That Tour Was Awesome: Pestilence/Autopsy/Bolt Thrower (1990)

It’s easy, with the passage of time and so much metal, to see the names of three death metal legends—in this case, Pestilence, Bolt Thrower, and Autopsy—buttressed next to each other and not think much of it; death metal tour packages have become more than common, and audiences often get to see several great bands on one bill. But, c’mon, this package, known as the Blood Brothers tour, happened back in 1990, and this was over in Europe: American gore-doom-death freakies Autopsy making it over there was a big deal at the time. And just think about it: you’ve got a young Bolt Thrower promoting Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness, Autopsy pushing Severed Survival, and Pestilence riding high from Consuming Impulse. This tour, which went down in February and March of 1990 in Belgium and the Netherlands, was an awesome tour indeed.

The order of the bands changed up from night to night, giving all the bands a chance to headline, and the atmosphere was one of youthful camaraderie at its finest, with the three bands at the forefront of the burgeoning death metal movement. Sure, everyone got ripped off, but it’s an underground metal tour in 1990, what did you expect?

We rounded up Autopsy vocalist/drummer Chris Reifert, Bolt Thrower vocalist Karl Willets, and Pestilence vocalist/bassist Martin van Drunen to pick their brains about this tour (which, it should be noted, continued on after Bolt Thrower left, with German death metal crew Morgoth taking their place). We found out about brick-throwing skinheads, Pestilence playing shows as a three-piece, Bolt Thrower fooling Autopsy into thinking hardcore band Mucky Pup wanted to fight them, and much more.

What are your general recollections of this tour?

Chris Reifert: It was a pretty good length, at least for us. I believe we were on the road for five weeks. A lot of stuff happened. Looking back, it’s a pretty insane lineup. We were all kinda up and coming bands at the time. It was our first time in Europe, so that was pretty exciting. Some people forget also that Bolt Thrower did the first half of the tour, and then we had Morgoth for the second half of the tour. All the bands were cool, so it was just a super great time. I remember having some cool opening bands that just played a show; we had Sinister open up for one of the shows in Holland, and we had Atrocity open up I think maybe two shows, possibly three. Really cool.

Karl Willets: I remember it well. It was our first ever taste of playing shows outside of the UK, so it was a really exciting time for us a band. The first time doing stuff is always the best and the most memorable. The whole experience was fantastic from start to finish and it really gave us a taste of how things could be. Up until then we had only played shows in the UK, so that was all we knew, so these gigs introduced us to a whole new audience, which was amazing! The crowds were much larger than the crowds we had played to before in the UK, double the size; I can’t remember exactly the numbers, but I would estimate shows of about 500 to 1,000 people. The tour certainly widened our horizons and made us think on a bigger scale beyond the confines of our small island (UK).

Van Drunen: Just very fantastic memories. It was basically total chaos every day. Three bands in one small van and a truck with backline and PA equipment that sometimes didn’t even fit on the stages. We never thought of having a decent rider, so all we got for food was frites and pizza until it came out of our noses. Or… nothing at all. At some venues there were hardly folks as death metal was still very unknown back then, but at times there were full crowds too. But the atmosphere was superb. That changed a little when German promoters preferred to have Morgoth on the bill instead of Bolt Thrower. No one will believe that nowadays, but it was, unfortunately, very true. So, before heading to Germany, we had to say goodbye to Bolt Thrower and crew in The Netherlands, with pain in our hearts. After that, the tour never became again what it was as we had so much good fun with the three of us. And we didn’t know anything of Morgoth anyway. So that was a true bummer.

It’s three death metal bands, but, really, it’s quite a diverse lineup.

Reifert: Yeah, everyone was putting out pretty strong albums at the time. Bolt Thrower did Realm of Chaos, Pestilence did Consuming Impulse, Morgoth had the first EP out—I think only the first one at the time—and we had Severed Survival out. It was exciting.

Did the crowds respond well to all bands?

Reifert: It was pretty equal across the board; it was nice. It depends on where we played if there was a crowd or not [laughs]. We started off in France. I remember the first show we played in this really big place, real nice, tons of seats and space, and there was nobody there. It seemed, like, extra empty, so that was kind of a bummer of a start, but then it got really good really fast. We played Paris, I believe our third French date, and it was packed. Completely bonkers, just nuts beyond belief, and all the bands went over good. Especially, from what I can recall, the Dutch and German dates were really good, really full venues and the crowds were nuts. I don’t think we played to anything but packed houses to those, if I remember well.

Van Drunen: Oh, yeah, at the venues with good crowds they went berserk, as they all were very grateful to be able to witness the bands, and all people who turned up basically came from the tape-trading scene. But there were also days which weren’t so good and people didn’t know what to think of it. The best example was in France. We played in a city called Poitiers with a local hardcore band called Uncle Slam; absolutely nice guys, by the way. And the venue was packed with about 700 people. Next day, though, we were in Lyon in a huge hall where Ozzy was about to perform in a few days. And there were maybe 100 attendants, so it looked depressingly empty (laughs).

What were the crowds like in general for the shows?

Reifert: Good. Good metal crowds. Same as today but not everybody was holding a cell phone [laughs]. It’s just the same; everyone was there for the same reason and was ready to get crazy.

What were relations between the bands like?

Reifert: Yeah, that was one of the cool things. We all had a good time. Everyone was laid back and fun to be around. There was no posturing or any of that kind of stuff that happens with some bands. Everyone was just ready to have some beers and have a good time, play some metal and have fun while we’re at it. That was the attitude of all the bands. It was great. We all got along famously. Bolt Thrower, they were just hilarious, it was like touring with Monty Python. Super funny, super cool, great. Then we heard about this band Morgoth that was going to be on the second half of the tour. We didn’t know anything about them at the time, just that they were German death metal, and they turn out to be just as fun; they were awesome and hilarious. It was just killer. Win-win for everybody.

Willets: We all got along incredibly well; there was a fantastic sense of camaraderie on the tour. For Autopsy, it was also their first time playing shows outside of the USA. As a vocalist I bonded closely with Martin van Drunen and Chris Reifert; I consider them good friends still to this day. Bonds formed from the experience of the Blood Brothers tour; blood brothers for life, you could say!

Van Drunen: We all knew each other already, as we exchanged tapes and wrote letters, but that all turned out to be even better after all three bands first met. Not only did we all totally dig the music of every band, but also they were all very nice lads (and lady), always in for a laugh. And at soundchecks, we jumped on stage randomly to do covers or play whatever. It was really like a family. And since that tour, we have always stayed friends, until today.

Do you have any wild and crazy stories from this tour?

Reifert: Yeah, there were lots of little things. One of the things I forgot about until somewhat recently, our old bass player reminded us: Danny [Coralles, Autopsy guitarist] shorted out an entire venue trying to plug his videocam into the socket by cutting off the plug and sticking the wires into the socket [laughs]. So that was fun. This is a good one: Bolt Thrower almost got us to start a fight with another band we played with as a prank. We played some fest and this band called Mucky Pup was on the bill. After the show we got a call from someone saying they were in the band Mucky Pup and they wanted to speak with us about the day [laughs]. So we all [went over] to their room, and went back and forth, arguing with someone in the band, and it kinda blew over and nothing really happened. We all went back to our rooms, and peeked in one of Bolt Thrower’s rooms, and one of them was just sitting there laughing because they were the ones that made the call [laughs]. Little things like that, and almost getting kicked out of every hotel we stayed in because we were partying too loud.

Willets: There were loads of great times shared in what was relatively a short tour for us—we only played the seven shows in Belgium and Holland. As young bucks on the road for the first time it was a total blast. I was 24 back in 1990 and felt invincible. Me and Chris still recall the psychedelic tour opus we sang in the mini bus, which was a song about windmills which consisted of the words ‘Round and round and round and round’… repeat… I remember clearly the show at the Vera club in Groningen—one of my favorite clubs to play—where I consumed a large amount of hash cake for the first time in my life; man, I was totally bombed. I remember falling down a load of wooden stairs and being helped out by some kind members of the audience, whom I was convinced were members of the Baader Meinhof gang and were trying to abduct me! We consumed at hell of a lot of alcohol and other stuff, which really took its toll on the ferry on the way home. The sea was really rough and we all looked the same color as the stuff we had been smoking copious amounts of!

Van Drunen: I guess the fight in Zaandam, Netherlands is pretty memorable. We drove away with the van after the show when some idiot of a group of retarded fashion-skinheads in that town threw a brick on our rented van. When we realized what happened we turned around, and all stormed out of the vehicle. I think they had no idea that so many people were crammed in that small bus. So we attacked the bunch of about 20 people; most of them went down wounded or started to run away as we kicked and beat them furiously. But [Pestilence guitarist] Pat Mameli got kicked behind his ear in the struggle and was half-conscious. So when police sirens sounded, we quickly drove away to not get busted. Then in the hotel, we arrived with Pat in between us, as he couldn’t walk. I remember it as a Van der Valk Motel, a pretty famous chain of motels here in the Netherlands. And the employees were, of course, a little frightened of watching us walking in with an injured man, still full of adrenaline after the fight. And so they asked us if we were hungry and when we confirmed that, they said the kitchen was still full of leftovers from some cold buffet of the night. So all of a sudden we found ourselves stuffing our bellies and having beers for free. Those people made our night. I’ll never forget it. Patrick, by the way, could not play a few shows, but recovered soon, so Pestilence did a few shows only as a three-piece. But the best about that night was that no matter if we were Dutch, English, or American, from that day we knew we could count on each other; everybody was willing to back up the other when needed. And that creates a special bond that has always remained.

Why was it called the Blood Brothers tour?

Reifert: Yeah, that was nothing that any of us came up with. The promoter thought that would be clever. We thought it was kind of dumb. I remember they made a tour shirt that was equally dumb. We were like, “Oh, yeah, happy flying skulls…” That was a stupid shirt. So that was definitely not our doing, any of that stuff.

Van Drunen: It was just a name, but it did fit well. I think a mutual friend of all three bands I’m not gonna mention by name, as he always wants to stay in the background, came up with it and printed some shirts saying ‘Blood Brothers.’ In the end, it did really feel like we were.

Looking back on this tour now, what is the importance of it?

Reifert: I can’t see any specific importance, other than us learning how to not get ripped off [laughs]. That was a big one for us, not for the metal community at large. We didn’t get paid for that tour at all. We played all the shows, and the promoter ran off to Thailand with the money; he took all the band’s money. We never saw him again. But as far as importance, it was just a killer metal tour. It didn’t shatter the earth or anything like that, but it was a good time for stuff like that. Death metal was relatively sort of almost kinda new, not everyone knew what it was, and the people who did know were super pumped.

Willets: For us as a band and as individuals it was of huge importance. As I said, it really opened up the door to what was to become our major audience in mainland Europe; it made us realize that the opportunities that lay beyond the shores of little England where massive for us. It gave us the push we needed at that time to go on and achieve greater things. Great days, great memories, and great lifelong friends.

Van Drunen: I think the fact that, all of a sudden, promoters and labels on the European continent noticed afterwards that there was a market for death metal, or said it was becoming bigger and of more influence than just a tape-trading scene. In fact, there was no real tape-trading before the rise of death metal; it made it what it became. And that tour confirmed death metal was here to stay. So after that, more dared to take the risk and started a European tour. Until it boomed and everybody wanted a piece of the fat cake.

This is a pretty significant tour in that it was an early death metal package tour.

Reifert: Yeah, I guess so. We didn’t have anything to do with any of the organization or any of that. I think Danny got a call from someone somehow, probably through Peaceville [Records], asking if we wanted to do this tour, and we thought about it for a minute and said we’d do it, and it was all set up for us. Looking back, it’s like, whoa, that’s a hella good package there.

Martin, you mentioned to me it was the first death metal package tour; what about Grindcrusher ’89 (Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, Carcass, Napalm Death)?

Van Drunen: That was just in the UK and set up by Earache, their label. This one was set up by ourselves, all over the EU continent. Besides, Napalm Death and Carcass were more grind bands; especially Napalm were punks. So it wasn’t a full death metal package at all, really.

Did you ever stop and think at the time, “Wow, this tour is really cool?”

Reifert: No, we were just living day to day at the time [laughs]. There was no thought about the future or anything; it was just living in the moment. Getting sick and all that stuff. I remember at one point all three singers in the bands got brutally ill, because that’s what happens when you travel, especially overseas.

Any final thoughts on this tour?

Willets: It was a blast!

Van Drunen: It has been a long time, but I have the best memories about it. Sometimes when I see the spoiled little wankers of nowadays who get everything shoved up their asses and still complain about everything, I just wanna kick them in the nuts and wish for them to play in the same conditions as we did back then. No money, bad food—if any—from one bad case scenario into the other, but laughing 24/7 and every day giving it all we got on stage. I’m always thankful for everything people do for me and I know that still goes for Bolt Thrower and Autopsy as well. Maybe that’s why organizers and crew love to work with bands like us. Because we’re happy with just a bit, never gob about anything and treat people with respect when they deserve that. And, most important—we always deliver the goods. Fortunately, there’s a rise of young bands who think the same and that’s a very positive thing. But there are still a lot of drama queens out there that don’t deserve their fans, the money paid out to them, and the efforts of people trying to treat them well with hospitality these cocksuckers don’t even appreciate. It’s a fucking disgrace to metal and they are not worth to be part of it. Tours like Blood Brothers will always remind one to keep on laughing when things are pretty rough and make one realize what we have today and be grateful for that.