The Heavy-Metal High of Katon W. De Pena
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because heavy metal abides.
By Laina Dawes
Katon W. De Pena stands out for two reasons.
First, the 50-year-old singer of legendary thrash-metal band Hirax has boundless energy and a penchant for old-school studded leather cuffs and biker vests. Second, his band, founded in 1982, is still going strong, touring extensively and competing with younger, more musically dexterous bands. He may not look like your stereotypical metalhead, but his authentic intensity and killer voice capture the essence of what every metal fan wants. And not just local fans. If you check out any of Hirax’s online sites, the adulation from their South American fans is insane. Capital “I” insane.
Their fifth release, Immortal Legacy (just out this past February), is arguably their best album to date. Aside from a hiatus between 1989 and 2000, Hirax has always been a well-respected, if not commercially viable, group. Yet the quartet has watched their contemporaries like Metallica, Exodus and Testament move on to more lucrative pastures.
“The Bay Area in the 1980s had no shortage of local and visiting thrash bands, which was a blessing and a curse. The downside was that some very exciting bands never got their due, including Hirax,” says Alex Skolnick, guitarist for Testament, which also emerged from the ’80s Bay Area scene.
De Pena isn’t complaining about being in a working, touring band. ”If you start getting popular, you have to compromise,” he explains. “The money doesn’t mean that much to me, because I like my lifestyle — I don’t need a bunch of stuff. The only thing I want to do is help people, and I think that the music is a very good start.”
De Pena’s passion comes through in his captivating stage presence. “Hirax have always been a significant band,” Revolver magazine’s Greg Pratt argues. “Because even if you hadn’t heard them, you were aware of this band with the super-enthusiastic lead singer.”
De Pena is also known for his strong and unusually soulful vibrato. When we note that other metal singers of his generation have given up hitting those demanding high notes, he begins with, “Don’t get me wrong — I like to party. [But] I realized early on that I wanted my voice to be as much of an attack as possible.” As he gets older, he has to pay more attention to his health to keep that instrument in tune. He has said that one of the best exercise regimes he has is walking with his wife near their Los Angeles home.
We are a working-class band. We are all about the fans…
“I wouldn’t say I’m perfect, [but] I do believe in drinking a lot of water, getting exercise and, especially when we are on tour, getting a lot of rest.” he says. “I believe that you have to live every day to its finest, but you have to think about your future.”
He may be planning for the future, butImmortal Legacy is focused on De Pena’s passion for ancient history, mostly gathered from the places they’ve played, especially in South America. When asked why South America, which isn’t a usual hot spot for touring musicians, is such a frequent stop for Hirax, De Pena responds that the region understands their work ethic and appreciates it. “We are a working-class band. We are all about the fans — when they go to a show they want to have the best experience possible. South America is one of those territories where people work very hard — five, six, seven days a week — and so when they go to a concert, they want to have fun.”
Which is exactly what we’re having while listening to Hirax’s whole record on stream .
And for those who want to see before they believe? Watch the man with the vocal chops show you how it’s done.
- Laina Dawes, OZY Author Contact Laina Dawes