John Bush – vocals

Mike Orlando – guitar

Phil Demmel – guitar

Jack Gibson – bass

Jason Bittner – drums


With veteran musicians from such legendary bands as Anthrax, Armored Saint, Adrenaline Mob, Machine Head, Overkill, Exodus, and Shadows Fall, it’s hard not to think of Category 7 as a supergroup.

“I think we’re pretty super,” jokes guitarist Phil Demmel, who has earned mega-metal cred over the decades as a member of Machine Head, Vio-Lence, Kerry King, and has also played as a fill-in road guitarist for Slayer, Lamb of God, Overkill, and others. “Really, I feel like this is a band, not a side project. And I feel like we have written this incredible piece of music, and we’re not done. I’m so proud of the way this came together and the people who were involved. And I think we all feel super positive about this and what else we can do with it going forward.”

The songs on the band’s self-titled debut speak for themselves. As crushing and confrontational as an armed rebellion, as rhythmically thunderous as a storm of golf ball-sized hail, and as fiercely melodic as infectious riffs and aggressive vocals can be, Category 7 is a new breed of metal that lives up to the storied histories of its members. They’re as heavy as a battleship, yet the songs are meticulously structured, skillfully balancing thrash beats, New Wave of British Heavy Metal rhythms, punk metal attitude, blistering and ferocious dual guitar work, and scar-inflicting vocals.

“It’s all about big verses and big songs, and it has a lot of the elements we’ve explored in our other bands,” explains guitarist and main songwriter Mike Orlando (Adrenaline Mob, Sonic Universe, Noturnall).

Take the upbeat album opener “In Stitches,” which starts with piledriving double-bass drums, a feral thrash passage, and a fiery lead before toning down just enough for the distinctive vocals to stand out.

“It gets heavy, it’s thrashy at times, but it opens up in the verses, and then the double-bass drums come in and knock you off your chair, but in a great way,” Orlando says.

“Land I Used to Love” is slightly slower and more melodic, with guitar chords that complement the harmonized vocals and a searing guitar fill over the chorus that ups the temperature on the molten riffage. Then there’s the propulsive, piledriver “Exhausted,” which features blazing guitar licks, a punchy riff, and hammering thrash beats that climax with another unforgettable chorus.

The album closes with the explosive eight-minute instrumental, “Etter Stormen,” in which Orlando and Demmel engage in a contest of dueling guitar leads over volleys of battering beats and riffs that see-saw between pounding metal and whiplash-inducing thrash.

Category 7, named after the numerical designation for the most powerful wind storms, came together from a batch of musicians who strived to play music they loved and weren’t hearing elsewhere, and wanted to do so with bandmates they enjoyed being with. Orlando and Demmel became friends after taking part in a batch of tributes to the late Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads. The seeds of Category 7 were then cemented one night a couple years later when Orlando went to hang out at the Clifton, New Jersey metal club Dingbatz as Demmel was filling in on lead guitar for Overkill, which also featured Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner.

“We were hanging out and tearing it up, and between beers we were like, ‘Hey, we need to do something,’” recalls Demmel. “We need to write some new music. We’ve got three-fifths of a band here. Let’s get together and do some songs.”

Since Overkill was practicing in New Jersey for a couple days before launching a tour, Demmel and Bittner were hanging out in the area. So, the day after the Dingbatz conversation, the guitarist got back in touch with Orlando, and the two decided to get together after the show and jam to see if their playing styles meshed.

“We just started throwing around some riffs, and it was pretty incredible, but different,” Orlando says. “We immediately clicked together as writers. And to me, it was such a joy because the bands I have been in have always been just one guitar player. I never had a partner. So, to have a dude I liked, who plays really well, to bounce ideas around with was freaking awesome.”

“Mike had this idea of doing stuff that was a little more mainstream than the heavier stuff that I’ve done. But we didn’t want anything to sound contrived,” adds Demmel. “So, the first thing we did had all these different parts and crazy tempos and it kind of sounded like Racer-X-meets-Pantera. But we liked it and had fun doing it, so it was a great start.”

Adds Bittner: “The funniest part about that was me and Phil were rehearsing for Overkill in New Jersey, and I had no idea I was two rooms over from you writing this song. So, after we practiced for five hours you guys worked on a song for another two hours. I couldn’t believe that. And I went, ‘Okay, next time you guys do something, count me in.’”

As a staple of the Bay Area thrash scene, Exodus bassist Jack Gibson was the natural choice to expand Category 7, and he was intrigued by the idea of stepping into a new pair of shoes. “When I first heard the song they did, I really liked that it was heavy and melodic, which is very different than the stuff I play with Exodus, which is very rhythmic and chromatic.”

By far, the greatest challenge for Category 7 was finding the right singer. Not that the members couldn’t agree on who they wanted. They all wanted Armored Saint and ex-Anthrax vocalist John Bush; there wasn’t even a second option. But getting him to agree to join the band was an exercise in patience and persuasion. When he was invited to join Category 7, Bush wanted to hear the band’s music. But the only song they had recorded was the Racer-X-meets-Pantera-style instrumental, which they feared wasn’t going to vibe with Bush’s interest or ability. So, they put a couple more demos together, which were far more melodic, and they sent them to Bush, then waited on tenterhooks for him to get back to them.

“I listened to the music they sent me, and I was like, “Wow, this is pretty scathing stuff,’” Bush recalls. “It’s awesome, but the question was, what could I do with it vocally that would fit? As Jason said, ‘These guys are riff maniacs.’ So, I wasn’t totally sure right away that I was the right guy for it. But I started tinkering around with it and writing, and, to my satisfaction, everything came out relatively easy.”

With Bush onboard, Category 7 went into overdrive. Now that they had a vocalist locked in, they were able to structure the songs to work with his melodic vocal style. Orlando worked separately and then together, assembling dynamic riffs and rhythms that peaked in complexity and heaviness during the intros, midsections and outros, and settled into a sparser, more melodic pocket for the verses and choruses.

“There was a cognizant effort to give the verses some space and to let John create his vocal melodies for them and the choruses,” Demmel says. “Because he’s the ‘Bush hooks man.’”

Category 7 quickly realized the best way for Orlando and Demmel to combine their considerable talents as songwriters was for Orlando to write the skeletons for the tunes and have Demmel contribute fills, middle eight sections and leads. For Orlando, writing for the band became far easier once he had a vocalist in mind for his songs.

“When John Bush entered the picture, I knew who I was writing for and that helped me immensely,” he says. “I wasn’t just writing for the sake of writing; I was writing parts specifically for John Bush to sing. That was great for me not only because gave me a goal to strive for, but because, as a fan of John Bush’s vocals for decades in Armored Saint and Anthrax, it was exciting to know he was gonna be on these songs.”

Even though Category 7 purposely wrote songs that gave Bush the room he needed to make the material shine, they stopped short of writing together anything that sounded like the bands Bush was best known for. That left Bush filtering through the complex rhythms and sometimes unconventional melodies to find the right spots in which to sing and the tone for those passages. While the work was sometimes challenging, it was equally rewarding and imbued songs like “Land I Used to Love,” “Exhausted,” and “Through Pink Eyes,” with urgency and immediacy.

“Working on these songs opened up a big part of my brain to just be real creative,” Bush says. “It all came out sounding very fresh and new. And it was really liberating for me because I was able to open up a whole new door for myself. Because working with these guys was just different than what I’ve done before because they’re different people and the way they write, the way they create, and the way they play is new for me. And that compelled me to gravitate to what they were doing, which created this fresh sound that’s unlike anything I’ve done or heard.”

Bush also entered new territory with his lyrics. While he has addressed current events and the downfall of society in the past, with Category 7 he wrote about the desperation that pervades society and the destructive divide that has evolved and separated people for decades but is now worse than ever. As much as anything, Bush wanted songs like “White Flags & Bayonets,” “In Stitches,” and “Land I Used to Love” to inspire thought while being open to interpretation.

“I just say it’s social commentary, man,” Bush says “There’s a slew of information there to choose from and it’s all in there. Obviously, every single day you could wake up and check out the news and have conversations with people and friends and feel a lot of the way I did when I was writing these songs. So, I just ran with that. But there’s a certain ambiguity to some of the lyrics because I don’t want to spell out exactly what these songs are about because they could be about a lot of things. And I want people to use their imagination. I want to touch on all these particular topics and scenarios that feel very current without telling people what they need to think.”

Category 7 started working together on March 2023. During the months that followed, Orlando and Demmel wrote on a regular basis, and during the pre-production stage, Bittner recorded drums to the tracks at his home studio. When he sent them back to the guitarists, they would send him the next batch of songs to work on. Not only did Bittner bring on the kind of technical drum skills he has exhibited in Shadows Fall and Overkill, he went above and beyond, injecting a tumbling, barreling feel into the variegated songs.

Jason is not only technically incredible, his parts are musical, and his feel is musical,” Orlando says. “He’s the ideal drummer for this band because he exudes this fire and passion which I love because that’s the only way I play guitar.”

Bush started recording his vocals after Orlando, Bittner, and Gibson laid down all their tracks at Orlando’s recording facility, Sonic Stomp Studios, where he produced, engineered, mixed & mastered the album. With the songs in their final form, it was just a matter of fine-tuning a mix here or overdubbing a part there. And Orlando had almost as much fun finishing the album as he did writing it.

“One thing I love to do is to be able to take the guitar player hat off and become the producer and studio guy,” he says. “And it was easy with these guys because we all had the same vision, and we were so prepared. But it took a little bit of tinkering because I wanted this album to sound big – not in the sense of overly produced but big in a way that it knocks you out of your shoes and off your feet. And we all wanted the same thing, so there was no conflict whatsoever.”

In the end, Category 7 have created an album that is fresh and familiar. The mixture of NWOBHM, thrash, punk-metal and traditional metal is cohesive and sonically rewarding, establishing an eclectic musical backdrop for Bush’s instantly identifiable vocals. At the same time, the diversity of styles creates its own template that’s ideal for headbanging, moshing, and voluble sing-alongs.

“I think the sound of this band really comes down to the odd connection that all of us have,” Bittner says. “We’ve known each other for years as friends and peers. And we’ve all looked up to each other and know that one day we’d have to work together. It’s taken almost two decades for that to happen, but lo-and-behold, once it did there was no stopping us.”

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