Some old-school northeast Ohio heavy metal has been getting some international attention. Wretch, which started in the Mahoning Valley 30 years ago, was invited to perform at the Up the Hammers music festival in Athens, Greece, in October. Around the same time, the band signed a deal to release its next two albums through the German label Pure Steel Records.
Guitar player Michael Stephenson, a Howland native who now lives in Dayton, said the two events occurring at the same time was a coincidence.
“Up the Hammers, every year they have bands from all over the world come and play,” he said. “Last year they had a band from Cleveland, Shok Paris. The contacted Bill Peters (founder of the Cleveland metal label Auburn Records) and asked if he had anyone on the roster willing to come over.”
Wretch – Ron Emig, vocals; Nick Giannakos and Stephenson, guitars; Tim Frederick, bass; and Evan Gottschalk, drums – definitely was interested in playing.
“It was Greece,” Giannakos of Howland said. “I’m Greek, so it was cool. I was there when I was a kid, like 6 years old, and I don’t remember a thing about it, so it was great to go back, play some music and see the sights.”
Wretch is no stranger to international festivals. In 2007, the band played Germany’s Headbanger Open Air Festival in 2007, and the song the group wrote for that appearance, “Make This Garden Burn,” has become the theme song of the festival and is played between acts.
“That song gets played 50, 60 times,” Stephenson said. “It gets hammered in their heads.”
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise then that one of the bands in Greece did a cover of “Make This Garden Burn” during its set. Giannakos said he was surprised by how many fans overseas knew the band’s music, especially at the smaller shows Wretch played the day before and the day after the Saturday festival appearance.
“People were asking us to play songs off the ‘Reborn’ CD,” Giannakos said. “Wow, that’s crazy, they know the stuff and it’s halfway around the world.”
Since reforming about a decade ago, Wretch has released two albums on Auburn Records. An invitation to record a song for an Auburn compilation album went so well, that it led to the full-album releases, Giannakos said. He has been with the band since the beginning, and even though most of the guys were from the Warren, Howland and Niles originally, the played band most of its shows in the Cleveland area.
“Around here, the kind of music we play is just not that accepted,” he said.
The group moved to Los Angeles to chase fame in the late-’80s before splintering. Stephenson played with Giannakos and some of the others in Castle Black from ’89 until ’93-’94, and he joined Wretch in 2011. Frederick lives in Warren, Gottschalk is in East Palestine and Emig lives in North Royalton.
It was the organizers of Up the Hammers that suggested Wretch contact the German record label.
“They told us, ‘Your music is exactly what they have on their label’,” Stephenson said, referring to the band’s ’80s power metal sound in the vein of acts like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Accept.
Pure Steel was familiar with the band’s music from the Auburn releases and offered the group a two-album deal.
Wretch hopes to have the first record out in time to pursue some gigs on next summer’s European festival circuit, depending upon what they can work out around their day jobs.
“We want to start recording in the next month and be done sometime in January, then start mixing and mastering,” Giannakos said. “Really it’s up to the label. We want to have our end done by February … We’re in a hurry to get this done. They’re already booking for the festivals that are coming next summer now. We’re in the process of hooking up with booking agencies, trying to find one we can work with and get some small tour package together.”