Hell is an underground phenomenon that many have heard of, but not actually heard. So could you please tell us the story so far...?
Kev – The story’s been pretty well documented already, but the short version is that HELL was a metal band from the late 80’s which was regarded as being years ahead of its time and which is variously cited as being the true originators of occult metal in the form we all know it today. A good example is probably that of CRADLE OF FILTH – they have said numerous times that they were heavily influenced by SABBAT – but SABBAT virtually modelled themselves on HELL – so it’s almost like looking at someone’s family tree, but it stops when you reach HELL. Because the band was so unique and innovative, the media at the time just didn’t understand it and as a result we were largely ignored although we gigged constantly for the best part of five years. The final death knell came when our long-awaited album deal with Mausoleum fell through as they went bankrupt three weeks before recording was due to start. The band split shortly afterwards and Dave Halliday (original frontman/guitarist) tragically took his own life. Fast forward 25 years – and we’ve finally made that album, thanks to the intervention of Mr. Sneap. It’s quite extraordinary when you realise that if it had been recorded and released back then as it should have been, it would have pre-dated ‘Master Of Puppets’ by three years.........
Clearly a bastard child of NWOBHM, with bands like Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest and Rush coming to mind, but how would you describe your style and what our readers can expect when they put on “Human Remains”?
Kev - Now that’s really difficult to answer, because HELL is so complex and multi-textural, so full of light and shade, and every song is completely different. One moment you’ll think it sounds like Dimmu, then Mercyful Fate, five seconds later you’ll think it sounds like Candlemass, then Pink Floyd, then five seconds after that you’ll think it sounds like Megadeth, then vintage Rush – although it doesn’t actually sound like any of the above! Then, it will start up again and you’ll think you have put on your mother’s Enya or Clannad CD by mistake. Ten seconds later it sounds like a Hollywood film score, then it’s immediately back to dark metal thunder again. You see what I’m saying? There’s so much happening all the time, and a key objective of HELL was always to keep people guessing and thinking – “Just what is going to happen next?”……... Andy Sneap himself has produced over 100 metal albums and he’s said repeatedly that ‘Human Remains’ is world-class, one of the best things he’s ever done. Most people who hear it just sit there with their mouths open – and immediately hit the ‘replay’ button the microsecond it all finishes. It’s immense, thought-provoking and actually quite exhausting to listen to, especially as it plays well over one hour nonstop - there are no track gaps between the songs. What we have instead of gaps are………...well, you’ll need to listen and find out for yourself. The reaction from the media has been extraordinary, but probably my favourite comment so far is; “If you only ever buy ONE metal album in your whole life – make sure it’s THIS one.”
All of the songs have prior to this release been release on various demo-tapes between 1982 and 1986. But how far do the new versions differ from the originals?
Kev – Well, the production’s obviously way better than recordings made on a mono flip-top Philips cassette recorder in our rehearsal room (!) and the technology I’ve used to create some of the soundscapes on the album are breathtaking compared to the old analogue equipment I was using back in the 80’s - but the songs remain exactly the same structurally and arrangement-wise, save for a few little edits and tweaks. Nuclear Blast are releasing a version of the album as a 2CD digipak which also contains a bonus disc which has all the original 1980’s versions of the songs on it, so you’ll be able to hear how close they are to the originals.
Same question - lyrically? Some of the songs deal with occult themes and some do sound more current, how much have you "updated" the lyrics?
Kev – Same answer. Apart from a few small additions and changes, the lyrics are exactly the same also. It’s very significant to me that they have stood the test of time, especially the more religious-orientated ones which witnesses organised religion exhibiting exactly the same degree of hypocrisy as it did 25 years ago...
The production is very, for the lack of a better word, organic and honest, much like the brilliant Accept comeback album from 2010. Intentionally or did you want a similar feel and sound?
Andy – I just did an honest recording. What people get confused with is the style of playing as opposed to the production. With Accept also, it’s not a case of having kick drums following guitars constantly, there’s more of a classic rock groove which is missing in a lot of modern metal. Oh and melody, that’s quite important too.
Kev – That’s exactly right. Maybe I’m getting old, but so much modern metal sounds virtually identical to me – I sit there for hours watching Scuzz and there are a hundred bands who all sound and look exactly the same. The most significant thing for me, though, is that once you take out the technically brilliant swept guitar appeggios, take out the kickdrum blastbeasts and the growled vocals, there’s just no song there....and I think that this return to good songwriting is what metal lacks today. It’s also worth mentioning that musically, the overall result has really been 100% down to myself and Andy, and we’ve worked very hard to craft something unique and which doesn’t sound like anything else out there. What would be the point? So for example, rather than just having a bunch of songs on the CD with silences in between, as I mentioned before, the whole album runs non-stop, it’s blended together with aural soundscapes which I’ve painted using synthesizers and sampling technology, so that the listener can close their eyes and use what they hear to visualise a carnage-strewn battlefield, a plague-ridden Mediaeval marketplace witnessing the horse-drawn arrival of the body cart – that kind of thing. Andy’s really given me free creative rein on that side – he basically printed exactly what came off the keyboard rack - but he has also come up with some equally fabulous stuff himself – a great example being that of the Gregorian choir in the middle section of ‘Blasphemy And The Master’, which was all done for us by an opera singer called Stephen Svanholm – Andy recorded him singing the same vocal harmony parts 20-30 times over, and the result is breathtaking.
Even though the songs are more than 25 years old, they still sound timeless and current - which speaks for the quality of them. But why now and not earlier?
Andy – We didn’t have the chance. I’d been in touch with both Tim Bowler (drummer) and Tony Speakman (bass player) over the last 10 years, just in personal circles - but none of us knew where Kev was. So when we finally found him, within 2 hrs of saying hello after 25 years I’d put a guitar back in Kevs hands.....
You - Andy Sneap - were a pupil of Dave Halliday's (Original Hell guitarist) and now you are paying tribute to his work. How does it feel to, finally, bring his songs out to a wider audience?
Andy - It feels great but it also saddens me deeply that he’s not here to do this himself. Dave was such a huge influence on my life and at such a young age, he was like an older brother to me. His death has hung over me all my life and I’ve had the idea of making this album since his passing in 87 but its only now we’ve managed to realize this.
How did you decide which songs had stood the test of time and which hadn't, and will the remaining songs ever be recorded?
Andy - We just sat down and talked about which we felt were the strongest of the songs. About 50% of the next record will be old material too but I guess it was really myself and Kev just choosing our favourites and trying to put a well balanced record together.
Kev - But putting together the track listing for 'Human Remains' was not an easy task. The major advantage (or not?) of having such a substantial back catalogue to choose from, made the choice of exactly what to put on this album – or more to the point, what to leave off it – extremely difficult. First off, Andy and I realised that certain songs which hit the spot in 1985 wouldn't necessarily sit well in the new millennium without some serious re-working. Since HELL is a living, breathing and serious 2011 contender, the choice of material was important so that this fact was clearly reflected. Furthermore, certain songs which were always a must-play at gigs ('Bedtime', for example) only became infamous courtesy of the dildo-wielding stage lunacy which accompanied their live performance – and this obviously just wouldn't have translated given an audio-only scenario. The choice just had to be 'ALL KILLER – NO FILLER'. We hope you will agree that in the final analysis – our choice is a good one. Andy and I also felt it wholly appropriate and necessary to include a RACE AGAINST TIME song, to tip our collective hats at the considerable influence Dave Halliday's previous band had on HELL's initial forays into theatrical lunacy, and equally to acknowledge the outstanding talents of Alan Short - R.A.T's bass player and joint songwriter - an all-too-tiny sample of whose music and lyrics are featured on this album. What remains isn't necessarily a 'Best Of' collection - far from it - but it is a wholly representative collection of material which conveys the essence of HELL in its wild, dangerously unpredictable entirety.
On here you'll find the whole deal – the mega-extremes of light and shade, the darkness and the thunder, the lunacy, the quirkiness, the uniquely original melting pot of 'expect anything' textures which was – and still will be - so absolutely characteristic of the band.
What's next... will there be a second Hell album down the road?
Andy – Yeah for sure, Kev’s possessed at the moment, I think he feels reborn with music so he’s just writing so much material, which sounds great, there’s some super cool ideas he’s coming out with.
Kev - There’s still a very substantial amount of unrecorded HELL back-catalogue material, of which maybe 60-70% would be appropriate for the ‘new treatment’ with the same degree of reworking that the current songs have been subjected to. I think when a second (Or third! Or fourth!!) album does surface, it will more than likely consist of collaborative material generated by myself, Andy and David working either individually or as a team – bear in mind that the 2011 incarnation of HELL is, to all intents and purposes, a brand-new band - and one which has at least three talented writers within it, before you even consider the important musical contributions which would doubtless ensue from Tim and Tony. As Andy mentioned, I already have some great new stuff in the works, Andy has a huge collection of unused riffs, and we have already tentatively spoken about starting work on a follow-up project. Our focus for now, however, is to get the ‘Human Remains’ album promoted to the absolute best of our ability, and anything which transpires after this will be a huge bonus. That’s one of the great things about this project – we’re under no pressure, we don’t have anything to prove, and we’re not going into this all starry-eyed and hopeful. It will either fly, and utterly captivate the imagination of the buying public, or it won’t. Que sera sera. At the very least, we’ll have a killer album which we can all admire and be proud of forever.
What else can we expect from Hell in 2011?
Andy – Gigs really, we are looking at European festivals throughout the summer, which we are waiting until next month to announce and then hopefully we can jump onto a European tour sometime late autumn.
Kev - Touring – yes. We already have festivals confirmed in five countries with more in the pipeline, and we’ll continue to do this as long as people still want to come and see us. We’re really looking forward to getting out there and getting into people’s faces......
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Hell - Thanks to all of you for reading this, and for your interest, your support and encouragement. It’s genuinely appreciated. We hope to see you at a show soon.....
Interviewed by Kenn Jensen