Having set their sights on Russia, Japan and North Africa most recently, it was now time for Ave Noctum to fall in the firing line of Hail Of Bullets’ immense armoury. Rather than the blood, shit and severed limbs which we were worried might result from lobbing charged questions at these war mongers, instead what we got in return was an extremely amiable and informative Ed Warby. (And indeed what a bastion for intelligent metal the former Gorefest drummer proved himself to be…)
AN: May I begin by stating that your new album will most definitely be on my top ten albums of 2013 list. How satisfied are you with ‘III The Rommel Chronicles’ and what have the reviews been like so far?
EW: Now that’s a fine way to start an interview, haha! Seriously couldn’t be happier, the reviews are all very good, most along the lines of “best one yet” and that’s what you want to hear the most as a musician that’s just spent a full year working on an album.
AN: The music shifts gears like an armoured machine throughout much of the album – from the build up to battle in the slow parts to the frantic fight in the fast. How demanding is the writing process when translating these events in both lyrics and music? ‘Death of a Field Marshal’, for instance, sounds like a lot of thought went into capturing the scene…
EW: Doing a concept album is a tricky thing, but luckily Martin was able to determine early on how many songs he needed to tell his story, and what the chronology was going to be like. So I could structure the entire album around his notes and build it up from there. We knew the suicide of Rommel needed a tragic, doomy song and like you say we put a lot of work into that one. I wrote a doom song at first but it was too much 11th Hour, so I ended up writing this one together with Paul who steered things in a more “death metal” direction. It turned out great, especially with Martin’s desperate delivery of the lyrics and the spoken bit. The ending is a nod to Ennio Morricone, by the way, who’s of course the master of musical lyricism.
AN: Obviously the previous two albums centred around theatres of World War Two, so I was quite surprised to find out that the new HOB would be a biopic. Where did the inspiration for an album specifically about Erwin Rommel come from?
EW: Africa seemed like the most logical subject to tackle, but we didn’t want to do another concept album just like the previous two. So Martin came up with the idea to focus on Rommel instead, which enabled us to incorporate Africa into the story yet broaden the scope significantly. Martin is the war-buff in the band, he reads loads of books on the subject and is a walking, talking war encyclopedia, all he needs is half a word and off he goes.
AN: For me, the idea of covering an individual’s career through the war was very clever as it touches on a few of the different phases and places that were involved. In what ways was it different condensing one man’s life into an album than the entire Eastern Front or Pacific Campaign?
EW: Martin keeps very much to himself when he writes lyrics, so much this time that we regularly wondered if we still had a singer, so I’d say it’s not an easy task. I think the biggest challenge is turning a historically accurate text into a song lyric that can be performed with conviction and doesn’t read like a boring history lesson. Martin really made Rommel come alive but I know it cost him many frustrating hours, days, weeks…
AN: Since living in mainland Europe, I’ve had a much greater sense of how raw WW2 still is as a subject than when living in the UK. As your average person would simply consider a figure like Rommel to be a representation of Nazism, did you hesitate at all before dedicating a whole album to him? Has any of your previous subject matter made you think twice before putting it out?
EW: I’d be lying if I said no. We had to think long and hard about the possibility of a ban in Germany, or a backlash from the anti-fascism movement. But we trusted Martin enough to come up with a balanced set of lyrics and anyone with half a brain can tell we’re not glorifying a Nazi here. I still remember our first show on German soil though, it was our 3rd gig ever and I had no idea how the audience would react to a song like Berlin. It rained like hell, and I thought we were dead meat when Martin made a crack about losing the war to those retreating to their dry tents, but amazingly enough he got away with it and by the end the front rows were literally in tears; an unforgettable moment.
The only “compromise” we made was the artwork. At first we thought about putting a bust of Rommel on the cover, but Metal Blade felt (and rightly so) that would be too controversial for the mainstream retailers so we decided to go for something more neutral (which gave us a much better cover in the end).
And yes, we sometimes get some dipshit calling us Nazis on Facebook, but there’s not much we can do about that.
AN: As someone who is completely ignorant of the German language, I must confess that the use of German in tracks like ‘DG-7’ and ‘Death of a Field Marshal’ really adds to the atmosphere and authenticity of the material. Could you elaborate on what the passages in these songs mean?
EW: In DG-7 Martin repeats the word Gespensterdivision, which means ghost division. Rommel had found a secret passageway to the channel, so his division was able to appear and disappear like ghosts. The spoken part in ‘Death Of A…’ is Rommel expressing his worries about how history will portray him.
AN: Would you consider an album based around the Allied perspective? Do you have any ideas about where the next record might go concept-wise – will it (fingers crossed…) still be WW2?
EW: Right now we’re just happy we were able to bring this mammoth undertaking to a successful end so a new album is not something on our minds yet. But who knows what Martin will come up with? I honestly have no idea. Maybe we’ll do an album with some shorter “concepts”, and that would certainly leave room for something about the Allies.
AN: My interest in WW2 originated with my grandparents who both served in the RAF. I would be interested to know where the concept/interest in WW2 as a conflict originally came from for HOB (collectively or individually)? Were the works of previous metal bands a big influence?
EW: That was all Martin’s idea, he’s deeply into the subject and his lifelong dream had been to do a concept album about the Eastern Front, so when HoB came along he saw that as the perfect vehicle for his dream. We all have a more than fair interest in the subject obviously, but not as strong as Martin.
AN: As far as I’m aware, Ed Warby (HOB drummer) has produced all of the band’s albums with Dan Swanö on mixing duties. What does Dan bring out in HOB’s atmospheric brand of death metal?
EW: Dan makes us sound our best, he has a perfect understanding of the tonal qualities our style of music needs and he also realizes that while we play old-fashioned music we don’t want to sound dated. So he magically fuses old and new into a pummeling sound that’s almost as important as the songs themselves.
AN: In the last decade there was only a handful of releases that I really kicked myself for not getting when they came out. Top of this list is ‘The Warsaw Rising’ EP which seemed to vanish pretty quickly. Is there any chance of a reissue in the future for morons like myself?
EW: Well, releasing something as a limited edition and then doing a repress is generally frowned upon, so probably not… We did just release a split single on Cyclone Empire which has an alternative mix of Warsaw Rising, so maybe you could snap that one up?
AN: Do you sense that there is a greater audience for the punishing style of death HOB plays now than there might have been, say, ten years ago? How has being a member of HOB compared to the initial years of being in Asphyx, Gorefest or Thanatos?
EW: When we just started there weren’t many bands around doing the old school thing, so we really felt there was a void that needed filling. Nowadays it’s become quite fashionable to say you play old school DM so the impact has been diluted some, but the audience is definitely there. We just got word that we entered the German charts, which in this day and age is truly amazing. But it’s nothing like the 90s, the golden years of death metal. When I joined Gorefest it seemed that death metal was the most popular style of music, we sold huge amounts of albums and played gigs all year long; amazing times. It’s not like that anymore, obviously.
AN: Speaking of which, can we expect any action from the above bands soon (or indeed a re-resurrection of Gorefest)?
EW: I know Thanatos have plans to record a new album, so definitely keep an eye out for that. Not sure what Asphyx are up to, and I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Gorefest reunion (unless you enjoy being blue in the face that is).
AN: What are the live plans in support of ‘III The Rommel Chronicles’? Is there any chance of a European-wide tour?
EW: Afraid not, we all have regular jobs and Paul’s a teacher (I kid you not) so we’re restricted to school holidays. We actually prefer to do weekend shows, festivals, fly-ins, stuff like that. It’s way more effective, and instead of losing money you actually make some from time to time.
AN: Finally, ‘…Of Frost and War’ is one of my all-time favourite albums. I had been reading a lot about the Eastern Front when all of a sudden a death metal super-group appears to translate the unimaginable suffering, misery and horror of it into music. What are your recollections of making this album, and was it a case of intentionally confronting listeners with the maximum possible barbarity from day one?
EW: That was most definitely the plan! We all played death metal before but this had to be the most crushing, face-ripping, earthshaking death metal album ever and we put everything we had into making it. I remember putting Dan through hell during mixing, asking for more guitars, more heaviness, lose the drums if we have to but it has to sound HUUUUGE! Musically the album almost plays like a compilation of everything we love about death metal too, I still think it’s a great record.
AN: If there are any final words you would like to leave for the readers out there, please feel free to unleash them here…
EW: I tend to talk so much by the time this inevitable question comes I’ve run out of things to say so I’ll just leave it at… cheers!
AN: Thanks very much for answering these questions and a massive HAIL for what you’re doing!
EW: Thank you for a fun interview!
(Interview by Jamie)