SOUTH OF HEAVEN
The annual Malta Doom Metal Festival (MDM) transcends its own name to celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of Metal. It was only fitting, therefore, that this year’s edition was headlined by HELL. As dazed punters slowly trickled out of the venue and while I was still reeling from Hell’s triumphant performance with my voice seemingly fading into oblivion (my vocal enthusiasm turned out to be more than my vocals chords could bear) I cornered founding member/guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Bower to shoot some quick questions at him.
Chris: This is the first time Hell have played in Malta. What is your assessment of the festival?
KB: Our performance here was booked about 8 or 9 months ago and Albert Bell, the festival’s main organiser, contacted me by e-mail and expressed an interest in having Hell headline the festival. It’s always good for us to get out and support the small festivals. Of course playing the huge ones such as Bloodstock and Wacken is fantastic and very glamorous. But the reason that whenever we can we try to support small festivals like this is that this is the grassroots of Metal. This is where the true, passionate Metal fans start on their journey really. And over the years we’ve seen festivals such as MDM and even Bloodstock that start very small and they just grow and grow and grow into huge successful festivals. Now I know that on an island like Malta it’s going to be pretty difficult for Albert to grow the festival more than it already has…but hey, you know…miracles happen and let’s hope that we would have been part of the growth of a huge festival. We’ve had a great time, we had a really good show…yes, we really enjoyed it. It’s a beautiful island…great people, great fans.
Excellent. Let’s talk about the music of Hell. It’s been a while since you released your previous album [2nd album “Curse And Chapter”, of 2013]. Does the band have any new songs written and ready to be recorded? Basically is there a new album taking shape?
KB: Yes. The third album is 2 years late and the main reason for that is that we’re very fortunate to have Andy Sneap as our second guitar player and he’s also the joint main songwriter with me.
Now Andy is a double Grammy award-winning record producer and he’s very much in demand. So obviously when he gets a phone call from someone like Judas Priest who tell him “Hey Andy, can you come and produce our next record?” Of course Andy isn’t going to turn around and tell them “Hey I’m sorry but I’m too busy doing the next Hell record.” So one of the main reasons [for the album’s delay] is that Andy has just been so busy. Andy has spent the last 20 years building a career to the level that he is now. He’s recently been busy mixing albums for bands such as Arch Enemy, Accept and Saxon…the list of bands he’s worked with goes on.
What I can tell you is that we probably have 80% of the new Hell songs ready.
What do the songs sound like? Are they songs written in the band’s early days or are they totally new ones written with the current line-up?
KB: Well one thing that we wanted to do with the third album is to come full circle. The first album, “Human Remains”, was re-recordings of all our old songs. The second album, “Verse And Chapter” was around 50% old songs and 50% new. One of the things we proved on the second album is that we could still write material that was as strong or maybe even stronger than the old stuff. But the next album, which we already have a working title for, is all new material.
A lot of people have said that the new songs on our last album [“Curse And Chapter”] were amongst the best material that we’ve ever done. Some actually preferred them to the older stuff. So with the third album what we’re going to be doing is continuing where the second album left off. What I can tell you is that it will continue all the usual themes and storytelling…it’s very theatrical but it’s also much darker in themes and lyrical concepts and music, than the previous albums have been. How can I describe it…it’s less happy…a lot of it deals with quite dark and dangerous subjects. Yes, we’re kind of super excited about it because we think we can produce the best album that we’ve ever done. And for those fans reading this interview and thinking: “What the hell are these guys doing? No album since 2013.” Well let me say that it will be worth waiting for. That’s the best promise I can give.
You’ve even got me excited now!
KB: Good. I’m glad.
Earlier on you made an indirect reference to the band’s early days. Well, there can’t have been many bands that looked and sounded like Hell back then. So was there a feeling amongst the band that Hell was an outcast of the scene of England?
KB: I think that the problem with Hell in the early days was that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. People often refer to Hell in context of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), which is completely wrong.
No-one could ever define what that term really encapsulates.
KB: True. But speaking from a historical point of view, the NWOBHM peaked, really, in 1979. Now Hell hadn’t formed until 1982. It was three years later. And even though the music that we were doing did have some aspects of that kind of sound, we really were between a rock and a hard place because we didn’t fit into any particular or convenient environment. And obviously by the time we were formed the Bay Area Thrash scene was already starting to emerge, with bands such as Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica, and we didn’t fit into that category either. So we were really out there as this kind of unique band. One thing that a lot of people have said looking back historically is that we were kind of like the English Mercyful Fate.
There is a certain logic to that statement.
KB: There is but speaking honestly from a personal perspective I didn’t actually hear Mercyful Fate until 5 years ago.
[At that point in the interview Andy Sneap comes in and informs Kevin that the band’s driver has arrived. Clearly I have to start thinking about wrapping up the interview.]
I hope you don’t mind me asking…what do you remember of Dave Halliday?
[Singer/guitarist Dave Halliday was one of the founding members of Hell. After a record deal went wrong, things spiralled out of control and Dave ended up taking his own life. One of Dave’s admirers was a young boy named Andy Sneap, who of course joined Hell years later.]
KB: He was simply my best friend. I had first got to meet Dave through a mutual friend. At the time I was playing in Paralex…another local band. A friend of mine, a guy called Tom Ruffin, told me “There’s someone I’d really like you to meet.” And he took me to see Race Against Time rehearsing at a local leisure centre. I was just blown away. And I knew there and then that one day I had to play with this guy.
Were you surprised by the nature of Dave’s death?
KB: Not really, no. He was just a lovely super guy. You know, we’re all still very sad about what happened and we still miss him.
You mentioned Paralex…actually Paralex is currently active. So what your views on the current incarnation of Paralex?
KB: Well…the current Paralex had asked me to be part of the recent recording that they’ve done. But you know, without wanting to sound cruel in any way, I had left that band for lots and lots of reasons and all those reasons are still as valid now as they were back then. I mean I wish the guys good luck and its really nice to hear them recording new material again. But it [rejoining them] is not something that I would want to be a part of, also because as you know I am now the guitarist with Hell.
I know you really have to go now. Is there any message you’d like to convey to the fans of Hell?
KB: Once again, we’re really really sorry that the third album is so late. To repeat what I’ve already said, it will be worth waiting for…it will be the best one that we’ve ever done.