So the decision to become a five piece was made, and it was an easy secret to keep. It had only been made a week before our big show on Valentine’s Day, the second benefit for our fanzine, Warhammer. When Saturday arrived and we were loading our gear on stage, legendary Pittsburgh metal-head Richard “Stump” Stempkoski saw Jon and Eric hoisting amps on stage and asked, “Jon! What are you doing here?“ Jon looked at Eric, then looked back at Stump, and deadpanned: “I’m his guitar roadie.” To which Stump replied, “Oh, wow! It takes a big man to be his replacement’s guitar roadie!“ It was a great improv from Dawson, but that gag was revealed as the charade it was just moments later when both Jon Dawson and Eric Reese plugged in and played for the first time together on stage. The show was a landmark for us, with the two guitar sound really boosting the energy of the set.
Now that the "secret" was out, we were ready to start working on a demo to really spread the word on the newly expanded lineup. Joe Rembisz, a regular fixture on the scene who had some schooling in the recording arts, brought his four track to Eric‘s grandparent‘s basement where we began to track recordings for the “Futurekill” demo.
With five songs in total, it represented the breadth of our repertoire. There were a few older tunes, most notably our theme song, "Necropolis". At last, we had a good representation of that formative track. Also, we recorded another song we had been playing for over a year, "Carnage", along with "Annhilus" now getting the five-piece treatment.
The keystone of the demo was the newest song and title track, "Futurekill". A dynamic speed-centric song that exemplified everything we were doing at that time: an ominous intro giving way into a ferocious thrash metal explosion with a raw "punky" edge providing a tumultuous backdrop for an apocalyptic lyrical theme. Multi-layered and more complicated, it was a real growth from our earlier efforts.
Finally, there was "The Seventh Seal", a song that has taken on a life of its own, and deservedly so. But it's genesis is a trivial obscurity.
When we had rented the four track in an attempt to record the "F.I.S.T." demo a year earlier, George had stayed up all night after Jon Dawson and I had left his house that Saturday night. Somehow during the wee hours that night/morning, he managed to write, program the drums (on a machine he had almost zero experience with) for, play bass, guitar and sing on a recording that he dubbed: "Black Dream - Now Is Apokolips".
It wasn't a polished affair, but few of the four track recordings of the era were. The song writing wasn't in the same vein as the Necropolis material, and George sang in a falsetto at times, a very different approach than what I could do. But the greatest strength was still in the tunes. "Now Is Apokolips" featured a fast number, "Psychopath", that had a driving drumbeat and a wonderful shrieking vocal that hung on a high note at the end of the chorus before dropping to a guttural growl. It was memorable, although a bit formulaic. But then there was "The Seventh Seal". Lyrically it was an epic fantasy story, similar in style to "Frost Eternal", telling a tale of heroic struggle against supernatural forces. In this case, it was chronicling the desperate attempt to fend off the end of days as predicted in the Book of Revelations... "Ride on steeds of steel, break the Seventh Seal, Plague released on Man, Judgement is at hand". The musical arrangement had a tense structure that built to a climax, echoing the carnage of the battlefield.
George had an initial pride about the recording. He promoted Black Dream as an actual band in the pages of Warhammer, creating fake names for the members and penning an "interview" with the "band". But after a short time, he kind of dismissed the demo, as many creative people do when they're too close to something. He needed some time and perspective to processes this work. Not me. I jealously played "The Seventh Seal" over and over. Eventually, I convinced him to let Necropolis have a shot at it, and the recording of the "Futurekill" demo was the opportunity.
I remember working on the vocals in Eric's grandparents basement. A visiting Mike Smail gave my performance the "thumbs up" which really meant at lot to me at that time, especially because there was no chance of me replicating what George had done on the original. The Necropolis version added a second guitar as well as live drums, and Jon Dawson contributed some musical elements and dramatic elaborations over the original, most notably his epic solo-break. The full band track coupled with my rougher vocals made it quite a bit heavier than George's solo demo.
It’s worth noting that the style of music which we played, and the type of sound we wanted on a recording, were not the kind of thing Pittsburgh recording studios understood. Having Joe there to help us was invaluable. The work went quickly, and the second release from Necropolis was done in just a few weeks.
Another point worth mentioning is that George was working at Eide’s by this time, one of the biggest genre retailers in Allegheny county, giving him a pulpit to exhort the virtues of the band to Pittsburgh’s metal faithful. Our contemporaries Dream Death released a second demo and Doomwatch had the "Final Hour" 7" out - the response to both was strong. Pittsburgh thrashers were buying up local releases in large numbers. George wasn't the only one promoting our Pittsburgh scene at the Eide's record counter, though. Rob Tabachka, Todd Porter, Jim Pitulski, Danny “Arghman” Macosko, Jeff Lamm and others were building support via direct interaction with the shoppers at Eide’s. The underground music scene as a whole, along with Warhammer and Necropolis, were the beneficiaries.
We were playing out every few weeks and pushing ahead with new material in regular practices at Chris Emerson’s house. George was determined to drive the group into a professional discipline, ready to take the next step. He was booking the band great gigs with national acts like the Straw Dogs and Hallow’s Eve. His experience had him focused, but the rest of us teenagers were chafing at the lead. George was older and wiser, but we weren’t interested in any authority figure telling us what to do. Although were were still writing and developing new songs, there were now debates and frustrations boiling up at practice.
Before long, George had heard enough of the immature lack of “professionalism” from the rest of us. He informed us that he would honor the band’s immediate commitments, but afterwards we were on our own.
Our April 25th gig opening for Metal Blade recording artist Hallow’s Eve would be George’s last with Necropolis.
It was a great show with Iron Cross (later Holocross), fueled by a strong turnout and an enthusiastic response to our set. George handled it professionally and without malice or contempt.
Afterwords, he moved on, but hardly stayed idle. He joined a new band called Eviction and performed at their City Limits debut just a few weeks later on May 9th with Half Life and Nuclear Assault. He also wrote the song "Diabolic Force," which was recorded on their first demo, "Struggle With Society".
Although his time in Eviction was brief, George went on to start yet another great Pittsburgh thrash band, Bird of Prey, which he fronted, playing bass and singing. They made a good bit of noise for a few months, releasing a strong demo tape and playing some fantastic shows. Then, in early 1988, he left Pittsburgh for New York City.
In the days after George's departure from Necropolis, the lack of a bass player may have been the most obvious absence, but his role was far more than just half of a rhythm section. The guys were happy to be free of his disciplinary tactics, but they were also looking to me for direction. It was a period of transition that forced us all to sharpen our focus. Jon and Eric were bringing new musical contributions daily. Chris Emerson was working diligently on his craft and it was showing. We were able to play a couple of gigs with the help of the talented Jeff Cherep of Doomwatch on bass (once again coming to our rescue), but the permanent bass player for Necropolis was proving elusive.
We auditioned and interviewed several hopefuls but no one fit the bill. Dan Flaherty had suggested some “Geddy Lee dude“ that he went to school with. His name was Brian Stanwyck and he did in fact sing, play bass and keyboards for a trio called X-cape. We went to see them play at a log cabin in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. They did mostly covers, but Brian was an accomplished performer, a talented musician and confident front-man. He was no “hesher” though. He had short hair and seemed “clean cut”. We asked him if he was interested in playing with us, and an audition was arranged. He showed up in a Slayer shirt and assured us he was a full-blown headbanger. When we started working on the tunes he was not only prepared, but contributing runs and fills while strengthening the existing bass lines. He was a fantastic player, and really understood what we were trying to accomplish musically. Brian was definitely our guy.
We spent the summer working on new material and hazing the suburban convert into our city kid counterculture. He wasn't that dissimilar at heart, but he grew up in a very different world than the rest of us. We just kept pulling him into our orbit. In the end, he wanted the same thing that we did. A "five-man-hive-mind" united in one common goal, and that was exactly what we got.
With Brian in the fold, the latest, and final, Necropolis line-up was in place...
- Spahr Schmitt