Hatriot: New centurions of thrash

Steve "Zetro" Souza puts Exodus behind him, looks ahead with Hatriot
By Peter Lindblad

Steve "Zetro" Souza of Hatriot
Steve "Zetro" Souza was there at ground zero. The Bay Area thrash-metal scene was exploding in the early 1980s, and Souza was right in the middle of a fiery musical conflagration, singing like demon for Legacy, the band that evolved into Testament, and recording their first demo with them.

"We thought every city had a scene like ours," said Souza. "Looking back on it in hindsight it was magical."

Three years after Legacy was founded, Souza came to a crossroads in his career. He was offered the chance to become lead vocalist for another Bay Area thrash outfit. He couldn't turn it down, and in 1986, he joined Exodus.

To his credit, Souza didn't just abandon his old Legacy mates. It was Souza who introduced them to his replacement, Chuck Billy. 

As for Souza, who's often been compared to AC/DC's Bon Scott, he was about to embark on an amazing thrill ride, with plenty of ups and downs. With Exodus, he sang on five records before the band disbanded, lending his uniquely evil, flesh-ripping caterwaul to 1987's Pleasures of the Flesh, 1989's Fabulous Disaster, 1990's Impact is Imminent, 1991's Good Friendly Violent Fun and 1992's Force of Habit

There have been other bands. Dublin Death Patrol, Tenet, AC/DZ – Souza's been with them all, teaming with Billy in Dublin Death Patrol. More than anything, though, Souza would like to see another project of his really take off, and that endeavor is the furious, all-consuming Hatriot, a band that includes his sons Cody (bass) and Nick (drums), and phenomenal young guitarist/composer Kosta "V,"  as well as second guitarist Miguel Esparza.

In April, Hatriot released its volcanic second album, the Massacre Records release Dawn of the Centurion, a burning slab of old-school thrash that sticks to the basics – made it fast, make it loud, make it devastatingly brutal and leave a beautiful melodic corpse. Hot riffs, charred black, hold hands with pummeling beats and crushing bass maneuvers, as scary, impassioned and crazed lyrics are recited in sinister fashion to those who cannot deny their dark thoughts. 

Recently, Souza talked about Hatriot's plans for world domination, the new record and his days with Exodus in this revealing interview. 

Hatriot - Dawn of the Centurion 2014
When you first formed Hatriot, what did you want to do with it and does Dawn of the New Centurion match that vision?
Steve "Zetro" Souza: I honestly wasn't looking to do a new band at my age, but I met Kosta Varvatakis and was so impressed with his guitar abilities that I felt this was something I needed to do. The world needs new guitar heroes and new rock stars, so I felt I needed to make another serious run in metal and help showcase this kid's talents. In that regard I'd say it definitely matches my vision. Dawn of The New Centurion has some of the best guitar playing in thrash metal, and what people need to know is all the music and arrangements come from Kosta. He is a f**king monster when it comes to thrash metal, and is the perfect writing partner for me. He creates the riffs, and I put words to them.

What do you like most about working with Kosta "V" and where does he rank with other guitarists you've worked with?
SZS: He is right up there with all the greats. I have been very fortunate to work with a lot of amazing guitarists in my career, and Kosta is right there with them. I think the biggest difference is back in the early days of thrash there were a lot less people doing it. In the early '80s when I was jamming with Legacy, I had Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson on guitar, and they were f**king amazingly good.  Then in Exodus it was Gary (Holt) and Rick (Hunolt), who went down in history as a great thrash guitar tag team. Kosta is right there on their skill level, but now there's a shredder in every neighborhood in the world. It's not as big of a deal as it was in the early days. It's a lot more difficult to make a name for yourself. If it was still 1988, Kosta Varvatakis would be a household name in metal.  Hopefully he still will be in this day and age. He is certainly good enough.

Steve "Zetro" Souza, formerly of Exodus
In making this album, was there a point at which you thought, "This is really something special?"
SZS: I knew it was going to be special before we ever recorded the first note. The thing with Hatriot is we are constantly writing material and working on new stuff, so by the time we go in and record a record we have the material fully worked up and ready to go. At that point it's just a matter of executing it in the studio, and capturing the best vibe possible. I knew it was really special when we were doing the demo recordings and pre-production. 

Vocally, was this album different for you in any way?
SZS: For the most part it was business as usual for me. I have a signature sound that fans expect from me, so I don't try and stray from that too much, but there are some more brutal vocal parts at times on this record. We experimented with some gang shouts and death-metal vocals just to add dynamics.  Then, of course, I do a lot of screaming when the song calls for it. It's all about what the song needs to be effective.

"Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious" and "Silence in the House of the Lord" are really heavy, hard-charging songs, as is "World Funeral." That's probably my favorite section of the record. Is there a particular sequence of songs on Dawn of the New Centurion where they just seem to fit together really well for you?
SZS: I did all of the sequencing for the album, as I do on all the records. I just want the album to have a flow to it, with dynamics, so it keeps the listener on edge. Lots of albums these days are so predictable, and it makes it where the listener gets bored with the record after one or two listens. I like the Hatriot records to have those dynamics that made the early thrash records so great. I think we achieved that with this album.

Steve "Zetro" Souza with son Cody
Hatriot is a bit of a family affair. How do you make that work?
SZS: It's really not as complicated as people think. My sons grew up around the music business, so they have an idea as to how things work. I am dad when I need to be with them, but most of the time we are band mates and good friends, the same way any other band operates. Most dads would give anything to have a common interest with their kids, and the fact that I get to be in a band with two of mine makes it all worth it. The only downside is we don't really get a separation between business and family, but for the most part having them in the band is all positive. I'm really enjoying it.

Lyrically, what topics, including gun rights, did you want to address on Dawn of the New Centurion?
SZS: I have always been drawn to the darker side of life, and that's where my lyrics go every time. On this record I have songs about corrupt world leaders, a "cabin in the woods" killer, the end of the world, and the entire human race going insane. There's plenty more in there, too. It's a sick and twisted record, the same way our debut record was lyrically. It's a f**king heavy metal album!

What made the early Bay Area thrash scene so special, especially when you started with Legacy, and do you ever think something like that will happen again?
SZS: It will never happen again. People try to recreate that time, but if you weren't there you missed it.  It was a very special time in heavy metal history because it was a natural thing, and not fabricated. It was not manufactured by the record business and exploited at that point in time. The scene in the Bay Area at the beginning was a very tight knit one. All the bands would support each other, and there was something happening every night of the week. It wasn't just a weekend thing. You might go see Exodus do a show on a Tuesday night, and the Metallica guys would be there hanging out. That kind of thing happened all the time. So it was a very exciting era for thrash, even though we didn't realize it at the time.

Reflecting on your time in Exodus, was it a difficult decision to join the band?
SZS: To be honest, I really had to think on it for a few days when I was asked to join in 1986. I had so much time and energy invested in Legacy that I hated to throw that all away, but at the same time, Exodus was on another level in the eyes of the metal scene. They had a record out and people around the world knew of the band.So I knew it was a great opportunity for me, and I decided to go for it. The fans didn't embrace me at first, and it was a lot of work to win them over. It wasn't until the success of Fabulous Disaster that I really felt like Exodus was my baby. By that point the fans were on my side.

Artistically or career-wise, what was the most gratifying experience you had with Exodus?
SZS: I know it sounds cliche, but the whole ride was amazing, even the bad times. I wouldn't trade it for anything. For specifics I'd say the "Headbangers Ball" tour that we did with Anthrax and Helloween was a definite highlight. The tour we did with Black Sabbath was amazing because I became friends with Ronnie Dio. How fucking metal is that? The most gratifying overall would be the tour cycle for the Fabulous Disaster record. We were full-fledged rock stars at that point. Media hounded us and fans were rabid. It was a whirlwind, and we had amazing shows during that record cycle. That was definitely the peak of the Exodus success during the glory days of thrash.

In what ways have your experiences with Hatriot mirrored those you had with Exodus and in what ways are they totally different?
SZS: Similarities? For starters there is the youth factor. The ages of the band guys in Hatriot ranges from 19 to 25. You can add two of them together, and it doesn't even make one of me! So that's a similar thing to the early days in Exodus. We were young and hungry for it back then. Nobody was a lazy rock star at that point. We also had a cycle in Exodus that we use in Hatriot: make a record, then go on the road, then immediately do another record, then back on the road, etc. With that method we never lose momentum. The biggest differences between the two bands are big ones. First off, there's no real music industry anymore. Not like the big machine of the old days. Everything is independent now, which is a cool thing, but there's not a lot of resources like back in the day. There's no buying on tours and getting on MTV. It's not a huge thing like it was. Another big thing is the technology of today.  From recording albums to networking with fans on social media, technology has leveled the playing field. There's no half million dollar records now. We do records for ten grand. There's no passing out flyers outside a club. It's all done on Facebook. I hate a lot of that sh*t, but that's where we are today as a society. 

What are your hopes for Hatriot?
SZS: I hope to make this thing as big as it can be. My days in Exodus will always be wonderful memories for me, but I am hoping to add another chapter to the book with Hatriot. I don't want to just be known as the "former singer of Exodus." I want this to stand on its own. I'm 50 years old, but I have a lot more metal left in me.

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