After a somewhatmediocre debut released back in 2009, Hürlement from Paris in France showed real signs of improvement with the follow up “Terreur Et Tourment”from 2013. Fast forward another four years, and the band is ready with their third full length release, “La Mort Sera Belle”, another fine album destined to appeal to everyone into honest, classic heavy metal in the vein of Running Wild and Manowar. I got in touch with singer Alexis who put a real effort in to shed some light on both the history of the band as well as the brand new album, out since early January on Emanes Metal.
Prior to Hürlement there was a band called Akilonna. How many of the Hürlement-members played in that band, what kind of music did you play and how did the band evolve into Hürlement?
– It was François (guitar) and I in Akilonnia. We played classic heavy metal, not very far in style from Hürlement though, maybe a bit softer. Several Hürlement songs are from that time, because we had written them together, he and I. Then the band called it quits mostly for musical reasons, on good terms. I stayed with the other guys and we played covers, and on the other side started Hürlement with François. His brother Pierre was one of the three regular guys at our gigs and he played the drums, so he was an obvious choice. We started rehearsing and set out to find the other members.
Hurlement was apparently formed in 2003. What were your ambitions for the band back then?
– I’m not sure there was a stated ambition other than to focus on a heavier orientation and write songs. Playing gigs with your own music, being a live band with people singing your choruses, that’s the big goal of it.
Some sources claim that the first sign from Hürlement was a demo recording done back in 2005, but Alexis is quick to kill of this rumour once and for all.
– There’s a confusion there, let me explain: we wanted to release a demo, four songs I think, and started recording. We did most rhythm parts, then our second guitar player at the time – he left the band later, before the first album – had a hard drive failure and lost it all. I hadn’t even laid vocals yet. We had no experience, no equipment, recording just a shitty demo was a big adventure for us and that loss was quite a blow then, so much so that we decided the next thing we’d record was the real album. We never had a demo. What people think is one, is actually a rough mix of a few tracks from the first album, before mix and mastering. I had given that to some underground organizers to look for gigs, and to a couple of our friends on the festival scene. Only CDR’s, no sleeve, it’s not a release, just a hand-to-hand thing. I don’t even know if I still have it, haha. Those are the album tracks in their rawest version before we even knew what to do about mixing and mastering. The sound is bad enough to make it sound like a homemade demo, that’s for sure! But hey, at the time it got us a spot on the Swordbrothers festival, which was beyond any hope we had.
What are your memories from the recording of the debut album? What are your thoughts on this album today? What do you see as the album’s main strengths and weaknesses?
– Sound and production are secondary to songwriting and energy, so I think it remains a good album. It has drive and soul and good songs, which is what really matters. But the sound and performance are so mediocre, that’s the main weakness. Drums were recorded in a friend’s budding home studio, all the rest on terrible equipment plugged to a crappy computer, most of it in our bass player’s uncle’s bedroom. I had to sing my parts in front of a big mirror. At least there was the bed to hang around on, so on some of the isolated tracks you can hear someone snoring in the background! Guitar leads were recorded later, at our bassman’s house in the countryside. The fun part is a farmer was using heavy equipment nearby, so we had to redo some takes because right at the end of a solo the guy would start his bloody tractor. We were laughing to tears… I remember he also blew out the power in the whole street a few times: takes to redo again. Personally I love the songs, but it’s hard for me to listen to it because the vocals are so forced. We had a saturation issue and had to record at low mic input, and I had to compensate by singing literally as loud as physically possible. Each note is completely overdone in volume, and if you know anything about singing that’s not good at all, it all sounds crushed and thin. My thoughts on the album are we ideally should re-record it before we are too old, with real bass frequencies and natural vocals… But it’s not so important. Again, songwriting is what matters and it’s a moment caught in time, it’s the technical means we had then. And it was later mastered by a good sound engineer who even turned the sound from bloody awful to “just” mediocre, so it serves.
Already on the first album you mixed songs with French lyrics with tracks where you sung in English. Why did you choose to do it this way?
– We were naturally writing both types of songs, because of the various influences. Mostly I was writing in English and François in French. At some point came the question of choosing, and we just decided to fuck it and keep both. We enjoy both, we’ll keep songs in the language in which they write themselves. Supposedly it’s not a good idea because you have to choose a target image or market to develop, but we don’t give a damn. There’s no market anyway for a young band.
Using your native language is nothing new of course when it comes to French bands, with many of the best, Sortilege, H-Bomb as well as more recent bands like Malediction and Sanctuaire singing in French. Listening to your albums, I sometimes wish that you had done all lyrics in French, as it gives you a strong identity. Also, all songs in one language make the album more of an unity, in my opinion.
– There is that point with unity, yes. The question remains open, but we keep taking songs as they naturally come, which also gives them identity. And I think after three albums, we do have a unified style that the language mix is a component of. That’s part of the Hürlement thing now.
It seems the second album, “Terreur Et Tourment” made more people aware of the Hürlement, and it was, at least in my opinion, a considerably better album than the debut. Alexis seems to agree…
– My main gripe with “Terreur Et Tourment” is probably that it has too many songs. They lose in impact a bit, each one would have shined more with two or three less in total. Otherwise we’re very proud of it. Production is of course much better than on the first one, which is nice, but I think the biggest improvement is in how much more natural the takes sound. You know a bit better how it’s all gonna turn out in the end, so you can focus on rendition rather than just technical issues. That’s an aspect we still improved on later, but the second album is already better there. I can listen to it without wincing.
Were there aspects about “Terreur et Tourment” that you wanted to improve when you started working on the new album, “La Mort Sera Belle”? How do you feel it compares to the last album?
– There were a few, yes. Still more natural vocal takes, focusing on drama and character. The parts are technical and physical, but you have to push that to the side and mainly focus on making them theatrical enough. For the guitars, we wanted takes that were less clean and breathed more. There, recording in a studio rather than at home really helped. And we have a heavily distorted bass, so it is relatively high-pitched and tends to get half covered by the rhythm guitars. On this album, we could at long last mix its great distortion with a deeper presence. If you turn up the volume the bass rumbles like hell, we love that. It’s the first album that I don’t think would ideally need to be re-recorded. In terms of writing, it’s the first one where we set a direction beforehand. No concept, but we said we would give it an overall epic orientation, while still in the Hürlement style. That’s where François arrived with a song like “Conquérant”. “Hey, you wanted some epic shit, so here, take that!”
There has been something like four years between each of your releases. A bit too much if you want to build some kind of momentum, some people would say. Is an album every four years the “best” you can do due to other commitments, or do you simply need such a long time to come up with the material for an album?
– That is absolutely too much. I have plenty of material in store, and François has some too, that’s not the issue. It has to do with how fast everyone in the band is able to learn the new songs while still rehearsing for live gigs. Of course we have our jobs, and two in the band have young kids. Our drummer also has a recurring form of hernia, which doesn’t help. And we are close friends in the band, really tight. Nobody’s getting fired if they are late working on a song… That’s overall much better that way and you can feel that positive energy and unity onstage, but it doesn’t make things any faster. You need a ruthless, march-or-die component in a band if you want it to release all the time. We don’t have and will not have that. Releasing good shit takes time if it doesn’t pay the bills.
Give us a little insight into the songwriting process in the band. How much are done by individual members, and how much are done by the band together?
– François and I write all the stuff. What he’ll bring is a tabbed song with instruments and lyrics, then I write the vocal line and arrange the lyrics over time. When it’s one of my songs, I usually bring everything, sometimes even the guitar solos. We have an instinct that for some reason works well together, each instantly understands how the other one wants something to sound. So either one sends a full computer tab to everyone, and of course the song always gets arranged a bit when we rehearse it all together. Didier (bass) will often fuck with the parts… We always say, make sure to write a complicated bass part where you want a simple one, and a simple one where you want him to play more sophisticated. Contrary bastard. We have a new member now, Julien on second guitar, so we’ll see if he writes anything for the fourth album. That’s entirely possible.
Speaking about Julien, was it necessary for you to have a second guitarist on board to perform your songs the way you want them to sound?
– I enjoy each instrument occupying its own space in a live band. If course, we have some linked guitars on our albums, so there were things we were not able to render live, but we were still not looking for a second guitar player. We were already good friends with him, and he proposed joining. Since we knew we’d have good fun with him and there was that thing with our melodic parts, he’s in! He fits the balance of the band.
Julien is also playing bass in ADX, and the song “Guerrier” from the new album features a guest performance from Pascal Betov, one of the guitarists from the band. What is your relationship to ADX and their musical legacy?
– They are originally an influence, we are fans. Their old stuff is so awesome. But we also came to know them better and better, or you can say they became used to us after seeing our ugly mugs in the front row all the time. We have been friends for a while now. Betov invited me to do backing vocals on their “Ultimatum” album, imagine how happy I was as a long-time fan. On this album, we recorded guitars in good conditions, so it was natural to invite him on a song. It was a blast.
On the new album, there is a trilogy called “Brothers In Arms”. From where did you get the idea to do something like this?
– I wanted to write connected songs, with musical themes reprised from one to the other, but weaved into the composition and not just melodic quotations. And I also had bits of lines or titles for linked lyrics waiting for a suitable occasion. Making it a trilogy was logical, with the evolution in pace from one song to the next. Funny thing is, I also knew I wanted one album to end with an over-the-top fade-out, even before I had the song for it. It all came together.
There are obvious Running Wild- and Manowar-influences shining through in the sound of Hürlement, something Alexis doesn’t try to our music. What is your relationship to these bands, both their old and new material? How much of an influence would you say they have on the sound of Hürlement?
– They are the two most obvious influences I think, yeah. That’s already a good point, you’d be surprised of the stuff people can write on that subject sometimes. You don’t sit down to write stuff like this or that band, it’s more complex, an influence is in the background and you just come up with a song that’s running around in your mind… but if we want to sum it up with a bit of distance, you can say Running Wild is a big riffing influence for us, and Manowar for melody, rhythmic efficiency and catchiness. Listening to old Manowar too much, is that even possible, is also how I learned a good part of my vocal technique, because Eric is a master among masters. There are many other influences mixed in though, and none of our songs is purely in one style only. It’s how it goes: having a personal style is stealing from enough different sources at once.
If I remember right, you performed at Headbangers Open Air in Germany in 2015. I guess that show is among the highlights when it comes to live apperances for Hürlement so far? Most bands performing the kind of metal you do, dream about appearing at Keep It True as well…
– Yes it definitely was, and yes it definitely would be! It’s at the core of our scene as fans. I have been going to all Headbangers Open Air editions for what, twelve years now? And of all the Keep It True editions, I missed only the first and another one, back when there was the winter one. This is what we are. If you’re a relative of mine, don’t get married on one of my festival weekends, just saying! The show at Headbangers Open Air was also one of the best receptions I’ve seen for the festival opener there, I’ll remember it for my whole life.
Speaking about live appearnces, you recently performed at the Paris Metal France Festival. How was this experience for you, and what does a festival like this, featuring old and new French acts, tell about the general state of metal in France?
– Paris Metal France Festival is a family reunion, there is a circle of friends there. Our first Paris Metal France Festival was also the first stage of that size we played a bit before the release of the first album, and where Laurent from Emanes Metal told us he wanted to release it. The French scene is tiny, which doesn’t make it easy for bands. There will be forty thousand people for Iron Maiden in Paris, but only forty for a cult NWOBHM or US band with a fantastic career. That said, I think we have a very healthy and inspired underground scene at the moment, there is a lively pool of bands who play with a great culture and spirit, no delusions of stardom, and above all real inspiration. To name some excellent ones in no particular order: Lonewolf, Electric Shock, Tentation, Shoeilager, Herzel, Désillusion, Elvenstorm, Iron Slaught, Mystery Blue, Sanctuaire, Manigance, Furies, Surpuissance, Existance, Hexecution, Venefixion, Thrashback, Blackowl. Listen to any of these bands’ last releases, that’s good metal made in good spirit. I probably forgot a bunch of obvious ones. And of course the great old ones, classics from the eighties who are still active and showing us how it’s done: Killers, ADX, Vulcain, (Still) Square, Océan, Attentat Rock,… and I will shamelessly name Blasphème in there.