INTERVIEW: SONS OF AZRAEL

When I first joined the local music community of Buffalo, New York back in the summer of 2001, SONS OF AZRAEL were already in their infancy, and preparing for what would become quite the career over the course of the following decade. I saw an early incarnation of the band at a backyard show, an incarnation that would later morph into the lineup you see above (that backyard show is discussed in the following interview).

From left to right: Tony Lorenzo (RIP) (guitars), Greg DiPasquale (guitars), Joe Siracuse (RIP) (vocals), Derrick Sadkowski (drums), and Robert Steinwandel (bass)

Over the course of those ten years, I watched this band go through a few lineup changes, do a few national tours, and even get signed to Ironclad Recordings, a subsidiary of Metal Blade Records (2007). Their record deal would ultimately be followed that year by the release of their debut record, The Conjuration of Vengeance, still in my top-5 local releases to this day.

A few years later, they released their sophomore album, Scouting the Boneyard (2010), before calling it quits out of necessity. Around a year later, guitarist and founding member, Tony Lorenzo, was robbed and shot, paralyzing him from the waist down (Oct 2011). One year after that, vocalist, Joe Siracuse, would die of a drug overdose (Oct 2012). Tony Lorenzo would later die of medical complications related to the 2011 shooting in March of 2017.

A fondly remembered band, known well by the community for making Buffalo so proud had such a tragic ending. But in remembrance of those days, in May of 2017, an event celebrating the life of Tony Lorenzo was facilitated at Waiting Room Buffalo. SONS OF AZRAEL (a tribute to) would perform a short, 4-song surprise set in memory of Joe and Tony. I was fortunate enough to be asked to perform lead vocals for that set, and I will forever remember it as the live performance of my life. No other live performance of mine has compared to it, and none ever will.

Now, in July of 2022, I had another opportunity to get together with Derrick Sadkowski, only this time it was to discuss the following interview. And for those interested in even more of this material, you can find a 2-part podcast interview with Greg, Robert, and Derrick on the WRETCHED SOUND YouTube channel. The two parts total about three hours of content.

And without further ado, here is my WRETCHED SOUNDS OF THE PAST interview with Derrick Sadkowski, along with some added recalled memories from Greg DiPasquale…

Derrick Sadkowski

Drummer of Sons of Azrael, circa 2002-2009

If I remember correctly your first show was at X-Wheelz with All Out War. I’d love to start there. How’d you get the show? How were you received? Was it big? Did it suck? I don’t think I was there, so I have no memory of it.

Misery Signals and Undying also played that show. Hell of a first show, right? I think that’s also what launched us to the top tier of local bands at the time. We didn’t have the normal strategy of play the Battle-of-the-Bands shows sandwiched between a few Pay-to-Play shows like so many other bands. We knew we had something above average, and we didn’t settle.

As far as how we got that show, I’m not clear, I was 17 and didn’t have too many connections. There was some buzz around us with Tony and Joe in the band, obviously their popularity led to interest in the band.

The show was actually surprisingly big, and it may have have one of the largest shows we played in Buffalo. I forget the final head-count, but it was north of 200+. There is video of it somewhere, and I think I have it, but it’s on an old harddrive packed away someplace. It’s our first show, and it certainly looks that way. We were very nervous 17-year-olds. I think after the set I hugged everyone and said, “Hey, look! We’re rock stars now!”

*taken in the early 2000s at the band’s first practice space in Black Rock

Another thing I want to discuss, if you can remember much of it, is Courtney’s backyard show back in the summer of 2001. That was the first time I ever heard you play drums. I think some early incarnation of SOA played that event. For some reason I remember seeing you on drums, Tony on guitar, but maybe Wayne on vocals? What was the story there?

So, you’re right in that it was an early incarnation of SOA, but it wasn’t me on drums. I actually didn’t even start playing drums until early 2002. The band you’re remembering I believe was “Closer Fate” and it was a band that I played bass for.

The official band lineup at the time was myself on bass, Wayne on vocals, Cory Kurasz and Tony played guitar, and Mike Correa was playing drums. Little history on Mike: he is how I met Tony. Wayne, Cory, and myself flier’d at a show at Showplace Theatre. Mike got in touch and joined the band a few days later. When we wanted another guitar player, he would call up Tony and the rest there is history.

But the lineup that performed that day was Wayne, Bobby, Dave Crawford from Phaetasm, Tony and Cory. There was a little drama after that, as you could imagine. I eventually found out that I was no longer in that band, and that’s what actually lead to me playing drums. I realized that I wasn’t good at playing bass because I didn’t like playing bass and wanted to play drums. I think I made the right switch there.

When we last interviewed, you told me the story of how you went about getting signed to Ironclad. What I’m really curious about now is the writing process for The Conjuration of Vengeance. You guys obviously just rerecorded some jams from your first handful of demos, but what about the songs that were “new” to that record? How often did you guys jam? How did you split your time between writing and rehearsal? Were there some heavy songwriting disagreements in those days that stick out to you? (fond memories only, I guess, I’m not trying to dig shit up.)

Signing to Ironclad is such a cool memory. The sense of excitement and accomplishment… Still so cool. It was a smaller label, so we had the Exec’s phone numbers in our phones – Something not all small metal bands could say at the time.

The writing process in general really never stopped for Tony and I. I remember one time, being on vacation with my family, and he called me – after 9 PM of course – you know, had to make sure it was free long distance – and said, “Yo, listen to this riff” he played it and then we made drumming noises at each other for a few minutes… Suddenly I went go from being on vacation to counting the days until I could get back home so Tony and I could jam. I believe that riff would go on to be used in the song “Never Revelation.”

When it came to rerecording some of the demo material for the full length, I was… a bit unimpressed. We had a few new songs, all of which I felt were better than our earlier material and I just felt like, “how many versions of these songs to the people need?” But there were two reasons at the time for those decisions.

One, turn around time / meeting a soft-deadline. The label had just signed us and cut us a sizable check. Well, for a bunch of 20 year old’s, a sizable check. We only had one week, give or take in the studio with Mike Hatalak before he left for tour with It Dies Today and that needed to include time for mixing and mastering. So, the label didn’t want us to sit on the money for any longer than we needed to, and we didn’t have time to cut a bunch of new material.

The other was less corporate, Tony and Joe wanted to have good versions of the songs with the best production and recording clarity we could afford at the time. They loved those songs and felt that they needed to be recorded in the best way possible.

The rehearsal and writing process was very much intertwined. We practiced together every other day on average and we’d play for 3-6 hours each time. If we had to write or someone had an idea we would play the set and then jump into writing. It was all done by jamming or a riff was brought to the table which we would give input on. Of course, when you have a guitar player bringing a riff he worked on for a few days and then your drummer goes, “yeah that’s OK.. but what if you played it this way” there were some standoffs, and arguments. I think that’s normal and even a bit expected in almost any collaborative creative setting.

There were some heavy disagreements throughout the whole album. One that I will share, that’s really ironic, was the song “Turn that Crown Upside Down.” Believe it or not, I didn’t like that song at first. It’s now one of my favorites, but for the first month or two of that song’s existence I didn’t like it. Even after we recorded it I didn’t like it much. It’s got heavy black metal influence and we weren’t a black metal band. I didn’t feel like it fit and thought it might turn some people off of the band, and then that massive over the top breakdown at the end. It felt wrong for me. But, as time went on, and hundreds of bands started doing that same exact thing, I felt more like an innovator than a panderer, and listened to the song without bias and loved it. Sometimes you just don’t know what you have until some time passes I guess. I was very near-sighted and opinionated back then.

Dawn posted a photo of you playing drums last night, and it got me thinking. What exactly made you stop playing for so long/selling your stuff, etc.? Did you have some bad feels attached to drums for a bit? Also, is Enthauptung still happening, or I guess a better question would be, are you still a part of it?

So there wasn’t one single solid reason for why I packed my drums up and stopped playing. I will clarify though – the stuff I sold was all excess and things I didn’t tour with or just stuff that didn’t have sentimental value. I still have all the OG SOA stuff.

That said, the main reason I stopped was personal reasons, trying to get over the wall of, “these are the drums I played on tour with my brothers… and some aren’t here anymore.” Not at all complicated, right? That was a tough one to process, even years later.

It would also be compounded by this weird push and pull of:

I should be practicing now.

And, at the same time, I can’t handle the crushing weight I feel when I sit down at my drums.

Mental health is important, in my opinion, often more important that physical health. So instead of having that poison dichotomy in an endless IV-drip, I packed them up and put my drums in the corner. No more expecting to play or not play, no more thinking about it. When I was ready, I would come back. And everything else would just have to wait. I had to get right.

What helped me come back and get right, was thinking about what Tony would say to me if he could. I’m sure it would be soaked in the tough love we always communicated to each other with, but it would also be kind and reassuring; he developed a least stern and more graceful approach to things later on in his life. I think he’d say something along the lines of, “What? You got something better to do? Better than being a total fuckin’ badass on the drums? You’ve got to show these kids how to kick ass like only you can… Now go hit those drums with your damn purse.”

Enthauptung is still happening, and there is about an hour worth of material that we have wanted to track for a while now. That’s what I’m working on now. There isn’t a date or estimated release goal in mind. I have shared with Dan, Jason, and Joe that it is my priority to at least have drum tracks recorded by the end of 2022, even though the songs are unbelievably demanding.

One song in particular, which is unnamed at the moment, has a tempo just north of “mid tempo” you know the tempo range that almost no one is comfortable in? The 180-200 BPM range. We wrote a song in that range and it’s both the most challenging and the best writing I’ve ever been a part of. Joe Leising is a genius.

Okay, so maybe I will repeat some just because I love hearing about the tours you guys went on with the Conjuration lineup. Talk about your top shows from touring the first album! If anything sticks out earlier on, throw that in as well.

So a lot of the cool stuff about touring for me was the traveling part. I mean being in your early 20’s and driving into cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, New York… That made me feel so cool and so small at the same time. And being with your brothers, knowing that you had friends with you, and other bands to have a good time with, it really was one long, non-stop party. I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.

Playing the Knitting Factory in LA was cool, so was playing little hole-in-the-walls in places like Kansas and New Mexico. One of the craziest things to happen to us was when we played this indoor amphitheater in Nebraska. We had finished playing and a lot of people were leaving, we started packing up, not really thinking much of it, when the promoter came up to us and said, “hey I don’t know what you guys got going on, but if you want to pack it up and get out of here I’d do it as fast as you can.” We all looked at each other totally puzzled, not knowing why this guy said this to us.. he then told us to look outside. As we open the door, all we could see was that it was raining sideways. We turn and look back at the promoter and he said, “oh yeah – first time out this way during tornado season, huh?”

As I heard, there were three separate tornadoes that touched down in Papillion Nebraska that night all right around the venue where we played. We had gotten out of there as fast as we could, packing up all our gear and loading into the trailer through 70 MPH wind, and driving as best we could with the wipers on high.

I know it sounds a little less than stressful, but remember, we were touring with maps and AAA TripTik’s, and our phones only made phone calls and texts. And we were driving our house and our lives were in the 8×5 trailer behind us. It was pretty crazy when you consider all the context.

What was your favorite SOA logo and merch design?!

My favorite logo was the last one we had. I think it made it onto some shirts. We called it the drip logo. It was the most death metal looking logo we had. Conversely, the one I liked least is the basic logo on the Conjuration album. I’m pretty sure its the font “Fette Fraktur” with a small alteration to the letter “s”

Favorite shirt? Probably the sweet blasphemy long sleeve. Or the very first shirt we ever pressed. I don’t have any shirts. In fact, all I have is a copy of the conjuration CD and a burned copy of the Conjuration master.

Was there a show at Infinity that Mike Faley showed up to?

Yeah, the Metal Blade showcase. It was at The Continental. I never met or saw him. Actually, I was told that he left before we even went on stage. He did leave some comments on us though, that I looked like I didn’t belong in the band, that Joe needed to ditch his baseball cap, and that we didn’t sound enough like Corpse. So, I didn’t put him high in my book.

What are your individual contributions to the band musically that you are most proud of?

Well, I’m proud of everything in the band, really. And a lot of the music was a group effort between Tony and I. Beyond that, I ran the website and managed the social media aspect, which was mainly just MySpace back then. I did the little bit of video editing and made sure all that was running smoothly.

What was the best LOCAL show you played as SOA and what made that so special?

Oh, hands down had to have been Showplace with Vital Remains. We kicked ass that night, and it was in front of hundreds. That was great because I saw so many bands come through Showplace and always thought how cool it would be to play there. I’m not really sure why I thought that way, but I felt like if I played showplace that I would have “made it.” playing Broadway Joe’s was cool, but it was always a feeling of, “I’m playing in front of my friends, and at the end of the show, we’re all going to go out and grab some food together.” And, don’t get me wrong, I love that. But when you get up on a taller stage, and the PA system is worth thousands instead of hundreds, and you have stage managers chirping and the sound guy gets your check done in 5 seconds, the lights turn off, and your friends are making up 5% of the crowd instead of 95%… Well, that was a whole new thing. We went over well, and there wasn’t the “hey man, good set” afterwards. That night there were a couple, “Oh so you guys are big time now?” and “sounded pro, dude” the feeling was different, the compliments were different. All the shows were special for one reason or another, but that one sticks out the most.

Talk about your current projects, sort of a “where are they now?”. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth, a simple breakdown will do.

Keeping it band related? I’m only in Enthauptung. I recently moved to Atlanta, and I haven’t networked too much here yet, but it’s only been two months so we will see if anything evolves down here.

As for life? Single, no kids, I have a cat named Nell who’s scared of her own shadow sometimes. She’s a rescue that I got in Buffalo. She’s so full of character and I love the shit out of her. Like I said earlier, I’m living in Atlanta at the moment, which wasn’t on my radar at all until January of 2022. I work remotely as a Data Analyst for a great company with an incredible team that allows me to move about wherever I would like so long as my work gets sent out on schedule. I know it sounds cliché, but it really did fall into my lap.

This image has been Greg DiPasquale’s Facebook profile picture for a long time. It’s one of my favorite all-time photos of Greg. I’ve used this for interviews, memes, other articles, and podcast thumbnails for years, and damn it, now I’m going to use it again for this.

Here are some SOA memories Greg decided to share with us:

I joined the band pretty late in the Conjuration writing process, August/September ‘06. All but 5 tracks that ended up on the album were pretty old by that point and well honed. We cut one older song to make room a new song, pretty sure it was “Never Revelation”. Looking back I wish we’d have kept that over “The Wrath.” I just feel like it was a better song, in hindsight. Anyway, like the week I joined we put together “End Of The Rope.” Tony had all the music written for that one and we all kinda help him arrange it a little. The next week they asked if I had anything written, I did. A few days later we had “Scent Of A Dead Whore” completed. I wrote all of the music except for the brief junk chord chug part around the 1:45 mark, which Tony really thought would suit the song well. I never liked it, but in the interest of being a pro new guy, I rolled with it. Don’t mind it as much now.

Sweet Blasphemy” came next, which was the last song SOA wrote at Derrick’s mom’s house. It was a pretty collaborative effort between Tony, Derrick, & myself. It was also a song that gave us some trouble. Derrick had oddly never really done that kind of rolling double bass/power metal beat before. The trouble didn’t last, as I watched him bust his ass over that hurdle throughout that week. It’s the moment I knew for sure joining the band was the right move. If your drummer wants to improve constantly like that, lock him down & keep up. After that, we got a rehearsal spot in a practice space in Kenmore & wrote “Turn That Crown Upside Down” soon after. The verse riff was a guitar nightmare that gave both Tony & I trouble. I had the brainpower to write it, but it was a touch beyond our technical grasp at the time.

Ultimately both Tony & I had to come to terms with that in the studio when neither of us could play it tight enough to track. It sucked. Tony had to dumb it down in order for us to be able to play it. It was disappointing but in hindsight, like Derrick in “Sweet Blasphemy”, it did push me to get over that hurdle & improve afterward. Anyway, “Crown” was written in December 2006, I think. We were in the studio like 3-4 weeks later in January 2007 for the album. “The Conjugation Of Destruction” track was written in the studio by Ryan Gaines on piano, & sung by Judah Nero.

All & all, A LOT happened in the first 4-5 months I was in the band. Got signed, finished writing the album, got a new rehearsal spot, played gigs, & recorded the album. Tony & I even got an endorsement deal from Peavey in there as well. It got very real, very fast, and looking back, that first 6-8 months I was in the band is probably my favorite era of my run with them.

Obviously, I wasn’t in the band at the time of the first show. However, I was at the first show, and I have an interesting story about some events that led up to that gig. At the time, I worked at a gas station and obviously in that job you see a shitload of people on a regular basis. One of them was a dude named Marko Taggart. One day he came in and started telling me about how he was the singer for a new band, Sons Of Azrael, and that their first gig was in like a month or so opening for All Out War. My first thought was that I was stoked because I dug, and still dig, All Out War. My second thought was that their name reminded me of the fictitious band in the movie “Airheads” (played by the real band Galactic Cowboys) called “Sons Of Thunder.” Now, another regular customer I had was Joe Siracuse. He worked at a pizzeria down the street so I’d see him multiple times a shift as he burned through Parliament Lights & Red Bull like every day was the last day they were selling them, but I digress. Now, the forthcoming details are sketchy. The entertainer in me is saying that what happened next occurred later the same day as that particular conversation with Marko, but the realist in me is saying that it was the next day. Choose whichever one suits you best. Anyway, Joe came in to buy his usual megaton of nicotine & caffeine and divulged to me that he was the singer for a new band, Sons Of Azrael, and that their first gig was in like a month or so opening for All Out War. Wild stuff, right? I thought it was hilarious. Marko, probably not so much.

They were impressive at the first show. They were using the ex-Asherah thing as a promotional crutch at the time, so what I expected was luckily not what I got. They appeared ready, well practiced & as such people dug them. Considering Joe had never fronted a band before, he didn’t look uncomfortable at all. He had a presence that I could only describe as a cross between Scott Vogel & Glenn Danzig. Real cool shit. Also as a side note, Derrick wore size 54 Jnco’s, a 5 xl t shirt, had a line beard & a wild fuckin‘ hairdo. Times were different & I was ignorantly young, so needless to say I was shocked when “the rap kid” that was walking around suddenly got up on stage and started playing blast beats. Lesson learned.

After that gig, S.O.A., along with Phaetasm, & From This Day, really signified a change in Buffalo, & really helped put the last nail in the coffin of the local nu metal scene. It was fresh & vital. It’d mutated from the hardcore scene, washed itself in a shower of death metal and yet it was both while essentially being neither. I took note. Time took care of the rest.

Robert Steinwandel (bass at Sons of Azrael) also had a few top memories to share of his time in the band. I went to high school with “Bobbo”, so it was nice to reconnect with him in the metal scene years later. From early SOA shows, to the Tony Lorenzo Celebration show in 2017, to this issue of WRETCHED SOUND today, Bobbo has always been there, leaving us with his lighthearted nature, and infectious laughter.

Here are just a few of Bobbo’s top SOA moments:

The Mike Faley* show was forever ago. It was at the Continental and Andy Williams from ETID hooked us up. He really gave us the best shot of exposure at that time. We were super young, no stage presence really (I can only speak for myself) trying to just jam the songs and make it sound amazing. Vinnie Mai was in the band at that time, the first of many 2nd guitarists. I was just starting to grow my hair. Joe had mad hair, there is video of Andy Williams moshing the crowd hard during one of are songs, and my sister and her friend where right the front row. Their dodge skills where top notch that day. No harm done, I remember we got some feed back from Andy and the only thing I really remember was the reason he wasn’t interested was Joe was too new metal looking because he was wearing a hat.

Our first show is at extreme wheels and it’s with all out war.” I was like extreme wheels? I was hung on that for a second and then it sank in. Holy shit we are playing with all out war!! I remember the show at extreme wheels like it was yesterday. There was a huge crowd a lot of the crowd was all our friends/family. I was feeling a little nervous and had the sweaty hands going. But when we were setting up I felt like a super star and from that point forward I was fucking hooked with the feeling. I remember looking up and seeing a sea of people just starring at us. As soon as the first song started Sons Of Azrael was born. It felt amazing! All our practices and talks, the way we worked extra hard on our timing and keeping things perfect and heavy. Then as soon as it started it was over. I remember thinking holy shit that was fast and why the fuck am I so exhausted. The crowd loved it. There where people in the front head banging and going crazy. It was a great and memorable first show.

The back yard show was the first time I ever played bass in a live setting. I only started jamming that month. It was supposed to be just Tony Lorenzo , Dave Crawford on drums with Wayne Kubiak from Phaetasm. I remember how heavy the song felt with Tony and I , the crowd was super into it. Everyone came up to slap us all up. Anything Tony played was jaw dropping to me. first time I listened to Tony was in Wayne’s garage. I said to my self I don’t know how to play anything but I’m going to be in a fucking band with this dude. His playing was next level good.

The Tour for The Conjuration of Vengeance was one of the best times of my life. I came back 40 lbs lighter between playing everyday and surviving off just one double cheeseburger a day. (Other than the food from the rider that all the bands shared). I remember the first time the touring bands watched us perform. I always felt that my band was the best band ever every time we played, and the crowds faces showed it. We had so much energy and we where so fucking heavy. It was impossible to upstage us. We eventually would befriend the dudes from in Fernion. We partied together everyday. We all instantly clicked. There was good shows and then meh shows. There was this show in Louisiana that only the owner and a couple people attended. Tony was fed up by the draw or lack there was at the previous shows. I remember he was laying down on his cab playing. And here I was going fucking ballistic in front of 7 people like it’s sold out. That tour is filled with good memories shared with brothers.

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