An EXCLUSIVE Q&A
Metal is not a musical genre – it is a way of life. Followers of any and all Metal subgenres – from Thrash to Doom to Viking – are a devoted bunch. They tend to stand by their favorite bands during good times, bad times and line-up changes. Once a Metal fan, always a Metal fan. If Billboard stopped focusing on sales figures and concentrated on fans’ enthusiasm alone, then it is safe to say that Metal would certainly trump the Auto-Tune Brigade that fills the charts these days. While naysayers may insist that all Metal sounds the same, these folks have to remember that 50 years ago, the older, stuffy and uptight music industry veterans said the very same thing about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and insisted they wouldn’t last. Since Metal has been around for four decades, it is safe to say that it won’t be going away any time soon. So thrash on that, doom-mongers!
For 20 years, Sweden’s Raise Hell has offered up their own unique take on Thrash Metal. While not the most prolific of bands, Raise Hell has made each release a cause for celebration. From their 1997 demo Nailed to their 2006 album City Of The Damned, the band built a loyal following around the globe. Each album was a step forward musically, displaying their ability to integrate different elements into the Thrash genre. With releases on Nuclear Blast and Black Lodge, things were headed in the right direction until the band suddenly went quiet for nearly a decade. Fans have been waiting patiently since 2006 for new music and, thankfully, that wait is now over. Written In Blood sees the band return with a new line-up and an energy that will leave younger Thrash bands trembling in their wake. Massive riffs, soaring melodies and powerful vocals are never in short supply with Raise Hell. Written In Blood is just what Thrash Metal needs right now.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to gather a list of questions and send them off to the band as they prepare for the release of Written In Blood. Vocalist Jimmy Fjällendahl took time out of the band’s busy schedule to update us on all things Raise Hell. Even guitarist Jonas von Wowern got in on the action…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Written In Blood is now available. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
JIMMY FJÄLLENDAHL: First of all it feels great to finally release this beast after so many years. We’ve taken a step into a new Raise Hell era and we have been looking forward to this for so long now. There are many reasons for this delay, but I guess you will ask about that a little later. The response so far has been as expected, I guess! We’ve been very confident about this release and our expectations have been really high. But it would be very naive to think that no one would disagree. The majority of the reviews so far have been really positive. I think we’ve had just one not so positive review so far.
SPAZ: This is your first album in nine years. Why did it take so long for the album to come to fruition?
JIMMY: We released City Of The Damned in 2006 and it’s very unfortunate that it’s taken this long, but a lot of things have happened during these years. Actually we started writing new material right after we were done with touring for COTD, but for some reason we didn’t get it down right. I think that we were (without knowing it by then) trying to write some kind of sequel to the previous album, but I guess we kind of reached a dead end. About the same time, the fire authorities closed down our rehearsal place, which is understandable, ‘cause a fire would’ve toasted all of us. No escape doors whatsoever! But we’d been talking about getting our own place for a long time and now we were forced to. We found this place with just concrete walls, floor and ceiling so we had to start building it all by ourselves, from scratch. Since none of us had any experience with this kind of construction, we googled most of it. Obviously this took a lot of time. Then, a lot of things have happened on a personal level. Some of us have become parents multiple times, and if anything is time consuming, that is! Unfortunately I’ve had a lot of people (some really closely related) dying on me during this time, and this is also very time consuming. Our drummer Dennis Ekdahl left the band in the middle of writing this album. This was of course a big deal ‘cause he’s been a part of this band since the start, and it took some time to adapt to the situation. I probably forgot some other issues that made this process take all this time, but at least you get an idea of what’s been going on in the Raise Hell camp.
SPAZ: Has your songwriting style changed over the years? How do your songs come together? Does the riff come first and does that dictate the direction the lyrics will take?
JIMMY: Yes, I would say it has changed for this album. We always used to jam the songs together at rehearsal but this time we’ve been sitting in the studio and recording a preproduction at the same time as we wrote it. At a few times we stepped out in the rehearsal room to jam the riffs but more often than not we just stayed in the studio and recorded it. I personally like to have a completely written riff to write my lyrics to. It does happen that I write “poem lyrics” but then, a lot of times there will be troubles when mixing them with the new riffs. I don’t like to cut my lyrics that much.
SPAZ: The abrupt change in time signatures and catchy melodies on tracks like “Dr. Death” (especially the melodic fade-out), “Demon Mind”, “Six Feet Under” and “A Blackened Resurrection” show your versatility. Do you feel that thrash – and metal in general – is often misunderstood by critics?
JIMMY: I have never really felt comfortable with saying, “We play Thrash Metal!” For some reason people are very anxious to put you in a certain box. When you step outside that box people have opinions. We definitely have a lot of influences from thrash bands, both bay area and European but still we do have a lot of other influences. Our music is definitely not PURE Thrash but if you have to put a name on it I guess it’s the most fitting genre. I don’t find genres very interesting.
SPAZ: While the album is very powerful, it is never ‘over the top.’ Do you often find that you have to reign yourselves in, musically, at times rather than just aurally pummel the listener as some other bands are prone to do?
JIMMY: We write our music strictly for ourselves, without any regard for anyone else! If you start writing what you think other people want to hear, then you’ll soon be one of those “music products” that we all despise!
SPAZ: With such a long break between albums, was their an abundance of material for you to choose from when it came time to decide what tracks were going to make the album?
JIMMY: Well, not really! We’ve cut one or two songs out from the album but that’s about it. Except for the earlier material that went right in the trash bin, of course. The delay of this album depends on a lot of other things, as I talked about earlier.
SPAZ: The band has gone through line-up changes over the years yet your fans have stood by you as you continue to evolve musically. Why do you think metal fans are more loyal to the bands than other genres?
JIMMY: Once a Metal head always a Metal head! I think Metal and rock fans are sort of like football supporters... Damn! I really didn’t like saying that. I’m not into sports at all but you know, you follow your team in ups and downs the same way you follow your bands. It’s the same commitment. I’m a Guns N Roses fan since MANY years and even though it has been a major change in that band I still follow them. And if there will be a new album I definitely will buy it. Why? I don’t know, but I think this is quite unique for Metal/Rock fans.
SPAZ: When the band first started out, what was your local music scene like? And has that changed over the years?
JONAS VON WOWERN: Back in ‘96 the scene was Melodic Death Metal as we had Dissection ruling the scene. Of course we were influenced by that, but Slayer and Metallica was the style we grew up with, so we mixed those styles together and found Raise Hell. Today I think we still have the melodic parts here in Sweden, but now bands are getting influenced by the American Hardcore, and the New Metal that are growing stronger.
SPAZ: Sweden seems to be a real hotbed of Metal talent. Why do you think that some of the world’s most inventive and popular Metal bands come from your region of the world?
JIMMY: I don’t see Raise Hell as a typical Swedish Metal band, even though we probably got some of the ingredients. But I guess the popularity of the bands from this part of the world depends on many things. First there is a typical Swedish (or Scandinavian) sound that put this music in a special box. Regardless of subgenre, you can somehow hear it’s Swedish/Scandinavian. Unlike Bay Area Thrash or Seattle Grunge, this phenomenon goes for all of the subgenres here. Then I think that politics and society reflects a lot, not only the lyrics but probably the music as well. It also seems that our geographical location combined with some mythology plays a big part in all of this. You know, “the lands up north and their Vikings,” and things like that. Makes people think it’s kind of exotic. I really have no idea, this is just my thoughts about this.
SPAZ: Thrash is such a general term for the kind of music you create. Does it bother you to be lumped into one genre? And how would you describe the Raise Hell sound?
JIMMY: I love Thrash, both Bay Area and European and a lot of our music is definitely thrash in one way or another. But we do have a lot of other elements in our songs that do not fit into the characteristic thrash genre. I rather not describe our music at all, other than “some kind of metal” but I guess that leaves a little too much to imagination. Thrash is probably a good word for it.
SPAZ: How do you think this new album fits into the Raise Hell catalog?
JIMMY: Every Raise Hell album has been very different from one and another. So this one probably fits in just fine 'cause it’s really different from the last one. This has always been an issue from critics but this is just the way we want it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the next album is gonna be different from this one, but it might as well be. No one knows yet!
SPAZ: What is next for Raise Hell?
JIMMY: Right now we’re planning a release party for this album. There are also some really cool gigs at planning stage but nothing is settled yet. We’re also looking at tours right now. A European tour is mandatory but we’re also looking at other parts of the world. For example we had a great response from South America, so we’re looking in to possibilities to do a tour there. Other than that we will probably do a lot of single gigs, a little here and there!
Thanks to Jimmy Fjällendahl and Jonas von Wowern
Special thanks to Johan Haller and Nick Kominitsky
WRITTEN IN BLOOD