HELL "The Unholy History and Miraculous Resurrection of Hell"

By Dr. Abner Mality

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here."--William Shakespeare

HELL is the nether region where our worst fears become real and where God punishes us for all our sins. Or so God would have you believe. However, I can think of one "Hell" that serves as an inspiration, as a redemption, as a living example of perseverence. That is the English heavy metal band Hell, whose rebirth this year certainly stands as one of the most amazing tales of sticking to your guns that I have ever heard.

Hell formed in 1982 from the ashes of Parallex and Race Against Time, two of many NWOBHM bands that failed to break through to greater success. For the next five years, these theatrical metalheads plied their demonic trade in front of small but loyal crowds who appreciated their complex occult metal. But in 1987, their debut album was part of the spectacular crash of Mausoleum Records...and which never saw the light of day. Shortly thereafter, the band's spiritual leader Dave Halliday committed suicide. And Hell ceased to exist.

Except the memory of the band lingered in the mind of one Andy Sneap. The same Andy Sneap who would become the guitarist of thrash legends Sabbat and then go on to produce over 100 metal albums in a wildly successful career. Taught to play guitar by Dave Halliday, Sneap never forgot Hell and when fortune put him in contact with guitarist Kev Bower, the flames of the underworld suddenly started to rise again.

Now in 2011, we finally have the debut album of Hell, entitled "Human Remains". And what a timeless masterpiece it is. Fully supported by the Nuclear Blast label, "Human Remains" looks to be one of the top albums of the year....24 years after it was first written. Who can deny the hand of fate in this miraculous occurence?

Now I am lucky enough to venture into the pits of the fiery domain to speak to Mr. Sneap about the history and resurrection of Hell. Hear now, this tale of persistence and diabolical faith, straight from the lips of one who knows it best...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: The return of Hell is really the metal story of the year so far.

ANDY SNEAP: It's definitely got some history to it, hasn't it?

WC: How gratifying is it for you to see an album like "Human Remains" released in 2011?

AS: Well, it's always been a little bit of a dream of mine. I've known these guys for years, ever since I was a teenaged kid. I first met them when I was 12 years old and went to see them play locally. It's weird how it's come around again. I met Tony and Tim, the bass player and drummer, in social circles. It was great to see them but none of us knew where Kev (Bower, guitarist) had gone. It turned out that his son, who is now 18 or 19, was a metalhead who got all these albums I'd been producing. Kev started looking at his son's albums, telling him :"yeah, I used to do this when I was a lad!" (laughter) Then he saw my name on all these albums and went, "holy shit! This is the kid who used to follow us around!". Now of course, Dave, the original singer/guitar player, taught me how to play guitar for five years, from age 12 to 17. There's a real strong connection there. When Kev saw my name on these albums,  he got back in touch with me and that was the missing piece of the puzzle, really. Kev's the only one who can remember these songs. I met him for a beer, put a guitar in his hand and we didn't stop. We decided we'd have a bit of fun, get the old guys back together again. Now obviously there was a big piece of the puzzle missing because of Dave Halliday's death, but we found a new singer in Kev's brother David, who I think is amazing. He did such a quality job on the album and he's so easy to work with. He just nailed it. He's so theatrical anyway, he's a trained actor...

WC: I watched the video for "On Earth As It Is In Hell" and I thought this guy has to be coming from a theatrical background.

AS: Yeah, you can tell, can't you? Just the way he is. He's not hiding behind the microphone or anything like that. It's going to be that way on stage, too. He's going to be using a headset mike and actually acting the songs out on stage. That gives the band a really different edge.

WC: Would you say that Hell is the British version of Mercyful Fate?

AS: It's funny,  because they always were compared with Mercyful Fate even back in the day. I remember getting Metal Forces magazine...I think it was one of the guys who used to work down at Shades Record store, was it Dave Reynolds?

WC: Dave worked there and I think Kelv Hellrazer did also. I was a huge fan of Metal Forces.

AS: I remember Hell did one London gig at the Tram Shed. It was a little bit outside of London, but I grabbed Dave from Shades and took him down to the show. He wrote a piece about it and said exactly that. It's got that Schenker-type guitar vibe, the Priest-style guitar riffs, the higher register vocals, although it's obviously not King Diamond's falsetto. It's got that feel in the twists and turns of the music and obviously the imagery and the theatrics are there. There is a very strong comparison because the bands were around at the same time.

WC: I was so impressed by the moves of your singer Dave Bower that the only two guys I could really compare him to were King Diamond and Alice Cooper.

AS: Yeah, yeah, I know what you're saying.

WC: When you went to see Hell in the early days, what made them stand out from all the other great British metal bands at that time?

AS:  They were playing small rooms and backs of pubs and average size town hall type venues in the UK. For a band that was playing those type of venues, it was like they were trying to play Wembley Arena! They had walls of cabs, they got pyro, they got the smoke, they got all the stage moves and props. They are acting out bits between the songs. It was just so different from the average metal band that went up on stage with a bullet belt, Union Jack T-shirt and jeans, you know. It was nice to see a band put so much thought into the image. It just makes the music more powerful when it's like that. I still think that's true now. Look at the way bands are now, with the typical haircut, arms full of tattoos. It's almost a "Metal 101" handbook on how you've got to look these days, isn't there?

WC: The ball cap and beard look is tired. The black metal look has become kind of standarized, too.

AS: I must say, some people are confused by our video. They don't know whether to take the band seriously or not. It's like, what's this? We really don't fit into a genre. We're just doing what we thought was right for the band. We didn't even think about it when we made the video. We thought, let's get some fire, let's get some cabs and we'll do the old Hell stuff! That's all we thought! (laughter)

WC: I showed the video to somebody who was not quite as well versed in metal history as I am and he said, "well, this band looks influenced by Cradle of Filth!" No, I said, it is quite the other way around!

AS: When you think about it, Hell influenced my band Sabbat and then Sabbat influenced Cradle, so you're right. They're just one of the bands that didn't get the recognition that they should have. But we picked up on it because I was friends with them. People don't realize that history, but hopefully the story will get told now that the album is finally out. The metal scene would be different if it hadn' of been for Hell. The dues have been paid, it's time for them to get a little bit of recognition.

WC: Do all the tracks on "Human Remains" date back to the early days of Hell?

AS: Yeah, yeah, they're all from the 80's. If you get the deluxe double CD version, we're including all the demo from the 80's of every song we've done, so you can make comparisons and see how we've brought it all forward. We haven't changed it that much! There's been some riffs that have been shortened slightly and some bits that have been streamlined. There are a couple of arrangement things the band did later on that we liked but we didn't actually record. You're hearing probably 90% true to what the band was back then and then we put a couple of little twists on, which the band itself might have done if they had the chance to do them back then.

WC: Do you have any ideas floating around for new material?

AS: Well, I'm letting Kev getting on with that, because I've obviously got such a huge back catalogue of material I've written the past 20 years that I've not used. But I'd rather it came from Kev, because he was the musical driving force behind the band, although obviously Dave Halliday was another important part. Dave and Kev would split the songs pretty much 50% and then Tony and Tim would chip in with their ideas. I want to keep the whole feel of the band true to Hell so I want to see what Kev comes up with first.  He's got some pretty stunning ideas for the next one, I must say...some pretty amazing stuff. We've got probably 50% old material for the next album as well. We're going to slowly make our transition to writing new stuff. Probably the third album we do will have 95% new stuff on it.

WC: The metal scene has kind of come full circle, because there is a lot of interest now in the classics. In the late 90's, I don't know if you could have gotten away with this comeback.

AS: I think it's the right time for this now!  There's a real interest in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing again, not that Hell were part of that. They formed on the tail end of that in late 82 when it was beginning to die out. Maiden was taking off but the smaller bands were beginning to fall by the wayside a bit. Even so, people lump us in with that New Wave of British Heavy Metal because Hell has some of that feeling in the riffs anyway.

WC: They did have the connection to Parallex, who were definitely a NWOBHM band.

AS: Yeah, obviously, that was Kev's band before Hell. Dave was in the band Race Against Time and both of those bands were classified as NWOBHM. Actually a lot of the riffs from Parallex and Race Against Time are in this Hell material.  They took donations from both bands and put them into Hell. If you go online and look at the old Parallex song "Rock The Nation" , that wound up being the main riff in "Let The Battle Commence". Some of the Race Against Time stuff, especially a song called "Leap In the Dark", wound up in "No Martyr's Cage" and "Blasphemy And The Master". Yes, there is that connection to the NWOBHM.

WC: Where would you say the band stands philosophically? Do they have Satanic or pagan belief or is everything satirical?

AS: It's satirical, really. I have no belief in that sort of thing whatsoever. Kev will always say that is for the individual to decide, blah blah blah, and keep some distance from those questions. But to me, it's theatrical. It's not all satanic, when you look at it. There are in-depth themes to each song and well thought out themes and theatrical themes and that gives us an image which we can play with live. It gives extra impact to the music.  Yeah, it just gives the whole thing more punch, if you know what I mean.

WC: I've always liked bands that can tell a story.

AS: Well, look at what Maiden were doing. I'd say Hell is really more along the lines of what Maiden were doing, but just taking the imagery a lot further. That's how I see it. The imagery helps the themes of the songs.

WC: One track from years ago, "Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us", is more accurate now than it was then!

AS: I know! When we were recording it, we have all these little interludes that join the songs together, but we didn't have one for that song. Just as that was happening, we saw on the news all the stuff about the Roman Catholics, the Pope and child molestation. And I thought...oh, I'm going to have fun with this! (laughter)
Kev had this little Pink Floyd bit of music he was going to use for the intro and I told him, I think we've got some voice-over parts we can use with this! (chuckles).

WC: It was served up to you on a plate.

AS: Oh, there was no effort at all to do that! That was one of those little gems where everything worked perfectly.

WC: Do you think Hell would be considered a black metal band?

AS:  Back in the day, I think you could have called the band that. But I think the whole genre of black metal has changed from the likes of Venom and Mercyful Fate. It's not the same any more, is it?

WC: The Norwegian version gave it a completely different sound...

AS: That's it. And we certainly don't fit into that sound. With a name like Hell, a lot of kids will think we fall into that category of band...double kick drums, blast beats and grim vocals. Which is obviously not what we're doing. I think you kind of label it occult metal. Like you said, it is really like Mercyful Fate. They're the closest comparison to us, if you feel the need to make a comparison.  I do think our music has a little more variety than what Mercyful Fate was doing.

WC: Back in the day, there was a band called Witchfynde which had that sinister image, too, though their music was more of a hard rock feel.

AS: Absolutely. I almost expected Witchfynde to be heavier than they were. I actually know Montalo and Harry, one of the singers they've had. I actually saw Al Short, the bass player from Race Against Time who was in Witchfynde for a bit, out here yesterday. It's funny you mentioned that!

WC: I am an old geezer. (laughter). Those were exciting times!

AS: It was! I said this to Al yesterday, as a matter of fact. There was a naievete to things then, because nobody had actually done it before. The scene was inventing itself at the time, wasn't it?

WC: I think the creativity of metal right now is pretty high, but the business end of it is to the point where it's not a business anymore.

AS: I think it will reinvent itself. It's going to get to the point where the only way bands can make money and survive is to get out on the road and make money from merchandise. You need to make an album to get out there. The whole reason for a record label is really to almost be a bank, where you float the band and get out there and do the publicity end of things. But I think we'll get to the point where a lot of the smaller labels are going to die off and there will only be the larger labels. Getting a record deal will be a stamp of confidence and a sign of quality control again. But the whole thing is changing, you're right about that.  The whole media format is changing. The other thing which was mentioned to me the other day, and which I hadn't really thought about, is once all the downloading starts affecting the film industry, then the governments are going to come onboard. It's going to be a huge impact on taxes. That's already the case in the music industry as well. When that happens, they'll start going after these torrent sites a little more and hopefully shut some of them down.

WC: You're one of the most prolific metal producers out there.  How does being in Hell affect that career?

AS: Well, I'm kind of putting the production thing on the back burner a little bit to do Hell. I was always a guitar player at heart. I started off doing Sabbat and when that fell apart, I jumped into the producer's seat, really. It was the only thing I knew how to do! (laughter) I haven't got any qualifications for anything. I gotta make some money, somehow! But luckily things worked out because I kind of knew what I should be doing as a producer. I'm a creative person, I've always got a good idea in my head of how things should be. Obviously I've been doing this since 1994 or something like that.

WC: I couldn't even come up with a list of everything you've done.

AS: I couldn't either, really! I was putting my website together the other day and I couldn't remember it. I can't remember all of the albums I've done. I had to find other sites where all my stuff is listed. Oh God, I remember that one now! (laughter) So much stuff! I've done over a hundred albums!

WC: What strikes you as the high point and low point of your production career?

AS:  The high point I'd say was the new Accept album, working with those guys. They're such cool guys and I was always a huge fan of the band back in the day. So to be sitting there with Wolf and Peter working on song ideas was a dream come true, really.

WC: That record has done very well.

AS: It's done great, yeah! I actually saw them last night here in California. Every gig I see them now is a packed house and it's going down a storm. Those guys knew where to go with it and without Udo in the band, there were a lot of people very wary of it. But they've put out a great album and turned it around, so hat's off to them.

WC: Is there any band that you wish you hadn't have taken on?

AS: Oh, that's a difficult one. And I don't want to upset anyone.There have been times in the studio where I've sat there thinking I'm not the right guy for this. When you're in the middle of recording and you can't relate to what they're doing. I try to be very decisive on what bands I work with nowadays. I've been in those difficult situations a couple of times, when you're hating life and you're 5000 miles away from home. I'm not going to name any bands but I will say that I try not to take on bands now that I don' t feel I can relate to musically. There's got to be a musical connection there. If you enjoy playing a song, you'll play it better. That's an essential thing with mixing and producing.

WC: How about Sabbat? Is there anything going on with those guys?

AS: No, not now. We did a string of dates last year just in the UK, which went pretty well. But I felt the band was looking tired again and I knew the other guys weren't into it as much as I was. I've always been desperate to get out there and play and a couple of the guys were seeing it as a bit of an easy trip. So I just said, guys, we need to put this on ice for the moment. We haven't said "never again" but there's no songwriting at all or any communication at the moment. I'm just putting all my efforts into Hell at the moment.

WC: Are there any live plans for Hell?

AS: We start on May 20 with a local show which is kind of a warm-up show and then we go to Europe the following weekend. We've got a number of metal festivals with Arch Enemy. I think it's Sweden, Germany and Austria the first weekend, then we do the Rockstadt Fallen Festival in Switzerland. The weekend of June 12th we play Download, which is the old Donnington festival. We do Tuska Festival in Finland in July and we've just been added to another festival in August which I can't mention yet. Then we're looking at going out again around Europe in the fall as part of a package tour.

WC: What was the last CD or record you got just because you wanted to check ther band out?

AS: (chuckles) I'll tell you what it was. It's quite embarassing, actually but it wasn't because I wanted to check the actual band out, I was more interested in the mix. It was the last Nickelback album, believe it or not. But I did wind up throwing it out my car window on the I-5!(laughter) I don't know what they were thinking with the songwriting on that album, but the mix was outstanding. That's really why I buy records check the production and mixes out rather than the actual bands!

WC: What was the last band you saw live because you really wanted to see them?

AS: That would have been Accept last night! And who else? Oh, I went to the Big 4 thrash show. I enjoyed seeing Gary Holt (Exodus) play with Slayer, that was pretty cool.

WC: There was just that one show here in the States...

AS: They're doing one in New York now as well!

WC: In your long career, is there a Spinal Tap moment that sticks out in your head?

AS: Hmmmm...ah, hmmm. I'm a bit on the spot with that question. Hmmmm...well, there's been plenty of times where we've had people falling off stages and things falling over, but that's not that interesting. I've got moments but I don't really want to repeat them in public! (laughter)

WC: Any final words for those who might be interested in Hell?

AS: I hope people will give it a listen because it was a real forerunner to what Sabbat was doing and it influenced our whole generation. The later black metal bands picked up a lot of what Sabbat was doing, so if you're interested in the history of metal, I think you'll find it fascinating. There's a lot of depth in these songs, there's almost a whole album's worth of material in each song. I hope people will appreciate the effort that's gone into it and the attention to detail in this material. That's sadly lacking in a lot of metal these days.