Big things are happening for Hell. Touring Europe’s major festivals including gigs at Download and Bloodstock means that it’s going to be a busy time for the band. Fresh back from their triumphant Metalfest appearances CackBlabbath caught up with Kev Bower to find out how things are going, and also why it’s important to have roadies at festivals….
So, what have you been up to for the past 25 years ??
Just the usual stuff, really – earning a living, getting married, getting divorced, getting fired from jobs, you know. I’ve been totally out of the music scene which has turned out to be a good thing because the music’s remained pure and completely untainted by outside influences which is probably one of the main reasons why it sounds as original and as non-derivative as it does. It still honestly hasn’t sunk in – but when you start getting approached by guys like Michael Amott from Arch Enemy, asking you for a T-shirt and telling you that your album and shows are killer, it really starts to mean something….that insanely talented man’s one of my all-time guitar heroes, and it’s a hugely humbling feeling. It was also great to see the guys from Saxon all standing at the Metalfest stageside, really getting into our show – again, great heroes of ours from a long time back, and such brilliant, down-to-earth, ordinary blokes. And that, Iain, was for me the greatest thing about the festivals we’ve just played – the camaraderie, friendships and mutual respect amongst all the bands was phenomenal – no egos, no primadonnas, just a whole bunch of people all doing metal for the love of it.
When you and Andy Sneap first discussed re-recording some of the original Hell songs were you up for it immediately ?
Too right I was. It was exactly what I needed since I was going through a difficult time personally and a shift in focus along with something to get stuck into was exactly what I needed. It was hard, though – it took a lot of work, guts and determination to get my playing chops back up to a decent, worthwhile standard, especially since I was a quarter-century out of date with the keyboard technology. Guitars are still planks of wood with strings on, but keys are a different matter. It was great though, to be able to sit down in front of a digital workstation and put together all the album soundscapes, orchestration, intros and other stuff I’ve done.
Were you still in touch with the rest of the band ?
No – we’d all moved on and gone our separate ways. I hadn’t seen any of the guys for a long, long time, I didn’t know where they were, I didn’t even know that Andy had gone on to become a producer because I’d been out of the scene for such a long time.
Well yes…..although both Tim & Tony were initially skeptical about live work for different reasons. The most significant factor was trying to decide how we could do this without Dave Halliday, and doing it so that we could strike exactly the right balance between respect for his memory whilst moving things forward at the same time. There was initially a feeling that it would be like trying to reform a dead Rush without Geddy Lee – but that evaporated once both Andy (as a player, not as a producer) and David (Bower) were both 100% on board.
You’ve found the perfect frontman in David Bower, did you know he could sing like that ?
No! I’ve seen him sing a lot of stuff in shows, but always in a totally clean, theatrical tenor style. It’s already pretty well documented how he ended up becoming our permanent singist, and he’s definitely the perfect fit. In fact the whole inner balance and dynamics of the band is nigh-on perfect, everyone has their role. I think there have only been raised voices once in our recent history, when we disagreed about a certain part of the stage show, but that disagreement only occurred because all of us wanted it to be right. If you fight, make sure you’re fighting about the right things. We’re friends first and everything else second, which is exactly how it should be.
The response to the album has been incredible, did you ever dream that it would be so well received ?
Not at all, but mostly because when you work so hard on something for such an extended period of time, you kinda lose sight of how good (or bad) it is because you’re very close to it and you develop a kind of tunnel vision. We knew it was good, but the reaction from the media has been stunning, really. It seems like every week there’s another few 10-star reviews appearing, it’s freaky. Of course everyone’s different, and every album isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but overall the reaction has been great. The most incredible thing is playing a gig in somewhere like Switzerland, and you see all these front-row fans in Hell shirts singing all the words to every song. That’s when it really hits home that you’ve created something which has connected with people in some way, and again, it’s a hugely humbling and inspiring feeling.
Do you see the present reunion of Hell as being a long term thing, or is this a one off album and tour ?
No – this is definitely a long-term thing. The best possible proof of that is that Andy’s turned down the production job on the next Megadeth album to focus on this (!) and we have plenty in the ‘work-in-progress’ can. Our focus for now is to promote ‘Human Remains’ to the best of our ability, to tour it, and to play as much as possible. The world’s a huge place, and we’re just starting to release in the US, Japan, Australia and other places, so there’s a lot to do. We have some more festivals coming up, and there’s a good possibility that there will be a much more extended touring schedule coming along soon. One thing’s for sure, though – no matter how successful we become and no matter where HELL ends up in the bigger picture, we’ll ALWAYS go back and do small local shows at places like MFN. Many people at that gig were with us back in the 80’s and we’ll never forget our roots and those people who have always been intensely supportive of us. We feel that to just move on and not look out for our local fans would be a gross betrayal, so we’ll always do it.
Any plans for new Hell material, or is there anything more waiting in the back catalogue ?
The second album will be a 50/50 mix of similarly reworked older material plus brand-new stuff, and we’ll start working on it properly as soon as time permits. I already have probably half of the keys stuff already programmed and done, so there’s plenty going on. That’s the way it has to be – having produced such a critically-acclaimed first album, it’s important that the second one at least equals it, and that takes work and effort. You see so many bands who fall at the second hurdle because they hit the studio with nothing written, nothing prepared – and it shows. That’s not going to happen with us.
The kudos of playing Donington is great, but we only have a 25-minute set allowance on one of the smaller stages which will just allow us to get warmed up before we’re whisked off again. It’s actually not my first time at Donington – Sabbat played some stuff from ‘Dreamweaver’ and reworked their original ‘Blood For The Blood God’ song at Download a few years back, and I did the keyboard stuff for that from the side of the stage. This will be better, though, because I’m a guitarist first and foremost so I’ll be able to jump around and throw a few shapes………but Donington’s Donington, isn’t it? It’s a privilege to be there. But festivals are quite high-pressure environments because setup times are almost always so limited. At the Metalfest shows we had exactly 20 minutes changeover between bands, which just flies by – get your gear on, cable it up, a quick one-minute line check, the ‘Overture’ intro’s rolling, and that’s it – you’re on, in front of thousands. There’s no room whatsoever for error, and we’re lucky to have such a great crew without whom we’d be dead in the water. There are a few pictures on the net of me at one of the Metalfest shows playing our opening song in the set with the whammy bar missing from my guitar – in the heat of battle I’d forgotten to put it on, so there I was, shredding away with one foot on the monitor, and with Scott, out backline tech, on his knees at my feet, screwing the bar onto my guitar’s Floyd Rose for the first solo with about three seconds to spare……
Do you think having Andy’s name associated with the project has helped open doors ?
Absolutely. He’s so well-known and so well-respected in the business, his opinion, reputation and output all carry a lot of weight. But I think it’s also fair to say that whilst Andy’s input has certainly planted crucially important seeds for the band, everything else has been achieved on merit and I’m sure he would agree with that.
It’s been pretty well documented already, but the bottom line is that it just didn’t work out, and the result sounded more like an unreleased Sabbat set than a new Hell album because Martin’s voice is so distinctive.
It’s all worked out for the best, no question.
What do you think Dave Halliday would have made of the 2011 Hell ?
All of us suffer moments of great sadness at the fact that he’s not around to enjoy what’s happening now and I think he would be proud that his legacy had continued in the way that it has. As I said earlier, we’ve tried very hard to strike the right balance between looking forwards whilst remembering our roots, and of course he’ll always be with us in spirit.
How would you compare David Bower as a frontman with Dave ?
They’re both nuts. End of story.