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Hell: pursuing the paradise lost


Cult act from the 80’s for which many had high hopes, Hell has finally seen its fate sealed by the tragic death of its singer Dave G. Halliday in the late 80’s. Or maybe not entirely, since more than twenty years later, Hell reformed, partly pushed forward by the passion of producer Andy Sneap, who produced their very first album in 2011. An album which, as guitarist Kev Bower admits, was made without any particular ambition as it was more like a hobby, and which finally put Hell back on the landscape of heavy metal and success.

Hell has therefore seriously gotten back on track, with an ambitious heavy metal and shows renewing with a theatrical side. Curse & Chapter, their freshly released second album, confirms the band’s durability even though it still contains quite a few remains from the previous years. These topics will be tackled in the following interview with Bower.

« It’s a little bit like going to see a band like Rammstein: probably 50% of the people […] don’t particularly enjoy the music, but the show is so fantastic that people will always come and watch them. »

Radio Metal: Hell has been silent for almost 25 years, then 2 years ago you guys released an album, and today you’re releasing a new one: do you think Hell is back for good?

Kev Bower (guitar): Definitely. This is never going to be a short-term project. You are probably aware, if you read all about the band’s history, that we kinda got back together again in 2008. Recording the first album was kind of a hobby project, and the original plan was just to press some CDs for us, for friends and family. But then, with 5 major labels biding on the album, we got signed to Nuclear Blast. We spent the last three years touring and playing some of the biggest shows in Europe, we’re just about to hit the road again soon with Amon Amarth and Carcass and the second album is out, so yeah, we are definitely back for good.

You guys did your first shows the last two years. What was the response of the audience when you played live?

It’s been fantastic because it’s a very theatrical show. There’s lots of pyrotechnics, there’s a lot to see and watch. As a result for that, it doesn’t really matters what kind of audience we’ve been playing in front of, and whether it was kind of a hardcore death metal audience or an old-school rock audience, we get down very well. There was so much going on visually, that’s a very important part of what we do. It’s a little bit like going to see a band like Rammstein: probably 50% of the people in every audience and every arena everywhere in Europe don’t particularly enjoy the music, but the show is so fantastic that people will always come and watch them. And that’s very much what we do as well.

And at these shows, I’m curious, did you meet any hardcore fans that knew you in the 80s’?

Yes, very much so. I’ve been out of the music business for 25 years, and I was amazed to find out there were Internet forums all over the world, not to mention the tape-trading that’s been going on for all these years, and yes, even back then, there was some old-school hardcore fans who are still big fans of the band and who have been since the early 80s’. Now, we’ve got a lot more fans as well, and the most surprising thing is that while when we started out playing and doing shows, we thought that maybe our biggest fanbase would be older-school 40-50 years old guys who grew up with Saxon and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, what actually happened is we attracted lots and lots of younger fans. Our biggest fan group is in the 18 to 28 years-old range. These kids grew up to the sound of 90s’ grunge, and to these people, a band like Hell is very new and very fresh. So we’re kinda winning everywhere really, this is fantastic.

« I think one of the reasons why we became so successful is simply the fact that we don’t sound or look like anybody else out there. »

Your previous album was your first and a lot of people didn’t know you when you decided to reform. Did you feel more pressure for this new album you guys are releasing now?

Yeah, for me it was a lot of pressure, but the good kind of pressure. The first album did so well, and the response from the press, the media and the fans alike was so fantastic… If you look back, it was album of the year in a Swedish rock magazine, in Rock Hard in Germany, in Metal Hammer UK; there’s been lots and lots of awards and lots and lots of accolades for the album. The reviews were fantastic and it sold very well indeed. And of course, as I just said, our fanbase is growing all the time. So in that sense, the bar have been set very high, so the problem the band had to face was that when you record a first album, it is often the result of ten years of work before you get signed to a record label. Therefore a band’s first album always contains all the best songs, the best ideas, the best riffs; it’s almost like a best-of collection, if you understand. With the success of the album, the band hit the road, we toured for many years, and then all of a sudden, you get a phone call from a record company saying: “Hey guys, your studio time is booked, we need the next album in six weeks please!”: you go to the studio and you have no song written, nothing prepared… We’re always very conscious that the second album had to be at least as good as the first one. So what happened is that back in 2011, when Human Remains was first released, Andy Sneap said: “Look Kev, you must not stop to work, you must not stop writing, because the next two or three years will fly by so quickly…” He was actually right. What happened is that I just carried on writing new material the whole last three years to the extend that most of the songs on the new album were finished probably 18 months ago. And when that ended, about 18 months ago, Andy Sneap and I started spending time in the studio in the evenings: we recorded demo versions of most of the new songs from the Curse And Chapter album, and all the other guys in the band went in and worked on all the new material. Then we took those songs and play a lot of them live at shows for a year before the album was due to be released, and that was a very useful experience for two reasons: first of all because it showed us which songs were working well and which songs weren’t working so well, but most importantly, because when you start playing new songs and you play them as a band in front of an audience, with all the changing that’s gonna happen, the songs are going to grow and develop organically. You get little ideas, little hooks on vocal lines, and you start to move the tempos of the songs around a little bit. As I said, that was very useful, and what we were able to do was to kind of really polish the songs before we got to the final recording. This is such a successful way of doing it that I think this is the way we’ll probably always work in the future.

As you said, your come-back has been pretty successful. How do you explain that? Do you think people find your music refreshing because it sounds exactly like in the 80s’, like if you guys had been put in a big freezer in 1987 and then dusted down and brought out?

It’s kind of an easy one to answer: the first thing I’d say is that we don’t sound like any band from the 1980s’. We sound bizarre, with the orchestra and the choir, all that kind of stuff. So while it’s definitely true that the music is definitely rooted in the 80s’, with good old-fashioned song writing and lots and lots of hooks on the chorus and stuff like this, it really is a much more modern approach to the classic 80s’ rock sound. That’s the first reason, but I think the most important reason why we became so successful is quite simply the fact that if you turn on an old metal TV channel or any kind of TV channel, all you see on there is a hundred bands that all look and sound exactly the same. I think one of the reasons why we became so successful is simply the fact that we don’t sound or look like anybody else out there. It’s kind of a very unique and very original sound that we have, coupled with the big stage show, the image that we have, it’s very new to the people who haven’t seen rock bands putting on big, theatrical production anymore.

« If you wanna deliver an important message to somebody, there’s two different things you can do: you can really force that message down people’s throat […]. The other way of communicating a message is basically kind of to dress it up into something else, to put it in a way that makes people smile. »

Do you think you will release a video clip for this album, like you did with the previous one? The previous video clip was a very classic video with all the imagery we know of heavy metal in the 80s’…

For sure. I’m just giving a bit of history on the video clip for “On Earth As It Is In Hell” which is on Youtube: I think it has 400,000 hits or something, it’s been seen by lots of people. When the last album came out, we thought: “Shit, we really need to get a video clip together.” We almost had nobody, and only a hundred pounds or something, so we got some video cameras and went to a place called Wingfield Manor, set a wall of Marshall cabinets in it, added some part of pyrotechnics in, and filmed the whole thing for four hours just to get something, anything out there at all. It worked very well for us. We have plans for a much more professionally produced video for one of the songs on the new album. But the problem that we have is that we’ve just really finished the album and we’ve been under great pressure to deliver it to the record label. And of course, starting from tomorrow we’re touring in Europe for the next 5 weeks with Amon Amarth and Carcass, so the production of the video is something that probably won’t gonna be happening before early next year, but hopefully when we do it will be very good.

The first single is called “The Age of Nefarious”. Is it a metaphor for the society we’re currently living in?

Very much so, yes. What not a lot of journalist pick up on is the fact that it’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek parody of the song “The Age Of The Aquarius” which appeared in the Hair musical. In common with a lot of other Hell songs, it really does deliver a very deep and important message, but it does it in such a way that it put a smile on people’s faces. And that’s what we do with a lot of our songs. Obviously as a songwriter, if you wanna deliver an important message to somebody, there’s two different things you can do: you can really force that message down people’s throat, but in doing that, people might not listen what you have to say. The other way of communicating a message is basically kind of to dress it up into something else, to put it in a way that makes people smile. That’s what we’ve always done and that’s what we will continue to do.

Apparently the digipack for the album is one of the most complex pieces of CD/DVD packaging ever attempted by Nuclear Blast. Can you tell us more about it and explain us why?

I don’t want to give too much away about it because it’s something we want people to be excited about when they’ll see it. But the digipack for this album contains obviously the new album, a 20 pages booklet, and there’s also a bonus DVD as well which contains five songs which where recorded at an headliner show in Derby earlier this year, plus other songs that were recorded at the Bloodstock Open Air. That’ll also have another 16-pages booklet with it as well. The whole packaging concept basically folds out into a piece of artwork which is double-sided. It’s nine times bigger than a conventional CD or DVD digipack. It’s something which will look fantastic.

« Bands like Diamond Head became very rich as a result of Metallica covering “Am I Evil?”… We missed out. »

Why this particular theme?

There’s two themes. The first theme is the one of the paranormal, a concept with Ouija boards, this kind of thing, and the fact that, back in Victorian times, people started getting really interested in communicating with the dead. All these secret societies were formed by aristocratic people who would hold seances and attempt to communicate with spirits… That’s basically what the whole cover artwork is all about.

I read that Lars Ulrich from Metallica was at the time very enthusiastic about your first band, Paralex. Has Lars contacted you since Hell has reformed?

No. What happened is that Paralex was the band I was in back in the late 70s’, 78-79. When Metallica started looking at all the tracks that they wanted to cover on their Garage Days EP, with covers of early heavy metal songs, their management contacted Paralex because they wanted to find out if whether or not it would be possible for them to cover “White Lightning”. Of course the answer was: “Yeah of course, feel free to use it!”, but as it happened, they decided to cover other songs, and obviously there was a limit of time and space available on the album, so unfortunately Paralex missed out. Bands like Diamond Head became very rich as a result of Metallica covering “Am I Evil?”… We missed out. We got contacted by Lars Ulrich on behalf of Paralex, but no contact with Hell unfortunately.

Interview conducted on November, 4th by Metal’O Phil.
Transcription: Chloé.
Introduction: Spaceman.

Hell’s official website: hell-metal.com

Album Curse And Chapter, out since Novmber, 22nd 2013 via Nuclear Blast.



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