Those who witnessed Evil United’s first San Antonio show at Nightrocker Live in March knew they’d gotten a sneak peek at something big. A supergroup of regional greats from bands like Pitbull Daycare, Riot, and Broken Teeth, this new project is an abrasive assault forging old-school heavy metal with the new school. The racing twin-guitar attack is marked by dueling riffs and squealing solos, an unbelievably tight rhythm section mixes thundering bass lines with blast beats and double bass, and dynamic power vocals top it off. Expertly placed breakdowns give the band its power, and there’s just enough groove to suck the audience back in after the sonic onslaught peaks.
“We tried to create that vibe of when you got that first Iron Maiden album, that feeling you got when you first heard that sort of music,” said guitarist Todd Connally. “We just wanted to get back to our origins.”
Evil United first began to pool back in 2006, when local industrial powerhouse Pitbull Daycare was tapped to open for Ministry and Revolting Cocks on the three-month North American leg of a world tour. Connally, bassist Don Van Stavern, and drummer Jason West (three out of Evil United’s five members) all played for Pitbull during that period; Connally and Van Stavern were original members, while West moved to SA from Florida to join Pitbull in 2003. Connally started writing some guitar riffs while out on tour — he cites the speed metal influence of guitar great Mike Scaccia (Rigor Mortis), who was playing for Ministry at the time — but quickly realized they didn’t fit the Pitbull style. So he sat on them.
After Pitbull officially split up in 2007, Connally called up Van Stavern to say that he’d laid down ideas for a couple of songs. Van Stavern was eager to put his stamp on Connally’s work and West agreed to lay some drums down for a demo. Austin-based vocalist Jason McMaster dug the material, too, and the expanding group recruited old Pitbull bandmate and longtime friend John Valenzuela to fill the second guitar slot. Then everybody started writing.
“Each person had a couple songs or ideas,” said Van Stavern. “All of a sudden, 15 songs later, the little two-song demo thing had turned into a full-fledged band. We were writing great stuff, but it wasn’t like we were on a time clock or had a deal.”
Although Saturday’s free release party for the self-titled full-length at Backstage Live will only be Evil United’s second San Antonio appearance, it’s considered a must-see event in local metal circles. While the process behind the band’s debut might seem backwards to some (most locals gig incessantly before stepping into the studio), the progression was natural in this case. With McMaster living in Austin and Valenzuela based in Dallas, a significant amount of planning goes into booking every show. The distance between members could be viewed as an obstacle, but it has also made for a wide net of connections within the regional live-music scene — increasing the band’s exposure.
A Texas metal legend in his own right, McMaster will be the first metal artist inducted into the South Texas Music Walk of Fame in his hometown Corpus Christi in June. He’s well known for disturbing the peace with progressive metal pioneers Watchtower and hard-rocking, gold-certified Dangerous Toys in years past. And his high-voltage rock group Broken Teeth released their fifth album last year. Van Stavern has known McMaster from the regional circuit since the early ’80s, and the rest are quick to point out that McMaster’s other bands, like Ignitor and Gahdzilla Motor Company, were highly memorable in the SA scene even though they were Austin-based.
“We knew it was gonna be Jason McMaster on vocals,” said Van Stavern. “There was really nobody else `in mind`. He heard the tracks, loved it, and said, ‘Yeah, I want to be in.’ … We were interested to see how he was gonna approach it, because the Pitbull stuff we were doing was heavy, but it wasn’t metal. He was the perfect choice for it.”
Due to the fact that the band members were teenagers during the height of the Headbangers Ball era, it’s no surprise that Evil United retains the greatest aspects of old-school metal. But they’ve taken a page from the new school too, with riffs that evoke bands like Bullet for My Valentine and All That Remains. While West is a Deep Purple freak and Connally grew up on Judas Priest and Maiden, Valenzuela brings a thrashier, speed metal background to the mix, more in the style of Slayer and Deicide.
“Heavy metal, it’s one of those kinds of music that has always been around, and will always have a place and a fan base,” said Van Stavern. “Because of the internet and music being accessible, it’s really hard to market a band now, but the metalheads have always been true.”
Though most of Evil United’s members have played together for several years, they all note that it’s important not to take each other’s talents for granted. Connally calls his bandmates “world-class players,” and said he is lucky and privileged to be sharing the stage with them.
“We’re doing this for the right reasons,” he said. “We’re doing this project because of our common interest in music and because we love jamming with our best friends. … If it goes farther than that, because other people like our music, that’s cool and a plus, but I think we’re still just gonna jam and do the next album.”
Evil United CD release w. Las Cruces, Deadpool, & Kill Hate
7pm doors Sat, May 21
Backstage Live, 1305 E Houston
(210) 698-2856, backstagelivesa.com