By BRIAN HEATON
Fans of heavy metal in the mid-1980s couldn't help but notice Fifth Angel. The Seattle quintet's self-titled debut album hit the streets in 1986, featuring a hard-hitting blend of power metal and thought-provoking lyrics that took the underground metal scene by storm. Written about in Kerrang!, Circus, RIP, and a variety of other popular magazines at the time, Fifth Angel seemed primed for a successful career.
But like so many other bands before them, lineup shuffling and waning label support fractured the band, ultimately leading to Fifth Angel's fall and eventual breakup.
Ironically, the band's collapse began just as Fifth Angel signed a lucrative seven-album deal with Epic Records. Before the ink on the contract was dry, however, guitarist and founding member James Byrd was ousted from group, eventually being replaced by Kendall Bechtel. Fifth Angel then sustained another hit with the departure of drummer Ken Mary shortly thereafter, putting a final nail in the band's coffin.
"There was no animosity, but I was really disappointed because the band was crumbling and there wasn't much I could do about it," Bechtel explained. "We had a hard time replacing Ken. We tried several drummers, but nobody really worked out. Then Ed [Archer, rhythm guitarist] quit and the band just fell apart."
Local Seattle product Richard Stuverud was one of the drummers Fifth Angel tried. Appearing in the band's video for "Time Will Tell," Stuverud was hired by the band full-time, only to jump ship shortly thereafter, leaving Fifth Angel in a bind.
"He was real good and played the songs pretty close to the way Ken played them," recalled Fifth Angel bassist John Macko. "Unknown to us, however, Richard had slipped a demo tape of a band he was working with called 'War Babies' to one of the Epic people which I think was his main motivation for doing the video and joining the band. We held more auditions, but by this time everyone was getting worn down and … that pretty much wrapped it up."
Time Will Tell
Despite the difficulties towards the end of Fifth Angel's run, both Macko and Bechtel retain fond memories of the Time Will Tell recording sessions. Veteran producer Terry Brown was tapped to work with Fifth Angel on the album. Known for his great success with Rush, Brown not only taught the band a trick or two, but also struck up a friendship with Bechtel.
"Working with Terry was a pleasure to say the least," said Bechtel. "He was very warm and personable and became a father figure to us because of his experience, so I'd just refer to him as 'Father Brown.'"
Macko remembered how lighthearted Brown was when working with the band.
"He was a real kick to work with and a lot of fun as far as I was concerned," Macko said of Brown. "He would always have a smile on his face, a Heineken in his hand and was always making jokes."
The most noticeable change in production from the debut album to Time Will Tell was its more polished and commercial sound, which was met with mixed feelings.
"The second Fifth Angel record was a bit of a departure from the first one," admitted the guitarist. "Instead of getting faster or heavier it turned into or was trying to be more commercially palatable."
Macko agreed, revealing that the band at first wanted to go with Terry Date as producer, who had worked on Fifth Angel's self-titled debut, but he was unavailable.
"From what I remember, our management team said he [Date] wouldn't be available for several months and we were getting antsy and didn't want to wait," Macko admitted. "I have to say I think we should have – not implying that Terry Brown didn't do a good job, because he did, but I feel we would have gotten a harder edge sound with Terry Date which I think would have helped the sales."
In addition to the production, the songwriting was missing a critical element from the first Fifth Angel record – guitarist James Byrd. The former lead guitarist's departure ripped one-third of the writing team away from the band. The basic song-structure of the material on Time Will Tell was solely created by Archer and vocalist Ted Pilot and contained a more contemporary vibe.
Not surprisingly, Macko felt that the popular music of the day and perhaps the record label might have played a significant role in how the Time Will Tell songs were written.
"Remember, the time period was the late 1980s and commercial metal was what was selling," Macko said. "For whatever reason, Ted and Ed, maybe by pressure from the label, felt they needed to capture part of that market. It was still a great record, but it was a gamble and we lost."
Although the finished product didn't have the impact of Fifth Angel's debut, there were plenty of great moments on Time Will Tell. "Midnight Love" a track that served as the theme song to Howard Stern's TV show, received rave reviews from fans at the time. The album also had a stunning cover of UFO's only hit in the United States, "Lights Out," which showcased the talents of Bechtel as a lead guitarist.
In addition, Bechtel revealed that a lot of his lead playing on the record was spontaneous - a surprising revelation, given its quality would lead one to believe it had been written and rehearsed ahead of time.
"On the song 'Wait for Me,' I had 20 minutes to come up with something before tracking it, so that was kind of challenging," the guitarist admitted. "Most of the solos were basically improvisational. I like that, because it gives a lively feeling to them."
One of the long-standing questions from fans is why Fifth Angel never went out on tour in support of either of its records. In discussions with Byrd, Fifth Angel's original lead guitarist revealed that a number of tour plans fell through, including an opening slot supporting Iron Maiden, and later, a run of headline dates in clubs along the East Coast.
The lack of touring was a touchy subject with Macko, who clearly believed Fifth Angel should have been out on the road. According to the bassist, not playing live was more of a philosophy spearheaded by Pilot, Archer, and Mary.
"This was always a big deal to me and to this day, I can't believe that we never played gigs," Macko said. "For whatever reason, Ted, Ed and Ken never felt it was important to play live gigs unless it was for stadium or arena crowds. I think their school of thought was that playing clubs or small venues was a waste of time because it wouldn't generate enough record or merchandise sales to warrant the time or money spent to play such places.
"[That was] a huge mistake," he added. "Metallica and Pantera … proved that theory dead wrong and went on to sell millions by playing the shit out of clubs and small venues."
Post-Fifth Angel Activities
Once Fifth Angel split, both Bechtel and Macko continued to pursue music (as did Mary and Byrd), while Pilot and Archer left the music scene for careers in dentistry and technology, respectively.
Other than Byrd, who has a number of solo albums to his credit, Bechtel has been the most active in music. Fans of fellow Seattle metal act Queensr˙che, may recall the band Sweet Sister Sam that opened for Queensr˙che during the Northwest leg of its 1991-1992 world tour in support of Empire. That band was the brainchild of Kendall Bechtel.
Explaining how Sweet Sister Sam formed, Bechtel said that once he heard singer Steve Benito sing for Heir Apparent, he called him up and convinced him that they should work together and the rest just fell into place.
"I knew a drummer at the time named Mike Tapogna and he knew a bass player," Bechtel recalled. "I then got Randy Gain (who used to play with the band Myth and also with Queensr˙che on its Rage for Order tour) on keyboards."
Although the band never panned out, Bechtel kept pursuing other musical projects, dabbling at various bands and ended up as the lead vocalist for James Byrd's Crimes of Virtuosity, recording under an alias. In fact, the two struck up a friendship that has maintained over the years and talk every so often.
Currently, Bechtel has a new project going with Seattle guitarist John Lyson in a band called the Voodoo Saints.
Macko's post-Fifth Angel musical activities are a bit more subdued, and the bassist doesn't live in the Seattle area any longer. Once Fifth Angel was over, Macko tried various projects for about a year and then moved on.
"I tried to put a band together with material that I was writing with Jeff Loomis (Nevermore guitarist) and Gary Thompson from Q5," Macko said. "I was writing this heavy progressive stuff that at the time no one was interested in! We did some demos but couldn't find a singer … and after about a year of failed projects I got burned out on the whole thing. I went back to school which led me to the computer field, which I'm currently in."
Seventeen years removed from Fifth Angel's last album, fans still remember the band vividly and wonder about the possibility of a Fifth Angel reunion. Rumors had circulated in 2000 that something might be in the works, but it never came to fruition. Still, Bechtel and Macko aren't against exploring the idea.
"I think it would be a blast, and if people are out there to receive it, I would be only too happy to deliver," said Bechtel.
Fifth Angel's bassist agreed, but didn't believe the other members of the band would go for it.
"I would love to do some shows, but I don't think Ted will ever do it," Macko explained. "But I really do appreciate the folks out there that still enjoy the music. Regardless of what happened in the past … the bottom line is the music was great and that's all that really matters."