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Interviews : “I see myself as a guitarist who sings” – An Interview With Riley Strong (Desecrator)

By on April 2, 2017

Desecrator – Riley Strong

“I’ve been waiting for a chance to tell this story for so long. I’m glad you brought it up.”

Riley Strong is the frontman, guitarist and vocalist for Melbourne thrash quintet, Desecrator. Before our chat I found a picture of him on his Instagram page standing next to the metal god himself, Rob Halford. He’s eager to share the story around the events that led to their encounter.

“My girlfriend and I were flying up to Brisbane to see the Soundwave show. We decided to take a few days out, go watch Priest and spend some time together before I flew out to tour with Hirax. The night before we were due to fly to Brisbane I texted my mate and said I’m coming up and it’d be great to have a beer if possible. The bloke is always on tour so we never cross paths. He calls me straight back and says ‘I need you to do me a favour. Go to the Sofitel hotel in Collins Street where Judas Priest had been staying and pick up a package for me, then bring it to Brisbane.”

At this point alarm bells must have been ringing. Rock band’s tour manager asks ‘friend’ to pick up a non-descript package and transport by air across state lines…  

“He said ‘it’s not drugs, it won’t get you in trouble’.  The next morning I went to the Sofitel and I picked up an envelope, had to sign for it and everything, do it all officially. That envelope contained about $5000 US. It was Rob Halford’s spending money for the Australian tour and he’d accidently left it in his hotel room in Melbourne. So we went to the show and I delivered Rob Halford’s money to a handler. After the show, my mate comes out and says ‘Rob wants to meet you.’ So, how’s that? All my life I’ve wanted to meet Rob Halford, then I get told Rob wants to meet me!”

Alan Carr is attributed to a famous quote warning of the danger in meeting your heroes. What does Strong have to say about meeting one of his?

“We went backstage, Rob’s there. He’s got a cup of tea. He’s got a white mug with ‘Rob’ written on the mug. He says ‘Allo. My name’s Rob.’ Rob introduces himself as Rob to me. I didn’t even know what to say. I wanted to say, ‘I know’, but you can’t. I said, ‘Good to meet you.’  We had a joke and a chat, we sat around and we talked for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. He was really relaxed, because there weren’t a lot of people around, so it was really candid. We were making jokes about how he was going to spend the money and replace it with cash vouchers. He thought it was hilarious. It was just a really, really cool time.”

‘To The Gallows’ – out now

Then the encounter could not have ended on a better note.  

“My girlfriend was standing next to me and was really quiet. She had a jacket with a Screaming For Vengeance back patch. She finally worked up the courage to ask ‘Rob, can you sign my jacket?’ I swear I’ve never seen anything smoother in my life. Rob puts his arm around her and says, ‘Love, come over ‘ere and we’ll do whatever you want.’  She melted, absolutely melted. He was a gentleman.”

Desecrator has just released the phenomenal To The Gallows, an album that seriously ups the ante for any thrash/speed metal band anywhere in the world in 2017 (read Metal Obsession’s review HERE!). It’s an album that’ll be hard to top within the genre this year as much of the albums’ success can be attributed to Strong’s frank and amiable persona. We discussed such a broad array of subjects that our chat easily exceeded the one hour mark. Like Halford, Strong lives and breathes his craft and I can assure readers he is the genuine article.  

The band first caught my attention when I read that Strong and co. were to tour Europe with the patron saint of underground thrash metal himself, Katon W. de Pena and Hirax through 2015. Strong recalls this tour as the band’s first efforts in front of an unfamiliar audience.

“That was really our first big international tour. It was our first tour of Europe. It was really a baptism of fire. To go over as the main support was a really cool thing. It was something like 29 shows in 30-odd days or something. We’d never done the whole ‘get in the van’ for that many shows in a row. We were very pensive going into it, it was unknown. You talk to people, you ask people’s advice as much as you can, but you never know until you’re there.”

Katon W. de Pena is almost as famous for his PMA (positive mental attitude) as he is in his musical output, did he offer mentorship and advice?  

“To meet the guys from Hirax, who from day one… Lance, the guitarist, the two brothers, the guitarist and the bass player, Mike, the young drummer, Katon and his wife Anna, they were so inclusive. He [de Penna] lives and breathes heavy metal. As the shows went on we got a lot closer to those guys. We started helping out, crewing with them. It taught us a lot of the ropes especially for me as a singer, I remember Katon sharing his little secrets: tricks on how to keep the high in your voice when you’re touring in the middle of winter in Europe and doing many shows.”

Strong’s interaction with two iconic frontmen of heavy metal provide a solid narrative to our chat. We went on to discuss the influence over Strong that a number of prominent and not-so-well-known frontmen may hold. I mention that I find parts of Strong’s voice similar to the vocalist in the ill-fated Chuck Schuldiner project, Control Denied. Tim Aymar is by no means a household name, yet his vocal is the last word in Schuldiner’s considerable legacy. What’s Strong’s thoughts on the comparison?

“I still struggle to class myself as a vocalist. I see myself as a guitarist who sings. When the band started it was really one of those, ‘Do I want to try and find a singer? Do I want to put up with one extra bad member? Do I want to involve another plane flight in every tour flight we have to take?’ Or, ‘Is it time to give this a go?’ The line-up that I had at the time when I was very first putting the band together and writing songs with the first drummer, he was really encouraging. For me, growing up I’d always kind of idolised the singer/frontman in bands rather than the lead guitarist. I classed myself as just the guitarist for years and then I realised I don’t watch Hammett play, I watch Hetfield. It dawned on me to take the bull by the horns and give it a go. A lot of people compare me to Phil Rind [vocalist and bassist in Sacred Reich] especially on The American Way (’90). I can hear it now that people mention it.”

Desecrator is touring internationally and have a following the stretches around the globe. I noticed the band has adopted elements of an icon in Australian film and cinema giving them a unique identity on the global stage. During a recent tour of Mexico and Brazil the band was transformed into the cast of Mad Max.

The Road Warriors poster from last year’s tour was unreal. I was drawn as the centre piece of the poster as Max. My face as Max was very cool. I’ve got the t-shirt. I can’t ever wear it because it’s got my face on it. I’ll always have it.”

Strong has been keen to pay tribute to Mad Max and he may have found a way to honour that legacy.

“I’ve got a big love of Australian film and cinema. My favourites are the first two Mad Max movies. I think there’s just so much raw Australian identity in those films that I just love them. They play so well into heavy metal: the whole post-apocalyptic feel of the second one. People ask me all the time, ‘When’s the Mad Max album coming out?’ I’ve always wanted to write either an album or a song (about Mad Max). I’ve always wanted to do something with the subject matter. It had to be done well because I’d be so disappointed if it disappointed people.  So we finally wrote the track “Desert for Days”… it just felt right to open with the Mad Max narration.”

I’d need far more of your time to share the full length and breadth of my chat with Strong so there may well be a part two! I’ll leave it there and urge anyone with a passing interest in traditional speed and thrash metal to purchase a copy of the To The Gallows.

To The Gallows is out now! Grab your copy through Nerve Gas.

Desecrator is currently on tour in Australia now with national support, Hidden Intent. Be sure to catch them on one of their shows!

Presented by Extreme Management Group, Alpha Omega Management & Metal Thrashing Productions.

Thursday, April 13: Enigma Bar, Adelaide – Event Page
Fri-Sun, April 14-16: Blacken Open Air, Alice Springs – Event Page
Wednesday, April 26: The Loft, Warrnambool – Event Page
Thursday, April 27: The Eastern, Ballarat – Event Page
Friday, April 28: Barwon Club, Geelong – Event Page
Saturday, April 29: Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne – Event Page
Friday, May 5: The Basement, Canberra – Event Page
Saturday, May 6: Leagues Club, Woy Woy – Event Page
Sunday, May 7: Frankies Pizza, Sydney – Event Page
Friday, May 12: Amplifier Bar, Perth
Saturday, May 13: Eliot St Bar, Bunbury


Andrew is a musician who has spent many years performing on the stages of the pubs and clubs of Queensland. A devotee of the broad church that is rock, punk, funk, jazz and of course all genres of metal... he now shares his enthusiasm via a burgeoning pursuit of music journalism. Follow him on twitter @andymckaysmith