“There are the ones who play heavy metal and then there are Omen”
Almost two decades after the last interview with him, Metal Invader calls back Omen’s frontman, Kenny Powell, who soberly answers even at the most tough questions. Omen returned with an album that normally should have released many years ago. Nevertheless it’s never too late. Here we go…
From Andreas Stasinopoulos
Dear Kenny, I welcome you to Metal Invader, which is now a webzine, once more. Congratulations on the new album. Before we get to that though, I owe to ask you something that’s been troubling me for 19 years. If you remember, we talked again three months prior to the release of “Re-opening the gates”, when you were still in the studio. I was so excited hearing you talking about an album equal to “Warning of Danger” and “The Curse” that we decided to give much space in the interview as well as the front cover of the zine to Omen and your upcoming album, back then. When I got my hands on the CD, it’s coldness was such that I couldn’t believe in my ears. As many times I listened to it, as much as I tried, I didn’t find anything touching into it, so I rated it with 0 out of 6. Today, do you really think that this album deserves to bear the logo of Omen?
I am laughing my ass off right now! 0 out of 6, really, that is funny! I don’t know if it was worthy of being called Omen, I look back on it as a mistake, but I think over 35 years of making records there are going to be mistakes, you just pick up and move on. If I took all reviews too seriously I would have quit long ago. Some one reviewed “Warning of Danger” when it was first released and said it was the worst record ever, we should not even call ourselves a band and we could not even play our instruments ! I wanted to track him down and beat his ass, but I have gotten used to that kind of shit over the years.
I’ve loved and still love Omen from the first three albums more than I have loved any other act. I know for example, that Iron Maiden will never reach the level of an album like “Powerslave”, and at the same time I believe it’s nearly impossible for Omen to reach the immense heights they achieved in the 80’s. However, to be honest, I didn’t expect to hear good news from you, “Hammer Damage” surprised me and gave truth to the saying “never say never”. Yes, you can say that Omen are back! Talk to us about how “Hammer Damage” came into work after 13 years of silence.
I am confused by people saying 13 years of silence, released the “Into the Arena” record, played hundreds of shows etc not silent but yes not a new studio record. I thought it would be finished years ago, but I did not anticipate all of the line up problems, storms destroying my studio two times or getting seriously ill from the stress and total lack of rest trying to restore the tracks after my protools computer went completely black screen and mixed about 4000 tracks from recording it over several times all together!
I distinguished “Chaco Canyon (Sun Dagger)”,”Cry Havoc”, “Eulogy For A Warrior”, “Knights”, “Era Of Crisis” and the amazing instrumental “A.F.U.” right away. Which are your favorites from “Hammer Damage”?
Hellas is probably my favorite, because I stretched my guitar playing a little out side of my normal comfort zone, hopefully without pissing hardcore Omen fans off! also because it is about my beloved Greece. I would say A.F.U. second because I did not have to deal with a singer, only joking, well maybe not.! lol
What does “A.F.U.” stand for, from the title of the instrumental?
It stands for “All Fucked Up” which is what happened to my studio two times, the storm tracks are real, I placed a mic by the back door the second time and recorded the storm.
Releases on many different formats is often used, yet you chose to release the album with two different covers. Why is that? Did you like both and couldn’t decide?
I had no trouble deciding, I had the “warrior” cover painted long before the record was finished. It was based off the J.D. back cover photo on Battle Cry. Since “Hammer Damage is a tribute to J.D. that’s what I wanted.I was told one of the European distributors did not want it because it looked too Greek and the E..U. was pissed at Greece! I love the Snake cover, but would have preferred to save it for the next record. So, we used the Snake for the CD and the Warrior cover for the digital download label in the U.S.That should be a joke, but it is not, it’s stupid!
You are the only remaining member from the original line-up. Not a few musicians have come and gone thoughout the years, in fact some left to come back some years later, as with the current bassist Andy Haas, as well as your singer Kevin Goocher. Why couldn’t you maintain a standard line up in your opinion?
Well, I am not the only original member, Steve Wittig has been back for some time now. With these three guys, they have not been fired, they have had to leave for personal reasons at times. Both Steve and Andy had their wife pass away and Andy had children to take care of. Steve’s wive had a long bout with cancer and he left a couple of times to help with her care. Kevin and I kind of drifted apart after he moved to California,and was working on some other projects, but I was more than happy to have him come back after some of the shit I experienced with the other ones. People always think the worst when someone leaves the band, anyone of these guys are always welcomed back to the band anytime it is possible.They are people that are also close friends that i have a lot of trust in. Some of the other ones were fired, but that is always a last resort with me. some people just don’t get how serious Omen is to me and I will not allow behavior or lack of effort to be detrimental to something I have worked most of the last 35 years to keep going. Most of the past members left on their own because the did not want to tour, had kids, got a good job, just normal reasons, people move on, this thing has been going a long time.
The position of the singer has seen the most changes, 6 in number. That is rather natural because I personally consider J.D. Kimball the best singer ever to appear in heavy metal and sadly for his replacements, it was inevitable to compare them with him. Do you agree or disagree that Kevin tried to “mimic” Kimball in your new album? I’m stating this question without trying to wrong Kevin’s capabilities.
I am not sure mimic is the word, we both wanted the record to sound as classic Omen as possible. I had already written most of the lyrics to the songs before he returned and was trying to work in the same vein as J.D. which is not really all that different from the lyrics I wrote for “Battle Cry” and “Die By the Blade” on the first record. I do feel for the Omen singer at times, because of the constant comparison to J.D., it has intimidated at least one recent singer enough that he did not want to make the new record. Kevin has plenty of respect for what J.D. did, but has the confidence to step right in and do the job, not be intimidated by anyone. He is also smart enough to know the vocals on an Omen record should sound like Omen.
You named the album “Hammer Damage”, a title which is clearly a reference to the album Kimball used to play before moving to the ranks of Omen. I take it as a homage to an old and loved fellow member. I’d like you to share some unknown to the public facts about Kimball, some incidents and nice moments with him you will never forget!
It is a tribute to him, while things might have ended on a bad note when he left the band, I have always had the utmost respect for his abilities as a singer and song writer. I had been trying to locate him for sometime to try and get him back in the band and work on some new material when his brother contacted me out of the blue and told me he had passed away. I did not know he was sick, it was a devastating blow to hear that he had passed, I had hoped to take him to Europe, I am sure he had no idea of the impact he had there, or the much deserved respect given to him. It would have been a great thing for him to experience. I remember Steve telling me that I needed to check out this great singer he was playing with, it was at the time I was starting to look for a singer and was planning to leave Savage Grace. I went down to their rehearsal in a back yard garage. I listened to a couple of songs and thought what is someone this good doing in a garage. I asked him to join the as yet unnamed project with Jody, Steve and myself the very next day. Omen was born and I was amazed at how our writing styles worked together, in the same vein as what we were working on, but he brought these smooth melodies over the chaotic music we were playing and it was magic. we usually had a strange way that we worked, the rest of the band would write and arrange all of the music, he would come in listen a couple of times, record a cassette of the song and come back the next day with something amazing. not some shit that just follows the music, which I despise most of the time. Great singer, Metal innovator and someone that will be remembered for his unique and unforgettable voice long after we are gone. R.I.P. MR. Kimball.
Have you kept contact with Jody Henry? It would be nice to see him again by your side.
We do stay in touch, maybe a couple of times a year. Unfortunately, Jody fell from a ladder a few years back and suffered some severe head injuries. I don’t think he is capable of preforming due to some paralysis in one of his arms. it would be a blast to do a Battle Cry tour with full armor if he ever recovers enough to play again.
Joyfully, I saw that you include the compilation “Battle Anthems” in your official discography, one we had released with Metal Invader. You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me to choose only 6 songs from your first three albums. Are you satisfied with the picks? What would you change if you made the choices?
What would be nice, would be that I had a copy of it! I would not change a thing. Good job!
I always wanted to ask you about the track “At All Cost”. My friend, what the heck were you going through with your life back then and you wrote this attacking masterpiece?
I can’t take all credit for this one, of coarse great lyrics from J.D., killer bass intro and some of the other riffs from Jody. I remember taking some of the verse chords on this and breaking them down to each note and recording them one at a time to get kind of an orchestral string section feel. And of coarse the Godzilla noise and aircraft machine gun sounds in the lead break. I had a lot of fun on that song.
Reading the press release of your new label, Pure Steel Records, I was glad that the runner say they are huge fans of Omen and it was a dream of their lives to make a contract with you. How has your collaboration been so far?
So far it’s going well, though I am sure that they grew very tired of waiting on me to finish the record!
Times have changed. The internet has helped the promotion of the music, it has made it easy to find but at the same time, it has mercilessly damaged sales. How difficult is it for a musician to make a living from it and dedicate themselves to an act like Omen for instance?
Yea, it is kind of like owning a retail store and just letting people walk in and take your products for free because they like them. I am lucky and I know Kevin is too that our wives work hard to make sure we can live our dreams and still pay the bills. Otherwise, you might not see me around nearly as often. It is pretty fucking hard to do this these days!
You have dedicated the song “Hellas” to your Greek fans and often you refer to them when it comes to the support they have shown Omen during their difficult periods of dreadfullness. What feedback have you received about “Hammer Damage” in Greece so far?
From the first minute we landed in Greece, all those years ago, I have always felt like I was at home. It is almost like I was there in a past life.I have many people that I consider close friends there. It is a little early to know how the record is received there, good I hope. Ask me this one the next time after we play there again!
You lived through the golden ages of heavy metal and still you haven’t given up. Against all odds, you’re on the road again, and the best of all, you’re carrying a very solid album as well. Have you ever thought of retiring? What helped you keep going?
Honestly, for me, now is the golden age of metal. We did not do a lot of touring back in the eighties, no shows outside of North America. Making ends meet was hard, i was constantly living on someones couch and drinking the cheapest shit beer, I prefer now, retiring is for pussies, I don’t see that happening unless it is for health reasons.
How’s your son Greg? Why did he leave Omen? Does he keep on singing?
Just saw him a few days ago, he has been writing some songs. we plan on doing something together again but I promise you it will not be for Omen!
Urban legends say that there are old songs that never made it to your first demo, or the albums that followed. Is this true?
I’d like you to help us with some information missing from the puzzle of Omen. Firstly, you had left Savage Grace, to form Omen. You released three golden and majestic albums, an amazing EP and when the time was right to catapult your fame to the sky, then came “Escape to Nowhere” which was a bit numb. Then, while we were waiting for something better, came a nine year silence. After that, “Re-opening the Gates” was released… I commented on that in the beginning… And then, silence for six years until “Eternal Black Dawn” came along which was clearly better than the previous release. And then again thirteen years until the release of the new album. What happened during these huge time gaps? What went wrong? It’s like you lost your inspiration.
Most of the time the gaps were from not having a line up that I wanted to make a record with, it is way to much work to waste. that was the case with the new record. The first gap was I was angered over things for the same reason and frustrated with the music business period. I am already working on songs for the next record, so no I hope it is only a couple of years for another record. I have never lost my inspiration.
I hope we won’t have to wait until 2030 for a new release…There are some people who believe in fate, and some others that believe in carving your own path. In which category to you belong?
Carving my own path, if some of this shit was because of fate I would quit!
When arguing with my friends about music, I used to say “there are the ones who play heavy metal and then there are Omen”. I thought of putting that as a title for this interview, but I would like, as we did in the old days, you to choose a title.
I like it!
Kenny, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings but it’s not my fault, but you with your sick songs from the 80’s! I wish you the best with all my heart, no matter how I whine that I will not hear J.D. Kimball accompanying your riffs ever again. I suggest the last statement here to be without question. Close in any way you feel like towards the readers of Metal Invader.
I hate to cut this short, but I am out of time and late for a meeting. I might not have time to finish everything for days. So I will end it here. thank you for supporting Omen all of these years, Hope to see you soon.
P.S. you did not hurt my feelings