That’s right – yours truly was fortunate enough to snag a short interview with Hail Of Bullets, in time before their upcoming show at the Underworld venue in London on March 26th.
Pulling up a chair, I sat down to talk briefly to guitarist Stephen Gebedi about what the UK scene, the state of death metal and his own “live and let live” approach to music.
Since you all did do a show once before in London, how much are you looking forward to coming back for this one-off gig?
Well, we’re looking forward to it very much because we got a lot of good reactions from the UK after the release of the second album; so we really want to go there again! The first London show was pretty good as well – we played at The Purple Turtle, that time. It was a good show with a good turn-out, so we hope that the Underworld gig would be even better!
It’s a shame that we can’t do any more UK shows at the moment, but there will be many more later this year or next year; where we’ll be playing at Bloodstock Open Air.
So just how busy is your schedule, right now?
We’ve got most of the big festivals lined up at the moment, like Wacken and Party San in Germany; and one or two more like Brutal Assault in the Czech Republic and Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore, USA. It’s a lot of festivals but it’s going great; so we can’t complain about it!
Going back to what you’ve said about how Hail Of Bullets were received in the UK – from you have experienced so far of the British scene, how would you personally compare it to the Dutch metal scene?
Well, I was expecting a more “trendy” audience! When I read most UK magazines, I get the impression that you guys have a big metalcore thing going on; and then two months later you’ve got another big thing going on – I was really surprised by the number of just true heavy metal people who came to our show!
The people are also very interesting and not as bad as I thought! I was expecting the London audience to be a bit more critical of us, since you guys get so many bands there. Every band that wants to play England, they play London first; so we reckoned the audience might be more skeptical about new bands. But we got a really good response, and the number of people who’ve written to us plus the reviews in magazines like Terrorizer have been great!
That way, we found that a lot of people in the UK seem to like us; which is nice when you go there and see that everyone is really positive about the band and the albums. We hope it’ll be the same way when we return this month!
What else do you think of the UK scene?
Well, in Germany (one of the most metal countries at the moment) they’ve got this big underground/old school thing going on, and I think the UK also has that though it’s not as big. Yet it’s even better than it is in Holland, for instance. In Holland, it’s – how do you say it, really spoiled [since] they don’t react so much to bands. UK audiences on the other hand, were really excited about us, and were having a good time while enjoying themselves.
In a lot of countries, well… I’m not saying I really see it in Holland, but other places have become a little bit more reserved these days; which is a bit of a pity!
Since you’re obviously going to play tracks from your latest release “On Divine Winds” (which received rave reviews across the board including here on Me(n)tal-Meltdown), what else can fans expect at the show?
We’ve got two full-length albums so far; so it’s really difficult for us to not use any songs from the first record. When that one was out, we could only play sets that lasted one hour, but now we play for about one and a half hours.
At the moment we’re playing about six songs from the first album, six from the second album and then maybe one or two from the EP “Warsaw Rising” in between.
It’s a pretty long set I guess, for us old men!
That said, we always try to make the best out of it – all of us love the first album though it’s a bit different from the second one; but they’re both still Hail Of Bullets. The former, people might say was a little bit more raw and in your-face than the latter; yet they’re still both old school death metal, and you can’t make the exact same record twice,even though we didn’t stray too much from the original style [which we created].
The two combined sound pretty good in a live situation, so we just take it from there!
It seems that this time around with “On Divine Winds”, the song-writing’s become tighter and more focused; with a greater sense of heaviness throughout.
We didn’t want to stray too much from the style which we developed with the first album, though we felt there should be some difference between the two. Also, the lyrical concept that time around was focused on the battles fought during WWII on the Eastern Front between Germany and Russia; they took place in ice and snow, and thus had their own imagery and feeling.
This time with the Pacific theatre for ‘On Divine Winds’, we had a bit more of an epic feeling with the historical bombings and the Kamikaze. I think that together with a different approach and topic (though still somehow related to its predecessor), the music this time also developed a little bit in a different direction.
We wanted to give it a bit more of a grand-scale, with slightly more melody which made it a touch darker and heavier – it’s also much clearer when you listen, I think. The instruments can be heard much better here, and give more of a punch that’s in-your-face.
Narratively speaking, with the bombing of Tokyo, and the capitalization of the Japanese Empire, it’s more like an continuation of what we had on “Of Frost And War”. There, we had to constantly switch between the views of the Russians and the Germans but perhaps this time it’s more consistent [in focusing on one country]. I like both records equally, to be honest; but I think we managed to get the idea across pretty well.
It’s cool to see people picking up on it and giving their own interpretations of things!
You know, out of all the metal sub-genres out there (including thrash to a degree); death metal seems to be the most often written off as a “bone-headed” genre.
Despite the fact that death metal’s certainly not as dumb as many tend to dismiss it as, how much do you feel that death should correspond with this subgenre as well as the more intelligent side of it that is too easily overlooked?
I think that death metal should be pretty much linked with death, y’know? I have nothing against the gore-imagery bands, or those which sing about Satanism or zombies or shit like that – there’s nothing wrong with it! I enjoy gore movies as much as watching other things; as do a lot of people who are in Cannibal Corpse I guess. But I think it was already done too often, and with Hail of Bullets we had the name and the concept for the first album – we said, “well, let’s just take it from there and stay focused on war-related themes”. Though I’m not saying that the third and fourth albums will also be about world war II – they might or might not be.
If people just listened to Hail of Bullets for the music and brutality, that’s fine with me! If they wanted to find something more, and just read the lyrics to dive into the story then this is even better for me. Everybody should just approach it in their way; whether you write intelligent or unintelligent lyrics, people who hate the music will always say “it’s mindless shit” and I don’t think you can change that.
For ourselves, it’s important to put something just a little bit extra into the lyrics and the music so as to make it more interesting for us and those who listen to it.
I was also thinking of people inside of metal, who tend to see death metal as less intelligent than say black metal…
Well, there are different types of black metal at the moment – there’s a black metal movement which has links with certain political ideologies and I don’t like that vein of it too much; at least its lyrical approach. With the rest of the scene, though I enjoy it very much in all honesty I can’t take the whole Satan worshiping thing too seriously. But if people think that that’s more intelligent than writing death metal lyrics, even death metal bands who try to get something across as well (since we’re not the only ones in this genre who try to say something) – well, lyrics that are interesting to read are the more important thing.
There are more death metal bands that are doing that, and the same even goes for black metal! There are a lot of black metal bands with interesting topics and points of views, but as so many groups have the same bullshit going on… yeah, I really don’t know what to think of that!
It’s just a question of people making their own interpretation of the music and the lyrics, I guess.
It’ll be a little difficult to judge other subgenres; because people like what they’re doing and they should do that.
That’s an interesting point about bands repeating the same old thing. One of the comments often said about metal today is that there’s a need for something new as well as something to give the genre back its bite.
What do you personally think about this?
When we originally started Hail Of Bullets, there was a lot of death metal going on but it was almost purely in the American brutal style; with a love of blastbeasts and fretboard masturbation. So we went back to the roots of death metal with our band, looking at the groups that influenced us and introduced us to it in the first place: bands like Autopsy, Massacre, Death, Celtic Frost and maybe Possessed…
Today, I see a lot of younger people picking up on the bands that started this kind of music as well, back in the early 90’s. Though when I was much younger, we had to search for new bands and demo tapes; and the music was really pure, dark and underground.
That’s the big difference between metal, then and now. Today, everything’s out in the open and you can get every new band’s music through the Internet; whereas back then we had to really dig deep in order to get something.
Looking at the current subgenres of death metal, namely melodic death metal; what are your thoughts on these developments and how they seem to impact on what you grew up with?
It’s not a bad thing, since there’s room for everything: there’s room for technical death metal, melodic death metal… all sorts of death metal! I think it just makes the scene stronger, as there’re more bands picking up on it again which makes room for all of those subgenres.
For me, what’s important is that pure death metal bands are also there and have their place in the scene; but I have no problem with other kinds coming up as long as it’s music coming from the heart.
Some people just have a thing for the more technical variety, while we like music that’s pretty catchy, simple, direct and pure – that’s our kind of metal!
I’m afraid that we’re going to have to wrap up, at this point!
Do you have any closing words to the readers out there?
I want to thank everyone who’ve picked up our album and voted for us in various polls. It’s great to see ourselves being mentioned in so many popularity polls and magazines!
We hope that all the English fans who live around London will also be at the show, and we hope to come back for more shows in the UK later.
For now though, we just hope that as many people as possible show up at the Underworld!
To find out more about the one-off show at the Underworld venue in Camden, London; go to this address here and get your tickets!
Ann S. would like to thank Stephen Gebedi and Metal Blade for making this interview happen.