Hail of Bullets (from left): Martin Van Drunen, Theo Van Eekelen, Ed Warby, Stephan Gebédi and Paul Baayens
Dutch band Hail of Bullets was formed in late 2006, after a drinking session among Gorefest drummer Ed Warby, Thanatos guitarists Stephan Gebédi and Paul Baayens, former Houwitser bassist Theo Van Eekelen and ex Pestilence/Asphyx/Bolt Thrower vocalist Martin Van Drunen.
From the outset, the goal of Hail of Bullets was to create guttural, gut-punching old-school death metal. The super group succeeded last year, when Metal Blade Records released “… Of Frost And War,” a monster concept album documenting the merciless Nazi/Soviet war of annihilation that began with the German invasion of the Soviet Union June 1941 and ended with the Red Army conquest of Berlin in 1945.
Since its release, “… Of Frost And War” has received nothing but praise from the metal press – and was named one of the top metal albums of 2008 by prestigious metal magazines and Web sites such as Decibel and Metal Storm.
In May, the band will play its only U.S. concert so far, when they appear at the Maryland Deathfest.
Earlier this week, HoB guitarist Stephan Gebédi graciously agreed to answer a few questions about how the concept for “… Of Frost And War” was created, the writing process, the challenges and joys of multiple band responsibilities and plans for the next Hail of Bullets album.
1. First, “… Of Frost And War” is a fantastic album. I was struck by how much the album sounds like war. I liked how the tempo of the songs reflected the lyrics: “Ordered Eastward” “The Crucial Offensive” and “Advancing Once More” are very driving and indicative of the offensive, while, with the slower opening pace of “General Winter,” I could imagine the German tanks and trucks bogging down in the mud … before the tempo takes off, reflecting the Soviet counter-offensive. What came first, the music or the concept for the songs? In other words, did you write the music to reflect the story in the lyrics, or was the music written first and the lyrics second?
Stephan Gebédi: Well a bit of both actually; we started with the music for 2-3 songs and when Martin heard those he said he had been thinking about a concept album on the battles at the Eastern Front during WWII for a long time, and these songs were the perfect soundtrack for his visions. So from that point we kept the lyrical concept and the chronological order in mind a bit, although we also felt that the songs should stand on their own as little death metal opuses. The concept should be a bonus for those who want a little bit more out of an album, but the individual songs should also be good enough for the average death metal fan that just wants to hear a great song.
2. How did the concept “… Of Frost And War” originate? When the demo was recorded, were you already planning to record a full scale concept album about the Eastern Front? For that matter, was the band created with the intent of focusing on war-related themes?
SB: This was already more or less explained in the previous answer I guess. When we adopted the name Hail of Bullets, some of the songs were already written and we already had this concept in mind. So we needed a name that would fit the concept. It was simply like all pieces of a puzzle coming together.
3. Lyrically, the level of historical detail on the album is extremely impressive. For example, I thought I had read quite a bit about World War II in the Soviet Union, but I was unaware of a Soviet air squadron made up entirely of women. How were the lyrics researched?
SB: Thank you. Martin had already read quite a lot of books about WWII and this particular part of the war had always fascinated him. So the basic knowledge was already there. He went through some more books and documentaries whilst writing the lyrics because he wanted them to be historically accurate. Especially in Europe, WWII is still a very touchy subject so it was very important for us to base all lyrics on historical facts, to avoid any unnecessary controversy.
4. Everyone in HoB has a lot of experience in other bands. Do you
get a different kind of satisfaction from playing with HoB than
Thanatos? Are there things you can do musically with HoB that would not work with Thanatos ?
SB: Although the idea to form Hail of Bullets was mine, I still consider Thanatos a bit more as my own baby. In Thanatos I’m the main song writer, while most songs on HoB’s debut album were written by our drummer Ed Warby, and only a few by me and Paul and all lyrics by Martin. Thanatos is more thrash metal orientated and the Bullets play pure old school death metal. There would be no point for me in playing in 2 identical bands so basically I would say both bands give me different kinds of satisfaction that complement each other. Both bands are equally important to me, although HoB more or less has become our main band now. The fast thrashy riffs and anti-religious/occult lyrics that I write for Thanatos would definitely not fit HoB. It’s definitely a challenge to play and write two different types of metal songs, but it’s working out pretty well at the moment.
5. What is your favorite HoB song to play live? On the other hand, is there also a song that is particularly challenging to play?
SB: I like playing most of them… some of my favorites are ’Ordered Eastward’, ‘Berlin’, ‘The Crucial Offensive’ and ‘General Winter’. It’s always challenging to play the guitar harmony in ‘Inferno at the Carpathian Mountains’ and for Paul it’s definitely a challenge to play the lead guitar in ‘Berlin’ with the right amount of feeling.
6. Death metal has changed greatly over the years. Today, bands as diverse as Meshuggah, Obscura, Soilwork and Opeth all incorporate some elements of death metal into their songs, or play a death metal variation. I’m not asking you to comment about any of those bands, but since HoB is a return to the traditional sound of death metal, do you think the genre has a whole as drifted away from its root sound?
SB: Maybe, although I don’t think it has drifted away from its root sound as a whole, but at a moment there were definitely too many bands that started playing this kind of hyperspeed U.S. death metal stuff, which focussed too much on speed and beats per minute instead of writing actual good songs. I’m not saying that none of these bands could write good songs, but too many bands jumped on the bandwagon and added speed for speed’s sake. That’s why it was important that bands like Bolt Thrower and Obituary stayed true to the original death metal sound. I love bands like Vital Remains or Misery Index that do use a lot of blast beats just as much though, so I think there’s room for various types of death metal.
7. I read an interview in Vampire magazine that said you have the option of making up to three HoB albums with Metal Blade. Is there any new material in the works? If so, do you envision another album with a war theme? Would you do another concept album?
SB: Yep, we’ve already written a few new songs… War will definitely be a returning topic in our lyrics, but we’re not sure yet if the next album will be an actual concept album or not…
6. Do record label differences make it hard for the band to tour?
SB: No, not at all. The only thing that makes it hard for us to do an actual long tour is the fact that we all play in other bands (Asphyx, Gorefest, Thanatos) as well and most of us have families and daytime jobs on top of that. So we have to divide our time between several bands, our families and our employers, which takes a lot of planning and can cause quite a bit of stress sometimes… but somehow we seem to manage…
8. You’ll be playing the Maryland Deathfest later this spring, but that’s the only U.S. date scheduled so far. Thanatos is about to release a new album, but are there plans to do a larger HoB tour later?
SB: Thanatos won’t be playing that many shows this year so that’s not the problem. Maryland Deathfest more or less ‘demands’ exclusivity so if we’re going to do more US shows they definitely have to be planned later this year or sometime next year.
But if the MDF will be a success for us we’ll definitely try to come back for more shows later.
9. “… Of Frost And War” has been very well received, at least by the reviews I’ve seen. How have audiences been reacting to the songs? The music is very violent, but in a really cathartic way. I imagine audiences have been moshing like mad at the shows.
SB: Yes, the reviews have been great everywhere and as far as we know the album sold pretty well. The crowd reactions have been very enthusiastic in most places. We had some pretty wild crowd reactions all over Europe, with people headbanging, moshing and old fashioned stage diving. Martin definitely knows how to get a crowd going!
10. Considering your obligations with Thanatos, when do think a new HoB album will see the light of day?
SB: Now the Thanatos album will finally be released within 1 or 2 weeks from now and the new Asphyx is also more or less finished, we can concentrate on HoB again. The actual plan is to start recording again at the end of 2009 and release the album around March/April 2010.
You can check out Hail of Bullets by visting their YouTube page, and by hearing full tracks on their MySpace page.