The Italian / Swedish connection is an interesting one, be it the legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic at AC Milan, or Tomas Brolin at Parma, the Fall of the Western Roman Empire has something to do with the then-Swedish inhabitants, the Italians have sent their cuisine towards Sweden….they got IKEA in return, the Swedish chef of the Muppets got a moustache and gets in all kind of trouble…and guess what, so does Super Mario! There you have it, The Italian / Swedish connection. And we can add Helslave from Italy to the list as well, with their swedish buzzsaw sounding Old School Death Metal. Both Jari (guitars) and Luca (bass) took some time to answer some questions… (Ricardo)
The Helslave project officially started in 2009, at the start we basically were a group of friends who wanted to play Swedish Death Metal, a genre we were very fond of. I was already friend with some of them for a long time, the rest of the band was found with a web-ad and word of mouth.
Some year prior funding the band, I had already started getting into the more extreme side of metal. I found all of the elements that I liked in Scandinavian Death and Black metal, I particularly liked the mix between aggression and melody and how balanced they were.
The spark that made me decide to try reviving this style started thanks to bands like At the gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and Amon Amarth to cite the most known ones, but also Dissection, Unanimated, Desultory… I could list dozens of them.
After the first album, considering also the changes in line-up, we started moving towards and heavier and more old-school sound, following the path of bands such as Entombed and Dismember, which I can surely mention as our greatest current influences.
Before we start on your own music, in your opinion which release or releases absolutely defines the genre you’re playing? Is it Entombed’s ‘Left Hand Path’ or Dismember’s ‘Like an Everflowing Stream’ or maybe a Nihilist / Nirvana 2002 demo, Carnage’s debut?
Jari: I would put “Left Hand Path” and “Like an Everflowing Stream” on the same level, since they are equally dear to me and having listened to them before the rest of the albums you cited. They include all of the elements that define the genre we play. I would put “Dark Recollections” by Carnage as a close follower.
Let’s go back in time at the beginning of Helslave’s career…your self-titled demo…
Jari: That demo was completely self-produced: recorded in our rehearsal space, roughly mixed by me at home. Furthermore, we had no stable drummer at the time, so we used a drum machine. It didn’t even have a cover; we only recorded those songs with the intention of getting them on YouTube and Facebook to get us known and to say “we’re here as well”. Altought I’m fond of the 4 songs that made it up (We kept “Helslave” until our first album), it is not a case that the demo is not available anymore, you could clearly hear how unexperienced the band was.
Onwards to your “Ethereal Decay” EP…
Jari: “Ethereal Decay” was our first official release, as well as our first experience in a recording studio: Stefano Morabito’s 16th Cellar Studio. It was made up of 3 tracks, which were then re-recorded for the following full-length. It was received positively, even if we had no label to promote the release at the time and we almost exclusively played in Rome or within our region.
What’s your opinion on your debut full-length “An Endless Path” (CD released by Revalve Records) release nowadays?
Jari: After “Etheral Decay” came out, the singer and I had to change 3 out of 5 members of the band, with the intention of recruiting more motivated musicians who were also more apt at playing this genre. The album is a summary of the Helslave sound of the early years, fast-paced rhythms, groove, and melody, with prepondering Melodic Death influences. AEP had a quite long gestation period, some songs were written as far as 6 or 7 years before being recorded, the rest were written together with Lorenzo, the guitarist that joined us in 2014. We relied on Giuseppe Orlando for the recordings and the whole album was produced in his Outer Sound studios, while the artwork was made by the Brazilian artist CadiesArt. It was the first album to be released by a Label, Revalve Records form Rome, which took care of printing and global distribution and allowed us to start getting us known beyond the national borders. I’m still very satisfied by how the album sounds, even if in hindsight I would have done some things differently. However, judging by the the fact that it is still being bought and downloaded to this day, I can say that it is still appreciated by the fans as well.
…and forward to your debut full-length “Divination” (CD released by Black Market Metal Label & reissued by Life After Death on cassette)…
Jari: Divination marked quite a change in the band’s style, as precedingly mentioned. The change didn’t happen only on the compositional level but also with the introduction of the singer Diego, with his more guttural timbre, and with the implementation of the HM2 pedal and a lower tuning for the guitars. For the first time we decided to rely on a foreign producer who could manipulate this sound better, so we recorded the tracks here in Rome and sent them to Sverker Widgren, who took care of mixing and mastering in his Wing Studios in Stockholm, allowing us to make a step forward with regards to production. We contacted Misanthropic Art for the artwork, who perfectly represented the themes of necromancy and divination of the album.
It received very favourable feedback, particularly abroad, allowing us to play in various festivals around Europe. In the next months, 5 years after its release, it will also be printed on vinyl.
And now your new and 2nd full length “From the Sulphur Depths” (CD, cassette & 12″ vinyl released by Pulverised Records, Desert Wastelands Productions & Gruesome Records)…
Luca: From the very start, the album received a great response from fans and critics alike and we’re very satisfied with the outcome, especially given how long the whole process took and all the difficulties we had to overcome. We started working on new material shortly after having performed some gigs to promote “Divination”, until our former guitarist Lorenzo left the band for personal reasons. That put a brake on the writing process, given that we also needed to rehearse the older repertoire with Marco for the upcoming dates. On the other hand, the addition of Marco gave a great prompt for the composition, since we already recorded some demos in the previous years while living together. The oldest versions of “Last Nail in the Coffin”, “Thy Will be Undone” and “Rotting Pile of Flesh” go back as far as 2015. We started tracking drums in February 2019, and then Covid hit. We could only resume with guitars and bass in May and had to wait further for vocals, since Diego lives in another region and travel was restricted at the time. By September, the album was completed, however, its release was postponed to April 2021 because of the great delays from which labels have suffered and the general shortage in workers. By the end of the process, we were simply exhausted, and seeing how enthusiastically received the album was really gave us the necessary energy and motivation to go forward. One amusing detail for the gear nerds out there is that we used a Peavey Studio Pro combo as part of the guitar sound, the same one that Sunlight Studio had on many records, including Left Hand Path. We found one via the Facebook marketplace for dirt cheap and the lady that sold it to us was greatly confused about our interest on that old thing. Another piece of trivia is that the screams during the break of “Rotting Pile of Flesh” are not sampled, that’s actually us screaming into the mics.
Most of the lyrics have been written by Marco and I and later edited with the insight of the whole band. For the greatest part, they do not have a direct inspiration, the goal is simply to create a consistent apocalyptic atmosphere that would fit the music. One notable exception is “Funereal Lust”, in this case the lyrics were inspired by the real-life story of Carl Tanzler, a doctor who developed an obsession for her patient and exhumed her corpse to perform necrophilia.
Jari: We got in touch with Pulverised Records thanks via our manager Tito. We already were fans of the label and their releases before sending our album, and their interest immediately mad us enthusiastic and made us favour them, even if other labels were interested in signing us. We currently have no deal for future releases, but we would be more than glad to keep collaborating with them, given the great work they made for FTSD.
What do you consider as the musical difference between your latest release “From the Sulphur Depths” and its predecessor; “An Endless Path“?
Jari: Besides the quite apparent differences in sound, I think that FTSD conveys the greater stylistic maturity of the band. One can perceive the grown experience and awareness about what we wanted to obtain and the target audience. On this regard, a more stable formation than what we had in 2015 surely had an influence.
What do cassettes and vinyl mean to you, as a recording artist but also as a collector?
Luca: Marco and I are both quite into vinyl, I recently started purchasing tapes as well. Both analog formats have an incredible charm and are recently gaining a vast market among fans. From a commercial perspective, not producing them would simply be a lost opportunity. I am particularly fond of cassettes because it was the first way I ever consumed music as a child. While CDs are arguably the most convenient format, vinyl offers you a completely different listening experience, by somehow forcing you to completely focus on the music. The collectible value obviously plays its role as well, as well as the ability to enjoy the album artwork on a larger scale.
What are your expectations for Helslave in the future?
Jari: I’m fairly optimistic about the future: we extended our fanbase with the last release, the support is steadily growing, and this pushes us to better ourselves constantly. We are also satisfied by the live activity: we are playing with important bands that we greatly admire, and we hope that we will progress also in this regard.
And yes, we already started writing new songs and we have a lot of spare demos to work on, a few of them originally laid down a few years ago, which will surely find a place in the next releases. We have never been a particularly fast band when it comes to writing new albums, and we’ll keep taking our time, both in order to be completely satisfied with what we publish but also because balancing the musical activity with our work lives is becoming increasingly difficult.
Some of you are involved with acts like Abscendent to name one. Any news on them to tell our readers?.
Luca: Besides the pandemic, the work with Abscendent has suffered from various delays because our drummer recently moved to another city for work related reasons. We have recently resumed playing live and we are currently writing songs for the next album as well. Our drummer Francesco also plays with Black Therapy, who recently released their new album “Onward”, it’s a great work of Finnish-style melodeath, strongly resembling Insomnium and Kalmah.
Are you involved in any other way in the music scene?
Luca: Unfortunately, our work schedules barely leave us enough time to dedicate to the band, as much as we would like to be involved in other aspects. I have actually written a couple reviews (Pissgrave and Lone Wanderer) for VM-Underground back when I was still studying for my Master’s degree, but sadly couldn’t keep up with it later.
And thanks for both reviews!
Are there any bands or albums of your recent playlist you would like to mention?
Luca: We recently discovered Xorsist, a Swedish band of fairly young guys that put out an eccellent album this year. I love Graceless as well and I can’t wait to heart their new material. Marco and I recently discovered Bütcher, absolutely killer band mixing black/speed aggression with a more traditional heavy metal riffing. I am also recently revisiting some less successful death bands from the mid 90’s such as Oppressor and Desecration.
Jari: We have many excellent underground bands in Italy, I can mention our friends in Burial, Bedsore, Valgrind, as well as our fellow roman citizens Hideous Divinity, which are definitely not part of the undergound anymore, thanks to outstanding albums and global tours.
Also do you have favourite labels, zines or artists?
Luca: I regularly check Hammerheart Records, Nuclear War Now and FOAD both for their rosters and distros. One great label from Italy is Everlasting Spew. We’re recently witnessing the rise of Holy Legion, an Italian printed fanzine of excellent quality. Among my favourite webpages I can mention Nattskog, and I also love the Loose Meat podcast, which mainly deals with grind and powerviolence.
Jari: We’re trying to collaborate with as many artists as we can among those we like. Some of them are Juanjo Castellano, Misanthropic Art, Karl Dahmer, and Necro Frost. I would like to work with Mark Riddick and get the next album artwork painted by Dan Seagrave, let’s see if we manage to make it happen.
Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or thoughts? Is there something I’ve forgotten to ask you which you would like to mention? Thanks for your time!
Luca: Thank you for the interview and the opportunity to make us known to your audience! Hope to see you guys in Steenwijk for the Stonehenge Festival, tot ziens!