Interview: Blaze Tishko on the Grueling Road Behind In Cold Blood's Punishing New Album, Legion of Angels

In Cold Blood's long overdue sophomore full-length, Legion of Angels, will finally see the light on August 23. The nine-song, 35-minute outing—up for pre-order now through Fast Break! Records—certainly nods to the longer and more intricate tracks from the group's classic late-'90s debut,  Hell on Earth, but tends to possess a darker, doomier undercurrent. This is perhaps fitting given the surprisingly daunting obstacles that founding member Blaze Tishko has overcome to arrive at this point—obstacles that included completely rebuilding the band twice since 2016, and at various points involved all four ex-members of the band's most-known lineup from 1998 (none of whom remain). So, it's somewhat of a minor miracle that Legion of Angels even exists. Read on to discover why longtime In Cold Blood fans should be all the more appreciative of Tishko's dogged refusal to allow this material to languish unheard...

In Cold Blood live, 2019. (Photo: Kinkade Ruppert)

Alright, so, I last interviewed you about three years ago when Gazzan was picking up steam. I was somewhat shocked that that band didn't kinda "take off" right away, but it seems as though Gazzan sort of morphed back into In Cold Blood at some point, because you've stated that when work began on Legion of Angels, you were still playing with Aaron and Lenny Melnick and things kind of fell apart in the studio. Thankfully, you're all still friends, but it's been a long fuckin' road to get this album completed and (almost) out into the world. How did that 2016 lineup of Gazzan transition over into the In Cold Blood name, and what was going on that ultimately dissipated that lineup after recording was underway?

Thank you for the chance to speak again. The Gazzan experiment failed for a number of reasons. Instead of throwing a whole bunch of people under the bus for its failure, I will shoulder the blame. I was the only investor in the band, and the band had racked up a sizable debt. I had started to put some heat on the guys to get more focused, and I think that extra pressure resulted in us reaching a point where we were almost kicked out of Mars [Recording Compound] because of indecision and fighting. I had tracked the drums with Rob [Orr] for the songs that he and I had written, and then there was a disagreement with the guitar tone that almost broke us up on the spot. Then Aaron tracked the songs he had written with Rob on drums, and shortly after that Aaron and Lenny decided they did not want to be a part of the band. Seeing the ship sinking, Rob and Trevor [Moment, vocals] followed suit. I tried to keep things intact and tried to keep a line of communication going, but had already lost the battle. Meanwhile, I was still the only investor in the band and now we had racked up even more debt in studio time. With the walls caving in around me, I decided that I was determined to finish the record. I spent the next couple of months in the studio finishing the songs, although Rob did come and play rhythm guitar on the two songs that he wrote.

By the early part of 2018, In Cold Blood was starting to play shows again and you were being backed by members of Poison Crown. What's the condensed version of how that lineup sort of came and went?

I had a friend who had suggested that Dustin Hysell (Empire of Rats, Poison Crown) sing on the record. I found him on Facebook and we put together a plan to do some rehearsals. At the time, I was rehearsing with our original drummer, Rich [Ferjanic]. That fell apart pretty quickly because he is not an easy person to work with, and when he found out that we would have to drive three hours every other week to go to Columbus to practice, he freaked out. So, instead of driving to Columbus every two weeks, I was now driving every week. Luckily, Dustin had some friends who played drums and bass and sang, so we arranged to get together with those guys and that is the lineup that played with Integrity in Cleveland. We put together a plan to share all of the vocals, which was a dream come true for me. Unfortunately, those guys seemed to get a little sketchy when we started working on putting together more shows, so they left—leaving me with no band once again. Fortunately, they were all straightedge guys and they showed me how to really get the most out of rehearsals: not stopping to party or socialize and really maximize our time working on material. That was by far the best thing I took out of my time with those guys. My ability to focus got much better and I really started to get confident with playing guitar and yelling.

You released a video for "The Wretched Souls" way back in early-2018, too, which goes to show how long at least portions of the new album have been completed. Was the whole record fully in the can at that point, or were you still chipping away at the details?

"The Wretched Souls" was the first song that we had vocals completed on, and we wanted to be able to get the video done as soon as we could to start promoting. I had already recorded most of the footage for it. So, musically the record was complete, minus the vocals and the mixing. Unfortunately, since the Columbus guys left, I had to redo the vocals.

Coming into 2019, you had established the current lineup of the band, finding you joined by Ryan Conway (guitar), Shawn Hinkle (bass), and Connor Dunn (drums). How did you connect with those guys?

I had been playing with an old friend just to get out and play music. It was nothing serious and was probably never going to leave the practice room because this old friend had done a lot to damage his reputation, but I really wanted to play. Connor and Ryan were in a band with him, so we would sometimes play together. Shawn was friends with Ryan and was interested in doing some music again and seemed like a natural fit. So, when the drummer friend of mine said he was not interested in doing our fun project band, it opened the door for us to do In Cold Blood, because the person who had been playing drums for our project could never be in In Cold Blood. Ultimately, Connor and Ryan left this person's other band because that band's reputation had gotten them into a place where they could not really play shows or release records. It turned into a big fight that exists today. Ryan and Connor saw that the band they had with this gentleman was not going to be able to go anywhere, so they decided they had a better future with In Cold Blood.

I'm gonna ask a few semi-related questions here, because I think it's important for people to understand the lengths you've endured—even beyond all of the lineup changes—to make Legion of Angels happen. First is that Gazzan had added a vocalist specifically because you wanted to focus on playing guitar, so it's a hell of a turnaround for you to have rededicated yourself to handling guitar and vocals again. Was there any hesitancy there, or was it just a matter of, "I've done it before, so I'll do it again..."

I had felt that the band would be better served having a singer handle the vocal duties and the band's day-to-day operations (setting up shows, merch, meeting label demands). It turned out to be a disaster, and I quickly felt like I was swimming upstream with all of the other four members. I would even have to bring friends and relatives on the road with me so I wouldn't feel alone. The rumblings in the scene were not good on the band's sound, and we were starting to get met with some resistance. This helped contribute to our demise. As far as the singing goes, I had gone as far as to try and get Jason Popson back into In Cold Blood and even had done some demos of new material (he did arrange some things on the record and wrote some lyrics), but it just didn't work out. After having to deal with so many issues on the vocals over the 20-year existence of the band—and with Gazzan—I decided to train myself to get better at vocals and locked myself in a practice room with a stereo and just started yelling, trying to stay in key and in time.

On top of that, you also handled tracking pretty much all of the guitars and bass on the album, too, right? What was that experience like?

Recording anything with Bill Korecky is always a treat for me. He brings out the best in my playing. The one nice thing was we were not under pressure to get anything finished, so we could take our time getting things right. There were times when I was playing songs that I had not written where I would get a little emotional and sad. I remember doing the solos on "In Trance," and Aaron had written almost all of that song. I was beating myself up over the way things had gone down. The whole experience was self-deprecating. I had gotten pretty depressed wondering why my friends didn't want to play music with me anymore. It also seemed like some people were trying to turn people against me permanently. I sat in my garage every night and drank myself to death trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Luckily, a friend came and rescued me from my doldrums and self-pity. 

Obviously you didn't want these songs to go to waste, but it's not like there was a finished album sitting around in 2016 that you could just pop out there for people to hear, you've really had to put in some major work to make this happen and see it through. How the hell did you find the motivation to stick with it!?

I was determined to have the record see the light of day, I believed in it. Part of the motivation was getting a band together instead of just releasing it as "Blaze's Greatest Hits." I wanted it to be a real band. It was unfortunate that Aaron, Lenny, and Rob did not want to be a part of it, but I could not let that stop me from seeing it through 'til the end. I was enjoying playing hardcore again and was having fun playing and yelling the old In Cold Blood songs. Fortunately, those guys gave me the blessing to continue the band without them. In the end, we remained friends, which was the most important thing—even more important than the record. Because I could understand them not wanting to play music with me again, but I couldn't understand how you'd throw 25 years' worth of friendship down the toilet. I believe the whole recording process from start to release was almost three years. I have weird determination to a fault sometimes. I just don't like to quit, even when it may not be the most intelligent move.

As a whole, Legion of Angels tends to lean toward compositions that are a little bit longer, a little bit slower, and centered around the darker/doomier side of In Cold Blood's established sound. You've stated that had this record come out decades ago after Hell on Earth, it would essentially have been the same as today. What do you think led the writing down this side of your style?

I believe that we were interested in challenging ourselves in the writing process. Trying to get away from the same boring 4/4 timing. Trying to make something that was less predictable. Hardcore fast parts can sometimes be predictable. Toward the end of writing Hell on Earth, you can hear us going off into another direction. We had become bored. It's no secret that Aaron and I love solos and the melodic aspects of metal. We just tried to see how far we could take that and still be heavy.

Gazzan had actually been in talks with Fast Break! Records a few years ago, but it didn't really pan out at that time. What changed? And how did CoreTex factor in for Europe?

We blew the original deal with Fast Break! Records. Got the art late to them, and they had become frustrated with us. Rightfully so, by the way. Luckily, [label head] Tony Sharratta had seen the video we did and was excited about the new songs and believed in the band. I believe CoreTex acts as Fast Break!'s European division, so that is how that came about.

In Cold Blood has been building momentum lining up cool shows with a nice mix of older classic bands as well as younger up-and-comers. Do you feel like you're finally at a point with this lineup where you can get out there in front of people a little more often?

That is certainly the hope and goal. We have three shows with All Out War at the beginning of August, and a five-day run with Fixation and Low End at the end of August. I found Fixation through Andrew from Strife and was blown away by them right away, and just recently got turned on to Low End. All Out War has a new record coming out and Mike is a great guy with great taste in music, so I think we will have a blast. I'd like to play as much as possible in the next five years and have as much fun as possible. I have a career and it is not in music. I just want to see how far we can take this and how many people we can touch, because I feel like the band has a message for probably the first time.

Something I find exciting is that you're already looking ahead to working on new material. You mentioned on the Getting it Out podcast that you're thinking maybe a 7" in a slightly more straightforward style? Talk a little more about where you envision things possibly heading from here...

Musically, I want to utilize that same approach to the time changes in the songs that we used on Legion of Angels, but far more aggressive. Just try to keep people guessing and kind of whack them upside the head with something unique. But I want it to be more angry. I think the current band will hone in on its craft even more, and we will continue to get more confident as we go. I think if we can get people on board for the melodic stuff and the aggressive stuff, then we can't lose.

I also want to be able to continue to make interesting videos. I really love that you can present your image so easily these days, as far as YouTube is concerned, and make your own videos. Back in the day, you would have needed a $10,000 - $20,000 budget to do that, and then who is going to play it? These days, you can make something great for $300 and be in total control of how it's presented. I want to be able to have messages that help people get through this shitshow that is life, give people an inspiration to be the best people that they can be, and to rise above all of the wretched souls that surround them...


Pre-order Legion of Angels (shipping the week of August 19) on CD or a variety of vinyl variants, and keep up with In Cold Blood's future progress through Facebook and Instagram.