Blacktask was primarily a power metal band which occasionally used
keyboards. The band's name was made up of the word 'black' and a
combination of the members' last names initials. Based out of
Philadelphia and formed in 1983, the band soon
released a five-song demos and followed it up with an independent and
self-titled 4-song EP via the band's own Damnation Records. The band
already replaced Eric Az with Kristiansen who was the brother of Ay's
The search for a contract comes to fruition when the band released the
well-publicized Long After Midnight LP via Axe Killer Records in 1986.
tour of Northeast USA followed and the band opened for bands as diverse
as Keel, Corrosion of Conformity and Cinderella.
The band broke up in 1987 which was approximately a year after Axe
Killer had bitten dust. Warren Appleby (a.k.a. Ay) returned in 2002
a string of solo CDs beginning with Dark Forest Trail where he, no
longer singing, played all instruments.
BLACKTASK - LONG AFTER MIDNIGHT - AXE KILLER
Blacktask's Long After Midnight was the band's sole album. Released in 1986 it managed to leave an impression on this writer simply by virtue of the advertisements placed by the band's label in the popular French metal magazines of the time. So, what does the band and album sound like? Blacktask is an unusual heavy metal band. At a time when metal bands had their own style and largely followed their own paths, Blacktask comes across as nonconformist and not afraid to experiment with synthesized sounds of different characteristic. The drumming is monotonous, but the guitars manage to craft interesting riffs and rhythms here and there well worthy of a listen. Interestingly a song like Set To Explode sounds much like the solo work of band leader Warren Appleby some 20 years later. Having said that, by far the most unique aspect of Long After Midnight is the vocals. The uncommon singing, screaming and whimpering can best be described as theatrical. A comparison can be made to Virgin Steele here, but Blacktask's vocals has a life of its own. Although that comparison hardly extends to the overall band. This album is difficult to locate nowadays and a different take on the underground metal of the '80s. - Ali "The Metallian"
Blacktask is a name that many who were into the '80s metal scene would still recognize. The American heavy metal combo enjoyed quite a bit of advertising profile in European metal magazines and had a rising stature within the scene. Suddenly, the band became quiet and it was correctly assumed that the quartet had broken up. Years later Blacktask's Warren Appleby returned to the scene with his solo act. The time was perfect for Ali "The Metallian" to speak to Appleby and get the story of the band on paper, well on the Internet. - 20.10.2004
METALLIAN: Warren, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. Let us begin by talking about your personal background. Can you fill the readers in on how everything got started?
WARREN: Thank you, Ali. I was born in Philadelphia during the mid-'60s. I discovered rock music by just listening to the radio. We had a few excellent rock radio stations that are still going strongly. My parents were not rock fans, so I was on my own with rock 'n' roll. The Who was the first band to really get my attention and then I just leaned toward the heavier stuff that was being played during the '70s like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Blue Oyster Cult, Ted Nugent, Queen and Black Sabbath. I then discovered the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and really found some of my favourite bands like Priest, Maiden, UFO, Saxon, Thin Lizzy, et cetra. These are bands I still listen to every day. I have been married for 12 years with three children. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Temple University in Philadelphia and I do computer systems analyst work, as my day job, when not writing and recording.
METALLIAN: Warren, please go back again and recall the time when Blacktask was formed. How did it all come together?
WARREN: The founding members were I, bassist Gus Santiago and drummer Jim Trub. We were all in cover bands and met at a local hangout. We decided to jam together since we had similar musical influences. Our original co-lead guitarist was a guy named Eric Az. We did one show with him, fired him and replaced him with Steve Kristiansen who was my girlfriend's brother.
METALLIAN: What was the name of the hangout where you guys met?
WARREN: The hangout was a large outdoor strip center called The Roosevelt Mall. Kids would walk around and cruise through the parking lot in their cars on Friday and Saturday nights.
METALLIAN: Why was Eric Az fired and where did he go?
WARREN: We felt that his overall guitar playing was just not good enough. I don't know where he went, but we never heard from him again after he left the band.
METALLIAN: Here is a related question. Was the band always called Blacktask or were there other names to start?
WARREN: The band was originally called Maidenhead when we started with Eric. We changed to Blacktask when Steve joined. We were always asked about the name and never told anyone what it meant in order to try to remain a little mysterious, but I'll reveal it to Metallian. Actually, the 'task' part is just our initials, Trub, Appleby, Santiago and Kristiansen! We added the 'Black' part to have a dark and devious-sounding name that would match our music.
METALLIAN: Did Eric own the name Maidenhead?
WARREN: No. We just decided to change the name when Steve joined - sort of a starting over type thing. Plus, when some people heard the name Maidenhead, they would ask if we were an Iron Maiden tribute band.
METALLIAN: The band's first official release is a mini-LP. Were there any recordings before the self-titled EP? Whose imprint was Damnation and why did you choose that name and the 666 catalogue number?
WARREN: We recorded a 5-song demo tape prior to the Blacktask EP. We sold many of those tapes at shows and through the old metal underground fanzines. Back then there was no Internet and everything was done by snail mail. Damnation was our own label. We wanted something different than another demo tape so we decided to use the money we made from shows, merchandise and sales from the first demo to pay for recording time and the LP pressing costs. CDs weren't invented yet! We tried to keep the costs low which is why the EP has a very basic cover - shades of Spinal Tap. We used the EP to get our recording contract with Axe Killer.
We came up with the name and catalogue number to match the type of music on the EP. Maiden had released Number Of The Beast and we were listening to a lot of Venom and Motorhead at the time, so that was definitely an influence. We didn't think any U.S. bands were doing that sort of thing, at least none of the local Philly bands were, and Slayer hadn't come along yet. It seemed very cool at the time, but is kind of silly now looking back at it. Funny how a 19-year old looks at things versus how a 39-year old looks at things
METALLIAN: The next logical question is how did you make contact with France's Axe Killer?
WARREN: We sent demo packages out which included the EP, a band photo and magazine reviews to many metal labels. Axe Killer offered us a contract based on that package and we jumped at it. We were happy with the contract because they were willing to pay for everything. We didn't spend one dime of our own money on that record. Most other bands were getting indie deals where they had to pay all recording costs out of pocket. The difference in these two types of deals is that if the record company pays for everything upfront, then they take that right off of the top of the band's royalties. So, we weren't going to get paid until all of the upfront costs were re-paid. We never saw a dime from them in terms of royalty payments. From what I understand, the recording studio that we used, The Sound Bank, was having a hard time getting paid by them also. It's a shame because they really promoted the LP when it was released. Full-page colour adds in every metal magazine like Kerrang, Metal Hammer, Kick Ass, et cetra were normal. We got many decent reviews too. We saw our LP in independent record shops everywhere we played. Warner Brothers was supposed to be handling the European distribution. I'm sure we sold some records but could never get a straight answer from them regarding numbers sold. Their being located in France didn't help either.
METALLIAN: This label made a comeback in recent times. Was there
any contact regarding a re-release of your album?
WARREN: No. I tried contacting them on several occasions by sending emails and contacting their original U.S. rep in L.A. but with no success. They have released many of their old catalog items and I would love to see our LP released in CD format. However, I would like to see some royalties first. Maybe they never re-released it because I became a real pain in the ass to them or maybe they just thought the LP was shit (laughs).
METALLIAN: What was the US rep's name?
WARREN: It was Randall Wixon from Backlash Enterprises. They were in partnership with Axe Killer.
METALLIAN: Your one and only album was called Long After Midnight.
Can you talk in more detail about the release?
WARREN: The LP's title was taken from a Ray Bradbury short story. We submitted an original LP cover photograph of a metal dude pulling a sexy girl into a dark alley. The guy was actually the bass player for a metal hair band called Blackeyed Susan. Axe Killer hated the photos and they had one of their staff artists create the cover painting without our input. I actually like the cover since it goes well with the title. Some of the other guys weren't that happy with it. As far as the music is concerned, we tried to keep to our heavy/power/thrash style, but with a more produced and cleaner sound versus the EP. We also added some keyboards and acoustic guitars to expand our sound. My lyrics reflected a variety of dark subjects including personal struggles, pain experience, bad luck and catastrophes. The LP was released in 1986, which was the pinnacle time for metal, and had to compete with many other releases. Metal bands were coming out of the woodwork everyday releasing LPs on major and independent labels.
METALLIAN: Were the songs on the LP all new? Certainly none of
the EP's songs made it onto the full-length.
WARREN: Most of the songs were new. Some were reworked versions, or portions of old songs from our original demo. We didn't want to re-do any of the EP's songs, because we sold a lot of the EPs and wanted to give fans new material.
METALLIAN: Other than the advertising that we discussed, how was this album supported? Did you ever plan to play in Canada or Europe?
WARREN: We toured the Northeastern US, which is New York State, New England and the Mid-Atlantic. We had no management. I did everything in that respect. That was a big mistake because with a management team, we might have been able to tour more and really support the LP which might have led to a better recording contract with someone else. I couldn't book any shows in Canada or the rest of the US because we had already started to have some personal band problems when we returned from the small tour that we did. I would have loved to play all over - especially in Europe where we had many fans based on the fan mail we received. Without management, trying to book shows overseas, plus all of the logistics involved with travel, equipment et cetra it was too much for me to handle alone.
METALLIAN: What were the personal problems you were experiencing and with whom in the band was it?
WARREN: No personal problems for me! You misunderstand me. I was writing about problems that any person might have. Everyone in the band got along well until the end. We lost our direction, Gus left the band due to starting a family and work commitments, no money coming in from Axe Killer and either losing money or just breaking even from touring.
METALLIAN: Thanks for clarifying that. The band's music shows influences as diverse as Voivod, Virgin Steele and '70s hard rock like UFO and Deep Purple. Is this an accurate analogy?
WARREN: That's pretty accurate. Voivod and Virgin Steele weren't influences, but similar bands might have been. I loved UFO, Purple, Thin Lizzy, Priest and Maiden. Jim loved Exciter, Slayer and Mercyful Fate. Steve liked the more commercial stuff like Dokken, Def Leppard and Kiss. Gus was all about Motorhead. We listened to a lot of diverse stuff. Gus could get into southern rock like Blackfoot, Outlaws et cetra. Jim and I would listen to classic American rock like Kansas, Cheap Trick and Van Halen. When writing music, you focus on what you are trying to say with your music and be as original as possible, but a variety of influences always creep in. I've been listening to rock music since 1974 and went to my first concert in 1978 which was a Van Halen show. That's a lot of music and I'm sure all of it has some influence on my songwriting.
METALLIAN: At this time you used the Warren Ay alias. Why was
that and did any other members use an alias?
WARREN: No other members used an alias. I did it just because I thought it was a cooler sounding and looking name. Obviously, I no longer use it.
METALLIAN: Can you talk about each of the members? What
background did they have and where did they end up after Blacktask?
WARREN: We had an international band. Steve and I were born in the US. Gus was born in Puerto Rico and Jim was born in Russia. We all started playing instruments while in high school. We all loved hard rock and metal and played in local cover bands. When Blacktask broke up, Jim and Gus dropped out of the music scene, both selling their equipment and moving on with their lives. Jim started a check cashing business. Gus got married, had kids and got into the restaurant business. Steve started a new band but was in a terrible car accident that put him in a coma for some time. I heard that he's still playing guitar - but not in a band - and runs his own sound and lighting business. We don't keep in touch with each other too much. The last I heard from any of them was about three years ago.
METALLIAN: What was Steve's band called?
WARREN: Honestly, I forget. I saw them play once and then he had the car accident, so his band just broke up I guess.
METALLIAN: What were the names of the cover bands you guys played in prior to Blacktask?
WARREN: Gus and I were in bands called D.O.A and then Lyar. I forget the names of the bands that Jim and Eric were in.
METALLIAN: Over the years people have often called the band 'Black
Task' instead of 'Blacktask.' Does this bother you?
WARREN: No, that doesn't bother me. We joined them together just to have a unique name. We were also keeping it mysterious. We thought it looked better that way. Plus, there are so many 'Black' named bands out there. It kept us different. I think a lot of people split the name because our logo on the LP is sort of a split apart.
METALLIAN: What is your general recollection of that era's
atmosphere? Contrast it with today's music/metal scene.
WARREN: That era was a lot of fun and really exciting to be a part of. The metal underground was an amazing thing because there was no internet. There were just a few metal fanzines; kids writing letters to bands, and bands selling demos through the mail and at shows. It was real grassroots word of mouth type stuff. It was all held together by local record shops that would carry local metal LPs and imports. Many of the shows that we played were promoted by small record stores that carried our records. That doesn't happen anymore. Everything now is a corporate chain store mentality.
When we started playing, Metallica had just released their first LP. Kids were blown away by bands that would play fast. We were the first thrash band in the Philly area. Then a band called Anvil Bitch started which became our opening band for many shows. They eventually started headlining and released a LP on New Renaissance Records. Cinderella was the big local band from our area. We opened for them once. We also opened for Keel once and co-headlined a metal/hardcore festival with Corrosion Of Conformity. We headlined most other shows which was great, but looking back I would have liked to open for some more national acts just to get some contacts that might have helped our band's career. The sad part about the old scene to me was when people started splitting into factions of hair metal bands and fans versus thrash metal bands and fans. That took a lot away from the fun of the scene and I feel was part of the downfall of metal during the '90s that lead into grunge rock. The MTV overexposure of metal was also a factor as well.
Here is one funny story for you. During one of our early headlining shows, our drummer brought a package of bacon and threw strips at the audience in-between songs. Why he did that, I don't know - probably because he was a drummer! I thought the kids were going to be ticked off, but they loved it. A few weeks later, at our next show at the same club we had about 300 kids there. About 100 of them must have smuggled bacon into the club and hundreds of strips of raw bacon were flying around the club when we hit the stage. Everyone was getting hit with flying bacon! The club put a stop to it for future shows banning "all raw meat". Kids would get frisked before entering, not for drugs or weapons, but for bacon!
As far as today's metal scene, I like what I'm seeing now with a metal and hard rock resurgence. The Internet is great in getting your music out there and keeping in quick contact with fans. I wish we had it back then to promote shows. I like it that many of the older bands are putting out CDs and still touring, like Saxon, UFO and MSG. I am not crazy about the nu-metal (mallcore - ed.) bands though. I like guitar solos and vocalist like Halford and Dio. The nu-metal bands just don't have the musical chops. I guess that's because I'm an old guy now (think again - ed.). I'm sure Zep, Sabbath and Purple weren't crazy about Metallica and Megadeth when they started. Audioslave, The Darkness and Velvet Revolver are some of the bigger new bands that are playing classic style metal.
METALLIAN: What was a local store that carried your LP and promoted you?
WARREN: In Philly, it was The Record Cellar. Every city had one or two just like them. When we played in different towns, we would seek them out to see if they had our records and to get a feel for that town's local scene by checking out band flyers, local demos and so on.
METALLIAN: With the turn of the century you returned to the scene
with a solo venture. What are you trying to achieve?
WARREN: Well, after Blacktask split I was still writing and recording a lot of experimental stuff on my own whenever I had money for studio time. I took a long break from it after I got married and started having kids. A few years later, I just picked up the guitar again one day and started playing some old songs and really had fun with it and one thing led to another and I started writing again. Technology has really advanced since the '80s and now you can record and master CDs at home. So I invested in a bunch of equipment, set up a small studio and just went for it. I also use my art skills to design my CDs and my website which is another part of the creative process that I really enjoy. I went back to my roots musically, namely Purple, UFO, Rush and Thin Lizzy by writing and recording the music that I love to listen to. My voice is shot so I'm doing all instrumental music, which can be challenging because you can't rely on vocals and lyrics to hook people on to a song. It's all about the riffs, melodies and solos now for me. I'm happy just putting my music out there for old and new fans via the internet and being part of the metal and hard rock scene again in my own small way. I would love to get a recording contract so that I could get some kind of mass distribution for my CDs. I don't have the funds to do that on my own. That's my goal right now.
METALLIAN: I have noticed that some of the riffs on Long After
Midnight resemble those on your solo CDs. The song Set To
Explode has one riff in particular that reminds me of
your solo venture.
WARREN: None of my current music is leftover from the Long After Midnight sessions. I have taken a riff or two from our early demos that I really liked and used them in songs like Ultrasound and Black Cat. Otherwise, everything on my solo CDs is new. I think my new stuff resembles some of my old stuff simply because I wrote all of it. That's the type, or style that I have. Even when I write something in a different style it still ultimately sounds like me. I think the same goes for all songwriters. Listen to Dio's solo stuff, his work with Rainbow and his work with Sabbath. It is all similar.
METALLIAN: Warren why don't you talk about each of your current releases separately and discuss any future plans.
WARREN: My first CD, Dark Forest Trail, is the most experimental just because I was really learning how to self-record, mix and master. This CD probably has the most varied song styles on it. My favourite track is the title track. My second release, False Face Society, is more of a complete Metal CD in my mind. More heavy tracks are on it with my favourite being Shadow Wolves. I think my guitar playing advances from the first CD and the drum sounds are better produced. My third CD, The Terrible Beauty, really fires up the solos. I'm really happy with my playing on this CD. The heavy tracks are a bit rawer. Favourite track is Shark's Eyes. This CD only has 6 tracks because I burned out my analog recording deck during these sessions. I have since invested in a digital deck. I didn't want to put a CD that was half recorded in analog and half recorded in digital. I'm working now on my fourth CD; there is no title yet. Two songs already recorded are Retro Rocket and Invisible Invaders. This CD will be fully recorded in digital. I'm very happy with the overall production so far. I'm hoping to release it next summer. Fans can keep checking my website for news and eventually another free MP3 will be added.
METALLIAN: You have two websites. Why have a Blacktask site now?
WARREN: Well, my solo site promotes my solo music. Anyone visiting my website at www.warrenappleby.com can download a free MP3 from each CD. Hopefully if they like what they hear, then they'll want to buy a CD or all of them. My CDs are very inexpensive. All are under $7.00 with free shipping and handling and can be purchased on-line through the website using PayPal. Fans can also purchase the CDs the old fashioned way via snail mail. My site has all the required info. Fans visiting my site will find lots of info, photos, reviews, links and my monthly top 5 CDs that I'm listening to. There is also a link to email me. I just want to let the fans know that I love to hear from them and I answer all my emails.
I would also like to mention that fans should check out www.warrenappleby.com in December to download my metal version of the Christmas classic O Christmas Tree. It's only available through the website during the month of December. It's not on any of my CDs. I hope they like it.
I'm starting a Blacktask site because of emails that I have gotten from old fans via my solo site. The site should be up by the time you read this. The address is www.blacktask.net. I think this is a good way to touch base with old fans. I didn't want to take up too much space on my solo site for Blacktask, so a Blacktask site was needed. It's also a good way for old fans that did not realize I am back recording solo to check out my new music. Both sites will be linked to each other. The Blacktask site will have many cool photos from our concerts, information on the band's history and a few FREE MP3s too.
Thanks goes to Warren Appleby for travelling to Metallian Towers to speak about Blacktask and his new solo venture.