Emerging from the gnarly marshes of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey battle lines in the late 80’s, Death Metal Legends Incantation have seen, done, and well - crushed it all. From surviving dozens of lineup changes that would have crippled lesser acts to consistently delivering a pummeling barrage of blisteringly jagged 32nd notes, these road-tested juggernauts have (metal) heads full of steam and show no signs of slowing down even as they approach three decades of volume-filled doom. Fresh off of a wildly successful world tour, Incantation is coming home with new fans, a machine-tight live show and now, - a signature model guitar with Halo Custom Guitars!
We're thankful to get to work with Incantation and happy to have master shredder Sonny Lombardozzi on the signature roster. Sonny’s technique, encyclopedic knowledge of metal and seemingly endless playbook of memorable riffs has made him a household name in Death Metal and we recently chatted with Sonny about his past, the present of extreme metal, and the emergence of his forthcoming signature guitar with Halo Custom Guitars called the Artemisia.
Marcus: Take us back to the beginning, Sonny. How long have you been playing guitar and who (or what) was your earliest inspiration?
Sonny: I started at 10, so I’ve been playing close to 37 years now. I just wanted guitar lessons for my birthday so I got them for 5 years and never missed a lesson. I was addicted to it. But I would say I really started getting my stuff together right around the time the movie Crossroads came out. Steve Vai was in it, and I saw that and I was like “Man, it’s time to step up to the plate” (Laughs)
Marcus: For me it was the early guitar player magazines; they had these floppy soundpage 7” records that came in the mag. I heard the Racer X one and it knocked my socks off...
Sonny: I still am a huge fan of Racer X! I’ve got all their bootlegs, everything I could possibly find from those guys. Paul’s playing was just so clean ya know? That’s what inspired me to play cleaner. I mean so many guys are so delayed and reverb-ed out and they’re calling themselves the fastest guitar player of all time, and I’m like ya know, if you take all stuff that away and plug into a raw Marshall, I don't think you're gonna be the fastest guy of all time anymore. (Laughs) So yeah that’s kind of what did it, it was Crossroads, and of course the whole Shrapnel Records thing was really huge then for me too. Racer X, Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, of course the Cacophony stuff ya know, then I really started rocking when I saw the Freight Train video from Nitro with Michael Angelo Batio… I basically cut my teeth with that group of guys.
Marcus: What was your first guitar?
Sonny: I think it was called a Norman; and it had on/off switches on it. I remember we were coming up from Florida one time and I wanted to take this shortcut that was on the map - this was before Google Maps haha - and we stopped off at a big sale type thing… There’s just junk everywhere. And I looked over and there’s this guitar and amp sitting there. It had switches all over it and it was just rusted up, rotted and everything ya know, and I played that for years! And all the other guys used to make fun of me because I didn’t have a real guitar at the time cuz we were so poor. So my actual first REAL guitar was a Bentley Series 10 flying V Randy Rhoads copy. It was actually something that was decent ya know (Laughs) Then I think I went on from there to a little bit better guitar which was a Westone. I played Westone’s for a long, long time and then I finally found an Yngwie Malmsteen Fender Strat sitting in a Music Store and they let me put it on layaway, and it was in layaway for almost two years cuz I’d go mow grass and give them all my money to pay this guitar off because it was close to two grand. (Laughs)
So that was my first REAL guitar and then I played that forever, and then I went on to play Ibanez, cuz of course everyone at the time was playing Ibanez, so I switched over, and then I found Halo!
Marcus: When did you discover Halo? What was your first Halo guitar?
Sonny: I found Halo in 2007 at the Winter NAMM show. At the time everyone was going to the 8 String guitars and I wanted to try it, so I just happened to be walking by the Halo booth and I saw Jeff (Halo owner) And I picked up a couple of 8 Strings to try out. And that was my first Halo guitar; the Octavia 8 String I believe it’s called. And I still have it - But I started messing around with it and found that the 8 String was too big for my little hands (Laughs) So I started playing the (Halo) Reapers and I’ve used about three Reapers forever, then I got three 7 seven-string Reapers, followed by a Merus Fanned-Fret - and it was my first neck-through... And I've been playing it on every show for the past three years I think.
Marcus: Walk us through your live rig, be as detailed as you like…
Sonny: Ever since I signed with Halo, I’ve never been onstage without one. I’ve never even had a problem with my Halo’s; no issues with jacks, tone knobs, or any of that stuff. It just performs extremely well. I can almost go 15 shows without changing strings! (Laughs)
As far as Amplification goes, in the states - I have two different rigs - If we’re headlining a show, I’ll bring out 5-6 stacks out on the tour. I use two 50 watt Revolt Barbarian Heads, two 5150 Heads, and two 6505 Heads. For direct support, I’ll only bring two cabinets and the Revolt and 5150 heads just for a backup. It depends on what the tour is and all that fun stuff. When we’re headlining, we can backline a bunch of gear. But when you’re doing direct support for a bigger band, you have to your stuff on and off stage pretty quick, and moving that many cabinets sucks. (Laughs) It’s crazy ya know, and when I go overseas, it’s so expensive to take the gear over there, but I’ll rent the same gear in Europe; basically it’ll be Marshall cabs, and 5150’s and 6505’s because that’s the universal language of Metal anywhere you go. At home I prefer these old Ampeg cabs with Vintage 30’s. They sound great, and they’re heavy as hell. As far as pedals, I don’t really have many of them actually. All I use is a Morley Liberty Wah into a Boss Noise Gate, and that goes right into the head! Through the effects loop I just use a Steve Vai Volume Pedal. Once in a while I’ll use my signature Revolt Overdrive pedal for extra feedback or tone. If the room is super dry, I’ll maybe bust out my (TC Electronic) HOF reverb pedal but that’s about it.
Marcus: Tell us about your signature model guitar - the Artemisia - and what inspired you to work with Halo on this?
Sonny: Honestly, I never thought in a million years about a signature guitar ya know, but I’m calling up Jeff with ideas like, “Hey we need to cut this, or we need more frets lol” but basically I’ve been on the road, and I know what I need to perform at my best, so sometimes I try something and I’m like - “This scale length isn’t working; we need to move it a ¼ inch or so” So when the idea for a signature model came up I said “Oh! I have specs!!” (Laughs) So Jeff and I went back and forth about what we could do and seems like it’s gonna come out great! So I’m really excited. I mean, I never even played a fanned fret before til Jeff sent me one, and I was scared to death! (Laughs) So I tried it out and fell in love with it! The bends were so smooth and I particularly like the weight of it; I like a heavy guitar. If a guitar is too light, I feel like it’s gonna go into the amplifier and sound like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star coming out ya know what I mean? (Laughs) They definitely have a huge, thick sound, definitely comparable to the other guy on stage and he’s playing a different brand, and we have the exact same amps, but he doesn't understand why my guitar sounds thicker than his - even if we have the same pickups! And I say, it all comes back to the guitar here. The guitar is the reason for the thickness of the sound.
Marcus: We pride ourselves on making guitars that are built for battle so to speak. These are warhorses...
Sonny: It’s funny you say that because one guy asked me “How do you play and tour like that every night?” And I told him every time I go on stage, I go to BATTLE. And my battle axe needs to be in tip-top shape. The guitar I’ve been out with on tour now for the past few years, that thing has not let me down ever. In fact, none of my Halo’s have! I see a lot of guitars on the road and I tell ya, they take a beating and man they do not last. They just don’t at all.
Marcus: Give us a memorable tour story Sonny! Good or bad-
Sonny: We were touring in Germany about to play a huge outdoor arena, and I had three Halo’s with me; my Merus, white Reaper and my green Reaper in a Coffin case that fit all three guitars in it. So we fly in, and you know you have go through special security to get in to the country, so we’re at baggage claim and here comes the Bass down the conveyor, and here comes John’s Guitar, and next thing you know the belt stops! And I go hey! Where’s my guitars!? (Laughs) So it starts up again, and nope. No Coffin case. So I went over to the guy and I says “We’re missing this case. It’s the size of a coffin and has three guitars in it. And it’s funny cuz I just got that Merus - literally just got it - not a scratch in it… So she’s looking it up and she can’t find it! She says they have no record of it and I’m like, holy crap, this is ridiculous ya know? So finally, the supervisor shows up and says it was one number off, and they sent my guitars to Spain or somewhere that definitely wasn’t Germany. (Laughs) So I had no guitars to play at this festival, and I had to borrow this guitar, and it’s the biggest piece of junk I’ve ever played in my life. It didn’t even sound good or anything. Heck, I didn’t even have a guitar strap until 15 seconds before I went onstage. Everything was in that case! So eventually the airline finds the guitars and I had them send it to the next show, so they did, and they’re coming down the conveyor belt and the case is wide open, and two of the guitars are just laying on the conveyor belt… The white one looked like someone was trying to skateboard on it, and my brand new fanned fret, neck through Merus looked like someone took a Ball-Peen hammer and whacked the body 3 or 4 times with it. So that was my least favorite tour story lol.
Marcus: *gasps* So what happened?
Sonny: So I tell the lady that these guitars are damaged and she said I could stay and file a claim right now, and I asked her how long that takes and she says, oh, 40-45 minutes or so and I say “We have 20 minutes to catch our next flight to go to Italy! I can’t!” So I had to kind of just bite the bullet on that. And I leave them kinda damaged like that to remind me of what happened. That’s the only time that’s happened in all of those years of touring. And of course it’s the hugest festival with 80,000 people… (Laughs)
Marcus: Any tips for playing extreme Metal?
Sonny: Well, my background is completely different than the extreme death metal guy; when I was a kid, I automatically went and and took classical guitar lessons... I went to learn Jazz guitar, and later went on to get my associates degree in music, so I can play many different styles of music, but when I play with Incantation, people come to me and ask “The music is so fast anyways, how do you shred over the top of that and not run out of gas?” And I say a lot of that has to do with the classical guitar training. People always ask me - “are you classically guitar trained?” And I say yeah I am! How do you know!?
And they say it’s just the way you hold the guitar and where your hands are. They mention how my thumb is never over the neck, things like that. I mean the classical guitar school I went to was so strict he’d whack your thumb with a ruler if he saw it over the top of the neck. (Laughs) Sometimes I’ll be playing and I’ll still feel that WHACK! (Laughs)
I guess my biggest piece of advice for young players is to absorb all the different kinds of music training available. Don’t just be that death metal guy because you’ll limit your abilities super quick. Adding the jazz scales and the classical stuff can really give you some crazy sounds in this style of music. I play all of these festivals and I don’t see a lot of this type of stuff out there. Usually in extreme metal styles, you’ll have a power metal soloist or something a bit lighter, but then I’m coming through and I’m adding all of that classical shred stuff to it and people don’t know that stuff and it blows my mind sometimes! So it’s opening up new doors for people that are coming to the shows to see a death metal band, and they hear all of this exotic shredding stuff that they’ve never really heard before.
Marcus: So what’s next for Incantation?
We’re off to Asia right now! We’re heading to Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, China, Tokyo, and possibly up to Russia afterwards but I’m not sure yet... After that we come back home and automatically I’m back in the studio to record my own solo CD!
Sonny: Yep! I’ve been recording dozens and dozens - maybe even hundreds - of riffs to the point where I’m going through them now cuz every time I had an idea, I’d run into the studio and record it. Even if it was straight rubbish, I’d track it anyways. So I’ll be doing that. And we already recorded the drums for the next Incantation album. Funny thing about that is, I had two of my solo songs done, and Kyle from Incantation heard them thinking it was gonna sound like Vai or Satriani and he remarked about how extreme they sounded, so we ended up using two of my solo songs for the next Incantation album that’s coming out. (Laughs) So I think the next album is gonna have a real cool twist to it because it’ll be the first album where I did a lot of the writing. The previous albums I only played on a few songs so it’s good to have some of my stuff in there. And in march we go back out to Europe again so it’s not slowing down at all. In fact, it’s getting more and more busy! New Incantation, signature model with Halo, a new solo CD, and more touring for sure! I am so stoked, I’m like a fired-up Energon cube from Transformers, know what I mean! (Laughs)
Catch Sonny and his Halo guitars on tour all over the world at a venue near you: https://www.incantation.com/pages/incantation-tour-dates