It was June 2007, and the Friday night crowd at Thee Parkside was primed for brutality. When headliners Hatchet took the stage, two of my senses immediately spiked: my hearing, which seemed not long for the world, and my sight, which couldn't believe that such aggressive thrash was emanating from what appeared to be a quintet of teenagers.
Well, not quite. As of March 2008, the median age of the North Bay band was 20.2, with vocalist Marcus Kirchen, 23, and lead guitarist Julz Ramos, 22, bringing up the average. Guitarist Sterling Bailey and drummer Alex Perez are both 19, and bassist Dan Voight is 18. Granted, Death Angel drummer Andy Galeon was 14 when The Ultra-Violence (Enigma) was released in 1987. Nonetheless, by '87, not even half of Hatchet were born.
Raised in the postHeadbanger's Ball era, its members forged their own paths to a place that local metalheads can both recognize and appreciate. "Hatchet is breathing new life into a scene that has been pretty dead for a long time," Shaxul, owner of San Francisco's Shaxul Records, told me over e-mail. "They pay homage to '80s thrash metal and they do a great job. I think they are about as relevant as a band can get in what you would call the 'Bay Area thrash metal underground.' Especially since they are the ones carrying it right now!"
Kicking back around a table at Thee Parkside one recent afternoon, Ramos Hatchet's main songwriter, though Kirchen pens most of the lyrics and all members contribute to the overall process recalled getting Metallica's Black Album (Elektra, 1991) at age 10 or 11, and discovering Master of Puppets (Elektra, 1986) soon after. Possessing a similar story, the 11-year-old Kirchen also checked into Metallica kindred like Exodus and Testament.
Growing up in the Internet age has its advantages: Bailey and Kirchen joined Hatchet after answering Craigslist ads, and the band hooked up with their label, Metal Blade, via MySpace.
One day the group logged on to read a message beginning, "'Hello from Metal Blade,'" Ramos said. "We were scratching our heads 'Is this a joke?' That was the label that I always [wanted] to be on, because they are strictly metal. They're not gonna try and change anything, or steer you in another direction."
Hatchet's album, Awaiting Evil, was recorded in Petaluma and is tentatively due out May 31, with a tour in the works for later this year. Thematically, the disc addresses dark topics: what Ramos described as "a post-apocalyptic world future." Musically, Kirchen promised, "it's gonna crush."
Staunch fans of the original Bay Area thrash bands, Hatchet is proud to be part of the scene's legacy but they don't see themselves as imitating what came before. "Even though a lot of [our music] is reminiscent of [earlier bands], it really takes from that and stems into new directions," Kirchen explained. "I think it helps that we're coming along about 20 years down the line, because there's so much that's happened in metal since then.
"When I listen to bands like Exodus or Vio-lence, I hear such a difference it's all thrash, but it's different," he added. "If you were to put Hatchet into that, you couldn't say 'Hatchet sounds like Exodus' or 'Hatchet sounds like Testament.' You'd say 'Hatchet sounds like Hatchet.'" While their sound does owe a certain debt to the thundering riffs and drumbeats of bands like Exodus and Testament as well as Slayer, Metallica, and even Iron Maiden Hatchet's enthusiasm is a large part of their appeal. It's music made by metal fans, for metal fans, with the stage barely keeping the two groups apart.
"When you think of Hatchet, you think Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986). At the shows, we thrash together.