For the very beginning, could you present to our readers your album „Human Remains“ from your point of view?
The album „Human remains“ is the new recordings of eleven or ten old Hell songs from the 1980s. And what we were doing with this… what we tried very hard to do and I hope we’ve succeeded in doing is to produce an album which is really fresh and relevant in 2011. It still retains the original vibe and spirit of Hell as the band that existed back in 1980s, and certainly the fantastic reviews the album’s been getting seems to indicate that we have been very successful in achieving what we set up to achieve. The other interesting thing for your readers is that the album is available in extended limited edition that have bonus CD with it, and it’s on this CD that you can also hear our old rehearsal tapes that we have recorded ourselves using a little mono cassette deck in our rehearsal room sometime in 1982 to 1986. The production is now modern and recording and audio technology that we use now is absolutely up to date. The songs themselves remain exactly the same as they always were so it stayed very faithful to the original… so that really is the story of the album and what we’ve done with it. The way it came to be was in 1987 when Dave Halliday died, he was our original singer, guitarist and frontman, myself and the other guys in the band… we really just stopped playing, we came out of the music business altogether. Myself, I was out of music altogether for almost 20 years. In the meantime Andy Sneap, who was one of the biggest fans of the band back in the eighties, he was just a young kid who was in the front row for almost every show we ever played, and he then went on to become world renowned Grammy awward winning record producer with albums of Megadeth and Nevermore and Dimmu and Exodus and all the other… Such a huge list of productions which he has done. I had no idea that Andy went on to become such a successful guy. Then our paths just crossed again, really it’s all through a complete coincidence, we went to have a few beers and we talked about old times and Andy said to me that one of his greatest regrets is that the band inspired him to become this world famous producer, this band Hell he kinda worshiped when he was a kid, has never ever achived a kind of success that he thought that the band always deserved. He said that we should really think about re-recording some of the old songs. Obviously Andy owns his own fantastic recording studio with all the brand new equipments and all the brand new toys. So the original plan was that we get back the band together just as old friends, just having some fun, maybe record two or three songs, maybe pass some CDs to some friends or family, just to had a good recording of at least some songs and… we just didn’t stop! We just carried on and recorded the whole album. I think that the real „eyes wide open“ point for me is that in my dayjob I have a business reselling the old houses and Andy’s studio is on 300 years old farm in the middle of Darbyshire and this particular week I was actually there upststairs at the farmhouse. We have finished all the recording and Andy has just started to work on the initial mix of the album and I remember being down on my hands and knees putting some towels down on the bathroom floor and looked at Andy who was standing there with very strange expression on his face holding the CD in his hands and he said „this is just the world class, we have to take this further, we have to get a deal on this because it’s just fantastic“ and the rest is history really. So that’s how it all happened.
When it comes to reunion of Hell, can we say that Andy stands behind everything?
Yeah, that’s a fair coming. I mean, if it wasn’t for Andy none of this would have happened. Andy funded the whole thing, he played, he recorded it in his very limited periods of downtime and it’s been absolute labour of love for him. He did this really for two reasons: the fact that Hell was his favourite band as I expalined already in the first question and he always felt that we never had the recognition that we deserved. I think the most important reason why Andy wanted to do this is that, your readers should also know that, is Andy Sneap was taught to play guitar by Dave Halliday who was Hell’s original singer and guitarist, the guy who sadly killed himself in 1987. He was more than guitar teacher, he was Andy’s mentor and best friend and he was huge influence and inspiration on Andy’s life. Andy wanted to this to put something back, to kinda pay homage to his former mentor and best friend, just to get Dave’s name out a little bit, to recognize the contribution that he’s made on Andy’s life. So th answer on the question is: yes, if it haven’t been for Andy it just would exist.
When it comes to „Human remains“, are all songs older or are there any new songs?
The songs themselves, as I explained in the first question, are very faithful re-recordings of old Hell material. There is obviously a lot of new power put into them, the most singificant additions are all the new keyboard parts, there are soundscapes of battles and horses, pope vomiting, bagpipes… all sorts of really strange stuff going on in this guitar driven Heavy Metal thunder. In spite of all the better technologies of the recording, the songs themselves are 100% faithful to the original material.
Yes, I have noticed that you have tried to keep the original structure of the songs, but some songs like „The devil’s deadly weapon“ sound, I would even say, more symphonic; do you have any comment on this?
What you need to bear in Marko, is that the songs we recorded on the album were originally written over probably a five year period. The band Hell in its original form back in 1982 when we started and 1986 when the band finally broke up developed and the keyboards were becoming increasingly important part of the band’s overall sound. For example, when we first started in 1982 the only keyboards which any of the songs actually had in was a litle monopohonic Moog synthesizer which was just used in only one song, I think. I was very inspired by Geddy Lee from Rush and I realized just the kind of depth and power the really well written keyboard parts could add to whole texture of the song. Keyboard parts were introduced more and more as the band’s music developed and progressed, it just so happens that a lot of songs on the new album are from ’82-’83 period where there’s not much keyboards there, it’smuch more guitar driven. The songs like „The devil’s deadly weapon“ are from later 1985-1986 period where the keyboards started to become a little bit more featured in the overall sound of the band. Back in 1985, all of that stuff was all in my head but I didn’t have the technology to be able to reproduce it so one of the really cool things about having the album out in 2011, rather than 1985, is that I finally have the opportunity to sit down in front of the digital workstation and all of a sudden anything that has been in my head for the past 20 years was finally possible to do! The song „Plague and Fyre“ for example, the introduction is like a medieval Burbonic plague market scene with horses and all this kinda stuff happening – I always wanted to do that but I never had the technology to do it. So yeah, actually it is kinda more symphonic sound but that was the sound I always wanted to create but couldn’t do it before.
Let’s now focus on your vocalist: the original idea was that Martin Walkyier should do the vocals but then your brother David joined the band and really done the great job. So how did that all happen?
Yeah, I agree, he has done the fantastic job. The way it happened is… First of all, if you listen to old Hell material you’ll immediately realize that Dave Halliday’s voice was unique, he was very high pitched and he had very distinctive sound which was very important part of the overall Hell’s sound. During the recording process, I would say even 80% of the whole recording process Andy Sneap was constantly on the lookout for somebody who could replicate that kind of madness Dave used to have when he was singing along with this very high pitched melodies which was such an important part of the sound. He tried everywhere, he tried tribute bands, we auditioned 4 or 5 different singers and it was just nobody that came anywhere near sound like the kind of vocalist we both knew this kond of material need to make it true and faithful to the original kind of spirit of Hell. Having failed to find somebody who could do that, we decided that we have to shift our expectations a little bit, maybe look for a plan B which was basically Martin Walkyier. We knew that he wouldn’t sound like Dave Halliday but we really wanted to ive him a chance to come and do this as he was just as big a fan of Hell as Andy Sneap was, he saw the band probably 25-30 times, Andy Sneap and Martin actually met each other in the front row of one of our gigs sometime in 1982. Martin was desperate to have a go at this so we had him in the studio over a period of couple of weeks and we recorded the whole album using Martin on vocals. He did a fantastic job, he put his heart and soul into it, really absolutely killer job… but the problem is Marko, it didn’t sound like Hell, it sounded like an unreleased Sabbat album, an incredible Sabbat album but the singer’s voice is the instant sonic signature of any band – if Bruce Dickinson sang on it, it would sound like Iron Maiden album, if you understand what I mean. What we ended up with is the album that nobody was really 100% happy with. The way my brother David got involved is that he is a professional actor and he spent fifteen years doing Shakespeare and stuff in the theatre, he also does a lot of voiceover work as well for the adverts and this kind of stuff. So I will now use the song „Plague and Fyre“ as an example: there’s a section in the middle part where we needed a voiceover which says „This plague and the impending conflagrations are signs from God” and I invited David along just to do that voiceover part, that narration as we needed actors’ kind of style and he did that, did a great job and than he literally sit in the control room listening back to what David just recorded and he just started to sing along with the songs cause he knows all the songs, he knows them for years and years, and Andy and I just looked at each other and Andy said “I didn’t know your brother could do that!” and I said “neither did I”. I mean, I’ve heard him singing all these songs in the theatre for years and years in his very straight forward clean theatrical tenor and I had no idea that he could do metal as well! Andy said “would you like to come back and try a few of the other songs” so David got back in, tried a few more songs out and Andy just knew within a minute that we have found the right guy, the right guy was my own brother and I haven’t even knew it. It’s just one of those things that has just kinda happened, it wasn’t planned and I didn’t know that he could do that kind of stuff and now that he has done it, and he has obviously done the fantastic job, every single review mentions the vocals for being so good which they obviously are. We are preparing to start going out to do some gigs and some festivals, and he is professional actor that has spent 15 years on the stage doing crazy stuff for the audiences, it’s just absolutely amazing for the band. We gave him one of these hands free head set microphones so he doesn’t have to hold the microphone in his hand. It’s fantastic, all the original theatrical elements of Hell live shows is something else which is being maintained as well. We could not find anybody better for this job.
You have just mentioned that you are going to have some festival shows, could you say something more about the upcoming gigs? Do you maybe plan a proper tour?
Yes, very much so. We are actually signed to an agency called Rock The Nations which is one of top booking agencies in Europe, they are doing the fantastic job for us already. So far we are confirmed for three metal fests in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, the first date will be… I’m not sure 26th of May or something like that, we are confirmed for Download in UK, Donnington, we also have shows in Sweden and we are also playing Tuska in Finland. We are also on the main stage of Bloodstock in UK, which is fantastic for us as well. There is also possibility that we will also go for much more extended, much larger European tour sometime in the autumn, September or October time and that will almost certainly be support act for larger, more established band that will do an extensive tour. There were one or two tours that we were offered already but it didn’t feel quite right for us but there are things coming up in the autumn time which are right for us. One of the tours is very extensive and it includes Croatia as well so you’ll be able to get there and we’ll buy you a few beers. Nothings is really confirmed yet, we are still in negotiations abut we want to go out there and tour as heavily as possible.
You have actually done one video clip for “As on Earth as it is in Hell” but you have also done one more video clip called “Death squad” some twenty years ago, so could you comment your old and the new one?
The two videos are linked by two important facts: they were both filmed at the same location and in “As on Earth as it is in Hell” you can see that it is in the ruins of the huge English stately home. But if you look at the original “Death squad” video from 1983, you can see straight away that a lot of locations are also in old English stately home. In fact, there was a place that was called Wingfield Manor which is about ten miles down the road from where we live and the owner of the place actually remembered us from 1983 and he very kindly made the place available for the second video as well. The second thing that links it is that the original 1983 video was completely home made, we made our own make up from glue, you can tell that it has very “do it yourself”, zero budget vibe to the whole thing and it was exactly the same with the new one as well. At the time, we haven’t signed the recording contract with anybody and we thought that it would be a really good idea to kinda get the video together and to show the perspective record companies and interested parties what the band looks like. We took a truckload of all the gear for our live show up there and just filmed the whole thing ourselves. The video was actually done for us by friend of Andy’s called Christian Harvard, he was actually the guitarist of Hellfighter. Christian actually runs his own video production company, that’s his day job, so the deal was that Christian did the video for us for free and Andy mixes their new album for free. All the stands with all the flames and stuff on – I made all of those in my garage, the organ parts in front of my keyboard, that’s plastic drain pipes. I think that the budget for the whole video was something like fifty quid and I think that it looks really good, considering the fact that most of the videos people are looking at are quarter million production stuff. That was a fifty dollar video, that was. But it came out really well and it still gets between 1500 and 200 hits a day which is really nice.
How would you label the music of Hell? Here and there, people say that you are influenced by Mercyful Fate. We can say that Hell was British answer to Mercyful Fate.
I understand exactly why you have asked that question. It’s always been very difficult to kinda describe the band that we are, simply because there’s so much variety in what we do. Every single song on “Human remains” is completely different but there’s definitely recognizable Hell house style. There are huge variations in lights and shade and depths and textures in what we do. Every song has its own story, has its own personality, different kind of soundscapes and stuff going on and that obviously made the whole thing blend together into kind of a book rather than 11 isolated chapters. So for that reason it’s very difficult the label the band as any particular genre, some of the main reasons why some of the young kids having such a hard time with this is that they can’t say “oh yeah, it’s Black Metal” or “it’s Power Metal” because every song is different. With Hell we just do what we do and people have a hard time… I mean, maybe Marko this is the reason why the record companies found it so difficult to understand what we did, because we didn’t sound like anything else out there. Now about the comparison with Mercyful Fate – it’s something that a lot of people have said but interestingly it’s a comparison which was never made back in eighties when Mercyful Fate were contemporaries of Hell back then. The honest truth is that the first time I have ever heard the Mercyful Fate album all way through is only six weeks ago because I have seen so many reviewers and journalists and comments on Youtube “sounds like Mercyful Fate, sounds like King Diamond” so I’ve got to check it out. I ran to Andy and said “have you got a Mercyful Fate album” and he said “yeah, I have Melissa here”. So I sat and listened to it all the way through and of course, instantly you can hear why people are making that comparison. The honest truth Marko is that I didn’t listen to Mercyful Fate in the eighties. I was really the principle songwriter in the band, I was really more the child of the seventies, my influences were band like Deep Purple and Whitesnake and Robin Trower, Michael Schenker was my all time guitar hero when I first picked up the guitar and started to play. I can understand why all the comparisons are being made, it’s probably fate or the luck that has generated two bands that sound remarkably similar to one another but I can assure you that it’s just a complete coincidence.
The final question is about the lyrical background of Hell. Obviously, occultism and Satan are major topics so please could you explain the lyrical background? At the beginning of eighties, it was very original.
Certainly, obviously there were not too many people talking about that. There are also a lot of other lyrics on the album which aren’t necessarily religious or have anything to do with religion: “The oppressors” is about the alien abduction, “No martyr’s cage” is about the political imprisonment and there are also other lyrical subjects as well which are also very dark, and quite twisted and macabre in some way. “Plague and Fyre” is about people dying of plague and the great fires in London so there are three major songs on the album, which don’t have anything to do with religion or Satan. The way we got into this was really almost by accident, both myself and Dave were interested in the occult, we didn’t sacrificed goats and burned down churches but it’s just really interesting and fascinating subject to read and research about. As a songwriter, you write songs about things you find interesting and that is the principle reason why that kind of occult thing developed in the first place. The other reason why it developed is that right from day one, one of Hell’s principle objectives when we played live was to entertain people and to put on a really, really strong visual show; obviously having this kind of occult themes to the music represented the perfect platform for us to generate the kind of visual show that we had with swords, axes, blood, smoke and all that stuff. That really is how it was set out. In terms of what I feel personally about religion is that on the personal level I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with religion, it obviously brings a lot of joy and confidence to a lot of people’s lives. It’s not the religion that I have the problem with, it’s with some of the people that follow it and that really is what these lyrics are about, it’s about some of the fanatics who follow it and who are responsible for all this carnage, war and death all over the years. So it’s just expressing our personal views.
I would like to thank you for this interview, it was really nice chat and I would like to meet you in person on some tour!
Likewise, thanks very much indeed Marko for your time. I know that you guys don’t always get the thanks that you deserve for the job that you do but obviously without people like you nobody wouldn’t know that our album exists so thanks indeed for your time and interest, I really appreciate it.
Answers by Kev Bower
Interview was done by Marko Miranovic