There are only a few guitarists that have left their mark on the history of Black Sabbath-esque heavy music. One of them is Victor Griffin, who started his career in the late 1970's. His unmistakable guitar sound and his abilities as a strong songwriter, who has an innate ability to make you feel like you are in the storyline, form the basis for his first band DEATH ROW. At the very beginning, the group paid homage to Black Sabbath with a couple of cover songs, but Victor Griffin quickly realized that he wanted to write his own material. The results are a lot of tracks that have long since become classics and are well-known under the name of PENTAGRAM, but in actual fact their origins mostly dates back to the early days of DEATH ROW. It almost seems as if this part of US-doom history should sink into oblivion. Fortunately in 2009, Victor Griffin teamed up with bassist Martin Swaney and drummer Joe Hasselvander to reunite DEATH ROW for the second time after almost ten years.
Appropriately, Black Widow Records released a comprehensive compilation of all the early DEATH ROW recordings entitled 'Alive In Death'. Lastly, the icing on the cake was a mind-crushing tour in Europe, including two performances at Roadburn 2010. That is all the more astonishing when one considers that Victor did not neglect to focus on his main band PLACE OF SKULLS, because this year the band will release their fourth album 'As A Dog Returns'. Not to forget that he has supported his long-standing friend Bobby Liebling and joined PENTAGRAM for a couple of shows in the USA this summer. Those are enough reasons for Cosmic Lava's second interview with Victor after eight years. I am very pleased that he, despite many work, has taken the time to answer my questions. Dear reader, here we go!
Hello Victor, a few years have passed since our last interview and a lot has happened since. Let's start with DEATH ROW. I think that this is one of the few reunions that make sense, because it shows that DEATH ROW was a different band than Pentagram. Most people are not aware of this fact, or have forgotten it or whatever it is . What led to the recurrence reunion? What has inspired you?
Victor: It really wasn't my idea. Joe and I were talking back and forth occasionally around late '08 and he had been in touch with Black Widow Records. They expressed interest in releasing some rare Death Row recordings and I wasn't doing much at the time. Around the time it was released - I guess summer of '09; we got an invitation to play the Hammer Of Doom 2 Festival in Wurzburg. By the time I'd given it much thought, we were confirmed for the show. So things happened fairly quickly and without much planning, but it was cool playing again with Marty and Joe.
At the end of 2000 you've played the first re-union show in Washington along with Lee Abney on bass, Joe Hasselvander on drums and Bobby Liebling on vocals. What were the reasons you decided to choose bass player Martin Swaney this time and not to invite Bobby Liebling?
Victor: Marty was completely out of music for something like 12 years, and he and Joe were in recent contact as well. Marty was finally ready to jump back into music and Joe and I both thought it would be really cool to do something with Marty. He never really had the chance to do any touring or shows back in the 80's and 90's outside of D.C. very much. At the time, Bobby was busy with Pentagram. But the primary reason he didn't do it was because of some ongoing friction between he and Joe. I understand how some of the baggage from our past experiences can linger and there's still some animosity there. I really hope they can smooth things over some day.
In February 2001 DEATH ROW played their next show at the Jaxx in Springfield. Is it true that you plan to release a DVD/LP/CD album from this gig or was it just a rumor? Besides, I think that it would be an exciting idea, because the footage is really awesome.
Victor: It's just a rumor as far as I'm concerned. Black Widow Records has talked a lot about releasing that show but I'm not really interested. Other than being a collectable for a few hard core fans, I just don't see the point in continuing to release all these recordings with basically the same tunes over and over. Same goes for the Pentagram stuff. A lot of it is sub par quality and I'm just not into it.
Before Joe Hasselvander and Bobby Liebling joined the band, there was David Lafever on drums and Chris Durman on vocals. What happened to these guys and did you play any shows with the very first line-up?
Victor: We only did one live show and it was under the name Overkill. We had been working on some of the Death Row material and got invited to do this outdoor festival at a drive-in theatre. We hadn't even named the band yet - just working on songs. I had the Motorhead 'Overkill' album setting there and said why don't we just call it Overkill for now. That was it - soon after I met Joe and Lee and I were off to the D.C. area. But Chris and David are still around. Chris plays mostly acoustic stuff these days and last I heard, David was still jamming around on drums and actually shows up at Place of Skulls shows sometimes if it's close.