JON ALLEN Hails The Return Of SADUS With 'The Shadow Inside': 'This Is Some Of The Best Stuff We've Done'

January 3, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

Few bands better represent the "caught in the margins" tag than San Francisco's SADUS. A death-thrash hybrid before it became the norm, SADUS's bountiful technicality and speed (in theory) should have enabled them to win over a large swath of extreme metal denizens. In reality, SADUS made respectable but never ladder-climbing gains throughout the 1990s, in spite of being on Roadrunner Records, the era's predominant label. Unfortunately, SADUS was part of Roadrunner's mid-decade roster purge and then released the spacey "Elements Of Anger" in 1997 that largely went unnoticed. Nine years later, the band issued "Out For Blood" but soon became inactive once bassist du jour Steve DiGiorgio found work with other acts.

SADUS finally returned in 2023 with a new studio opus, "The Shadow Inside", but without DiGiorgio (to the concern of many). But credit guitarist/vocalist Darren Travis and drummer Jon Allen with this: They whipped up an infectious, energetic album that harnesses their brazen speed while bringing the band into the modern era thanks to producer Juan Urteaga. Furthermore, Travis and Allen didn't try to replace DiGiorgio with a bass player of similar dexterity, opting instead to have Travis lay down solid, no-frills bass lines. With goodwill and plenty of positive reviews starting to flood the SADUS camp and some live dates on the horizon, BLABBERMOUTH.NET got Allen on the horn to discuss.

Blabbermouth: Do you recall the moment when you and Darren said, "Okay, time to put a new SADUS album together?"

Jon: "I got remarried and went to Texas and it just didn't work out. But Darren came out and jammed with me about four or five times while I was there. We're so old school. It's like, 'I'm not going to send you this on the Internet. We're going to jam and this is how it will go.' He kept coming out and jamming, but I didn't think it was working. Finally, I got divorced. [Laughs] I came back to California. I moved in with Darren. We've known each other since we were 14 or 15 years old. I moved in and was living in his living room for a while. We started back where we had stopped when he was coming out to Texas. He had some riffs, and it was a lot easier when I moved back. I didn't bring everything, but I brought my electric drum kit. I made sure we were able to do music. We started writing, so that was probably 2018."

Blabbermouth: You and Darren have been doing this together for so long. What makes your relationship work so well?

Jon: "It's weird. Back in the old days, when METALLICA put out 'Kill 'Em All', Darren was really into it. I hadn't heard of it yet. I met Darren in high school. He was pumping this thing up because he worked at a radio station out here in the Bay Area. He had a half-hour or an hour show, and all he played was 'Kill 'Em All' and 'Show No Mercy' by SLAYER. That was it. That was his show! [Laughs] He was probably 16 or 17 at the time. He's two years ahead of me. The way it worked out was that Rob Moore, the early guitar player, and Darren were best friends. Me and Steve were best friends. It was like a combo in the way we hooked up. Steve and I were playing in a cover band that did just IRON MAIDEN and BLACK SABBATH. I was 14 years old. I was borrowing equipment. My drum kit filled the whole living room at this house when we would do house parties. I'd have three different drum kits and set it all up where it was massive. We were just having fun. But Darren and Rob Moore showed up to one of these little parties and they're like, 'Wow. This rhythm section is killer. Hey, check this out!' They showed us 'Kill 'Em All' and 'Show No Mercy'. Darren already had riffs written and so did Rob. I swear to god, it was funny — we were out there playing, and they go 'Stop! We're going to plug in and this is how it goes.' They started wailing on some riff. This is 1983 and it was so cool being in high school and listening to this kind of music. That's how we built our relationship off of that."

Blabbermouth: Can we touch upon Steve not being on "The Shadow Inside"?

Jon: "We were all buds and he had to do his thing because he went full-time as a musician. The jobs Darren and I have let us do our thing and SADUS on the side, but Steve decided to do it full-time. We have to give him props for that. He did a lot of stuff and now it's paying off. He gets gigs all the time, like the last MEGADETH album ["The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead!"]."

Blabbermouth: Filling the space without Steve — what was the approach?

Jon: "We had an idea of how SADUS sounds. I wouldn't say we knew exactly what Steve did, but we know how SADUS sounds. We kept it simpler. Darren played the bass. It was more of him and me going, 'What do you think about this and that?' We were filling it out a little bit. Obviously, Darren wrote all the riffs and can play the bass matching the guitar. We changed it up a little bit to make it more SADUS-y. That's where it went."

Blabbermouth: When did you start to feel like the album was taking shape? The first singles you released, like "It's The Sickness" and "Ride The Knife", set the tone.

Jon: "We don't think about it. We go in as a hobby and say, 'Let's have fun and lay it out.' We do get serious. Say your hobby is surfing 50-foot waves. It's a hobby, but you had better be a pro, or you're going to get knocked on your ass. We took the approach where we wanted to be relaxed and have fun, but we had to be professional to where this is some of the best stuff we've ever done. We put the bar high and we have fun."

Blabbermouth: There's also a pedigree to uphold, right? SADUS was always known for being one of the most technical bands around, so now it's a matter of bringing it into the modern era.

Jon: "That was always in the back of our heads. It wasn't our main focus because the main focus was that the songs had to be great. People have to resonate with them and communicate with them. The message needs to be there. So, you can't really go, 'Alright. I want to play this as technical as possible.' Back when we did 'Illusions' and 'Swallowed [In Black]', we were stoked about being technical. It was something we had to play for a month straight to get it down. That's how we did it. We were younger. We were still in high school or our early 20s. We liked that part of pushing the limits. I think now we still have to keep our name to what we are. It's in our blood because we've done it for so long. Even if we write riffs that sound technical but, for us, we're writing riffs. [Laughs] We were throwing it out there and saying, 'This is what we do and it's fun.' That was the main thing. Once you get into, 'Nobody is going to like this.' You're done. You can't think this way. You have to think, 'I love this thing. Let's see what people think.'"

Blabbermouth: You're working with (A&R man) Monte Conner again for Nuclear Blast Records, who originally signed you to Roadrunner Records. How did that come about?

Jon: "Oh yeah. It's funny — I did an interview a while back and Darren read it. He said, 'You totally got it wrong. You said Juan sent Monte the songs. It was me! I was talking to Monte.' I said, 'Hey! I'm the drummer, dude.' But that was cool. Darren had kept in contact with Monte when we were writing stuff, just saying, 'Hey, we have stuff going on if you'd be interested.' That's how it went down. It's funny that we're working with Monte, even though Roadrunner was a bad break-up for us. We made three strong albums for them, and all of a sudden, everything changed. It wasn't us. The whole music outlook changed. You have to ride those waves and stick to your guns and hop in later."

Blabbermouth: You stuck out quite a bit on Roadrunner's roster between DEICIDE, OBITUARY, SEPULTURA and all of their death metal bands. And as it goes with SADUS, you weren't a death metal band or thrash band.

Jon: "It hurt us a lot. That's my quote: Being who we are hurts so much. People would go, 'Okay. This is a festival. Let's put all death metal bands on it. Not SADUS. They're thrash-death.' Then it was, 'Oh, it's a thrash metal festival. We can't do SADUS. They're death-thrash.' We were always wondering why we were left out!' [Laughs] Then, eventually, things changed in the mid-'90s, then we got experimental."

Blabbermouth: What will be your approach for live shows?

Jon: "We have three festivals booked for next year. We have Alcatraz, Brutal Assault and Bloodstock Open Air — they're all in August. We're going to do those three and try to book something before or after that and make a little run. As we speak, our old manager is putting stuff together. We have to keep the ball rolling. It's a good thing now. We're striking while the iron is hot. I think the old style of thrash metal is really coming back. I think we're going to ride that wave a little bit. We don't know any other way. We experimented and had a natural approach in the studio. We don't try to make it where we're all trigger-happy and everything is compressed. That's totally another question. A lot of the newer stuff I'm not happy with. I wouldn't say I like where it's going right now. But I have heard some promising stuff. You still hear real drums. You still hear real music coming out of there that doesn't sound so fine-tuned to where you're like, 'These guys aren't going to sound the same live.'"

Blabbermouth: You talk about natural production jobs and one that sticks out is "Elements Of Anger", which is perhaps your most experimental and was recorded with the great Scott Burns.

Jon: "We didn't play to a click. The first four albums didn't have a click. We played natural — we had everyone in the same room. They'd re-record guitars, but still, it was a live feel when you'd get the drum sounds. Steve got Scott out of retirement and said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'I don't know…' Steve was persistent. We flew him out to California and gave it a whirl. That album is very organic. A lot of people don't like it because of the keyboards. Steve was inventive with those things, but we were open about it. I brought my chimes in, my bells. We were almost like RUSH!"

Blabbermouth: That album ended the first era of SADUS, and now here we are today, 26 years later, with an album people are excited about. How does that make you feel?

Jon: "It makes me feel like the next one will be easier on us to decide where we're going to go because people are digging it. We just wanted to do some stuff. This is way more than what we thought was going to happen. That's the muscle behind it, knowing, 'You guys can do this. People are going to like it.' If you stick to your guns, things will roll out the way you want them to."

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