Evile’s Ol Drake: “When I First Started Singing, I Could Taste Blood In My Throat…”

If there’s one thing Evile have in spades, it’s determination. After the thrash revival exploded and subsided, many bands shed the trend and tried other sounds, but the Yorkshire quartet soldiered on, making some of the more nose-breaking thrash of the early 2010s. Even after lead guitarist Ol Drake left in 2013, Evile never disbanded, and upon his return five years later, they immediately got to work on a new record. Now, eight years after the release of their last album The Skull, the band have returned with Hell Unleashed, a punishing new slab of thrash whose message rings loud and clear: Evile are back, and they came to slay.

“Fortunately, the album was finished before COVID hit,” says Drake. “Because it was finished musically in July of 2019, it gave us a lot of time to perfect the songs. When it came to COVID, we had all these finished songs, and it gave us time to perfect them even more. We could listen to all these finished songs, and I could pick out the tiny details that were bugging me. I’d listen to a song and think, ‘Why do I not like this?’ But when it came to doing the actual recording, it was difficult, because we couldn’t have a lot of people there, and we couldn’t be close to each other. We haven’t rehearsed yet! We have a new band member, Adam [Smith, guitars], and we still haven’t played in the room together! It’s settling down now, so we are starting to rehearse soon, but it’s been a bizarre process.”

That said, the proof is in the songs, and Hell Unleashed marks an aggressive turn for Evile. While the band’s previous releases err on the side of classic thrash metal, there’s a burliness to the tracks on the new album which makes them sound like a more intimidating beast as a whole. A large part of that is Drake, who took over on vocals after former vocalist and guitarist Matt Drake (Ol’s brother) left the band shortly before recording Hell Unleashed. While the shift meant handing over some lead parts to Smith, it definitely gave Ol time to focus on his vocals.

“I guess you can kind of look at it like Chuck Schuldiner in Death — it’s kind of switched to that kind of band,” And I’m a huge fan of Death. Chuck was actually a catalyst for me wanting to do it, because at first I was like, Is it a bit silly having a lead guitarist being the singer? And then, I instantly thought of Chuck, and I thought, No, of course not, let’s do it.”

Why now — why a new Evile album eight years after the last one?

I think the amount of time that’s passed was kind of out of the band’s control, and my control. I left in 2013, and I was out for five years, and the band didn’t do any new music in that time. So when I rejoined in 2018, it was my main concern, it was the first thing I did: we have to write a new album and get it out as soon as possible, because I think everyone thought that Evile had split up. I wrote the new album, I finished the music by July 2019, and then it was a case of waiting for the lyrics and the vocals. And that didn’t happen because Matt just didn’t have the time. We knew it was coming, and Matt quit, and it fell to me to do the vocals and the lyrics. It just dragged out, and the more it dragged out, the more we wanted to get this out. It’s taken longer than it should have, but…to answer the question ‘Why now,’ it should’ve been out sooner, but it has to be now.

Losing a singer can be really tough — how soon after did you decide to take on vocals?

It was a strange decision, because when Matt left, the first thought wasn’t, I’ll sing. I’d recorded the vocals for the demo as a guide for Matt, to say, These are the lyrics, this is what it’s going to sound like,’ and I asked him, ‘Can we do it a bit more aggressive this time?’ Not death metal, but a bit more angry.’ But it just never happened. And when Matt left, we listened to the demos and said, ‘Look, the vocals don’t sound too bad.’ Obviously I needed to learn how to sing better. And I’ve said it before, but we know what metal fans are like when it comes to a lead singer leaving a band. It’s such a big deal — it’s a bigger deal than any other member, I think. And it’s dangerous ground. We opted to have a familiar face instead of a brand-new face when it came to the vocals. We just thought it’d be more naturally accepted. It wouldn’t be as much like ‘Fuck Evile, I prefer Matt,’ if it’s a familiar face. I think it’s an easier transition.

How was learning to sing?

I’m still in the process of it! When we went into the studio, I was glad we got [producer] Chris Clancy, because he’s been a professional singer for about 20 years. We were in there for two weeks, and in the first week we recorded about five songs’ worth of vocals. And we listened back, and…it sounded like shit. We spent a lot of time in the studio getting it right, and one day it just clicked, and it worked. And I was so happy and relieved that from then on, I thought, Right, I have to dedicate my time to learning to sing. Because before, when I first started singing, I could taste blood in my throat. There was loads of iron in there. And that’s not good. I’m working with Chris, I’m also working with [vocal coach] Melissa Cross, who’s really helping me out. It’s an ongoing process, and I’m still learning quite a lot, but I’m a lot less nervous about it now, because I can feel the benefits of what I’m learning, and I’m a lot less scared of playing live now. 

Let’s say I’m a young metal vocalist who wants to learn how to sing for the first time. What’s a basic tip you can give me?

I could only say that it is best to get lessons. The techniques to singing without damaging yourself are quite complex — it’s not like with a guitar, where you can just play the fifth fret and that’s it. It’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s hard to explain — you have to be in the room with someone to understand what to do without hurting yourself. So I’d really look into getting lessons, even in touch with Melissa Cross. She does some great online lessons, and it’s a huge benefit to vocalists. 

How’d you guys bring Adam Smith into the fold? Was he a friend before you invited him to Evile?

Well, he’s in a band called RipTide, who are from Huddersfield, the same place Evile are from. Ben [Carter, drums] knows Adam more than the rest of us, but when Matt left and we decided I was going to be the singer, Ben got in touch, because we couldn’t think of anyone — we literally didn’t know anyone locally who could do it. He said, ‘Just try Adam.’ I never thought of asking Adam, because he has RipTide. So I just rang him out of the blue — and I didn’t have a lot of time, so I kind of put him on the spot. Hi, Adam, how’s it going? Not bad, you? Do you want to join Evile? He said, ‘I’ll have to call you back in five minutes,’ because I think he freaked out a bit. So yeah, we knew him prior to joining, and he’s a really nice guy. He’s just turned 20, so he’s a lot younger than the rest of us.

Did you have to hand him any lead parts so that you could focus on vocals?

There are some parts in Evile songs that I’ve always played lead over when Matt is singing. But when I’ve been practicing those songs as a vocalist, I’ve had to ask Adam to do them. I’ve told him, ‘You need to do those parts, because there’s no way I can play that at the same part.’ But mostly I’m doing Matt’s job, except when it comes to solos. Matt did do some solos, which Adam will now do. 

How’d your collaboration with Brian Posehn happen?

A fan of ours sent us a screenshot back in 2010, I think, of The Sarah Silverman Show, and it was Brian wearing an Enter the Grave shirt on TV. And we were like, ‘Holy shit, we had no idea!’ So I got in touch with Brian and just said, ‘I had no idea you were into Evile,’ and we got talking. He actually did backing vocals on our third album, on the song “Cult.” It was just 20 times of him shouting, “CULT!” that we mixed together, which sounded really cool. We did the same thing this time around, but I think the slight problem this time was, it’s being advertised as ‘Featuring Brian Posehn.’ Which is fine, but it’s confused people into thinking it’s a duet! It was never meant to be that. It was literally just me in the studio e-mailing him — Do you want to do some backing vocals? Sure!

I also wanted to laud you on the track “The Thing (1982).” That “(1982)” is fucking gold.

We eventually decided to call it “The Thing” because it was about the film, and I think we joked, ‘Should we call it (1982) as well, just to clarify that we don’t mean it’s the 2011 prequel?’ We mean the 1982 version.’ And we thought, ‘Yeah, that’s brilliant.’ It’s my all-time favorite film.

With the album in the chamber, do you guys have touring plans? Will you be doing a livestream?

We’re definitely hoping on live shows. I don’t think we want to do livestreams. It’s just not for us. I stream on Twitch, but it’s a different thing. I just kind of hang out and play a few songs, but it’s not really a performance. We haven’t played properly for quite a while, and we don’t want our first outing to be playing to cameras. We want people. We need to be playing to people. It’s a strange time to be releasing an album — it’s sort of like releasing it into an abyss, and then it’s gone. As soon as we can tour again, we definitely plan on getting back to North America, getting to South America for the first time, getting to Europe, which is more complicated now because of Brexit, that whole mess…we just really want to get out there and promote this album, because we’ve got a really good feeling about this one.

Evile’s Hell Unleashed drops April 30th on Napalm Records, and is available for preorder.

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Words by Chris Krovatin