By 1987, heavy metal had firmly established its relationship with the occult. From Black Sabbath to Venom and beyond, the dark side was ripe for plundering. The emergence of the thrash, death and black metal movements was conjuring all manner of blasphemous and unsettling new music, and censorious bell-ends the world over were routinely getting their collective undergarments in a twist. It was, it has to be said, great fun.
Among the less-celebrated contributors to metal’s malevolent evolution were German upstarts Warlock. Led by Doro Pesch, the melodic speed metal crew had steadily built a reputation in Europe, releasing three well-received albums and accruing a sizeable, dedicated following. The band’s debut, Burning The Witches, certainly focused on occult themes, but it would be their fourth album and major label breakthrough, 1987’s Triumph And Agony, that would place Doro in the heart of some apparently genuine supernatural mischief.
“I went to New York City to write the record, with our producer Joel Balin. He was older than me but we hit it off right away, and he showed me all the clubs and it was awesome. One night he asked if I wanted to go another club, but I really don’t drink much, and I said maybe we could jam a little bit instead? So we went to his place, and had a jam, and then he asked me if I’d ever played with a Ouija board.”
Doro cheerfully admits that, as a teenager, she was instinctively curious and fascinated with anything that seemed dark or spooky. Given the opportunity to dabble with the occult in the company of her new creative partner, she could hardly resist.
“I’d heard about it, but I’d never done it. It was totally banned in Germany at that time, and for good reason I would say! Ha ha!” she grins. “We played it every single night and all kinds of shit happened. The apartment nearly burned down. One night, suddenly, the Ouija board said ‘piano’. So I asked Joey to ask the spirit to play something on the piano. He was reluctant but he did, and it all felt spookier and spookier. Then, suddenly, there was a guitar hanging on the wall, and out came this little chord! I totally freaked out. I was running out of the apartment, screaming! Ha ha! I had to move out of the apartment. It was full of weird energy and I couldn’t sleep there anymore!”
From that moment, Doro drew a line in the sand and vowed to have no further attempts to contact the spirit realm. However, there was still a heavy metal album to be made, and her hair-raising brush with ghostly forces would inevitably have an impact on Triumph And Agony. One of the album’s heaviest and most intense songs, Touch Of Evil, tells the tale of some unnamed and possibly undead villain, lurking in the shadows with bloody murder on his mind.
“Yes, it was influenced by the ouija board, that whole experience,” Doro notes. “How could it not be? It was just so metal! Ha ha! So we had the demons in Metal Tango, we had Touch Of Evil, we had the magic of the Warlock, it was all on the darker side. I changed my mind about that stuff after Triumph And Agony, and became more positive, with positive energy, but back then I was flirting with that stuff. We wanted the record to be fucking heavy, you know?”
Triumph And Agony is an album full of gleaming, bombastic metal anthems, ranging from singalong opener (and hit single) All We Are through to the ultimate tear-jerker, power ballad Für Immer. For two specific reasons, however, Touch Of Evil stands out as easily the most thunderous and unstoppable song on the whole record. Firstly, Doro absolutely screams her head off, particularly toward the end of the track, when she sounds genuinely possessed buy something unpleasant.
“I wanted to write something really, really powerful. We were writing it and I felt that I really wanted to scream my heart out, really belt it out like never before. Making the track was so good, because I didn’t feel any pressure. The record company had heard the demos and they loved it all, and no one was asking us to be radio-friendly, like they had on previous albums. So we could just do whatever we wanted and screaming like a maniac felt right!”
Meanwhile, in the song’s engine room, a certified legend of hard rock was spinning sticks and kicking up one hell of a racket. As Doro explains, it was the start of a recording session she would never forget.
“I told my manager, ‘We have this song, Touch Of Evil, and I think it’s really heavy, really mean and dark and evil, so I need really powerful players on it, so I can really scream my ass off!’” she recalls. “He said, ‘I have somebody in mind!’ He wouldn’t tell me who it was, it was a surprise, and the next morning I came into the studio at 11, and to my surprise it was Cozy Powell! He said, ‘I hear you need some power!’ I said, ‘Yeah, some real manly power!’ Ha ha!”
Best known as the powerhouse behind Rainbow, most notably during Ronnie James Dio’s tenure with the band and classic albums Rising and Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll, Cozy Powell (who passed away in 1998) was the perfect man for this job. Doro admits she was ever-so-slightly starstruck, but that the subsequent session surpassed all expectations.
“Cozy, he played Touch Of Evil and we all got scared!” Doro laughs. “When he played, the room was shaking and it went straight into your heart. It was like a rollercoaster, pinning you back in your seat. He was really nice too, really polite! I wish we’d had a video camera at the time. He was the best drummer I’ve ever seen in the flesh.”
With Cozy’s drums committed to tape, Doro set about delivering the wild and extreme vocal performance that she felt was necessary to make Touch Of Evil truly, you know, evil. Unfortunately, it turns out that you sometimes get exactly what you ask for.
“I went into my recording room to do the vocals. It had a tiny little window, so you could always see if it was daylight or night outside. I work best at night, so I was recording Touch Of Evil and really screaming my ass off, over and over. The headphones were always blowing up, because I had it playing so loud. But when I did the last scream that I do in that song, and it’s an insane scream, suddenly a ball of lightning ripped into the studio through the window. It came in, went around the room, and went back out. I was standing in the middle and it didn’t hit me, thank god, because everybody said I would’ve died if it had. Of course, then everybody got really scared. The recording was so intense and powerful. Like, ‘What did we do?’ Ha ha!
“When we came back to the studio, everybody was afraid to listen to it again, in case something else blew up! But the take was a keeper. When we played T&A live for the first time in its entirety, I thought that opening with Touch of Evil is a good idea because it sets the right mood!”
Released in September 1987, Triumph And Agony was a huge success for Warlock, not least due to videos for All We Are and Für Immer securing regular rotation on then flourishing MTV. Two years later, Warlock would have to relinquish their name in a legal battle with a former manager, but Doro began performing under her own name and has barely paused for breath since; deftly weathering the 90s with dignity intact, and now firmly back at the forefront of the old-school metal world. Triumph And Agony remains her most beloved album, however, and in 2017 Doro and her band began to perform the record in its entirety for the first time, in celebration of its 30th anniversary. Captured at shows at Sweden Rock Festival in 2017 and in Spain the following year, new album Triumph And Agony – Live brings a new level of power to those classic songs, Touch Of Evil (now promoted to show opener!) included.
“Sweden Rock was the very first show for the anniversary,” Doro concludes. “Everything seemed perfect. It felt like it all happened yesterday, not way back in 1987. There’s so much energy in the songs, especially things like Touch Of Evil. We know the album has a special place in the hearts of the diehard fans. Triumph And Agony was the stepping stone to something great. Everything fell into place. It was a great time for metal, with Headbangers Ball on TV and so many great bands around. But don’t forget that metal is in great shape now, too!”
Triumph And Agony – Live is out now via Napalm