CRAIG LOCICERO Looks To The Future With A Resurrected FORBIDDEN: 'People Are More Ready For Us'

December 19, 2023

By David E. Gehlke

FORBIDDEN had the best pure singer in Russ Anderson of all the Bay Area thrash bands, but it never translated to the kind of success they deserved. Oddly, Anderson's vocal acrobatics somehow prevented FORBIDDEN from reaching audiences beyond the thrash scene, in spite of their legendary "Forbidden Evil" debut and even better "Twisted Into Form" sophomore outing. (Let's not forget about 1994's overlooked "Distortion".) However, founding member and guitarist Craig Locicero is less baffled by it than he is determined to finally get his band its just due with new vocalist Norman Skinner, who, along with former MACHINE HEAD drummer Chris Kontos, second guitarist Steve Smyth and co-founding bassist Matt Camacho, comprise the returning FORBIDDEN.

Early returns on Skinner have been promising and with a support slot confirmed for DEATH ANGEL's upcoming 2023 holiday shows and a slew of 2024 festival dates on the books, in addition to a potential new 2025 studio album (their first since 2010's "Omega Wave"),FORBIDDEN appears to be in a position to make the most of their third go-round as a band. It was all the more reason for BLABBERMOUTH.NET to get Locicero on the horn to catch up and look ahead.

Blabbermouth: Did you have a bad taste in your mouth when FORBIDDEN split in 2012? Did you feel like there was unfinished business?

Craig: "I'm the kind of guy that when things go sideways, I tend not to dwell in the mire of the wreckage. I move forward. I've been pretty happy creating music that I love without trying to fit into anybody's criteria of the 'machine.' It's fine by me. For years, I did heavy rock stuff that I loved with MANMADE GOD, then SPIRALARMS. When FORBIDDEN came back, I realized right then and there that I know it's my legacy, but I'm the kind of person to spread his wings. When it happened the second time, it was because of Russ's drinking. He told us he didn't want to travel or do things the way we were doing. He didn't want to do Wacken [festival] because it was too fast of a trip that would be hard on him. I thought that meant I wouldn't be doing it with him again. I wasn't totally sad or wallowing in anything. I was like, 'Alright…' I moved back to creating music that I wanted to create. I shifted gears."

Blabbermouth: Fast-forward to the 2023 shows, namely, the Alcatraz Open Air in Belgium and you look over and see Norm, but not Russ. What was your initial reaction?

Craig: [Laughs] "It's going to sound really fucked up, but it isn't: It didn't strike me like that because we had been rehearsing so much. We did a warm-up gig as TWISTED INTO EVIL. To be honest, Russ's connection to the music and the people was kind of lacking for a while because of his situation, which he had to come to terms with and did. Having Norman connect and being one of the crowd and music felt great. It seemed natural. It seems natural that every day, we get together to practice. It's a special situation. A lot of bands have to replace singers, and it's like, 'Uh. It's a downgrade here and a downgrade there.' But I think Norm isn't a downgrade in any way. But I think Russ had more tools in his tool bag than any other singer on the planet, including [Rob] Halford [JUDAS PRIEST]. Russ could do things Rob Halford never wanted to try. There were things Russ used to do that nobody else could do like him, which made him special. Norm has a lot of tricks in his basket, but they're not the same. He can do anything, but I think Russ has a lot more shit that he could do. He was incredible that he could go from a gruff, scratchy voice to any classic metal stuff."

Blabbermouth: Was Norm given a primer on singing Russ's material? I watched the video from Alcatraz, and it sounds like Norm is trying to be himself instead of trying to be Russ.

Craig: "Very well stated. You are right. There's a little bit where I go, 'Hey, man, can you do this?' Some things are trademarked to sing a certain way, but, yeah, one of the reasons why I thought Norm was the right guy was because he was himself from the get-go. When we were in this room rehearsing with BAY AREA INTERTHRASHIONAL — that was the first time I heard Norm sing a FORBIDDEN song. We decided to hit it in case somebody didn't show up in Europe. We did 'Off The Edge', and right before he started singing, I looked around the room and thought, 'We have four-fifths of 'Omega Wave', and this guy is about to sing it.' Then he started singing. It was obvious he was himself, but he sounded great at it. I thought, 'Okay. He's not karaoke-ing this at all.' He's very confident without being arrogant. I think that lends itself to an easy transition. If you're comfortable in your own skin, other people are comfortable watching you and being involved in the moment."

Blabbermouth: Being that a lot of your Bay Area contemporaries are still going strong, did the idea of "striking while the iron is hot" play a role in rebooting FORBIDDEN?

Craig: "Not for me. I'm not chasing down anything and never really have. The iron being hot and all that — I always felt like FORBIDDEN was a part of everything, but it was also different than the other guys. We had our own niche. The fact it didn't hit is kind of what is making it. In my mind, there's a collective consciousness in metal. It's weird timing because it's better than the first time. I feel like people are more ready for us, maybe because of all the years and other bands doing it. There's also still the one link of us being the JUDAS PRIEST of our ilk if that makes any sense. It seemed like there was a green light the entire time we've been doing it now. People have been open, receptive and fired up with a lot less cynicism toward us having a new singer and drummer. There's a pretty big sea change, but it feels right and good."

Blabbermouth: With the perspective of time, do you feel like FORBIDDEN were the outcasts of the Bay Area?

Craig: "We were and we weren't. It was a matter of timing. I think other people would tend to get a lot more jaded and freaked out, but I saw it coming by the music industry changing and people's tastes. I tell this story often: FORBIDDEN was right with DEATH ANGEL. We were selling as many records as DEATH ANGEL some weeks and less during other weeks when we were on tour. Everything was heading toward us being the next one up, but once those guys got into the accident after our tour [in 1990] and ALICE IN CHAINS got 'Clash Of The Titans', things started changing. Quite honestly, I don't blame the world for changing their taste. I feel like thrash metal was getting so fucking safe. Everybody was ripping each other off. No knock on anybody, but everybody started parting their hair on the side, wearing the same things and writing a ballad. It became a formulaic thing, so we thought to push everything off the table. We were about to sign a deal with RCA when all that happened."

Blabbermouth: I was going to ask whether the majors were interested in you.

Craig: "There were five different labels. RCA made a great offer and we were about to sign it, but two things: Paul [Bostaph, drums] joined SLAYER. He took that at the same time that NIRVANA had dropped 'Nevermind'. Actually, 'Nevermind' was out, but 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' had hit. Everyone pivoted. I was the guy going, 'Oh. Alright.' I knew that music needed to be more vital again. My genre was getting stale. Deal with it. I just never tripped out about it. I get it. It took us two years after that happened to find a label to put out 'Distortion'. We put it out on G.U.N. and had a fantastic run in Europe with that record. We ended up touring with GOREFEST, which should tell you a lot about the state of metal at the time. GOREFEST was a great band, I have to say, but it wasn't really a fit. It was more of, 'Well, we'll just do this.'"

Blabbermouth: No one would bat an eye about a pairing like that today, though.

Craig: "I felt like FORBIDDEN fits more now anywhere on any kind of bill with any heavy music. We have our own little world, our little corner of it. It's very small right now, but I feel like — and I could be wrong, but I think I'm not — there's an opening for us and people want us to get through that opening and possibly do a little bit better than last time, but you don't actually know."

Blabbermouth: "Distortion" was very underrated for the time, especially when "groove" metal like PRONG, PANTERA and SEPULTURA was the thing. And it's probably your darkest record.

Craig: "That record was a conglomeration of years of rejection and people not giving a shit and years of us being in our own world and writing what we felt. Of course, the other influences are going to bleed in. The music sounded better. Things were starting to sound better. It's funny how the word 'groove' was a bad word to some people. I suppose if you can't dance, I get it. There's nothing wrong with a song grooving because that has some longevity to it. I laugh at that whole idea, but I get it. There was a lot of 'yo-yo' and rap metal coming up and FORBIDDEN was never that. We had a great drummer who had a great groove. Steve Jacobs [drums] was incredibly underrated. Paul gets all the love, but Steve, quite frankly, could do just as much as Paul. He had his own style and sounded equally as amazing. He grooved a little better."

Blabbermouth: This was also peak-era Tim Calvert [guitar, who passed away in 2018].

Craig: "There's a lot of backstories to that whole thing. We went from one guy, Glen [Alvelais], who was a shredder but had no background in thrash, to another guy, Tim, who was a shredder and had no background in thrash. [Laughs] We locked in together. Tim and I, together, were deadly. I could pretty much do anything, and he would know how to complement it. I started writing crazier things and we'd lock in. The harmonies got better. The syncopation got better. There was more attention to detail because he was a detail-oriented guy. Tim was absolutely incredible. He should never be forgotten or underrated. That dude was from another planet."

Blabbermouth: How important, then, was it for you to get people you enjoy playing with now in FORBIDDEN?

Craig: "There's such a close-knit brotherhood between us. The way we joke around and our humor — I was telling these guys last night that our last couple of practices were my favorite. I felt like Norman had completely pulled the veils down and was joking around the same as the rest of us. We get along. Everyone is pretty goddamn smart and has a nice, dark sense of humor to go along with it. We laugh at everything. There's always been humor in FORBIDDEN's lyrics, whether people realize it or not. On 'Omega Wave', a lot of times I told Russ, 'It will be so metal. We're going to say 'death' and 'die' more than you could imagine.' [Laughs] It's fun for me. I don't take any of this shit too seriously. I take music seriously. I take certain aspects, I respect it and I don't want to fuck with it, but I don't want to ruin anyone's illusion. If you don't have a sense of humor, good luck surviving in this business."

Blabbermouth: What do you have in store for the DEATH ANGEL shows?

Craig: "We're going to change it up both nights. We're not like DEATH ANGEL, who have every song down and can rip the catalog from one night to the next. We're still working in Norm and Chris. There are going to be some differences. One of the nights, we're going to play 'Forbidden Evil' in its entirety. The other night, we're going to mix it up with 'Twisted Into Form' and some newer stuff. You're going to see a band that's been together roughly eight months at this point playing music together. It's going to be better than we were in Belgium just because we have more days put together behind us. And we're a lot closer as a unit. Those things are the real stand-out things that people will notice. There is a great camaraderie, and we have a real fucking unity."

Blabbermouth: What are you thinking about in terms of new FORBIDDEN material?

Craig: "'Forbidden Evil' is an anomaly. We didn't think about it too much. I think I can land on point when I say this: It's going to be somewhere between 'Twisted Into Form' and 'Omega Wave'. I'm leaning into those 'Twisted Into Form' arrangements and most of what I've been writing is in E [guitar tuning]. I'm also going to have songs that drop down [in tuning], like 'Omega Wave' and possibly lower. I want this album to have peaks and valleys and an emotional landscape that you can follow. It has to feel like a story, even though it's not going to be a concept album. It has to be on vinyl. It has to come out on all the formats and the digital bullshit. It has to be everything that made records great. It's going to be all the shit I never got to do. I feel really confident about it. I've started writing a bunch of stuff. I've got more riffs than these guys have caught onto because we keep doing shows. I hope to have it recorded by this time next year to have it ready in the first half of 2025."

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