- Test Press limited to 20 copies with a xeroxed cover.
- 14 copies for sale to the public.
- The actual release will be out sometime in 2023.
- Tracks 1-3: Regiments of Death Demo 1985
- Track 4: Regiments of Death outtake completed in 2008
- Track 5: 2nd or 3rd rehearsal 1984
- Tracks 6-7: No Submission Demo 1986
- Tracks 8-9: Live 1986
(Bio by J. Campbell)
Though they were a favorite around their hometown of Austin and nearby San Antonio, Militia received little attention outside of Texas during their short-lived existence from 1984-1986. But through the years, the well-deserved praise garnered by the band’s magnificent self-produced 12” EP The Sybling caused a posthumous cult following to emerge around Militia. Released in 1986 on the band’s own Scythe Records label, The Sybling became one of the most sought-after private press U.S. metal records, frequently fetching prices well over $1000 on the rare occasions when one of the 100 original copies went up for sale.
Militia’s origin is inseparable from the story of the heavy metal scene in and around Austin, Texas during the 1980s. In 1983, Robert Willingham was a kid in high school, already exploring music by bands like Iron Maiden and Rush. But seeing Metallica and Raven on the “Kill ‘Em All For One” tour kindled an interest in heavier, faster metal and inspired him to want to start a band. Perhaps owing to the prominent roles played by bassists like Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, and Cliff Burton, Willingham was particularly drawn to the instrument, although he neither owned one nor knew how to play it.
Willingham knew of another kid a couple years older than him named Phil Achee, who was a drummer in a local rock band that played gigs around town. Achee’s sister was in one of Willingham’s classes, and he pestered her for an introduction. Achee and Willingham hit it off, and Achee expressed an interest in starting a band with Willingham, if only he knew how to play an instrument. Inspired by this new friendship, Willingham bought a cheap bass and started practicing in earnest, ignoring school and most of his other responsibilities.
An ad Achee and Willingham posted in a local music store attracted guitarist Jesse Villegas, who soon began rehearsing with Achee while they searched for a second guitarist. Willingham was present at the auditions, but the band members kept his musical inexperience a secret. They selected Tony Smith for the role, and, by January 1984, the trio were hard at work writing and practicing new songs. Meanwhile Willingham pushed himself to get up to speed on the bass, and, by April 1984, he was able to join the others at rehearsals, though he struggled to keep up at first. The group adopted the name Militia, which they lifted from one of Willingham’s friends who kept a list of band names he wanted to use, even though he didn’t play any instruments.
As riffs coalesced into songs, the band members searched for a suitable frontman. Jason McMaster, the vocalist for Watchtower—the flagship band of the local scene—recommended a guy named Mike Soliz. At the time, Soliz was the drummer in Fallen Angel, a cover band whose setlist featured songs by Judas Priest, Def Leppard, and Rush, among others. He had gotten into metal a few years earlier after a friend of his returned from a trip to England with him a slew of records he had bought. Upon hearing Saxon’s Wheels of Steel LP, Soliz was hooked and swiftly turned to Iron Maiden and other NWOBHM bands.
McMaster shocked the band with his suggestion to recruit Soliz. Although his percussive skills were well-known among the local metal fans, few knew he could sing. But as the singer for Watchtower, McMaster’s recommendation carried weight, and Militia invited Soliz to a rehearsal. Astounded by his arresting performance and vocal range, especially his ability to hit high notes reminiscent of Rob Halford, they asked him to join on the spot.
With the inclusion of Soliz, the band members recognized Militia’s potential and set about sculpting their image and identity and perfecting the handful of songs they’d written. From the beginning, the band members exhibited a degree of drive and dedication uncharacteristic of their young ages. They seldom drank and generally eschewed weed and other drugs. So averse to that lifestyle were they that they neither sought nor were offered the opportunity to play at local parties. Their social activity was generally limited to “just sitting around together at a pizza parlor.” Willingham recalls that playing in Militia was “the first thing he was involved in that provided a positive social setting.” As such, they spent most of their free time practicing their instruments and writing and rehearsing material. Initially, Villegas and Smith composed most of the music, and all the band members, save for Willingham, contributed lyrics. In addition to his distinctive vocals, Soliz provided an aesthetic for the band, designing the band’s logo, the evolution of which can be seen in the various flyers from the early performances. For their live shows, Soliz airbrushed an early version of the logo onto a banner they hung in front of the drum platform.
On July 3, 1984, about a month after Soliz joined, Militia played live for the first time, performing a 25-minute set of original material to 300-500 people as the opening act for Wyzard and Watchtower at The Ritz Theater in Austin. At the time, The Ritz—where Militia would play more than half of their shows—was one of the few venues booking metal gigs, largely due to the efforts of a promoter named Chris Gates, also known as a founding member of the revered punk band The Big Boys. The overwhelmingly positive response from the crowd at their first show came as a surprise to the band given their lack of experience. Word spread about the new group, and they started playing frequent gigs in Austin and San Antonio, performing shows with other Texas luminaries such as Karion, SA Slayer, Juggernaut, Rotting Corpse, and Syrus, and eventually providing support for big name touring acts. Over the course of their brief existence, Militia opened for the likes of Megadeth, Exciter, Metal Church, Slayer, and King Diamond, among others.
Even though they didn’t even have a demo by that time, Militia’s live performances earned them a reputation in the area. Later that year, Militia did a short tour through Texas, opening for Nasty Savage. Even more legendary was their supporting role at the Slayer vs. Slayer show on November 30, 1984 in San Antonio, where the hometown Slayer went head-to-head with their California rivals.
That October, intending to record four songs for a 12” MLP, Militia booked 20 hours at a home studio called Austin Trax. Clueless about how to record in a studio environment, they became discouraged watching the clock tick away as the engineer insisted on numerous playbacks and they recorded and re-recorded their parts. Thoroughly disillusioned after having completed just one track (“Regiments of Death”) and partially recorded another (“Thrash to Destroy”), their time was up and their funds depleted.
These would be the only tracks in the original Militia catalog featuring Villegas. Soon after the ill-fated recording session, fissures appeared between Villegas and the other band members as their conflicting visions for the band’s future became irreconcilable. Drawn more to the immediate thrill of playing in a band than to the long-term goals of establishing a reputation and getting signed, Villegas’s attitude at the time was less serious than the others’ leading to increased friction between them. After his late arrival to a show, the band dismissed Villegas.
Militia didn’t record again until the middle of 1985. Having learned the hard way how costly and challenging it was to achieve satisfactory results in the studio, they scrapped their plan to release a vinyl EP and decided to record a demo instead. And rather than pay for a more professional studio, they recorded at First Star Studio—essentially a rehearsal space equipped with a four-track recorder—completing the entire session over a single weekend.
The Regiments of Death demo showcased the sound Militia had honed through their live performances. The new songs, “Metal Axe” and “Search for Steel,” which, aside from vocal harmonies, were essentially recorded live in the studio, appeared on side one. The second side contained the title track, recorded during the previous session at Austin Trax. Despite the audibly different production value between the songs, the overall sound was raw and impassioned—an infernal burst of relentless speed metal riffing adorned with Soliz’s epic power metal shrills. The extraordinary display of musicianship was particularly impressive given the brevity of the band members’ time together. Achee’s drumming was assertive and animated, with Willingham’s agile bass straddling the beat as searing guitar leads punctuated the tracks. Such was the bad blood between them at the time, the band neglected to credit Villegas on the demo even though he played lead guitar on the title track.
The band distributed the demos at shows and local record stores, especially Waterloo Records, where local metalheads were most likely to find releases by more obscure artists. As the demo spread throughout the Texas scene, new fans continued accreting around the band. A metal-oriented radio show in Houston invited the band on for an interview and played the demo and some rehearsal recordings, projecting their music to an even wider audience. Their local popularity notwithstanding, Regiments of Death did not attract any label interest, as the band had hoped it would.
In September of 1985, Militia booked their first headlining show at The Ritz. It was a self-promoted gig, and the band had to cover all the expenses, including a fee for the venue and payments for the sound engineer and lighting technician. Still, the show was packed and, at the end of the night, Militia received a substantial sum from the door as well as proceeds from demo and t-shirt sales. They decided to reinvest the money to record a 12” EP like they originally intended. The next month, they recorded The Sybling at Music Lane Studios in Austin. The recording process was a far more professional affair than the prior sessions, with each member recording his part separately in a walled-off isolation booth using scratch tracks for reference.
Achee took care of the logistics related to the production and manufacture of the record. He found a pressing plant that could do it, but they only offered two options: they could either press 10,000 copies, or a modest quantity of 100. Given Militia’s relative obscurity and lack of substantial resources at the time, they opted for the latter and planned to send out about half the copies to record labels as part of a promotional package. Although he had no intention of starting a real label, Achee created the Scythe Records name to give the record an air of legitimacy. The label address was actually his mother’s house, and he added “Suite 1A” as a sarcastic reference to his bedroom.
The Sybling proved to be the most fully realized expression of Militia’s sound, capturing perfectly the unique fusion of skill and passion, an amalgamation of the most potent elements of aggressive speed metal and melodic power metal. From the first seconds of the opening track, “Objective: Termination,” Smith’s melodic leads ricochet off Soliz’s piercing and powerful voice, propelled by raging current of Achee’s and Willingham’s fervent rhythmic performance. The following track, “Salem Square” served as a showcase for Soliz’s skills. Against the backdrop of the song’s more aggressive riffs, Soliz deftly shifted between his various singing styles, frequently weaving together overdubbed vocal tracks to powerful effect. For the title track, which consumed the second side of the record, the band made the curious decision to record it as an instrumental—an odd choice given the striking nature of Soliz’s vocals. Soliz recalled that it was originally intended to have lyrics, but because of the complexity of the composition—which was broken into five sections—he couldn’t come up with a satisfying arrangement. “I probably didn’t have the brain for it yet,” he admitted, reflecting back on it more than three decades later.
A crystallization of the band’s spirit, The Sybling sounds like a record that could only have been produced at a specific time and place. There’s a sense of urgency to it, as if the band members knew they were going all in, knew that the value of their efforts would rise or fall on the quality of the music they produced during that session. On the insert, following the thanks list, Militia offered an anti-thanks list that distilled their sincere, if juvenile, vision of purpose: “[T]he Militian regimental force must also shun the following for providing us with either financial, aural, visual or personal misery: hippies, drugs, assholes that offer us drugs, bigger assholes who think we’re chicks (just because we have long hair), tour sluts, and anyone who tries to stop us from attaining our goal of success. You know who you are! May you perish eternally!”
After they finished recording The Sybling, but before its release, Smith began to feel creatively distant from the other band members. As Willingham recalls, “The last few months Tony was in the band, we really hit a wall as far as writing new material. I think part of it was because Tony had come up with something and it was the first time we were kind of like ‘I don’t really know about this,’ and that rubbed him the wrong way.” After being rebuffed by the other band members, Smith stopped presenting new riffs, stalling the band’s progress. He thereafter became increasingly disinterested until he finally decided it was time to quit. Louis Beltran briefly assumed Smith’s place, but he was also in another band called Assalant and decided to focus his energy on that project. Following Beltran, Militia recruited S.A. Slayer’s Art Villareal, but he lived in San Antonio and scheduling rehearsals proved too difficult. Eventually, the band found Phil Patterson, an exceptional guitarist known locally for his work in a progressive metal band called Matrix.
Patterson’s arrival also marked a shift in the band’s approach. The band members’ tastes in music were divergent by then, with several of them drawing influence from other genres. Willingham and Patterson began contributing more to the composition of the songs, which exhibited a more technical and less abrasive sound. Heavily inspired by Queensrÿche and similar bands, Militia sought a more “cerebral” sound, as Soliz later described it. “Once we started writing again,” Willingham explains, “we were writing stuff that was in a little bit of a different direction that seemed like a positive progression for us. Because by ’86, metal was changing fast. You started getting bands that were playing faster and noisier, like it was less about the quality of the playing and more about the brutality. And we didn’t want to lose that quality of playing and the melodic elements. We still wanted to be heavy and all that. So Phil [Patterson] took us in this new direction that was real fun and interesting to play.”
Though they had written a handful of new songs, by the time they were ready to record, they could only afford to book a three-hour studio session at Cedar Creek Studios, where Watchtower had previously recorded. Militia recorded three songs, again performing them mostly live in the studio with the exception of Soliz’s vocal harmonies. But unlike The Sybling sessions, they tried to record the new songs live, playing simultaneously in isolation booths at Cedar Creek, listening to the other instruments through headphones—a foreign experience that disrupted their usual chemistry.
The No Submission demo came out in early 1986 and evinced a clear departure from Militia’s previous style. Soliz was particularly disdainful of the new sound. Although he was initially on board with it, he soon started to have doubts. “I was all in for it,” he remembered. “I just didn’t question it. But after a while, it was like staring at a mirror, kinda going ‘I’m not too fond of this stuff anymore.’” Soliz wasn’t alone in his assessment. Willingham initially believed that his own enthusiasm for the Patterson-era material meant that “automatically everyone was going to love it,” but he quickly realized that wasn’t the case after detecting a palpable change in the crowd response to the new songs. “They just weren’t really into it,” he said. “And that really bugged me. I thought ‘we just need to get them used to it.’” Soliz’s initial enthusiasm for the material continued to wane. So much so, in fact, that at one show, he simply refused to sing one of the songs.
Although the stylistic shift may not have sat well with some of Militia’s fans, who craved the sound of the earlier recordings, the demo was exceptional nevertheless, particularly in that it had a sound that was distinguishable from what most other bands were doing at the time. As the lines dividing the various subgenres of heavy metal have blurred through the decades, and fans became more open to appreciating all of the genre’s various permutations, No Submission has been recognized as a standout release in its own right. Still, Militia fans can’t help but wonder whether, given more time, the band might have been able to further flesh out the sound and achieve a more fully realized recording.
Militia’s live schedule slowed down greatly after Patterson’s arrival, and he only played at two or three of their shows. The last of which, though they didn’t know it at the time, was on August 21, 1986, when Militia opened up for Metal Church and King Diamond at The Ritz. The tension between Soliz and the other band members over the new material had been rising for some time. But the breaking point for the band occurred when, the day after the show, Achee and Willingham drove down to a friend’s house in San Antonio where the members of King Diamond’s band were hanging out before performing at The Cameo that night. Incensed that his bandmates didn’t invite him, Soliz decided to quit Militia and join Assalant.
Willingham recalls Achee informing him of the “good news that Assalant has a new singer, finally.” The corollary bad news, of course, was that this new singer was Soliz. According to Soliz, simultaneous band membership was looked down upon in their scene. “It was like this unspoken thing,” he recalled. “You’re in a band and that’s it. That’s where you put all your energy. Otherwise, you wear yourself thin.” Soliz’s departure effectively killed Militia. His vocals were an indispensable hallmark of the band’s sound, and there was no one in the Austin area who could take his place. The band’s remaining copies of The Sybling were no longer of any use in promoting the band and ended up being sold around town at record stores.
The 1980s brought increased accessibility for young musicians seeking to record and release records on their own. Studio time was more affordable and the record pressing process was less opaque, thereby reducing musicians’ dependence on record labels. Many young heavy metal bands seized the opportunity to put out their own professional sounding demo tapes and records, yielding an explosion of private press releases, many of which have since become sought after gems for collectors. Although The Sybling did not have the intended effect of securing a record deal, it made an impression nevertheless. In the intervening years, as the handful of surviving copies fell into the hands of serious collectors, The Sybling became a cult phenomenon, especially as historical interest grew in the Austin and San Antonio scenes from that era. Militia were distinct in that they were so active during their short-lived existence, and the handful of recordings they left behind were of such tremendous quality, that it seems almost a criminal oversight they did not achieve greater contemporaneous recognition.
By the early 2000s, copies of The Sybling were selling, albeit rarely, for massive amounts of money. The record became something of a holy grail for metal collectors and news of a recent sale spread widely, intensifying the demand. Bootlegs and, eventually, official reissues of the band’s material solidified their reputation, making it clear that this wasn’t one of those instances in which the excessive prices were purely a function of scarcity—this was a truly brilliant band that simply had the misfortune of dissolving too soon.
The band members went their separate ways after Militia ended in 1986, but the surge of interest brought about by the internet catalyzed the band’s reformation in 2008. In 2012, Militia released a new album, Strength and Honor, featuring the original lineup of Willingham, Achee, Villegas, Smith, and Soliz. At the time, however, Achee lived in Alabama and was unable to attend the recording sessions, leaving Soliz to play drums on the album. Longtime Assalant drummer Mike Botello played drums filled in for live shows for a while, but after his departure the band recruited Chip Alexander. And following Villegas’s unfortunate death in 2016, Militia invited Villareal to rejoin. With this lineup, Militia continues to perform live to the present day. And though underappreciated at their peak, high profile reissues of Militia’s early material have kept it in circulation in recent years, securing for the band a prominent place in the canon of U.S. metal.
Militia "Regiments of Death / No Submission" Test Press LP
- Brand: NWN
- Product Code: LP
- Availability: In Stock