Whether you liked what Helvetet’s Port did in the past or not, chances are good you will agree that their new album, “From Life To Death” is a considerable improvement compared to their past works. We got in contact with singer Tomas aka Witchfinder to get an update on the band and some details on the new album. First, Tomas, Helvetets Port apparently was on hiatus from around 2012 until 2014, but why has it taken such a long time since you got active again to get this new album out?
– At first when we got things going again, there was no immediate plan to record a new album, although the songwriting process started, as is always the case in one form or another. Then we realized how much material we had and wanted to do something more than just a normal album. We could have started off with a smaller release but we felt that it would be a bit small-time to release another single or mini-LP since “Man With The Chains” only had three songs. Then we also wanted to record it ourselves and not rush things. Factors that also played into the long wait is the geographical distance between the members, procrastination, and a technical issue that delayed the album release by some months.
When you look back at the three previous releases today, the single, the album and the EP, how do you view these releases today compared to the thoughts you had when the respective releases came ut?
– As I guess most musicians would say regarding previous work, there are things with the sound and performance that are a bit bugging in retrospect. We have usually recorded with equipment and under circumstances that don’t really allow for doing retakes until everything is fully satisfactory. Also I feel that there are some goofy things about the album covers and some of the lyrics. We’ve always been serious about our music and general image and maybe we could have done a better job reassuring that through the visuals of the previous albums. I mean, it’s not more extreme than many eighties heavy metal releases, but for some reason if you have an old style nowadays, or have themes regarding stuff that can’t exist in real life, people seem to think it’s not serious. I’ve never been able to fathom why something old would automatically be less serious than something new and it sometimes feels like talking to a wall getting people to understand that. I would have thought metal fans would like the past since so much inspiration for almost every band comes from the past. Then all of a sudden one is supposed to be modern, or what? We are never going to accept having jeans and a black t-shirt and singing about everyday issues is the way to go. I could go on all day about this and I’ve also written an in-depth piece about this in a Swedish fanzine. But I digress. Regarding the old releases I do feel that the song material is very solid and is as viable today as it ever was.
I remember you announcing you were looking for a new record deal, and in the end the new album comes out on the same label, High Roller, that you worked with in the past.
– Yes, we wanted to scout out the lie of the land and see what kind of offers might arise. High Roller is a great record company so it came to be that we are working with them again.
Did you get any response from other labels, or did you get an indication that the music of Helvetetes Port too weird for the metal labels out there?
– I think we got a couple of responses but nothing that I really took note of, something along the lines of «not what we’re looking for». However we did send mostly to eighties labels which I don’t even know if they exist nowadays, and some big ones that we’re not surprised by the lack of answers from.
Funny to see you sent a promo to Mausoleum Records. I guess you never got a reply since Alfie Falkenbach sadly passed away some years ago. What are your thought on this label and their releases? The albums were everywhere here in Norway and many of them can still be found, quite easily. Do you have a fave release on Mausoleum?
– Yeah we found out about his passing a few days after the promo was sent. I can tell you it was quite an ordeal trying to find out which eighties record labels actually exist in the present day. Google did not want to give straight answers and I think around five or six promos were returned to sender. Mausoleum is one of the few companies that released a huge amount of records but with general good quality and in the correct spirit so to speak. The question of Mausoleum’s best album is easy since it’s also the best album ever made, namely Wolf “Edge of the World”. Some other great ones are the releases by Blacklace, Ostrogoth and Saint’s Anger.
Ah, thats really interesting. I was listening to the Wolf-album the other day. I can fully understand the fascination for it, as it is a great album, but best album ever? Why do you like «Edge Of The World» so much?
– Well, one of the more pessimistic reasons it’s the best ever is that there aren’t that many full length albums that are 10 out of 10. Most of my favourite bands didn’t release LPs and usually they were a mixed bag compared to their singles and mini-LPs and even demos. “Edge Of The World” also has this incredible, melancholic feeling about it that seems to transcend time and space. And even though it has that melancholy that I like so much in heavy metal, it’s catchy enough to appeal to people of all genres. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone who doesn’t like the album once they hear it. Personally I can’t really count the world famous bands since there’s just something blocking my mind from embracing them to the fullest. They would have to have their own list, below the «regular» one.
Is «From Life To Death» to be viewed as two separate releases, an album and a minialbum with 14 tracks all in all? Is this a result of the fact that you havent released anything for a while?
– They are not separate releases as they are sold as a bundle. The mini-LP is in its own cardboard cover inside of the thicker main cover. Once you have that bundle you can see for yourself if you’d like to store them as separate records so to speak. They do look nice next to each other on the wall!
How have you chosen the which tracks to have on the album and which to have on the EP? Wouldnt it be tempting to put all the best songs on the album, as that format is still regarded as superior to, and more important than an EP?
– We wanted both sides on both records to make for a good spin on the turntable, but sure, the LP might be a bit more maxed out. But you never know what songs the listener will take to heart, I’m sure some people will favour the mini-LP. Those who buy the CD wouldn’t have to switch, so we feel that’s a good balance of incentive between the more visually appealing and classic LP and the user-friendly CD.
Are the material on the LP and the mini-LP written in the same period, or is it possible to say that the tracks included on one the releases are mainly of a newer date?
– It’s a mixed bag. There was no such thought in choosing which songs ended up on which vinyl. It’s hard to describe the age of the songs since many parts and riffs are from different periods, but the true, clear-cut seniors of the bunch are “Night Of The Innocent” and “Die To Stay Alive” whose compositions are virtually untouched since around 2007.
With such an amount of tracks, there willl be quite a diverse selection of songs. What are the two most different tracks on the album in your opinion?
– As for the immediate impression I would guess “Die to Stay Alive” and “Hård Mot De Hårda” could be seen as being on opposite sides of the spectrum as the former is a kind of ballad, and the latter has some speed metal influences. Although I would also argue that “Orions Bälte” is very different, it’s a song that’s almost all about the mood and its build-up, and not necessarily hooks and choruses. Our “new” guitarist David also makes his debut as Helvetets Port song writer with the bulk of the title track being written by him, and it also brings its own feeling to the table.
What do you feel David brings to the table both as a guitarist and as a songwriter?
– As a guitarist he brings a vivid and solid live performance. He is a tremendous shredder and plays rhythm with a snappy verve. As a songwriter we haven’t yet had the chance to see very much but he has a knack for the neoclassical, and seems especially adept at pre-choruses.
«From Life To Death», the title could have been a concept album, but judging from the lyrics, its pretty clear that it isn’t. Why have you chosen it as the title of the album?
– Yes the concept is more of a visual one. The title track was written before we had decided on a general theme. We really like the Egyptian theme so we went with that. An air of mystery and dignity that goes well with the generally epic and melancholic feeling of the songs.
The album has tracks with lyrics in English and Swedish, and even songs where you sing both in English and Swedish in the same tracks. How do you decide which songs are gonna be in which language and have you ever considered the fact that it can be too much back and forth for the listener?
– When writing songs they usually get titles and lyrics pretty early in the process, so those choices are more or less solidified early on. It’s just a hunch you get when writing songs, and it can also just pop up in your head randomly and then you can’t get rid of the notion of what title the song should have. I think the human brain is capable of processing our level of language switching; however, if we were to change language mid-sentence then I might agree it’s a bit too much. But now that I think of it, Oscar wrote a line with both English and Swedish in the same sentence for a song ages ago that I kind of feel like using … “Du stöter ditt ljuster, as hard as you can”, haha.
For us Norwegians its pretty easy to understand most of the lyrics in Swedish. Especially a track like «Hård mot de hårda» caught my attention, sounding like you want to make a statement on today’s metal scene or something like that. What’s the idea behind the lyrics to this one?
– It’s a song about the dilution of the concept of heavy metal, where bands who don’t actually play heavy metal still get labelled as such, perhaps unwillingly. It could either be that the music is too soft, or it could be that it’s actually more akin to death metal. This could pose real-world problems, as you are increasingly more suspected of playing something different from what you actually play when you say you are a heavy metal musician. Who hasn’t heard the phrase: “Well I don’t like that *imitates death metal growl* stuff” when someone is asked if they like heavy metal? The world of heavy music has always undergone changes in nomenclature and it felt like the dust was starting to settle when “metal” could mean anything and “heavy metal” meant more of a classic style. But we’re afraid that the term “heavy metal” is becoming something that could mean anything.
Who do you think is at fault for this? Is it the bands themselves, the fans or perhaps the media?
– Definitely mainstream media’s fault in the case of non-metal people having these misconceptions. I don’t think they get their information from any other source and when reading that the «heavy metal band Slipknot» is coming to town it’s no wonder they think accordingly … and ask you if you are going to the show. Also, the biggest outlets of metal media could be worsening the mental concepts for their readers. Now I’m not sure if they would actually say that a band like Slipknot have heavy metal as their designated genre, but by including virtually only ultra modern nu metal or death metal bands in a publication that’s supposed to be «about heavy metal» etc, then I’m sure it slowly creeps into some readers’ minds that «this is heavy metal», like Lordi sang to rub it in.
From what I can understand, its seems you have been recording, or are recording a video right now. The one you did for “Lightning Rod Avenger” was really cool, are you putting as much work into this new one? Could a video that is as special as the one for «Lightning Rod Avenger» draw attention away fromt the song itself, or do you see it just as a positive thing?
– This time around we are using a lot more tools of the trade so to speak. Scenograpy, more props, special effects etc. So there is a much wider range of filmmaking tools. “Lightning Rod Avenger” was more of a cultural document so to speak, while this video is more like an eighties video with storytelling. It’s the same people involved in both videos, with director Erik Andersson once again being in charge and he has a deep understanding of the band. I believe that a video, with the proper editing, can strengthen the song itself by highlighting certain parts and flowing in conjunction with the song. What you ultimately take away from it might for some people be the imagery itself, for some the song and for some the combination, and we are happy with whatever it might be.
One cool thing about Helvetets Port is that your songwriting isnt really straight forward or following the standard idea of how a heavy metal song is supposed to sound. Yeah, there could be a catchy chorus, but many songs often have these quirky parts that sound strange, at least the first times you listen to them. Do these parts come naturally when you write, or do you deliberately try to add them to stick out.
– As for myself, the quirky parts are what come in abundance when I write songs, and I have to weed some out as to not make the songs too complex. There’s almost no music theory behind what I write, I’m just guided by the sentiment of heavy metal itself.
Is this part of what you are aiming for with Helvetets Port, to show some sort of identity by sticking out and not only use the typical melodies, whether we’re talking about vocals/music or by using the standard song structures?
– I would say that for me it’s part of being a songwriter, whether it be for Helvetets Port or something else. Getting stuck in genericness is such a deadly trap and you hear it all the time when browsing new bands. For some bands it can be overcome by sound and feeling, but the further away from the eighties you search for this quality in the history books, the more difficult that feat seems to become, almost to the point of being impossible nowadays – now you pretty much need at least a modicum of originality. It’s however not a conscious decision when writing songs, and I am glad to have some kind of automatic barrier against the most generic stuff. And we hope that our sound and feeling supplement it all, which I believe to be true when you like heavy metal as much as we do.