Metal Chick of the Month – Romana Kalkuhl

I was born to burn! Maiden of steel!

After a short and sweet break, The Headbanging Moose returns in full force with our metal chick of the month of July, elevating the temperature in the always hot summer in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re a diehard fan of old school Heavy and Power Metal the likes of Warlock, Judas Priest, Accept, Manowar and Grave Digger, I’m quite sure you already know our metal lady, but in case you’re still not familiar with her refined technique and deep passion for heavy music here’s a good chance for you to go after the music from her ass-kicking bands Burning Witches and Atlas & Axis. Hailing from the metallic lands of the charming and beautiful Switzerland, here comes the talented Swiss guitarist Romana Kalkuhl, ready to take the world of heavy music by storm armed with her inseparable stringed axe for our total delight.

Born in 1990 in Switzerland, Romana, whose full name is Romana Eskić-Kalkuhl (as she’s married to Swiss guitarist Damir Eskić, from the bands Destruction and Gomorra), comes from a family of musicians who have always supported her decision to become a professional guitar player. For instance, her father Meinolf Kalkuhl is an opera singer in Zurich, Switzerland, while her mother is a piano teacher. All that support resulted in the formation of her first professional band in 2009 while she was still in university. That band is Aargau-based Heavy Metal act Atlas & Axis, with whom Romana has already recorded two full-length albums, those being March of the Night, in 2011, and Confrontation, in 2014, not to mention all concerts the band has already played live. You can enjoy the Iced Earth-inspired sound of Atlas & Axis and Romana’s incendiary shredding on YouTube by listening to songs like Power and Might, Elements, To Violence and These Words, among many others, as well as the song Winter played live at the Dynamo in Zurich in 2014. Unfortunately, due to her current commitment to Burning Witches, our blonde warrior doesn’t have the necessary time to focus on Atlas & Axis at the moment, which means the band is on hold until further notice.

It was in the spring of 2015 in the city of Brugg, a municipality in the Swiss canton of Aargau, when Romana founded Heavy/Power Metal unity Burning Witches, following her personal dream of performing on stage with an all-female metal band. Earlier that year she started looking for talented women for her new project, with her longtime friend, bassist Jeanine Grob, becoming the band’s first official member. Then during a party at a festival she met vocalist Seraina Telli, from bands like Dead Venus, Rizon and Surrilium, starting a very healthy and productive partnership between them, with Seraina’s ideas and experience from her studies at the Music Academy and her bands being exactly what Romana wanted for Burning Witches. Having the one and only Schmier, vocalist and bassist for German Thrash Metal institution Destruction, as their producer and consultant (and a personal friend of Romana, by the way), and with drummer Lala Frischknecht and guitarist Alea Wyss completing the lineup after an intensive search and several auditions, Romana and her Burning Witches were finally ready to crush with their classic metal music.

Since the band’s inception, Romana and the girls have already released two full-length albums (their self-titled debut album in 2017, and Hexenhammer in 2018), one four-track live album named Burning Alive, recorded on September 30, 2017 at Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland, and now in 2019 they re-released Burning Witches / Burning Alive as a combo under Nuclear Blast. If you want to feel the power of their metal sword, simply go to Spotify or to YouTube and enjoy some flammable Heavy Metal anthems such as Wings Of Steel, Black Widow, and Executed, or many other live footage from Romana and the girls slaying everything and everyone that crosses their path like their flammable performance at Sweden Rock Festival in 2019; their concert in 2018 in Mannheim, a city in southwest Germany; and their powerful pocket show at Salzhaus Brugg in 2018.

Sadly for all fans of the band, lead singer Seraina Telli left the band earlier this year for personal reasons, being replaced by Dutch vocalist Laura Guldemond, from bands like Shadowrise and Synergy Protocol, and of course Romana had a few words to say about that change to her band. “This is, of course, a very sad moment for all of us. We have been very close for the last years and have reached a lot together. With great sadness we have to accept that Seriana wants to move on and we wish her the best of luck for that! Your time with the Witches will never be forgotten! For us as a band, it is important now to look into the new challenges and the new record — the show must go on!”, complementing her thoughts by saying that “we are super thrilled that we have found Laura so quick over our Dutch connection Sonia. We know it is impossible to replace a great voice in exact the same way; that is why Laura is the perfect choice for us. She will bring in her own strength and personality into the Witches! We will not change the identity of the band; we will continue playing the music we love! Laura is an experienced and crisp vocalist with a big range and a crazy enough personality to be one of us! Please give her a warm welcome — she has already won many metalhearts at our first show with her at the Sweden Rock Festival! We will continue to spread the magic of the witches — thanks for all the support over the years!”

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Regarding the fact that the band has become more international with the addition of Laura to their lineup, the second Dutchwoman in the band, Romana said that the collaboration between them is quite dynamic, with the Dutch girls flying to Switzerland over the weekend for rehearsals and concerts, while the rest of the time everyone practices their music from home. She also mentioned in one of her interviews that her main goal when she started Burning Witches was to have fun with the band, not because of success itself, complementing by saying that if one day that pleasure of playing with Burning Witches is over, then the band will also be over. In addition, when asked about how she keeps the band as independent and feminine as possible even with the influences of Damir and Schmier, she said that their help is based on their experience, something the girls from Burning Witches don’t have enough yet, and that Damir’s support was crucial to make everything happen, always keeping in mind the band was going to be (and will always be) an all-female metal band.

Romana’s list of idols and influences can easily be felt in the music by Burning Witches, with her favorite styles ranging from Heavy, Thrash, Death and Black Metal to Hard Rock and even Progressive Rock. According to Romana herself, the bands that have influenced her the most (and the entire band, of course) are Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Saxon, Accept, Dio and several other renowned acts from the NWOBHM. Also, in regards to her equipment, Romana has always played Charvel and Jackson USA guitars, since the beginning, saying those are the best ones in her opinion, and although she’s endorsed also by Fender (apart from Charvel and Jackson, of course) she doesn’t use it when playing live just because she has so many instruments of the other two manufacturers. And before I forget, did you know she also plays classical guitar? Our dauntless metalhead is not only a shredder, but as you can see she’s also a woman who adds a touch of finesse to her guitar lines.

When questioned about the differences and disparities between men and women not only in Heavy Metal, but in music in general, Romana said that it might look easier to be an all-female group at first, attracting a lot of attention form the media and the fans (especially when all band members are beautiful like the ladies from Burning Witches), but it only gets harder and harder as time goes by due to the systemic sexism found everywhere, complementing by saying that many people will see them as just “pretty faces” and think that it’s a man who’s doing all the job in the background. Romana also said that one of the very positive effects of her all-female band is serving as the inspiration for other women to attend their concerts and start their lives in metal, which in my opinion is indeed an amazing change to a music genre mostly dominated by men, whereas the more sexist metal fans ended up reacting very negatively to their music. Who on earth wouldn’t enjoy watching five talented women kicking some serious ass on stage, playing old school metal music? You have to be really stupid, and not just sexist, to think the Burning Witches are not a great metal band.

Anyway, as aforementioned, Romana is married to Damir Eskić, guitarist for Destruction and Gomorra (which was previously called Gonoreas), and it was actually during a Gonoreas’ concert that the couple met, with Damir having a huge influence on Romana’s playing style as he was the one who taught her a lot about the instrument (albeit she already knew how to play it from her school years). On a side note, Romana said she was impressed by Miriam Zehnder, who played the rhythm guitar at Gonoreas at that time, also saying her stage presence fascinated her a lot, showing how connected Burning Witches and Gomorra are not only because of Romana and Damir. In addition to that, Romana said her relationship with Damir is quite healthy, dynamic and fun, with Damir being for example the music collector while she’s more interested in clothes, and so on. Damir considers himself the coach, the moral preacher and the main supporter of the Burning Witches, keeping the girls happy and motivating them even in difficult situations, all confirmed by Romana who also said Damir also makes sure he gives them a motivating speech before every concert, getting them ready to rock on stage.

Both Romana and Damir seem to be extremely busy professionals, and when asked about how they manage all their duties and their relationship, including their music lessons as both are teachers at different music schools (Romana works at three different schools while Damir works at two schools and at the conservatory in Winterthur), she said although they don’t actually have time for anything else, they still manage to have a normal life as a couple, as all those things have already become a part of their everyday life. Furthermore, the couple might not have real rings, but the dates tattooed on their fingers already say it all, showing a lot of mutual respect and admiration between them, with Romana saying that although they’ve already been together for over a decade seeing each other pretty much daily, they still miss each other when they’re on tour in different parts of the world, mentioning for example how difficult it was during the two week Damir was away with Destruction this year. She wasn’t really complaining about that because she understands how hard it is to be part of a band that tours a lot and how lucky both are for being in successful bands, but let’s face it, it’s indeed tough to be away from your loved one no matter what, even if it’s in the name of our good old Heavy Metal.

Romana Kalkuhl’s Official Facebook page
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Album Review – Answer With Metal / Centralia (2019)

The answer to all your problems in life in the form of nine songs filled with speed, melody, powerful vocals and ear piercing solos, courtesy of one of the best names of the underground Canadian scene.

It’s time to return to Stouffville, a municipality in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada, approximately 50 kilometers north of downtown Toronto, to raise our horns once again to the classic and exciting Heavy Metal blasted by a five-piece group known as Answer With Metal, who are releasing now in 2019 their fourth full-length album, entitled Centralia, a fantastic follow-up to the band’s latest releases Handling the Blade (2015) and Return to the Gates (2016). Comprised of pretty much the same lineup from their previous installments, which is Dan Nielsen on vocals, Andrew Jarvis on the guitar, Jon Stallan on bass and Alejandro Gonzalez on drums (with the exception of rhythm guitarist Matt Hadaway, who left the band in 2018 for personal reasons), Answer With Metal are back to prove there’s no better answer to all problems in life than our good old Heavy Metal, having Centralia as their powerful weapon of persuasion.

Featuring a futuristic, eye-catching artwork by Brazilian graphic designer Caio Caldas from Cadies Art (who has already worked with DragonForce, Raven Lord, Soulspell, Hammerdrone and Xenosis, among several other bands), and mixed and mastered by the band’s own guitarist Andrew Jarvis, Centralia offers the listener nine songs filled with speed, melody, powerful vocals and ear piercing solos, delivering a blend of 80’s traditional metal with heavier thrashing elements in order to give it a rawer  sound. As a matter of fact, the title of the album is a reference to Centralia, a city in Pennsylvania, in the United States, which became a near ghost town due to the Centralia mine fire, which has been burning underground since 1962, giving you a very good idea of how hot and incendiary the music found throughout the entire album can be.

Slashing riffs a la Judas Priest kick off the frantic and very traditional No One’s to Own, a true headbanger where Andrew and Jon are in absolute sync with their stringed weapons, before Dan begins firing his high-pitched, metallic vocal lines for our total delight. In other words, the album couldn’t have started in a better way, and the band puts the pedal to the metal to make things even more thrilling in the fantastic Wild Hunt, exhaling old school Heavy Metal with an additional and very welcome Thrash Metal touch. I’m quite sure this is Alejandro’s favorite song to play due to its speed and fury, while Andrew and Jon keep crushing their strings beautifully, not to mention its absolutely catchy lyrics (“The huntsmen ride strong / The hunt goes on and on / The hounds of hell lead the way / Black as night you’ll die today”). And blending elements from the music by renowned acts such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween and Primal Fear (which obviously translates into awesomeness), Answer With Metal fire the excellent Stand and Fight, proving they do not need to play at the speed of light to sound amazing, with Dan stealing the spotlight with his strong voice.

Again focusing on heaviness instead of speed, the band delivers a powerful performance in Jenova, especially Andrew with his soulful riffs and solos, followed by the title-track Centralia, a marching/headbanging tune also inspired by the NWOBHM showcasing those old school lyrics we all love so much (“Fear not our fate rebirthed / Enter the reset – flood out the earth / Altered in restless dreams / Rise from the ashes of Centralia”) and a precise Ale on drums, effectively dictating the song’s rhythm. Then it’s time to speed things up once again just the way we like it in Power Metal with Don’t Know Why, perfect for hitting the highway (and get a ticket for over-speeding, of course), with Jon and Ale blasting thunderous and intricate roars from their respective instruments throughout the entire song.

And the Heavy Metal party has no time to end, as we’re treated to more of their classic musicality in Cry Wolf, where the entire band does a great job in what’s in my opinion the best song of the album, blasting sheer rage, speed and electricity, not to mention Andrew’s awesome shredding form start to finish. In No Heights a Home the band ventures through the realms of Thrash Metal one more time, which becomes even clearer in the vocal lines and riffs as the music progresses, also presenting a great chorus for singing along with the band, intricate bass punches by Jon and rabid beats by Ale, adding to the whole song tons of potency and stamina. Lastly, closing the album we have the mid-tempo, semi-ballad Last of You, a very good song but slightly below the rest of the album in terms of impact, creativity and feeling. There’s still a lot to enjoy though, such as Dan’s excellent vocal lines.

It’s time to join Answer With Metal in their journey to the obscure Centralia, and in order to do that simply grab your copy of the album (also available for a full listen on Spotify) from the band’s own BandCamp page or from iTunes. Also, don’t forget to follow them on Facebook for news, tour dates and other nice-to-know details, and to subscribe to their YouTube channel for more of their gripping music, showing your true support and admiration for this excellent Canadian band that has been proudly carrying the flag of traditional Heavy Metal since their inception, never giving up and always loyal to their foundations. And that’s how you make true heavy music, my friends.

Best moments of the album: Wild Hunt, Cry Wolf and No Heights a Home.

Worst moments of the album: Last of You.

Released in 2019 Independent

Track listing
1. No One’s to Own 4:06
2. Wild Hunt 4:55
3. Stand and Fight 4:40
4. Jenova 4:36
5. Centralia 3:59
6. Don’t Know Why 4:06
7. Cry Wolf 3:34
8. No Heights a Home 3:56
9. Last of You 4:57

Band members
Dan Nielsen – vocals
Andrew Jarvis – guitars
Jon Stallan – bass
Alejandro Gonzalez – drums

Album Review – Venom / From the Very Depths (2015)

Unfortunately, a huge lack of depth is what you will find in the new album by the trailblazers of Black Metal.

Rating6

venom_from the very depthsThe beginning of the 80’s witnessed the birth of the most obscure form of extreme music, Black Metal, thanks almost exclusively to British Black Metal pioneers Venom. For instance, Heavy Metal icons such as Slayer, Cradle of Filth, Kreator, Candlemass, Paradise Lost, among several other Thrash, Speed, Black Metal and NWOBHM bands, were heavily influenced by their music, with songs like Welcome To Hell, Black Metal, Witching Hour, In League With Satan and Countess Bathory becoming legitimate satanic anthems.  Now with From the Very Depths, the fourteenth studio album by this Newcastle-based band formed in the distant year of 1979, Cronos and his crew want to keep the fire of their venomous kingdom burning and disturbing the minds of the weak.

However, if Venom’s first two albums, Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982), are the epitome of this devilish subgenre of heavy music, pretty much all of their following releases lacked innovation, intensity and, consequently, importance (I doubt you can name a relevant song of any of their other albums). From the Very Depths is no exception to that, with its musicality being so rudimentary they seem more like an amateur garage band than those trailblazers of Extreme Metal with so many decades on the road. Cronos, La Rage and Dante stick to the very basics of heavy music, with not a single moment of creativity showcased throughout the album. That would not have been an issue if they were as good as Motörhead or AC/DC, but their extremely limited skills make From the Very Depths an album with absolutely no depth.

But is From the Very Depths really that bad? Well, if you keep your expectations really low you might enjoy some parts of the album. After the intro Eruptus, which really transmits a sense Venom are rising from the very depths of hell, we have the title-track From the Very Depths, which despite not being Black Metal per se (it feels more like Thrash Metal) it’s a very good exhibit of dark and extreme music, with the resonant bass lines by Cronos setting the tone during the whole song. The following track, The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll, has a dark Hardcore/Punk Rock atmosphere, with lyrics that couldn’t sound more Venom than that (“We met the devil at the gates / Not at the crossroads or by humiliate / The man of blues can sell his soul / We’d rather party with the demons… down below”). In addition, its nonstop instrumental helps enhance the electricity of this song, which in my opinion is the best of the album.

venomAfter that satisfactory start, the issues start to appear in From the Very Depths. Smoke is not only generic, especially its lyrics, but it also lacks that wickedness so necessary in Black Metal and it goes on for grueling five minutes. A song so long should have presented more variations or at least a minimum of energy in its riffs, don’t you agree? Temptation sounds like a rip-off of Venom themselves, where the bass lines mess its harmony instead of boosting it, turning it into another disposable track. Leastwise, Cronos’ harsh voice is still in good shape and the song doesn’t go on for torturing five minutes.

The band sounds a lot more cohesive and tuneful in Long Haired Punks, a tribute to Punk Rock and Heavy Metal that connects the heaviest and most deranged aspects of both music genres, with Cronos singing how Venom (and all other metal bands) are punks too (“Fight for survival, hitting the road, get out my way, time for a show / We blast metal, no hip hop or funk, demons from hell, long haired punks”), while Stigmata Satanas, with its very old school sonority, might be nothing outstanding but it’s quite nice, with its crude riffs and vocal lines blending really well with the lyrics, in special with its extremely simple but demonic chorus. On the other hand, Crucified is an awfully uninspired track with a flat rhythm that almost forces you to skip to the next song. The drums by Dante are sadly elementary, sounding like Meg White from the White Stripes without Jack White to salvage the song with more elaborate guitar lines.

Maybe with a more complex (or less monotone) instrumental, Evil Law could have been a really good song, because it contains that trademark devilish aura by Venom, including the wicked noises in the background. In regards to its lyrics (“Fakaa enday yay badah / Urka temeway tado / Coorza onyay femlay / Keelay spray ohapa do”), the only thing I can say is: what the hell is this supposed to mean? Anyway, Grinding Teeth brings back a decent mix of Thrash, Speed and Black Metal, which might sound interesting if it’s chosen for their live performances. Moreover, the band finally tries some different riffs and breaks, helping making the song more delightful.

After another short intro, Ouverture, we have another example of how amateur Venom still sound in Mephistopheles, which despite having a badass attitude it doesn’t offer anything really exciting to the listener. The same can be said about Wings of Valkyrie, a boring track where drums and riffs are negatively overshadowed by the extremely loud bass lines. Lastly, the good song Rise closes the album with the live audience in the background making it sound a lot more organic. If only they had added more of that rawness and brutality to the whole album, From the Very Depths could have been one of the best Extreme Metal albums of the year.

From a technical standpoint there’s almost nothing to be analyzed in From the Very Depths: it’s an album as basic and bland as it can be, with no memorable songs or fresh elements offered in its more than 50 minutes of music. As already mentioned, if you lower your standards (or if you love Venom more than your life) you will actually have some fun listening to From the Very Depths, but it’s hard for anyone else to get thrilled by an album that above all things lack any real depth. Sad to say, after almost 40 years of existence it looks like Venom will continue to be known just as the band who recorded Welcome to Hell and Black Metal.

Best moments of the album: From the Very Depths, The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll and Long Haired Punks.

Worst moments of the album: Smoke, Temptation, Crucified and Wings of Valkyrie.

Released in 2015 Spinefarm Records

Track listing
1. Eruptus 1:01
2. From the Very Depths 3:54
3. The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll 3:09
4. Smoke 5:01
5. Temptation 3:52
6. Long Haired Punks 4:02
7. Stigmata Satanas 3:26
8. Crucified 4:06
9. Evil Law 5:03
10. Grinding Teeth 4:11
11. Ouverture 1:16
12. Mephistopheles 4:06
13. Wings of Valkyrie 4:00
14. Rise 4:34

Band members
Conrad “Cronos” Lant – vocals, bass guitar
Stuart “La Rage” Dixon – guitar, backing vocals
Danny “Dante” Needham – drums, backing vocals

Album Review – Monolith / Against The Wall Of Forever (2015)

A remarkable album of pure heavy music that will take you on a journey back to the glorious early days of Heavy Metal.

Rating3

cover1400x1400There are bands that are born to play more progressive or introspective music, with thoughtful lyrics that will make you reconsider some aspects of your life. Other groups focus on a more theatrical side of business, relying heavily on their outfits, makeup, corpse-painting and/or stage production to differentiate themselves in the market. And there are American Heavy Metal saviors Monolith, which had only one thing in mind while crafting their superb brand new full-length album Against The Wall Of Forever: 100% pure Heavy Metal.

Founded in 2013 by guitarist Doug Walker (The Hookers, Nixon), with current and former members of MF Ruckus, The Embalmers and Zombie Cartel and having already played with names like The Dwarves, Sepultura and Electric Wizard, Monolith do not want to start any revolution in heavy music. What those talented guys from San Diego, California really want to offer us all headbangers is honest and electrifying heavy music inspired by their idols from the mid-70’s/early-80’s era of Heavy Metal, such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica, and they simply nailed it with their new album, a serious contender for top metal album of 2015.

Against The Wall Of Forever is a huge kick in your face right from the start with the spectacular old school Thrash/Heavy Metal anthem The Emperor (The Suffering Of Fools), especially due to the excellent vocals by Aaron Howell and the exciting guitar duo comprised of Doug Walker and Jared Bliss. Their traditional riffs and solos remind me a lot of some Iron Maiden classics from the 80’s, and I don’t need to say how positive that is. Following that metal music havoc we have the title-track, Against The Wall Of Forever, which showcases more influences from the NWOBHM such as its thrilling galloping rhythm thanks to the great job done by drummer Ben Pincock and bassist David Ortuno.

The next track, Caravan, comes with a very simple question: are you ready for some intense circle pits? It’s amazing how they managed to create such polished music without losing that rawness needed in classic Heavy Metal, and you’ll feel pumped for screaming the name of the song together with Aaron during its chorus. Furthermore, none of the guitar solos sound out of place in this song (nor in the entire album). And can we call the dark ballad Kindly Dr. Jest (The Interrogator) as “Blues Metal”? Well, call it the way you prefer, as long as you acknowledge the incredible job Aaron does by impersonating the character of “Dr. Jest”, which based on my online research is an alchemist and chief interrogator of Melnibone who is a connoisseur of torture, and his life’s work is to elevate the infliction of pain in to an art form. It can’t get any better than this!

Monolith PicDie With Your Master, another of the top moments of the entire album, is a terrific tribute to the good old times of Metallica, inspired by masterpieces like “Whiplash”, “Metal Militia” and so on: it’s as raw and fast as it can be, and more than perfect for some furious mosh pits with your friends. Then a more progressive vein arises in The Prophet, with lots of breaks and variations nicely inserted amidst all the sonic madness.

The heavy music celebration  goes on with another very solid track named The All-Father And The Chaos Lords, which focus heavily on its headbanging riffs blended with the screams by Aaron. If you’re a fan of frantic metal music, the last part of this song is tailored for you. And last but not least, sounding even more Iron Maiden-ish than ever (apparently inspired by the all-time classic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or any other track from the flawless album Powerslave), Monolith offer us the excellent Elusive Prey (The Hunter), where Doug and Jared are kicking some serious ass on the guitars with their awesome riffs and solos.

Even the album art, by illustrator Matthew Haas, transpires Heavy Metal and perfectly represents how impactful the music by Monolith is. So go like them on Facebook, visit their YouTube channel, listen to their music on their SoundCloud page, and order your copy of Against The Wall Of Forever at the official Funeral Noise Records webstore (they have some cool bundles available). Although we’re already in 2015, Monolith will take you on a journey back in time, more specifically to the early 80’s when heavy music was beyond glorious and mighty.

Best moments of the album: The Emperor (The Suffering Of Fools), Kindly Dr. Jest (The Interrogator) and Die With Your Master.

Worst moments of the album: Honestly, it’s really hard to find something bad or uninspired in the whole album. Maybe The All-Father And The Chaos Lords?

Released in 2015 Funeral Noise Records

Track listing
1. The Emperor (The Suffering Of Fools) 5:02
2. Against The Wall Of Forever 3:34
3. Caravan 3:11
4. Kindly Dr. Jest (The Interrogator) 4:27
5. Die With Your Master 3:22
6. The Prophet 4:21
7. The All-Father And The Chaos Lords 3:54
8. Elusive Prey (The Hunter) 3:41

Band members
Aaron Howell – vocals
Doug Walker – guitar
Jared Bliss – guitar
David “Gordo” Ortuno – bass
Ben Pincock – drums