Interview with Jim Martinelli of Burnt Offering 2006
By Bradley Smith
I can still remember walking into Ace’s records in Tampa and seeing your debut album sitting there on the shelf with that hideous alien looking mouth on the cover. It spoke to me immediately with its musical brutality. How do you feel about that album after all these years?
Well we never thought the production was all that great and we knew there was a lot of timing mistakes and what not. You know everything was fuelled by the way we were living our lives back then alcohol and smoking and stuff like that. But there was even a time when we wanted to remix it for a period of years but the guy with the original master tapes never wanted us to. He’d pretend that he could never find the tapes and we finally got ahold of him and said it is what it is. The Rawness of it and the way we played, most of it was done live in the studio and it is what it is and I guess we are proud of it in that it actually almost got noticed.
You had it re-released in the recent past as Death Decay Complete which included some demo material. What was the driving force behind its re-release? Have you noticed a renewed interest in Burnt Offering?
Well we got together for a few gigs back in 1997 as kind of a reunion type thing and thought we’d just write a couple songs and we had fun with it and that’s where we were offered…well a year after that we were offered the Mexican Tour and thought we didn’t have anything to bring down there. We kind of pressed our copies of our own stuff whether it be the first album which I am the one who mastered it from vinyl onto disk or Walk of the Dead which actually didn’t come out until a little bit later. We just wanted to have product to just go around for gigs. We didn’t have anything. We were out of demo tapes and all that so we just needed something. We knew there was enough interest in the world to wanna have copies of that release on disk and we didn’t know if it would ever happen if we didn’t do it. There’s a lot of bizarre circumstances behind the people…the driving forces of who put that record together were the record company, the engineer in the studio, we don’t know a thing about these guys so trying to go back and finding all our stuff was just out of the question so we did it ourselves.
In 1998 you guys released Walk of the Dead in collaboration with Sounds Of Death zine. How did this come about? How did you manage to retain all that focused rage and hate after such a long break between your debut and Walk of the Dead?
I don’t know, somehow David Horn(S.O.D. Mag) had heard we did a show or we were back together or that we released the first record on our own or something, and he ended up sending me and old review he did of it which was really cool and he asked if we had anything new and I did send him one track which I believe was With All the Blood. And he liked that and he just wanted to do a record. We said “well yeah we’ll do a record with you.” Who else is gonna….ya know…At the time we didn’t feel like shopping around and going through that whole thing again and trying to write people and call people. Well this guy wants to put out a record so go ahead and we’ll probably never see any money on our record anyways, so what the heck. Better off somebody putting it out. As far as the rage and keeping the rage well that’s the only one style that Burnt Offering ever knew. That’s what we were forged on, created on is that old school you know Hellhammer meets Slayer meets Celtic Frost meets Voivod….that early sound that we just wanted to have that type of rage and never change it. There’d be no sense in getting together and changing that style, we never would because when we get together and we play that music that’s what we feel. And other than that there’d be no point in getting together so that’s it. That’s Burnt Offering!!!
You guys had to be one of the heaviest thrash outfits to ever see the light of day. Why did you head in such a violent direction rather than succumbing to the allure of the popular and more polished “Bay area sound?”
For us there was no other direction. It was always Venom, Slayer, you know Motorhead, any of the early, early thrash so that’s the only thing we got into anyway. The polished sound, I actually I like it more now today than I did back then. I didn’t really care for the flashy guitar solos in that kind of music. I just, you know the whole Yngwie type thing, like Testament, the whole shredder type thing it didn’t appeal to me at the time although it does now. I’ve learned a lot more on the guitar but at the time it was just more about the power, you know the power of death. A couple terms that came from our band, well are terms that are still used in Mexico, a lot of people say Pure fucking death and I don’t know anybody saying P.F.D. before that album came out with that one song on P.F.D. so that’s uhhh…I don’t know there was no allure from any other styles of thrash it was just the heaviest. That’s all we were into.
Burnt Offering stormed the scene right around the time of Death metal’s explosion and eventual take over of the extreme metal scene. How did this affect your appeal and success? What are your views on the changing tastes of the metal underground from thrash to death to black to death and thrash again?
Way back then 85, 86, 87 death metal probably just meant extreme thrash type metal with lyrics of death but all of a sudden the vocals started getting a little bit lower, and more harsh more growling and then all of a sudden it just became death metal, just a sound no matter what you were screaming or spewing about it was death metal. Just by the vocal sound and the intense take over of the technical aspect, the techniques, the double bass drum and everything got faster. Nobody really knows this but Burnt Offering had a single bass drummer emulating double bass with toms and what not. So if you think about listening to that album from that aspect it was so much different from what anybody was doing. Anything on that album you think is double bass is not. Yeah we didn’t really know that we were death metal or proto-death metal or anything like that at the time. We didn’t really throw around terms like that, like “hey we’re death metal.” The whole changing scene, that doesn’t mean anything to me. There’s always gonna be black, death, and thrash and as long as it’s good, it’s good. As far as the mixture of the melodic vocals and the violent vocals, I don’t really care for that all that much but I respect what the kids are doing. They just gotta keep changing I guess. You can’t just keep doing the same old thing.
You guys did some shows with some pretty big names in metal. Any favourite shows come to mind? What bands were your favourite to share the stage with? Any interesting experiences that occurred on any of your tours?
The biggest show that will always stand out for me is we opened for Death and Dark Angel at a place called the Cubby Bear which is right across the street from Wrigley Field. So the feeling was really cool. I got there about a half hour before show time for us and the place was packed. I just had a great feeling. Everything went well that night, an intense pit for Burnt Offering. We just felt like “Hey we’re actually the band that’s representing Chicago right now”, you know there was a lot of bands but for some reason when we played live it felt like we had control of that scene at that time. Well we didn’t do all that much touring so I‘d have to say the Mexican shows, shows like that where there were 2000 people out there watching and having to win the crowd over every night being a bunch of white boys from Chicago. That whole, I think it was three weeks, in Mexico was just a great time. Those people just made us feel so welcome but we did have to win them over on every show and we did win them over on every show.
You guys are an old stalwart of the Chicago scene but from what I understand your biggest following is from Mexico. Is that true? What do you think you offer that appeals so much to those crazy Central Americans?
As far as down in Mexico why we made a splash down there was because in the early days back in late 86, 87, I did a lot of demo sending out and I did have a lot of connections. A lot of pen pals, a lot of zines and couple that with the fact that we actually went there. You know whatever it was like even though it was 10 years later, whatever like 8 or 9 years later, we just ended up making a name for ourselves down there. You know a lot of people know who we are even though probably most people only have either the first album or copies of the second album. We don’t know. I think that what appeals to those people down there is that if you come down there and make the attempt to go down there and play because it’s not easy, they just think the world of you. Actually showing up in their country to play a show. Those people appreciate that probably more than anybody else in the world. I would put money on that I would say.
Along those lines you state in your “bio” that you smuggled 500 copies of your CD into Mexico for the 9 city tour you did there. What did that involve and why did you have to smuggle them? Did you manage to sell them all on that tour?
Yeah smuggling, I came up with that line, heh heh, It wasn’t actually smuggling of course because CDs are legal but the fact is that some of our Mexican brothers in Chicago had warned us about if we got caught with 500 of the same CD the customs agents are gonna probably want their cut. They are not gonna let us into the country and sell all this stuff. That’s how corrupt it is down there. They might have wanted to hit us up for a bunch of cash upfront or take the product away from us. So what we did was we took all the jewel cases away and then all we had was stacks of disks. Each guy had like a stack of like 100 disks in his suitcase or whatever and we made it through and no one even saw’em. They didn’t even realize we had ‘em, in fact I think only one guy got searched at the aviation customs down there in Mexico. So we passed through but yeah that was just something that I thought was kind of funny because to me we smuggled them in there but to me it was more about just not getting caught and not having to pay taxes for some product that they thought we might be trying to sell down there. That’s all.
To me the Chicago Metal Scene has to be one of the best in America though it doesn’t usually get the credit it deserves. As an insider can you offer some of your own perspective on what made/makes the Chicago scene so interesting?
To me it was always the Chicago weather man. For some reason that freezing cold you know October November comes around December all the way through to April sometimes. It’s just freezing there so there’s nothing really left to do except create mind warping violent speed-thrash type metal and so many bands and young people picked up on this way back in the early eighties. It just created a really great scene. Plus the city’s so big. I know it’s not as big as LA or New York but there’s just something unique about the Chicago scene. There’s always great bands playing just great Midwest thrash and death metal. You can go there any night of the week any time of year if you’re visiting from out of town and just pick up a flyer or a poster or any local zine and you’ll find some kind of a metal show going on in Chicago but for me most of it is the weather. October or November comes around and we used to say it’s “Metal weather.”
The inner sleeve artwork you guys have for both of your albums is really raw and suits the music really well. Who did and how did you determine to use it as part of the entire aesthetic of Burnt Offering’s presentation?
On the first album John Voll the rhythm guitar player did all the artwork on the inside sleeve of that first vinyl record and Hal did all the calligraphy which I never asked him about this but it looks like his calligraphy was kind of inspired by the first Voivod record War and Pain. Hal, I think he liked that style of writing and just kind of expounded upon that. As far as the Walk of the Dead, the second album, I think the inner…Hal did the calligraphy again, on the second album but I think the artwork, you know the demons and stuff inside was done by Petagno and I guess Petagno is a pretty famous artist that does a lot of album covers. David Horn of SOD(zine) set that up with Petagno, but we liked it a lot when we saw it so…in fact that style, if we ever did anything new I am sure it would be apparent again. That’s just another one of those things that goes along Burnt Offering is the artwork and the calligraphy and what not. As well as the violent music it’ll always be the same.
The Anniversary of 9/11 was just the other day. It seems a lot of people I have heard from the foreign underground scene are kind of glad 9/11 happened. Any thoughts on the subject and their attitude?
Yeah I don’t really pay any attention to that. It’s pretty popular over the world to hate America now. I mean yeah, people have their own ideas you know everybody thinks that we are big headed or stuck up or we have all the money in the world here or something which none of it is really true. As far as if you are great thrash or death metal band and you go play anywhere else in the world you are gonna be accepted so it doesn’t even really you know…It’s all let’s hate America, but if you have a great band and you’re gonna come and play in another country they are gonna show up and pay to see your band because they love that music so much. So it’s just when they say they hate America they don’t hate everybody, they just hate kind of what America stands for to them. As far as being a great metal band you’ll be able to go play anywhere else in the world and draw a big crowd so what’s the difference?
I know I should know this already but where did you get the name Burnt Offering. Did you pull it from the Bible in Leviticus or was it based on the horror movie or…..? What appealed to you about this moniker?
Burnt Offering, yeah, I think Hal did recall the name from a horror movie. I don’t know if it was the horror movie came out in the late 60s early 70s or something but yeah there was a movie Burnt Offering. I don’t even remember if I saw it. But he thought the name sounded cool. That’s pretty much what we went at. But then we found out there was another band, and I think out of Hawaii at the time and they were called Burnt Offerings with an “S” at the end but that didn’t stop us and nowadays we hear there’s more Burnt Offerings and we hear that Testament had a label called Burnt Offerings and the name just got so popular and everything and everybody started using it but as far as which band made the name playing music I’d have to say it was us, Burnt Offering from Chicago formed in 1986. First Demo came out in 87 and by the time we finally finished the record it was 89. But it was all stemming from mid to late 86. But I think Hal just got the name from the movie. That’s really where it came from. Nothing really biblical. I don’t think Hal spent a lot of time reading the bible okay! Heh heh.
Reformations are a big thing right now among the old thrash bands. Are there any bands out there that you would like to see reform or that you think died a premature death but held a lot more potential?
I don’t really think about that too much. I’ve kind of moved on. I’m playing in other groups with different styles. I still love metal, still love death and thrash and black metal but you know…what I really think about once in awhile is Sepultura getting back together which I don’t think is ever really gonna happen. I was kind of sad when they broke up, parted ways, moved on playing newer type metal. Again then there’s Exodus with Paul Baloff dying. I love the first Exodus record. It was really one of the only Exodus records I loved and I would have loved to see the reunion tour they did a few years back but I missed that and now I’ll never get a chance to see them again. But I did get to see Exodus back at the Slayer/Venom/Exodus tour back in probably 85 or 86 but nah I don’t spend much time thinking about reformations.
What are you guys up to these days? Any other metal projects that you are involved in? Can we expect another reunion or is Burnt Offering finally dead?
Well right now we all kind of live in different parts of the country right now. John Voll the original rhythm guitarist moved down to Florida years ago, Hal just moved to Florida. He’s a cabinet maker down there and he’s doing pretty good with that. I’m living down here in San Antonio Texas, southern Texas. I bought a home with my wife and kids. Having a good time and we still have Dolph Ciringione who was our second bass player, he played with us back in Chicago. So he’s still back in Chicago with Aaron Nickeas who’s the drummer with Abomination and Master and he’s a great drummer and we still use him for Burnt Offering now and he’s always on hold. I’ll probably make it back to Chicago for the holidays this year and then get together with the guys and hopefully I can get Hal back in Chicago and we’ll sit down and pound out a Burnt Offering set and see what it sounds like and maybe someday soon do a show in Chicago. And who knows…we’re like Michael Jordan. We never officially said we broke up so we gonna say that we’re 99.9 percent sure that we probably won’t do anything but you never know.
Any Final words before it’s time to close your eyes?
All right thanks for the interview. Stay heavy, stay brutal, keep thrashing forever and “Adios” from San Antonio Texas.