animetal. It was very popular only in Japan. They were said to have great success. Sony thought, and I hate this word, what if we put a ‘supergroup’ together and made it an international band?
Rudy Sarzo said I was the only choice for guitar, and I was flattered. When I got the call from our now manager I asked “can put my own spin on this?” considering it’s actually half an original song and half a cover. Lyrically it’s the cover part as well as the main song theme, especially if it’s a really well-known Anime song. Basically, we put together the original music that I write with the anime lyrics.
Robert: So, the music is original but the lyrics are anime songs?
Chris Impellitteri: Absolutely. If you listen to the opening song of the record called “Touch”, the riff of that song is the cover. It sounds a lot like Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave” and goes into this really insane guitar solo that plays really fast, really orchestrated. All of that is where we start doing our own entire thing. It’s all original music. It’s metal on steroids.
Robert: All the Japanese lyrics need to be translated to English?
Chris Impellitteri: Exactly. Mike Vescera will get the rough outline of the lyric. Of course, it’s in Japanese, so if you have 12 bars of a certain phrase and a verse, and you translate to English and it only makes it to 3 bars, that’s 9 bars of a big hole. Mike has to come up with ways to say exactly the same thing in English. He’s got probably the most challenging job.
Robert: He also has to keep the melody going too. That’s pretty tough.
Chris Impellitteri: People don’t realize that. Rudy told me the other day, “I have never put so much work into a record as with what we do with Animetal.” It takes months and months to do these records. We’re constantly doing arrangements and then ripping them a part.
Robert: Mike sounds like he’s pretty fluent in Japanese.
Chris Impellitteri: Yeah, he’s not (Both laughing). But, there were certain phrases that he had to do because you’ve got to stick to the original lyric. That was the caveat. Even though we’re doing a lot of original music, you’ve still got to use or at the very least the meaning of every word in the song so it doesn’t change, because it’s a storyline. Every song is a story.
Robert: Your signature style is all over the leads.
Chris Impellitteri: This music is at times as challenging as Dream Theater. It gets really intense. When people see the whole Kabuki image, they think, “Oh, is this gonna be cheesy.” When they hear it, they realize what we’re doing. We were all brought into this project because they thought we were musicians that have really tried to push ourselves artistically, making sure we could play any style. That’s what they were looking for.
Robert: Did each member design their own makeup and come up with their own name?
Chris Impellitteri: I did my own face completely. I think the Sony team worked with the other guys quite a bit, just to find out who they felt like, because everybody wanted to express themselves in a different way. Sony called me Speed King. We have Rudy as Storm Bringer, Mike’s Metal-Rider and drummer, Jon Dette is Tank. We do take this music really seriously. At the end of the day we’re trying to make this really fun.
Robert: Is the Japanese band from the ’90s still together and do they play a part in this?
Chris Impellitteri: Nope. In fact, I’ve never even heard of them. I kept reading in the press that we were doing a tribute to them and I’m like, “Well, I’m not,” because I’ve never heard the band. But it was their idea originally; they were Japan-based artists, basically kids who started out doing it for fun. It got hugely popular in Japan, really a big part of the culture. We got involved and I didn’t want to copy them. I didn’t want to hear it because if I did, it’s gonna leave me to kind of arrange the songs in a certain way. Basically I said, “Let me do my own thing.”
Robert: You’ve got some big hits over in Japan, what is the plan for conquering the U.S.?
Chris Impellitteri: That’s a good question. The really nice thing about this is that there’s already a culture and audience all over the world that loves Anime. We’ve got that market and we’re appealing to them already, and from there the record label is pushing us to our own audience in metal.
Obviously Rudy has a long history, whether it’s from Ozzy Osbourne or Quiet Riot. The great metal bands of the world, somehow he’s been in it. He’s got a pretty large fan base. Me, I’ve got a cult following. I’m much smaller as far as name. Obviously musicians know who I am, but your mother would go, “Who?” Either way, we all have our own audiences and that’s really appealing. In America and Europe, Sony is going after those two audiences.
Robert: That’s pretty much an untapped market.
Chris Impellitteri: It’s working so far. In Japan, it’s insane. It used to be a joke that people would say, “Oh, you can’t make it in America so you go to Japan.” Now you go to Japan because it’s the second biggest music market. This new CD came out and within 24 hours of the release, it went #1. We stayed #1 for the first 8 days. Rush entered around the same time with their new record at # 2. They bumped Adele down whose pretty much number one all over the world. Our previous record which was only released in Japan bumped up to # 3 on the international charts. In Japan, this thing is massive. Its gold certified. At our first show we had 11,000 people.
Robert: How did you decided to introduce your neo-classical style into that type of music?
Chris Impellitteri: For this music I think it works great. A good example, there’s a song called the “Mazinger Medley”. It was written originally in the 1960s or ‘70s by classically trained artists. These people were doing anything from a Mozart piece to Beethoven. These animes they had done were very complex arrangements. You’d listen to the tonality, not to get all technical on you. They used a lot of diminished scales, harmonic minors, and it kind of spoke to me. I was like, “Oh my god, I guess I could do this.”
I started bringing in the shredding as we started arranging the music, it just got heavier and heavier and more shredding was allowed. There are a lot of songs that are fairly simplistic too. Randy Rhodes would be a great example. I get a lot of my influence from Randy, at times even Van Halen. It’s more simplistic playing, but its great playing.
Robert: We talked a little bit about arranging. How did Marty Friedman get involved in arranging these songs with you?
Chris Impellitteri: Sony had this idea, but how were they going to accomplish it? How were they gonna bring this to the rest of the world? So Marty was in Japan. He’s a great guitar player and really unique too. They approached him to do the demos. The demos were fed to me and I ended up putting my own thing own it. I rewrote a lot of stuff, wrote a lot of the music to make it work for me and the band. I was physically with Rudy and Scott when we were doing it. Of course, Marty’s contribution was done in Japan, so we were never really with him. We were kind of forced to make it our own thing.
Robert: What are you gonna do for touring in the U.S.?
Chris Impellitteri: We are in the planning stages to do both a European and American tour. We just got back from Japan, of course. We did pretty large venues over there. We may go back again. It’s really time to do our job, which is to bring this to Europe and America.
Robert: Do you think you’ll be headlining or going out in support for somebody.
Chris Impellitteri: That’s a good question. It’s really difficult for me to answer that. This is the biggest problem we have. When you’re a new metal band, you’ve really got to go pay your dues. If there’s a big arena band that wants to take us out and we think the audience is right for us, then absolutely we’ll go out with a band and play with them.
Robert: Will you have a theatrical stage to match your look?
Chris Impellitteri: We’re working on it. It’s traditional stuff. Right now it’s walls of backlights. I think we’re using like 30 Marshall cabinets. They’re all white, really cool looking. As far as drum risers and lifts and all that stuff, those are the things we’re trying to incorporate right now. We’ve got to go out and earn everybody’s respect, so we’re gonna have to go play some places where we’re simply gonna have to use a much smaller stage.
Robert: Tell me about how you think neo-classical style changed over the last 20 or 30 years.
Chris Impellitteri: I think it’s gotten better because of things like YouTube. When I started, I didn’t have YouTube to learn from. I had a teacher that basically initiated my playing for the first four years. It was pretty much like reading Mel Bay music books and learning scales, chording, various voicings, how to orchestrate. That’s all I did as a kid. I had favorite bands as a little kid. Eddie Van Halen was my idol.
When Randy came out, he was the next one. I saw Randy and I loved it. I was like “Oh my god!” That gave me my first impression of who were good solo players. Then I started researching. The older brother kind of people would say, “Check out Ritchie Blackmore and Uli John Roth.” The classical elements came in. It was probably Randy, believe it or not, where I really started hearing the harmonic minor and that was with Mother Revelation Earth.
As I progressed, I got Al Dimeola and John McLaughlin. I started listening to the fusion players, jazz guys, going back and studying more about the classical elements: Bach, Baroque, listening to Mozart. And guys like Yngwie would talk about Paganini and all that. I’d check that out and try to master these techniques. For me I saw that. I was part of that original group.
Someone said the other day, and it was kind of a cool point, we get credit for the speed, because basically there were only like 5 or 6 of us. When I say us, you’ve got to always remember Al Dimeola and John McLaughlin are first to me. They were really the first guys who got me into the speed thing. The shredding thing, it was like Yngwie, Paul Gilbert, me, Vinnie Moore, and Tony McAlpine was around the scene. We were the guys doing it and that’s all we really had to kind of play off of and learn from. Today now we’re going 20 years later, you’ve got YouTube and I’ll watch stuff. There are just amazing kids all over the world doing this stuff now.