Interview: Cris McCarthy (Silent Scream, Dark Angel)

I recently had the opportunity to interview members of Long Beach, CA's Silent Scream for Divebomb Records' expanded reissue of their lone full-length, From the Darkest Depths of the Imagination (1992). Produced by the legendary Gene Hoglan of Dark Angel—who also contributed lyrics and a guitar solo to two of the album's choice cuts—From the Darkest Depths... is a crucial listen for any fan of other high-level early-'90s thrash gems such as Devastation's Idolatry or Dark Angel's Time Does Not Heal. Unfortunately, Silent Scream guitarist Cris McCarthy—who would go on to join Dark Angel, participating in 1992's highly coveted Atrocity Exhibition demo—did not receive the opportunity to participate in said interview. Divebomb Records and I were both eager to hear Cris' take on his time with the band, and the results are below...

Cris (far right) with Silent Scream, circa 1991/1992.

Prior to joining Silent Scream, you played in a band called Guillotine with another future Silent Scream guitarist, Tom Perry. What can you share about the Guillotine days? How did that band compare to the refined and brutal form of thrash that you later helped Silent Scream develop?

Playing in Guillotine is where I really got my experience playing live and writing songs. We played lots of shows while I was in that band. The music wasn't as heavy as Silent Scream, but it was definitely metal. I think one of the reasons I left Guillotine was to play heavier music. I was developing my writing style at that time and just needed something new.

Is it safe to assume that you were responsible for eventually bringing Tom into the fold with Silent Scream as well?

Tom was the other guitar player in Guillotine. I have a lot of respect for him, and I really like his lead work. When I joined Silent Scream, they had the energy I was looking for at the time. Pat [Short, drums] and Mario [Atencio, bass/vocals] liked what I was writing, and we started to compile some new material. The other guitarist in Silent Scream at that time did not seem to be enjoying the direction we were going. We temporarily replaced him with Mario's cousin, and when I heard that Guillotine was breaking up, it was an easy discussion to bring Tom on board.

Throughout your time in Silent Scream (and later Dark Angel, which we'll get to), you also played with F.U.B.A.R.—more of a fun, sarcastic, crossover type of band.

F.U.B.A.R. was a thrash/punk band I joined after Guillotine. I stayed with them for a few years during Silent Scream and my time with Dark Angel. They were a great, fun band. Songs about drinking, drugs, chicks, and other silly things. We never put a record out, but there were a lot of demo tapes. We must have had 50 or more songs. The band really revolved around the singer, [Joe] "Gonzo." He was one of a kind. I never met anyone else like him. He was F.U.B.A.R. There are sooo many stories that I could tell, but that would take too long. Unfortunately, he passed away. I miss writing songs with him. Gene Hoglan played with us for a while. We even recorded a demo with Gene. Awesome stuff there.

What was the Long Beach scene like back then?

I was born and raised in Long Beach. The music scene was great. Lots of great music coming from that area. It seemed to me that most of the metal music was scattered throughout the L.A. area.

Being about a half-hour drive from Los Angeles, Silent Scream was probably a part of some pretty killer gigs. Do you recall any particularly memorable shows?

Silent Scream had some killer gigs. We played with Sepultura, Dark Angel, Sacred Reich, and Devastation, just to name a few.

In your mind, how did Silent Scream evolve from the demo era to the album sessions?

My goal was (and still is) to keep creating new songs. In Silent Scream, that was no different. As soon as I got in the band, we went to work. When we would finish one song, I would start another one. When we had some new material, we recorded it and started sending out demo tapes to everyone. During that time we played whenever and wherever we could. As a band, we just got tighter. We practiced and gigged our asses off. I never stopped writing riffs. When we got a deal with Tombstone, we were ready to go.

Your full-length, From the Darkest Depths of the Imagination, was produced by Dark Angel's Gene Hoglan. I was told that you went to school with Gene and the two of you were good friends. What was your relationship like? Did your friendship result in Gene producing the album?

Gene and I have been friends for many, many years. Our older sisters were friends, and he and I really got to know each other in high school. So, when we got the record deal I gave him a call and asked what he thought about producing the Silent Scream record. He said, "Sure," and really got involved with us. He would come out to practices and give us guidance. Gene is a great guy. I'm still good friends with him today.

Hoglan also contributed lyrics to "Theatre of the Depraved," and performed a solo on "Matrix of Madness." What was it like working with Gene in the studio? I believe this was his first outing as a producer?

I had a song idea about snuff movies. I wrote the music, but couldn't get the lyrics down. So, knowing that Gene has a twisted mind like myself, I asked him to give it a shot. "Theatre of the Depraved" was born. When I was in Dark Angel, we were going to re-record that song, but unfortunately it never happened.

From the Darkest Depths... has one hell of a meaty, midpaced crunch to some of the riffing—reminiscent of other high-level early-'90s thrash albums such as Devastation's Idolatry and Dark Angel's Time Does Not Heal. Were you being influenced by the burgeoning death metal scene at all?

I really like writing lots of guitar riffs, as you can hear on the record. I never tried to be too influenced by anyone, I just kind of let it come out the way it does.

How did you get involved with UK label Tombstone Records for the album's release?

Pat handled most of the record business stuff then. I regret not being more involved. Live and learn.

1992 was one of the last great years for thrash metal prior to the sea change of grunge. Were you already starting to feel the effects of the scene's changing climate by the time From the Darkest Depths of the Imagination hit the streets?

You could see and hear the music scene changing. When the record came out, I had already left the band and joined Dark Angel.

How did that come about? It must have been exciting to get the opportunity to join up with such a legendary thrash act...

When we were recording From the Darkest Depths..., Gene approached me and told me that Brett Eriksen was leaving Dark Angel. Gene had been working closely with me at the time and liked the riffs I was writing. He asked me if I was interested in trying out for Dark Angel. Dark fucking Angel! Sure, let's give it a try!

I read an older interview that suggested that there may have been some tension amidst the Silent Scream lineup when the band's days were coming to an end. Did that factor into your decision to move on?

At the time, there was some tension in Silent Scream. For me, there was a weak link in the band, and it did not appear that that was going to change, so I made the move to Dark Angel.

You were to some degree involved with Dark Angel's 1992 Atrocity Exhibition demo. What can you share about these highly sought-after tracks? It's been rumored that you might be one of the only people other than Gene Hoglan who has actually heard the recordings.

Atrocity Exhibition. There are some fucking killer songs on that demo. I've been asked about that a lot over the years. I'm not going to get into that right now, but I think you will get to hear some of it on the new Dark Angel record! It should be awesome. And, yes, I do have one of the only copies of that demo.

More than 20 years down the road, with a reissue of From the Darkest Depths of the Imagination looming, how do you reflect on your time with Silent Scream?

I think it's great that this record is getting a new life. I think there are some good songs on it. I hear Pat and Mario have been playing as Silent Scream, I'm not really sure. I'm guessing it will sound like the last three songs on the re-release of From the Darkest Depths... I'm looking forward to putting out new music in the very near future.


Divebomb Records' expanded reissue of From the Darkest Depths of the Imagination is available now. This remastered edition includes new and improved cover art, archival photos, a retrospective interview with Mario Atencio (bass/vocals) and Patrick Short (drums), as well as Silent Scream's 1989 demo, The Last Rites.