STEFAN had a talk with BARRY FICHEL (Guitars)

Metal To Infinity

Brooklyn, New York is the place where Fischel’s Beast comes from. Back in the early 80’s, a great US Thrash Metal album grabbed us all by the throat… it was an effort that came from the band Sentinel Beast, entitled “Depths Of Death”. Definitely one of my favourite US Thrash Metal outputs ever. The front lady of Thrash those days was Debbie Gunn, and the man who delivered loads of speed up riffs and outstanding solos was called Barry Fischel, who left the band in 1989. I’d like to know more about his time with Sentinel Beast and also, my curiosity on his new band Fichel’s Beast is optimal. Let’s find out some more and let the master himself speak.

Q: Hello Barry, great to have you here on Metal To Infinity webzine man – what brings on a day like this? Hope all is going straight up at the moment.

A: All is going REALLY WELL and YOU and the Metal To Infinity gang are part of the reason for that. We feel so fortunate to have gotten not one, but TWO great reviews from MTI! Heck, mom saw it and said it was ’the best review she’d ever seen’ for one of my efforts and she even printed it out and saved it! 

Q: We all know you as ‘the shredder’ in the famous Thrash Metal act Sentinel Beast. The album “Depths Of Death” saw the crack of dawn in 1986 – it’s still a legendary masterpiece to me… what are the most remarkable moments you’ll never forget from that period with SB? You were the founding member of the band, right?

A: Actually, it was Scott Awes (SB’s drummer) and I that were playing together in a few various (mostly cover band) projects. We were looking to form an original band and I met Mike Spencer at a party. To make a long story short, we got together, hit it off and decided we’d ‘form a band’. Mike told us that his girlfriend DEBBIE GUNN was a phenomenal Metal singer. We had her down to a rehearsal to audition and within a couple of songs… we were in agreement and Sentinel Beast was ’born’.

The band really did have a great ’chemistry’ and I actually think back to many of the rehearsals as being quite memorable and even ’magical.

As a ’local band’ from Sacramento - the fact that we got to play on shows with such acts as King Diamond, Megadeth, Exodus and Slayer was QUITE memorable. In fact, I think there was at least one show that had ALL of those groups on the same bill!

In addition to sharing the bill with many of the greats, it was fun meeting them all. I recall a funny story that happened when I met Lemmy from Motorhead. I was warming up near the stage before our set. I was 22 years old and on crystal meth at the time, so I was shredding pretty fast. Lemmy came up to me, perhaps to compliment me, but his accent was so heavy (and I was on meth) so no matter how many times he repeated himself, I couldn’t understand him. Finally he just cursed at me (that I understood!) and walked away.

I guess I also have to include working with Brian Slagel of Metal Blade Records and producer Bill Metoyer in the ‘memorable category.

Q: Sentinel Beast released just one album as far as I can remember – am I correct?

A: Yes, you are correct. There will however be a NEW Sentinel Beast release soon. STORMSPELL Records (the label that released the Fischel’s Beast COMMENCEMENT CD) will be releasing the ‘Sentinel Beast’ DEMOS on CD. I’m actually really excited that they are doing this because I feel that the demos have some of the best recorded versions of much of that material. I think in many cases that the demo versions of the songs are better than what was on the album. I feel it’s a great representation of the ‘history’ of the band since there are different versions with many of the different players that the group went thru.

Q: Such a fantastic band, unfortunately just one album to offer – you decided to leave the band late in the 80s… what happened?

At the time that I left I had done so to ‘follow a calling’. I had discovered an Indian Guru named Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. My father and his wife were devotees of her. One day the band was all at my father’s house and he asked us if we wanted to watch a Siddha Yoga video that featured her giving a talk from her Ashram in Catskill, NY.

The reaction of the band was mixed. Scott Awes dismissed it immediately and was actually kind of offended that I asked him to watch, Debbie didn’t quite understand it, Manny Bravo (the new bassist) was sure she was an alien and Mark Koyasako (guitarist) actually found it interesting. He actually attended a few sessions with her. I was captivated with her and I even attended a three week program (totally FREE) that she was conducting in Oakland, CA. It was a two hour drive each direction and I attended every day.

I was feeling ’moved’ by her program and wanted to follow her more. I also wanted to get off of crystal meth which I was heavily into at the time. To me, the Metal Music and the crystal meth went hand in hand, so in order to get off of crystal meth, I felt the need to leave the band.    

Q: So this was the end of Sentinel Beast too?

A: No. I replaced myself before I left the group with a local guitarist named J.J and the group continued on for about a year. They weren’t do that much and Debbie Gunn was asked to join Swedish Metal band Ice Age and she left Sentinel Beast to do so. That marked the end of Sentinel Beast.

Q: No longer SB for you, in the early nineties you left California and traveled to Bangkok and The Netherlands. From where did that decision come from, and why especially these countries?

A: Since I was no longer in music I had taken a ‘regular job’ working for RTO Rents - a furniture rental company that catered to renting to low income people who couldn’t afford to buy their own furniture. Even as manager of that store I was barely able to get by. It seemed that I was putting in a lot more than I was getting back. I did it for about 5 years, and I was even engaged at the time. I then moved to Los Angeles and hooked up with some very interesting ’independent businessmen’. They offered me a very good paying job working for their ’courier business’. The products they dealt in did much better in places like Bangkok and The Netherlands. To be specific they GREW best in Thailand and sold best in Holland. Feel free to read between the lines.

I did about three trips for ‘the company’ in about a years time. The trips could last anywhere from one week to three weeks. On my last trip to Holland for them, I decided I liked it there and wanted to stay.  I stayed there around three years. As my money there ran low, I felt it was time to move on. So I took my clothes and the $1,000 I had left and headed to New York City. I had been lucky enough to find a job within a week of being in New York. I was hired by a moving company to clean and maintain his office. I quickly moved out of that position and started doing sales for them and I’ve actually been involved in moving ever since. I now even own my own moving company in Brooklyn, NY.

Q: As written on your myspace, you hadn’t owned a guitar for five years. That must have been a hell of a bad experience for you Barry, wasn’t it?

A: At first, the break from music was kind of welcome. I had been playing so much when I was in Sentinel Beast (sometimes 10 hours or more a day) that being away from music wasn‘t that bad at first. And, it was actually about seven years that I spent without a guitar.

I had been in New York two years when the fever started to come knocking again. I was working for a new employer (at a different moving company) and he mentioned that he played guitar. I told him that I used to play. One day he brought his guitar into the office and I played it, and I decided that I wanted to play again. 

Q: But finally and like a gift from above – the possibility to buy a guitar came on. Tell me about please.

A: When I decided I wanted to play again I didn’t have the money to by a ‘quality’ guitar and I didn’t want to just buy some cheap, not well made guitar. My boss said he’d loan me the money to get a guitar and I accepted his offer. I bought one of my Schecter Guitars - a ‘64 strat copy - which I still have to this day. I was very grateful to him for doing that, and I did pay him back for it within five months.  

Q: From that moment, your life adopted a drastic change I guess. How did it feel ramming those strings again after all those years?

A: When I started playing again, I realized it was going to be like starting over for a while. I couldn’t play leads at all and I had to really, really work at it and push myself to do it. It was a bit discouraging because I know what I used to be able to do, and I wanted to be able to do that again. But my love for music won out and I stuck it and would keep practicing and trying to get back to my former self.

Q: Did you played in some local bands back then? You had something do with Blues music I guess, right?

A: At the time, I was listening to Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, early Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn I was really inspired by their sounds. I started taking lessons with some local guys to learn the blues. I even hooked up with one guy who was able to teach me many of the classic blues solos ‘note for note’. After learning a set list of about 15 songs (including solos - note for note) I decided I was once again worthy of playing with other people. 

I had found a drummer and I then answered an ad a bassist had in The Village Voice (NY’s largest arts newspaper) and that’s how I met ERIC MAURIELLO who would go on to play with me in various projects up to and including Fischel’s Beast. We then found a singer. It might be interesting and slightly ironic that the singer we found was Albert Howe, brother of Shrapnel Records recording artist Greg Howe.

We started rehearsing, and things were sounding good but I realized that I had to go in my quest for ’my sound’ again also. Then one day I plugged into a Marshall again and it was like being reunited with old friend!

Q: What’s the story about the fact you received a cassette tape from your good old friend Jerry Baird, on it, it had a rehearsal from Sentinel Beast… some more details would be good to know man?

A: I did receive a package from Jerry that had two tapes of all kinds of Sentinel Beast material; rehearsals, live recordings and even demos.

I was listening to the tape one day when Eric came over for our blues rehearsal. He heard the tape and asked what it was. I told him it was my old band Sentinel Beast. He asked if that was me playing on the tape and I told him it was. He said ’man, if you can shred like that… what he ’heck’ are we playing blues for?’ 

Q: Despite your Metal roots, you were actually started working in some kinda Blues circuit for a while. Finally, you decided to make a return straight back to the Metal scene. Once bitten by the Metal virus, it never let you go – isn’t it?

A: Yes it's true - once you're bitten by the METAL BUG - there is no vaccine to rid you of this disease - you are infected for life! I suppose when I started playing guitar again that deep down inside I wanted to play the type of metal I used to play with Sentinel Beast, but I knew I wouldn't be able to after being away from the guitar for so long. So I decided to start out playing the blues. Now that's not to say that the blues is easy, but there is a certain amount of PHYSICAL ability needed to play speed metal, and I knew I wouldn't have it. When Eric asked why we were playing blues, that was probably the 'kick in the ass' I needed to make me do what it is I wanted to do all along. I decided I would start 'woodshedding' and practicing long and hard to start getting my metal chops back.

Q: What happened next? Setting up a band familiar to the almighty Sentinel Beast sound?

A: We actually used the Sentinel Beast material as a starting point. Since I was the guy that played on the record, I figured I should be able to relearn the stuff fairly quickly, and Eric was like my sparring partner helping me get back into shape.

Q: Bit by bit, step by step – you must find the right guys to complete a decent line up I suppose. Was it easy recruiting the other musicians? Who are they actually?

A: Once Eric and I had learned a few of the songs, we decided to look for a drummer that could play this style of music as well. We did have a few drummers we had used for the blues band, but as I mentioned speed metal takes certain techniques and physical ability that a blues player might not have. We did go thru several drummers - and then we finally found ED KLINGER who went on to play on the COMMENCEMENT CD with us.     

We actually spent quite a bit of timing getting the music tight and then getting it SUPER tight before we ever considered looking for a vocalist. Since we were sort of basing our sound on the classic Sentinel Beast material, we started out trying to find a female vocalist. We did find some singers that were quite good, but I suppose when I made the decision to look for a female vocalist for the project I was hoping that I might find someone that was similar in style to Debbie Gunn, but that didn't happen.

As we started working with singers, we also realized that we had GRAND plans for the project that went beyond just learning the Sentinel Beast material. We were envisioning a 'band' that would work on writing and recording new 'all original material' and for that - it just seemed that a male vocalist was the route we felt we needed to go. So, the search began again... and after hearing many 'cookie monsters' and other 'interesting' vocalists, we found
ANTHONY CROSS. He had what we felt was a great powerful and MELODIC voice - and he seemed to fit in really well with us.  

Q: Your new band Fischel’s Beast was originally formed two years ago – your plans were to record the second SB album under Fischel’s Beast… what about that, were the original Sentinel Beast members in agreement about your intentions?

A: I had not been in touch with the original members of Sentinel Beast in quite some time, but when I started the project I did contact them. I was most in touch with Debbie Gunn and Michael Spencer since I wanted (and needed) to get their approval on recording some of the material that they had written. When I contact Debbie I found out that she was actually putting together a new project as well - and she was planning to use the name Sentinel Beast.

Michael Spencer at first seemed a little bit 'reluctant' about giving his approval of my plans. I think his opinion may have changed when I sent him a recording of one of our rehearsals. He heard that the line up I put together was doing a good job of playing the material. Micheal was always a perfectionist when it came to the music and I think he needed to know that my line up of musicians would do the music justice.

Q: You released the first Fischel’s Beast effort, entitled “Commencement” through Stormspell Records a while ago. The result became a 6-song EP actually made for all those into Classic US Power / Speed Metal! I received the CD today, the fifth of October 2009, and I've played the disc several times already - and I can’t get enough of it Barry! What is your feeling about “Commencement” – satisfied all over?

A: Thanx so much for the kind words! Oh, and BTW THANX SO MUCH for the TWO reviews the CD recieved on the Metal To Infinity site!! When we saw the first one, we said 'HOLY CRAP! that's an awesome review' ... and when we saw the SECOND one we said 'HOLY FRIGGIN' CRAP! these guys must REALLY like us!!  

Yes - I was very pleased with how the CD came out. There were some 'rough spots' during the recording process, but everyone in the band feels that the final product came out sounding great! I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea and thinking that the band was fighting or people weren't playing well... the 'rough spots' I refer to was me trying to capture 'the perfect guitar sound'. I'm sure there are some guitar players reading this and I'm sure they're all shaking their heads and they know exactly what I'm talking about. In the end Paul La Placa who was brought on as producer - helped remedy this situation and did a great job of doing the final mixes as well.

Not only are we pleased with how the CD came out - but were really pleased and HUMBLED at the great response it's been getting from people. 

Since you mentioned Stormspell, I'd like to mention here that Iordan will be releasing new SENTINEL BEAST material in February of 2010. Actually, he'll be releasing OLD and NEW Sentinel Beast material. He's releasing a CD of all of the SENTINEL BEAST demo recordings that will be called 'UP FROM THE ASHES'. I'm actually really excited about this because it has versions of some of the songs with line-ups that were different from the 'Depths Of Death' CD, and I've said in the past that I feel some of those versions are better than what was released on the album. The NEW release will be the debut CD of Debbie Gunn's new line-up of Sentinel Beast and will be titled 'Risen'.  

Q: Due to the fact this should have been the songs for a second SB album and with all respect to Debbie and company – this EP kills me! Even axe genius Chris Caffery is audible on the CD – how did this collaboration happen Barry?

A: THANX 'yet again' for the kind words! Can you see me blushing as I type this?? I have always felt the need to get this material out, and the songs had actually been haunting me (in a good way) for over 20 years. There were actually recordings of Sentinel Beast playing these songs from 'back in the day'. There were DEMO versions of 'One Man's Cry' and 'Where Am I' (they will be on the Stormspell release) and there were rehearsal recordings of the other songs and that's what we used to learn the material.

As for Chris Caffery, we cannot thank him enough (and we've tried!) for being part of the CD. Eric was actually responsible for his particiapation. Eric was a huge TSO fan and thru that, had become a fan of Chris' solo music as well. Eric was engineer, prodcuer and co-host for a podcast called SCenEDRiVeR and contacted Chris about doing an interview when Chris released the 'Pins And Needles' CD. The shows host Rich Reich liked the idea of interviewing Chris, but figured there is no way he would have agreed to it. Eric has always had the philosophy that 'the worst thing someone can do is so NO' - so he asked Chris and Chris accepted. When we started working on the recording - Eric asked if I thought it would be cool to have Chris Caffery play on the CD. I of course thought that it would be - and set him free to ask - since 'the worst thing that someone can do is say NO'. Since Chris IS on the CD (he played solos on 'Forbidden Territories' and 'Fate Of Kings') I guess you can figure out what his answer was. Getting to actually work with him was a great experience also. The guy is probably the nicest 'rock star' you'll meet! Hey, you want to interview him next?? 

And while we're on the topic of Chris Caffery - we should mention that anyone that doesn't have his new CD 'House of Insanity' NEEDS to get it! It makes a great Christmas gift for others - or even for yourself!

Q: Production well done – cover artwork looks great… who was in charge for these tasks?

Paul La Placa was brought on board when I started having the above mentioned problems getting a killer guitar sound. Once he was able to solve that dilema we brought him on as producer for the rest of the project.

The Commenement CD was originally 'self released' on Cerberus Records, with a fairly 'generic cover' and a four page booklet. I was looking around for a 'label' to release it and the search led me to Stormspell Records among others. Iordan from Stormspell and I had a started communicating and as they say... the rest is history. The Stormspell release of the CD features FULL COLOR original artwork and a 12 page insert booklet. Most people that comment on the CD make a point to mention the artwork and book... so THANX Iordan!

Q: Did Debbie Gunn hear the result of “Commencement” so far?

A: Yes she has. I was in Sacramento redcently and had a chance to speak with her. She said she really liked it. With her new CD being released on Stormspell as well - it's seems very cool to have all of the Sentinel Beast material being handled by one label.


Q: You’ve always been a very gifted guitarist to me Barry but while listening to “Commencement”, I hear different ways of guitar tactics in comparison with your early Sentinel Beast duties. I got the intention to say you’re better than ever before – agree or not brother?

A: I don't know that I would say 'better', but I would say 'more mature'. I would agree that there are definitely different things going on. In my Sentinel Beast days my main concern was to try to play as fast as possible and the result sometimes was just a blur of notes. I feel my playing now is a bit more structured and controlled. Thanx for noticing!

Q: I am totally satisfied with the Fichel’s Beast EP “Commencement, and I would like to ask now, what the future will bring?

A: We are not just sitting around that's for sure! The CD was recorded with me as the only guitarist, except for Chris' solos. We recently began the search for a seond guitarist which is needed for us to porperly do live shows. We're also working on new material which requires 2nd guitar as well. We're pretty sure we've the slot filled and it feels great to hear the material coming together with two guitars. Whn you have two guitarists that know how to play to COMPLIMENT each other, and a solid rhythm section, it makes the band sound REALLY big.

We'd love to find managment, promoters, heck anyone that can help us get out there and start doing some live shows. We know there are MANY, MANY metal festivals that happen in Europe. We want to play ALL of them!! While metal is popular in the U.S, it seems the European fans still have a real PASSION for the music and we want to play for those kinds of metal fans.

We're hoping to hit the studio in Spring of 2010 to start working on the new CD, we'll keep you posted on the progress and I'm sure we'll be posting updates on the site  - and maybe we'll even post some 'sneak peak' audio clips.    

Q: Be sure man, you can always count on the support of Metal To Infinity webzine. As mentioned so many times before – this type of Metal music… we would die for, it’s in our veins and we won’t let it go! Thanx for your time Barry – something to say before we break up the connection?

A: Once again Stefan, we say THANX TO YOU, Officer Nice and ALL at Metal To Infinity for not only supporting us, but for supporting METAL. Without the support of sites and webzines like MTI - many metal acts would have a tough time 'getting the word out'. Thanx for all you guys do, and keep doing it!!