INTERVIEW: Katon W. De Pena of HIRAX

INTERVIEW: Katon W. De Pena of HIRAX

HIRAX are thrash metal/crossover legends from California. Formed in 1984 by lead vocalist Katon W. De Pena, the band would create their unique crossover sound that would stand toe-to-toe with the heavy thrash sound from the likes of Metallica and Slayer, while also making their name known in the burgeoning crossover genre with bands like Suicidal Tendencies and D.R.I. Especially on the band's breakthrough album, 1985's Raging Violence. Some citing the band as one of the "Big 4 of Crossover". After breaking up in 1989, three years after the band's 1986 second album Hate, Fear and Power, the band would reunite in 2000 due to fan demand. HIRAX would return with fury and vigor with their third album The New Age of Terror in 2004. Now, after a 40 year career of thrashing across the world, the band is ready to kick 2024's teeth in with a new album, Faster Than Death, set for an early 2024 release date.

I sat down with front man Katon W. De Pena to discuss the upcoming album, the legacy and influence HIRAX has had on today's thrash acts, longevity, the gap between albums, and even history about the band's logo.

The cover for the band's upcoming sixth album

TDIM: HIRAX will be releasing their new album Faster Than Death in 2024, your first album since 2014’s Immortal Legacy. What got you and the band to get back into the studio after a ten-year gap? Was there a reason for such a long gap in releases?

Katon: Obviously, the timing was right to do a new HIRAX record and to be blatantly honest with you, 10 years is too long for the fans to wait for new music. So we owe it to them to release a new record. Keep in mind, four of those years out of the 10, was a pandemic. That being said, we had plenty of subject matter to write about! The fans inspired us by continually writing us letters, asking for new music. This record is definitely worth the wait.

TDIM: What was the direction that the band went with the new record?

Katon: With this new record, we continually push ourselves progressively and sonically. We’ve always been known for playing fast, but this is the fastest record we’ve ever done. The songs are a little bit shorter, but very-well written. A lot of riffs and hooks. The production will be handled by legendary producer, Bill Metoyer (Slayer, Armored Saint, Trouble, Sacred Reich, Dark Angel, Cirith Ungol, etc). The sound will be Raw, Heavy, Fast and Loud!!!

TDIM: Is the lineup for this album the same as Immortal Legacy? Do we have new blood in the band or any guests on the new album?

Katon: Immortal Legacy was 10 years ago. The lineup has changed, and we have new blood in the band now:

Katon W. De Pena: Voice

Neil Metcalf : Lead and Rhythm Guitar

Emilio Marquez: Drums & Percussion

Jose Gonzalez: Bass Guitar.

This is the lineup that will be touring with me in support of the new studio album.

TDIM: Are there any themes or concepts that the band tackles on the new record?

Katon: Yes, on this record I have been inspired by many things to name a few. The pandemic, because it was such a harsh and stressful time. Wars/battles as well. One of the main reasons is because we had soldiers writing to us on the front lines of battle telling us they were listening to our music to keep their hopes up! Mental illness was another topic as well. Those are some of the things this record has inner twined throughout it. I tend to write about things that affect me, things that most people can understand.

TDIM: Do you have a favorite track off the new album?

Katon: Well, this new record has nine tracks on it. One old school re-recorded song from the first album, Raging Violence. The song is called "Warlords Command". I couldn’t tell you which is my favorite, because it tends to change from day to day. But here are some of the songs I think will bulldoze over people's heads: ("Drill Into The Brain", "Relentless", "Worlds End") One of these songs will be the first single off the record. Prepare to have your ears bleed!

TDIM: There has been a resurgence of thrash & crossover bands in the last 10 years, with bands like Power Trip, Municipal Waste, Ringworm, and Hellripper. Looking back on HIRAX’s 40 year career, are you proud of the influence that the band and countless torchbearers from the 80’s have left on the bands of today?

Katon: I couldn’t be prouder. Whenever I see books, magazines or movie documentaries about thrash metal, and the impact that bands such as ours have had on the history of this music, it’s great to know that this music has stood the test of time, and will be around for more generations to experience and learn about…..LONG LIVE THRASH METAL!

TDIM: Speaking of the band’s legacy, besides a new album, is the band planning anything special to celebrate the band’s legendary career?

Katon: Totally! A lot of touring all over the world, as well as special concerts in our hometown of Los Angeles! It’s always good to remember your roots. We came out of Los Angeles and went straight up to the Bay Area and established ourselves as an international thrash metal act. Even though we started out with Metallica, Exodus, Megadeth, Testament and Dark Angel, we’ve still got a lot of music in us, and we are hungry to keep spreading our message and our music. We are always going to be pushing forward to widen our horizons.

TDIM: I came across a fact that Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost/Triptykon fame created the band’s logo, is this true? If so, how did he get involved with you guys and the logo design?

Katon: I have known Tom G. Warrior since Hellhammer in 83-84. We became pen pals and tape traders! I sent him a copy of the first HIRAX demo cassette tape. He liked the demo, but said he could design a better logo for us. So he did it and sent it two weeks later through the snail mail. We have been using the logo that he designed since 1984.

TDIM: How do you stay fresh and try to not repeat yourself musically album to album? Especially since you guys have been kickin’ ass for so long.

Katon: Well, the main thing is every year as you get older, you evolve as a musician. Your taste change and so does your direction, but with HIRAX, I am always focused on us being a thrash metal band and I always keep that in mind when I sit down to write the music and lyrics. And I always try to stay creative, no compromise, and I remember the roots where I come from in the early 80's. It’s important to always remember that. I love songwriting because there’s so many combinations and ways to do things differently.

TDIM: You recently did a guest spot on Strike Master’s 2023 album Tangram Apocalypse, how did you get involved with them and the work you did for the album?

Katon: That was a very interesting project. When we did our first tour of Mexico, Strike Master were the opening band, and we became friends. Toured on the same bus, and drank the same beer. They are like family to us. So when they asked me to sing on the new record, of course I said yes. I recorded the vocal tracks at my house in my living room, while taking a break from the new HIRAX record. It was fun. And from what I hear, the record is doing very well. The track that I sang on is called "Heavy Metal".

TDIM: I love your commanding voice and classic heavy metal screams over the band’s career, how do you maintain such a healthy vocal range? I get envious that you and Rob Halford can still hit those highs so many years later in their career.

Katon: Well, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to take better care of myself. In the early days, all we did was drink, smoke and party and hardly sleep. Over the years, I realized if I wanted to give the fans a great show I had to start eating healthy and exercising, if you want to maintain your voice. Those are the things you have to do. I don’t tell people how to live their lives. I just do what’s right for me. I never want to let the fans down. I think that they deserve their money's worth when they come to a HIRAX concert.

TDIM: With live shows and concerts coming back in full swing post-pandemic, there was a dark time for live music. How did you survive it mentally? Were you worried HIRAX wouldn’t continue due to the pandemic?

Katon: I think anybody who wasn’t worried is lying. We didn’t know what the future would hold. My wife and friends, being a great support to me during those dark times. I spent the better part of the pandemic writing the new album. Mentally, I think most of us are going to need therapy long after the pandemic is over, so I use music to deal with it. There’s even a song on our new record, “Psych Ward”, which was partially inspired by the pandemic. The lockdowns during COVID-19 made a lot of people go crazy.

TDIM: I always close my interviews asking this, what are some bands/albums that yourself or the rest of HIRAX are loving that your fans need to check out?

Katon: Firstly, let me say the new HIRAX album Faster Than Death, because I have only heard the rough mixes, so I can’t imagine how massive it is going to sound once our producer, Bill Metoyer, finishes the final mix! I promise the fans it’ll be totally worth the wait!

  1. Judas Priest - Invincible Shield
  2. Saxon - Hell, Fire and Damnation
  3. Gama Bomb - Bats
  4. Strike Master - Tangram Apocalypse
  5. Masacre - Brutal Aggre666ion
  6. Witch Trap - Trap The Witch
  7. Malón - Oscuro Plan del Poder
  8. Loudness - Sunburst
  9. Tsjuder - Helvegr
  10. Motörhead - Everything Louder Forever (The Very Best Of)
  11. Thin Lizzy - The Boys are Back in Town “Live at The Sydney Opera House"

I want to thank Katon W. De Pena for giving This Day in Metal the time to promote HIRAX's new album as well as to talk about his career in the metal scene. To pick up some merch, check out the band's music, or get updates on the new album, check out for more info.

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