FAIRBANKS — Set the wayback machine to 1978 and Fairbanks’ Solstice Festival. On stage is Demon, a band of brothers — literally, Chris, David and Eric Resch — bombarding the audience with flash bombs, Gibson Flying V guitars, stacks of amps and a blistering metal attack.
“I’ll never forget looking out at the faces of the Alaska hippies,” recalled David Resch during a phone interview from Seattle. “They just sat there stunned in amazement watching us.”
That was just the beginning for the local metal band that modeled its sound after Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, UFO and many of the progressive rock bands of the era. Now, some 30-plus years later, the group, which became a big player on the 1980s Los Angeles metal scene and released three albums for Metal Blade Records, is reforming following the reissue of those albums. It is considering a new album and looking to arrange a homecoming concert in Fairbanks.
“They were the godfathers of metal here in Fairbanks. They were it,” said Glen Anderson, morning host on X-Rock radio and New Northwest Broadcasters operations manager. “It would be great to have them back together.”
In the beginning
According to Anderson, Fairbanks in the 1970s had a wide variety of bands spanning rock, country, folk and “hippie music.” Many of those acts — local and national — performed at the Upper Limits, a Second Avenue all-ages night club owned by the Resch brothers’ parents that operated until the late-1970s. The club held a restaurant where 11- and 12-year-old brothers Chris and David made burgers and pizza. They also carefully observed the musicians.
“We knew all the bands and just grew up around bands. We were doomed to pursue that path in life,” Resch said with a laugh. “It was a cool place.”
With black leather jackets, jeans and plenty of attitude, the boys — Chris on vocals, David on guitar and Eric on bass, with Kevin Fitzgerald on drums — started Demon in 1977. They lived for the music.
“Chris and David worked for me at the Comic Shop during the day, did the band at night. They were really serious about it,” recalled artist David Mollett, who owned the Comic Shop at the time, an outlet for records and comic books. “ There were probably more hippie bands around in those days than metal, but metal was a real thing in those days. They really went for it.”
Within just a couple years, Fairbanks was too small for the band’s aspirations. With their parents’ support, Eric dropped out of school (as did Fitzgerald) and in 1980 Demon moved to Los Angeles to try its luck.
“It was pretty much the only decision to make. We felt we’d gone as far as we could in Fairbanks,” Resch said. “We realized we wanted to do an album and stop playing other people’s songs, and Fairbanks at the time wasn’t the place to do that. We had to get out of Fairbanks and pursue our dream.”
The LA scene
“We had an old, beat up Ford Econoline van. Eric dropped out of high school, we loaded up all the amps, quit our jobs and drove the Alcan in the winter. We drove to L.A. where we’d never been with little money but within two years got a record deal with Metal Blade,” Resch recalled.
But it wasn’t as easy it sounds. Everyone worked day jobs to make ends meet, and the band played less than- primetime shows at LA’s rock clubs, including the Whiskey A Go Go, Troubadour and Roxy Theater.
Yet the determination paid off, and it wasn’t long before the band, which changed its name to Pandemonium after learning about an English band called Demon, developed a following, began playing choice gigs and landed the record deal.
“We weren’t really a spandex band. We tended to wear more like black leather jackets and stuff like that,” Resch said. “Even though we were part of the ’80s LA scene, which has gotten that tag of being hair bands, we were always influenced by ’70s bands. We had a much heavier sound.”
Almost making it big
The success of glam bands like Poison, Warrant and Guns N’ Roses eluded Pandemonium. Even after releasing three albums, headlining major concerts and even being flown up to Anchorage to open for the Scorpions, then one of the biggest metal bands in the world, Pandemonium never made it over the top. They can, however, state proudly that on three occasions Metallica opened for Pandemonium.
“At one Troubadour show we had like 200 fans show up,” Resch said. “They had 17.”
Thinking that a move toward the glam scene might turn the tables, Resch admitted that at one juncture the band sported make-up and poufy hair, even though it wasn’t to their liking.
“We hated it. We just really hated it,” he said. “We didn’t want to be part of the MTV power ballad hair spray scene.”
“I think that was one of the problems. A lot of metal bands from the early ’80s kind of succumbed to pop rock hair band culture,” Anderson said. “But Pandemonium never did. It might have been their biggest downfall. … They had everything going for them. They had the flash, the panache and pizzazz. What they didn’t do was the pop, and it was by design. It wasn’t like they were a band that couldn’t do that, they elected not to,” he said. “But it was the reason they were who they were, and you’ve got to respect that.”
The attempt to go with the crowd was short-lived, Resch said. “We made a conscious decision in 1986 to ditch the make-up, ditch the hair spray and go back to jeans and leather jackets and really heavy-up our sound and be true to what we grew up loving, which was Black Sabbath,” Resch added. “You have to play the music that you like.”
Calling it quits
An added continuous difficulty for the band was a constant rotation of drummers. (Fitzgerald left after the first album, eventually joining LA punker The Circle Jerks.) Just as the band was preparing for a big tour in support of “The Kill,” its third and probably most well-conceived album, the drummer quit.
Resch said they had had enough.
“And we were missing Alaska. Living in LA for 10 years, you get so sick of 80 degree weather and palm trees every day,” he said. “We needed a change and broke up the band in 1989.”
David and Eric moved to Seattle where they’ve played in various bands over the years. Chris returned to Fairbanks.
Resch said that, over the years, there had been discussions about re-forming the band. New songs were composed and Chris was supposed to fly to Seattle for a recording session but died suddenly in August 2007.
Now, with the reissuing of the band’s catalog on Retrospect Records and a growing revival for ’80s metal in Europe, plus an invitation to perform at several festivals, Pandemonium is coming back. Resch is excited at the prospect though admitted it will be hard without Chris, who was the lead singer.
“We’ll have to play as a power trio now,” he said. “It won’t be the same, but we can do it.”
Anderson thinks the band may even find more success now than in the ‘80s — as long as the music stays true to its origin.
“I hope they don’t change their sound and come back out and do something new. I hope what they do is what they did, because they were really good at what they did,” Anderson said. “We don’t need a 2011 version of Pandemonium. We want the Pandemonium.”—Glenn BurnSilver
(This article is the Sundays cover feature in the July 17, 2011 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.)