Thrashing Through the Grind

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To get a pulse on what’s been happening in Oakland’s underground metal culture, we spent a day in the lives of 6-year bay area veteran ZH, who has straddled the line of punk, thrash, and metal, to eventually define their own sound with the release of their most recent album: Entitled to Enlightenment.

Since the birth of music, Scandinavian artists have been passing down the stories of their ancestors through song. From early folk, to modern metal, tales of indigenous cultures, the temperate elements of mother earth, and the unified spirit of all her creatures have always maintained a significant lyrical presence, all of which were respected and understood by those who share the heritage.

And then we have America, a society whose cultural heritage had previously been defined by brutal genocide, cut-throat capitalism, and careless destruction of the natural gifts we’ve been blessed with.

Looking exclusively at the nation’s music output, it’s easy to assume that America has no native culture, and no stories for the land to tell. However, if one looks and listens closely, one can hear the voices of America’s earliest inhabitants. Sharing the tales, values, stories, and beliefs of the early Native American tribes, ZH is one of those voices.

Read on to discover how thrash, punk rock, eco-friendly activism, and metal are coming together to mirror the core ingredient that Scandinavian music has always had: national heritage.

Cover Art for Entitled to Enlightenment

This wasn’t TOTD’s first time talking to Nick Gomez. As the primary coordinator of one of California’s most extreme metal festivals, he was interviewed in a previous article covering his very own Slaughter by the Water 3, which featured thrash legends Exodus, Fog of War, and Chuck Billy of Testament.

Today, Nick and his tribe stand before us representing ZH, a 6-year-old known act whom most people remember as Zombie Holocaust. Ready to embark on a nationwide tour in celebration of their new album, Entitled to Enlightenment, ZH has a lot to talk about.

I arrived at Oakland Music Complex at about 9 p.m. As they were in the middle of practice, I decided to go for some candid rehearsal shots while they finished their set. As I began to hear them play, I immediately felt like something was wrong. All my research had shown that ZH was purely thrash metal, but what I was hearing was totally different. I began to get a bit worried, fearing that I had unintentionally researched the wrong band. This was simply too melodic, too composed, too groovy to be straight-up thrash.

I reviewed my notes in a mild panic. Questions like “How do you deal with the musical limitations of sticking to one genre?” and “Since thrash metal only has a limited number of musical sounds available, how do you avoid the inevitable accusations of sounding exactly like other thrash bands?” had become pointless and embarrassing. While simultaneously doing my best to traverse the minimal empty spaces in the rehearsal area to take photographs, I furiously scrambled to write down a few questions in hopes of alleviating some of the massive confusion I was experiencing.

ZH jamming in their rehearsal studio at Oakland Music Complex

Once the set finished, we climbed the tiny staircase to a loft that contained recording equipment, couches, and a host of memorabilia that highlighted the street cred that ZH had built up over the last several years. As we sat in a circle and began letting the recorder run, I began sensing the first signs of tribal communion between the members. Even though we had just met, part of my being simply knew that I was being allowed into a sacred hoop.


Noel (TOTD): Let’s introduce all the members of the band.

Nicholas Alexander Gomez: I’m Nick. I do Vocals, and I used to do guitar. I’m considering using the term “Chief,” though.

Dan Souza: My name is Dan and I do drums and backup vocals. If Nick is the Chief, then I guess I’m the Indian!

Jean “JP” Poincelet: I’m JP and I play guitar.

Jorden Silveria: I’m Jorden and I play guitar as well.

Nick Mamere: I’m Nick, the touring bassist for the band.

With his composed stature, and long-straight black hair, Nick was a convincing chief. Both guitarists held equal roles, as each played unique combinations of Lead and Rhythm. George Orterry, the main bassist, was not present for the interview, but valiantly in his stead we had Nick Mamere, who would temporarily be playing bass during the upcoming tour.

Everyone knows that ZH started out as a pure thrash group, but you guys have clearly evolved way past that. How would you describe the current style of ZH?

Dan (drums): We still consider ourselves a cross-over band, and thrash remains a primary element in most of our songs. We’re still metal, and we’re still punk. What’s different now is that we’ve incorporated many new elements from earlier styles of music, such as Rock and Roll, jazz, and 90’s rock. Here in Oakland we’re surrounded by musicians and artists. We’re being exposed to new music all the time, giving each of us the chance to incorporate new styles based on what we like. In contrast to our days of sticking exclusively to thrash metal, these days we don’t put any limits on what we experiment with.

Any specific bands that you feel were particularly influential in the transition?

Dan: Oh, there are so many, and the list gets really broad. It could be anything from Creedence Clearwater Revival, to Coheed and Cambria, to Black Dahlia Murder. JP is really focused on smooth jazz. Everyone in the band is bringing in something different.

How long did you guys spend working on your recent album, Entitled to Enlightenment?

JP: According to instagram, we posted our first image that let people know we were working on a new album about 42 weeks ago, so it’s been a long time. Mostly, it’s taken longer than usual because we’ve been aggressive about changing things we weren’t happy with.

Are there any fun, cool, or unique instruments featured on your new album that you think fans of thrash metal, or people looking for something new might be interested in?

Dan: We’ve got native american flutes, and a badass saxophone solo! We also use two full stacks, which has been a trend since classic rock and roll.

JP rocks out in front of his extra loud rehearsal equipment.

Er, what does “two full stacks” mean?

Dan: It means it’s twice as loud during rehearsal, because you have twice the amount of speakers! We feel like it’s the spirit of metal: Bigger and Louder = Better. At the same time, my drum kit is much smaller than most, since I use a simple rock kit with only two crashes. Even though we generally try to follow the core believe that “Bigger and Louder = Better,” I try not to get caught up in double kick masturbation.

Was there anything that you were working on or hoping to include that didn’t make it into this particular album?

Dan: For this album, we considered adding more samples and sounds, but those didn’t make it in. Actually, the pressing we are releasing for this tour won’t be the final run of the album. This is a limited first print for fans who are looking for something rare, and to show their support during the tour. We may decide to make changes before releasing a more permanent version after the tour.

Could you describe how the band started out?

Nick Gomez: A few years ago, I was playing guitar at home alone, and I heard someone playing the drums. I couldn’t tell where exactly it was coming from, but I turned my amp in its general direction hoping to get their attention. Pretty soon we were jamming together without even having met one another. When we finally did meet, it was pretty funny since I was full-on metal, and Dan was totally punk. Our outfits were entirely different, but we ended up becoming friends and starting the band.

Did you face any major challenges during your early career in music?

JP: The early days were actually much easier than they are right now. Back then, we were just a bunch of friends who got to play with toys together, and go on road trips.

What is the biggest challenge that you currently face as a band?

Nick Gomez: Our biggest challenge right now is that we’re funding everything on our own, so with the album, and the tour, we’re working our asses off to build up the funds we need to get everything done. This is the biggest mountain we’ve ever climbed, but we’re still having fun.

Are there any other notable challenges that you’re working to overcome?

Nick Gomez: Getting the word out. When I worked on Slaughter by the Water, it was easy getting press to pick us up, since independent music festivals are so rare. Now that we’re promoting an album and a tour, we’re having to work much harder just to get the word out.

Do you work with a label, or produce music independently?

Dan: Right now we produce independently. In the past, we have worked with a distribution company called EBM, but that was only a distribution contract for one album. Now we’re entirely independent, because we feel like the feeling of achieving our goals on our own will be more enjoyable than if we do it with help.

Surrounded by musicians in the Oakland Music Complex, and even more artists at American steel, it makes sense that ZH can run their entire operation through the local community.

It seems like Native American culture has been a big influence in your recent lyrics and art. What led to this transition, and how does it integrate into your overall band vision? 

Nick Gomez: I want to change the world through Native American views. Their story is practically untold as far as metal goes. Occasionally you will see it in the form of a generalized tragedy, such as Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden, but our focus is to more about teaching others to honor each other and honor the earth.

What are some of the core values that you hope to convey through your lyrics?

Nick Gomez: On the positive side, we’re hoping that we can help people honor one another, and honor the earth. Even though we are hoping to teach people values that enrich their lives, our lyrics often call out some of the more extreme ways that humanity is violating these values, especially here in the US. For example, our country was founded on the bloodshed on one of the world’s most peaceful people. Thanks to our cell phones and other elements of modern technology, we can barely focus on each other. Even right now, in this interview, many of us are spending more time on our phones than interacting with other another. It’s comfortable for the moment, but eventually we’ll end up paying for it. Our land was once plentiful, but it’s drying up due to our abuse and disrespect. It’s so bad, we can’t even see the stars anymore.

Nick contemplates the suffering of his people.

“We are his people we are peaceful and free. We are living together in peace, love and unity.

We’re blessed by his hand to live off this land. These water and hills are a gift to all man.

Honor all others they are your sisters and brothers. Honor this earth because she is our mother.

If you live by these laws there will be peace for us all.

So we open our hearts to share these great stars.”

-Lyrics from “Wagon Burner”

You guys were a major part of local thrash movement we saw recently. From your perspective, what would you say led to the 2008 thrash metal revival?

Dan: I think it had to do with changes in the punk scene. As thrash metal became more well-known, we saw more thrash bands booked at punk shows. All of the sudden, bands like Municipal Waste would be headlining DIYs at the Gilman, and kids in the punk scene started growing their hair out and wearing jean jackets.

How would you describe the current state of thrash metal in the Bay Area?

Dan: We’ve seen a lot of changes in the last couple years. In 2010, you’d go to a metal show, and a couple hundred people would be there. However, the scene grew to a point where the shows started splitting up by sub-genre. All of the sudden, you’d no longer see Doom Metal bands playing at the same shows as Death Metal bands, which caused everyone to split up. We’re hoping that our band can be the glue that brings everyone back together. 

JP: To add: even though we’re trying to branch out and focus on a wider range of genres, most people still know us as a thrash band, and we’re still mostly playing with thrash metal bands at thrash metal shows. We do plan to continue being a major player in the scene, and at the same time we are working on reaching a broader audience.

Jorden, guitarist.

Aside from the usual sources, what are some channels you would recommend for someone who wants to keep up with the latest bands in underground/local metal scenes?

Dan: I actually spend very little time on the internet. We keep up simply by being here in the community. Oakland Music Complex is especially active as a breeding ground for music, so it’s not hard to find out about local shows just by hanging out. In our area of the world, you can also find out about every local metal and thrash show by going to a website called “The List,” ( It’s been around since the mid 90s, and it’s a lot easier to use than Facebook, since it doesn’t have all the social networking overhead. 

Nick Gomez: There are also a few zines and sites you can check out: Amp Magazine, Terrorizer from the UK, Maximum Rock and Roll, and

Are there any demographics or groups that you hope to reach outside the metal/thrash/punk scene?

Nick Gomez: We’re actually hoping to become a role model for Native American youth, which is one of the reasons we’re doing so many stops in the southwest.

When can fans expect another Slaughter by the Water? 

Nick Gomez: Right now, the new album and the tour need to take priority, since so much is at stake. After I reach a couple more goals, I will definitely bring back Slaughter by the Water, and it’s going to be mind blowing.

Well, at least we have the tour for now! Who will you be touring with?

Dan: We’ll be touring with Fatality, a thrash metal band from Canada. The best way to describe them is that they’re the Canadian version of us, in the sense that we truly feel like we’ve lived parallel lives. After we met them on a previous tour, we instantly felt like we had known them for years, so we’re really excited to be collaborating with them on this tour. They’ve got the same goals, the same dreams, and are even the same age as us.

Nick Gomez: We call them our “spirit others.”

Touring bassist, Nick Mamere.

What are the major stops that you’re currently planning for the upcoming tour?

Dan: For the moment – Houston, El Paso, Dallas, Midland, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Pomona, Fullterton, Corona, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Medford, Portal, Seattle, and of course, the bay area!

Was there anything specific you had to do to build up the financial resources for the tour?

Nick Gomez: We basically worked our asses off at our day jobs to pay for everything, but the tour mostly pays for itself, since we’ve worked out getting a payment for every show. The primary cost that we’ve been challenged with is the album production, since it was funded entirely by members of the band.

Is there anything you’re nervous about in regards to the upcoming tour?

Nick Gomez: Mostly I’m just nervous about missing my wife and my family.

Dan: I’m nervous about getting everything finalized as far as the promotion goes, especially the details for making sure people know about each and every show. Once we get that taken care of, the tour will feel more like a vacation than work.

Representing a more extreme style of music, do you find it hard to share with a lot of your non-metal friends and family?

Nick Gomez: My family actually loves our music! In fact, my mom listened to the whole album and said that she loved it!

You guys post about bicycles a lot. What is the relationship between bicycle activism and your music? 

Nick Gomez: Bicycle activism is very important to us. Here is the US, we have to fight to make it safe to ride bikes for transportation. Since riding bikes helps preserve the earth’s natural resources, we do our best to support local movements like East Bay Bike Party. For example, we featured the pedal powered stage at Slaughter by the Water, where metalheads had the chance to power the stage using electricity generated by stationary bikes.

Is there anyone outside the band members that was particularly influential in your growth as a group?

Dan: Our producer, Sam Zuerner, helped a lot with writing, and provided us with a lot of knowledge and suggestions.

Nick Gomez: He’s been so involved in the production, that it’s his masterpiece as much as it is ours.

If you could go back and re-do your early career, is there anything you would do differently? 

Nick Gomez: In our early days, we had a couple rivalries, which ended up with us wasting a lot of energy competing with other bands.

Dan: Egos got in the way a lot. When we started getting booked with bigger bands, we always made an effort to be social and friendly with them, but found that the occasional band would blow us off for whatever reason. That led to us getting offended and trying to upstage them, which was fun but wasn’t a healthy way to grow as a band.

Dan sticks to his punk roots, covering backup vocals while maintaining rhythm.

Considering the negative emotions that many of your lyrics surround, how do you guys stay so chill?

Nick Gomez: Music is our outlet. It’s super energetic and takes away any negative energy we carry with us. Every time we practice or perform, we feel a lot more relaxed. 

Dan: If I weren’t in a band, I’d probably be a lot angrier in life, and get in a lot more fights with people.

Thanks for taking the time to do an interview with us! In closing, is there anything you’d like to share?

Nick Mamere: I just want to share how happy I am to be here. I’ve been a ZH fan since I’ve been in high school, so going on tour and playing alongside them is a dream come true for me.

Before closing out, Nick Gomez and JP give us a tour of the complex

We’re really grateful that ZH was kind enough to let us spend an evening with them, and look forward to learning much more about the local metal community in Oakland, California. If you want to check out more from Zombie Holocaust, you can check out their Facebook Page, Myspace Profile, or even email them directly at zhrocknroll-AT-gmail-DOT-com. Feel free to tell us what you think of this article in the comments!



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