DATE OF INTERVIEW:
HAIL OF BULLETS
22nd February 2011
Dutch deathsters Hail of Bullets exploded onto the scene back in 2008 with their debut full-length offering '...Of Frost And War', a World War II themed old school death metal offensive but with a big, modern production. With the band comprised of luminaries from the Netherlands' death scene including ex-Pestilence vocalist Martin van Drunen, onetime Gorefest sticksman Ed Warby and Thanatos guitarist Stephan Gebédi, Hail of Bullets offer a refreshingly, no-nonsense onslaught of everything that epitomises great death, thus far spread over two critically acclaimed albums and an EP. Ahead of their appearance at the Underworld in London at the end of March 2011, which will be the band's second live outing on these shores, Stephan spoke to Metal Discovery about war, metal, and karaoke...
METAL DISCOVERY: How’s your year going so far?
STEPHAN GEBÉDI: It’s pretty much planned out with a lot of shows coming up and every weekend is almost booked up for the rest of the year. So we’re doing pretty fine, I guess.
(Stephan Gebédi on eschewing the 'supergroup' tag for Hail of Bullets)
"...what’s a ‘supergroup’, you know? We earned our mark with previous bands and with the bands that we still play in..."
Hail of Bullets - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2010 Caroline Traitler
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: A busy year ahead then!
SG: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: You made the official German album chart at number 75 last year with ‘On Divine Winds’ – did you ever expect to have such chart success?
SG: No, not really of course, because it’s still a pretty uncommercial type of music and, when something like that happens, it’s pretty weird to say the least. But, in a way, not just with us, just with metal entering the charts. There’s an explanation for it, of course – pop music and the other forms of popular music are selling less and less but the metal community still goes out and buys many albums; a lot of people still buy albums. It’s a definite explanation for it as they keep buying records, whereas the pop music industry suffers even more from downloading than metal. Still, for a death metal band to make the charts is still…
MD: …an amazing achievement.
MD: Is Germany a country that’s embraced your music more than any other country would you say?
SG: Yeah, I guess so. It’s a real metal country and it’s a weird thing but, when we play in Holland, we get good shows in Holland as well, but you draw twice as many people when you go 15km across the border in Germany. That’s a pretty weird thing. Germany has so many places to play and the audience is really faithful to metal. A great country to play.
MD: Did you look to see who you beat in the chart that particular week…like who was at number 76?
SG: There were a few big names that we beat but there were also some metal and rock related names like Joe Satriani. There were a lot of pop names that we beat but, the difference was, they went to higher positions the weeks after that and we were out of the charts. But it was cool.
MD: It’s still amazing, yeah. Has having that chart success earned the band any more attention or demand in terms of gig and festival promoters showing more interest perhaps?
SG: Well, in Germany especially, we've got all the big festivals lined up for this year.
MD: I noticed, yeah.
SG: Summer Breeze; Party.San…so, yeah, maybe it helped a little bit but I think there were already talks of getting those festivals this year. Just a little bonus, not that big.
MD: Band members have previously played in well-known names from the death scene, of course, but you seem to have resisted labelling Hail of Bullets as a ‘supergroup’ like certain bands do when they have such a lineup – was that a conscious move to avoid that kind of label?
SG: Yeah, because what’s a ‘supergroup’, you know? We earned our mark with previous bands and with the bands that we still play in, but it was just a matter of getting together a couple of people that we knew well who had the same point of view with music, and just making music that we like playing. That was the most important thing. But, in a way, it’s true – when I formed this band I wanted to have one of the best drummers in the Dutch scene, one of the best singers and, well, the other guys I was playing with already in my other band, Thanatos, the guitarist. So, basically, it was my friends and people I know from the scene but I also wanted to have a killer lineup for this band. It worked out pretty well.
MD: So you do kind of earn the label ‘supergroup’ but I always find that a funny term so it’s good you don’t call yourselves that.
SG: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: Do you anticipate war, in whatever form, will remain the main theme for your lyrics and imagery on future albums or do you not really have any plans for the future yet?
SG: Yeah, I guess so, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to the Second World War and a concept album every time. It might happen again with the next one but we might also do something totally different and just have separate songs about different kinds of things. But I think there will be some relation with war that will still be there because from the first album, when we wrote the first couple of songs for the album, Martin came up with this concept and said “well, I had this thing in mind for years and years, waiting for the right music to get this out of my system”. He said – “I’ve been writing songs and I’ve had the idea about writing this concept album about the Second World War, especially the battle on the Eastern Front between the Germans and the Russians and when I hear these songs they just scream for these lyrics”. We got the name then, Hail of Bullets, which is also a little bit war-related, of course. Then we said, well, maybe when we started writing for the second album, why not focus on another part of the Second World War, and it went from there. There’s no real rules where we shall keep doing it in the same way. The next album might be something totally different but it won’t be an album about zombies, or gore, or satan!
MD: Well, your band name has that kind of relation to war, I guess, so people will always expect some kind of war theme maybe.
SG: [Laughs] Yeah!
MD: I’ve read somewhere, I think in a previous interview, that you always try to match the music with the lyrics so one reflects the other depending on what battle or part of World War history the words are about – has that ever resulted in having to restructure certain songs or rewrite particular parts?
SG: I think with the first album we had the music first and then the lyrics. For this album we had a couple of songs written and then Martin came up with the concept, and then we tried to write some songs that would fit with the rest of the concept. So, when he came up with the idea for ‘Tokyo Napalm Holocaust’ we said well, that should not be a fast, aggressive song but more something like a doomy, atmospheric song with a very dark, atmospheric sound. So, for that song, I tried to write a little bit differently. For a song with lyrics like ‘Kamikaze’, which is a full blown attack, you need more of a faster pace. So we tried to incorporate the ideas in the lyrics in the rest of the songs we still had to write for the album.
MD: Yeah, that really shows in the music and adds a little diversity to it, I think. Do any of your fans take the whole war thing a bit seriously and turn up to gigs dressed in World War II attire?
SG: [Laughs] Yeah, it happened a couple of times in a part of Germany; a guy came dressed up with a steel helmet and a uniform. And I think in the Czech Republic, at Obscene Extreme, a few guys with gas masks but I think that’s more for the festival than the band. I think they wear it every year so it was not a big deal. But no, we don’t get lines of people dressed up in Nazi costumes! [laughs]
MD: That could be a bit weird!
SG: It wasn’t really the thing we had in mind when we formed this band!
MD: Yeah, you’d really make the headlines if that happened!
SG: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: You had a karaoke competition running last year for the track ‘Operation Z’ for the winners to sing that song with you at ten different shows?
SG: No, we offered some goodies and then the winner could sing one of the songs at one of the upcoming shows. In the end, it was actually a German who won the contest and we offered him one of our recent shows but he said - “no, I want to do it at one of those big festivals”; we said – “hmmm…we don’t know about that!” [laughs] We offered one of our headline shows because then we have enough time to do something like that. When you play Waken Open Air or Party.San then you get 45 or 60 minutes at the most, then we just want to make a strong set without any funny things going on.
MD: Yeah, novelty kind of things.
SG: It wasn’t our idea – Metal Blade came up with the idea of doing the karaoke contest. First they had something like people building their own thing, like a World War II aircraft. We said, “well, that’s a bit silly”; they said, “what about karaoke?”; we said, “well, that’s also a bit silly but, whatever, let’s go for it”…[laughs]
MD: Definitely better than the first idea.
SG: Yeah, I think so.
MD: I read the headline on your website and thought – karaoke!?! What?! For death metal?! Is that guy still in line to do a show?
SG: Yeah, I think so. When we play in his neighbourhood he will try to show up and do a song with us. He lives in a western part of Germany and we’ve been there a couple of times so it will happen.
MD: And what was the general quality of entrants? Were there some good death growlers out there?
SG: Yeah, a lot of people cheated – they recorded double vocal lines – few people really did it live but some of them, yeah, they cheated a little bit. One or two girls, as well, sent in an entry so that was pretty cool.
MD: A few Angela Gossows out there then.