In August 2013, Ol Drake hit breaking point. He’d been the guitarist of thrash metal darlings Evile for 14 years – the only job he’d ever known – and the band had just returned from a 20,000-mile round trip to Taiwan. The odyssey to perform at Formoz Festival in the capital, Taipei, had taken five days – an entire working week, and time spent apart from friends and family. They came away from the experience about £20 richer.
“Everything just screamed, ‘This isn’t going anywhere!’” Ol remembers today. “We were putting so much effort into everything and not making any money. [I thought], ‘How much longer can we be the band that’s just about to make that step up and properly go pro?’”
Less than a month after Evile’s first-ever Asian gig, in came the press release: Ol had quit. The industry he’d dreamed of excelling in since he was 16 had chewed him up and spat him out, rewarding more than a decade of graft with financial instability. Burned out, he settled down with his new partner, Natalie, and started a job as a textiles researcher. Later, they welcomed a daughter. It seemed an unceremonious end to the career of a musician who’d recently been hailed as a national thrash saviour, but personally it was a much-needed and positive change of scene. “It was good to get away and do normal things, even though it sounds like the least attractive thing in the world,” he admits.
Ol was still a schoolboy when, in 1999, he joined the band that would become Evile. His older brother, frontman Matt Drake, had been jamming with drummer Ben Carter in the music room at school. The fact that Ol could only play Metallica songs set the trajectory; on recruiting bassist Mike Alexander, the quartet became a tribute act, at a time when thrash couldn’t have been less fashionable. Genre leaders Metallica and Megadeth had long since abandoned the style; others such as Death Angel, Dark Angel and Exodus had broken up.
Says Ol, “Thrash was a joke: ‘Anything that isn’t Metallica isn’t worth listening to.’ That’s another reason we didn’t write our own music; it seemed redundant. The only reason we started [writing] was because when people clapped after our gigs, we thought, ‘They’re not clapping us, really; they’re clapping Metallica. We need to write our own stuff!’”
By 2004, Evile had composed and recorded an EP. Concurrently, a buzz started emerging from the US: there were other young thrash bands out there! And the likes of Municipal Waste and Toxic Holocaust weren’t just accruing underground hype – they’d soon ink deals with prestigious labels such as Relapse and Earache.
“I remember hearing about Municipal Waste and thinking, ‘Thank fuck someone else is doing this as well so we don’t look stupid!’” Ol laughs.
A set at Bloodstock 2006 led to Evile becoming the biggest British name in the growing revival, as they were swept up by Earache founder Digby Pearson the next day. The band jokingly asked if Master Of Puppets producer Flemming Rasmussen could man the dials on their debut album; after receiving a surprise OK, they were flown to Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“It was daunting. There were all the Metallica gold discs. We were playing through the desk …Puppets and Ride The Lightning were recorded on; that was freaky enough, but Flemming, if I messed up a guitar part, would go, ‘James wouldn’t have done that!’”
Evile returned from Denmark with Enter The Grave: a thrash throwback that revitalised the frantic riffs and Hetfieldian barks of the Bay Area heyday.
“When it came out, one magazine said we were carrying the genre’s revival on our shoulders,” recalls Ol.
It set the precedent for a rebirth of the UK scene, as upstarts such as Savage Messiah and Shrapnel exploded (see Metal Thrashing Mad, p.79). Even contemporaries such as Gama Bomb suddenly attained bigger record deals after its release.
However, the subsequent half-decade demolished Ol. While touring Sweden in October 2009, bassist Mike passed away as a result of a pulmonary embolism; the band had barely been grieving a month when a UK tour was announced. The following year, they played countless shows, but struck a glass ceiling when a lack of income meant they couldn’t graduate to more high-profile treks. The dismal remuneration from travelling to Taiwan proved to be the last straw.
After leaving, Ol released a solo album called Old Rake – with the proviso he’d never do a single gig to support it. From 2015 to 2018, he only touched his guitar once, to play a song for his daughter. His ex-bandmates replaced him with Fallen Fate’s Piers Donno-Fuller but, over five years, they barely wrote a thing. It wasn’t working out.
“I think Matt wanted to concentrate on getting the band tight over new material,” Ol posits. “I think Piers got frustrated about that. I spoke to Matt and I joked, ‘Give me a call, then.’ After that, I genuinely thought, ‘Wait… why not?’”
With family and a stable job now supporting him, Ol felt confident about going back to Evile. His return was confirmed in April 2018 and, by July the following year, he’d written enough riffs for a new album. All he needed was Matt’s lyrics. “It was a year of waiting and there was nothing,” says Ol. “I was frustrated but it was understandable – he just didn’t have the time anymore.”
The elder Drake had taken a day job at Kirklees Council but was also enduring a string of health scares. In recent years Matt had battled breathing problems, unyielding lethargy and, scariest of all, signs of a pulmonary embolism – the same thing that had killed Mike. “As soon as I heard those words, I dropped and I thought, ‘Will I ever see my kids again?’” he told ExaminerLive in 2019.
Matt officially stepped down in 2020 – a decision that improved his health and his relationship with Ol: “When Matt and I aren’t in Evile, we get along better, because we’re just brothers talking about films and stuff,” says Ol. “I speak to him every day.”
Ol hired Riptide’s Adam Smith – a friend of drummer Ben’s – as rhythm guitarist, while he fell into the vocalist role after demoing lyric ideas. “I know what metal fans are like and they don’t want a new singer,” he explains, “so we thought the path of least resistance would be a familiar face singing.”
Evile are returning with Hell Unleashed, a blistering maelstrom that exudes rejuvenation. Just as ferocious as Enter The Grave, riffs thunderously swirl, while a groove monster such as Incarcerated would feel at home on South Of Heaven. Ol’s undisciplined roars inject a brutish edge à la Sepultura, as he seethes about typically metal themes of zombies, Satan and The Thing. It’s a generic comeback – but that’s precisely the point. “This is my first effort, so I’m not going to be Shakespeare,” he grins.
As for Ol, the blossoming frontman couldn’t be further from the vexation that drove him away eight years ago, and the future of Evile is in safe hands. “I started writing the next album before this one was even finished,” he chuckles happily. “New material will probably start in late 2021.”
Welcome back, Evile.