Winter is coming
In the ’80s, you could find a heavy metal band in every neighborhood, in every city, all over the United States of America. Many of them might have listened to Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, or just saw Ozzy and Iron Maiden live during their early US tours, or just witnessed a Kiss live show, so that was enough. You can’t imagine the kind of impact those bands had back then on the metal youth of America. The passion was there, creativity too, so you were only missing the skills. The young bands that had the complete package recorded songs that stood the test of time. Most of those underground metal bands officially recorded just a few songs, or an EP, or an album or two, and they were lost in time… Not exactly lost, because years later, their music was highly appreciated from few hundreds of underground metal fans; it stood the test of time.
Slauter Xstroyes was one of those bands, originally formed by bassist Brent Sullivan and guitarist Paul Kratky. Naj, Best Bet, White Witch, were the names of early incantations of Slauter Xstroyes or related acts until one day the name was finalized. “We wanted a name that doesn’t sound like anything else”, Brent told me before their first European show in 2010 at Up The Hammers Festival during an interview for Cloak n’ Dagger zine, to continue “the original idea was Slaughter and Destroyers but sounded cheap… You probably can blame the pot, but then Slauter Xstroyes came up!”
The band was rehearsing all the time and among their early influences were bands like Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, and Black Sabbath but Brent was coming all the time with other new bands, the rest were also listening, new ideas were coming all the time, and there were some demo recordings. So at one point in 1985, the recordings of the first album Winter Kill were completed with Paul, Brent, John Stewart on vocals and Dave Bonow on drums.
At the Heart of Winter
Winter Kill was pressed in 500 copies on vinyl and was privately released by the band. The album consists of 7 tracks, but more were recorded. The band was fearless and when most of the other underground acts in the area of Chicago were performing covers from known bands, Slauter Xstroyes came up with their original unique material and powerful gigs in Chicago. Vocalist John Stewart was an insane performer and gives the songs a sick character, but the highlight of the album is definitely the guitar playing of Paul Kratky and the massive bass domination of Brent Sullivan. Winter Kill is complex and technical – we are in 1985, the year where Watchtower released their debut album Energetic Disassembly and one year before Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian, and yet, you had this band in Chicago writing and performing this skillful, insane, and technical ultra metal style that was somehow unheard in the first half of the ’80s.
Back then, a band like Slauter Xstroyes was something so different that you couldn’t place them under any genre. Just imagine your are in 1985 and you listen to this. From the opening synth of the title track, to the last scream of “Mother, Mother Fucker” everything sounds away from the norm. Is it heavy metal? Is it thrash metal? You didn’t have progressive metal in its complete form. Power metal was a characterization that still wasn’t used to identify a genre, but just to give “power” and separate few bands from the heavy metal acts of its time, because in the mid ’80s, heavy metal was dominating the charts with the likes of Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, but also bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, and similar acts that were either considered as hair metal, glam metal or just heavy metal. So this resulted in adverts that were using the “power metal” term just to separate few acts from the “mainstream heavy metal”. Even a few musicians that cannot be placed under power metal used the term. Cronos of Venom for example, stated “our music is Power Metal, Venom Metal, Black Metal, not Heavy Metal ‘cos that’s for chicks”, and you could see “power metal” also used in adverts for bands like Slayer in the first half of the ’80s.
So what could you say for the music of Slauter Xstroyes back in 1985? Nowadays you have all these terms set and you can place a label to anyone. Let’s just say that Winter Kill is an album that if you will give it a chance, it will grow in you as something unique. If you want a term, let’s say technical US power metal. Winter Kill is one of those lost masterpieces of underground metal. Paul Kratky is one of the most underrated metal guitarists ever. Brent Sullivan is better than your favorite bass player. John Stewart is a performer with lot of charisma and madness, at the same time. Everyone is doing his own thing and yet, they complete each other creating something unique. You are probably tired of reading about “unique” albums, but Winter Kill is a truly unique metal album. An unorthodox album ahead of its time, without any clichés, just originality.
“Our new children must learn not to fear, we can built a new city, not made of wood but made of heavy metal steel.”
After the Winter, the Beast
The budget for the recordings and pressing the 500 copies of Winter Kill was $5000. All the copies were sold by the band via mail and few live shows. Over the years, the original pressing became a collector’s item and it took until 1997 to be repressed again on vinyl by Monster Records – that was the beginning of making the name of Slauter Xstroyes more known in the underground metal scene. In 1999 a CD version was also pressed but one year before in 1998, Monster Records of Dennis Bergeron (that later became Rockadrome Records) released the Free the Beast CD. That was the second Slauter Xstroyes album that was supposed to be released in 1987, but the recordings were left incomplete. The Free the Beast release includes 6 tracks for that supposed second album and 6 more tracks recorded during 1981-1984. However, there are many more demo recordings that haven’t officially see the light of day. When the band was reunited for selected live shows, the line up was Paul Kratky (guitar), Brent Sullivan (bass), Steven Reimer (vocals) and Rik Kroll (drums). Among those shows, the band performed twice at Up The Hammers Festival (2010, 2015) and once at Keep It True Festival (2011).
“We were young, foolish and broke”, Brent Sullivan remembers, “we spent most of our money on empty promises and the recordings of the rest of the songs that ended on Free the Beast. We tried to come to a deal with labels like Metal Blade and Roadrunner, but they were not interested. Most of them told us they were looking for thrash music and we were not what they wanted. It was a pity”, Brent said, “because I believe we were at least as good, if not better than most of the bands they had in their roster.”
Favorite track: Winter Kill