WORDS: Tim Redman
On the scene for over 20 years now, Sweden’s GEHENNAH have kept to the roots of what makes thrash so intoxicating which led to the band forging a formidable reputation in metal’s underground. Now, in 2016, the band are preparing to release their fourth record, Too Loud To Live, Too Drunk To Die. We caught up with frontman Mr Violence to talk about the new record, the difficulties that metal endured in the 90s and the honest way of portraying heavy metal.
Hello there, Tim from Distorted Sound here. It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally being treated to another album, aptly titled Too Loud To Live, Too Drunk To Die from the underground legends GEHENNAH. The most obvious first question is why the long wait between albums and why return now?
Mr Violence: Hey Tim! Well, when it comes to this band we never really have had any “plans” or “strategies”, things just tend to happen. For a lot of years we didn’t have a record contract, and we didn’t try to get one either. We did gigs whenever somebody cool asked us to, but we didn’t write new stuff. We never really been career-focused, if you know what I mean, and the band was just kinda there as a natural part of our lives. We are basically pretty damn lazy, so it’s really easy for us to do nothing, you know. We even tried to split up the band for a couple of years, but that didn’t last, haha. When our friends at Lightning Records asked us to do an EP back in 2012 we said alright, and all of a sudden we started to write new songs again. And that was a lot of fun, so we decided it was time to pick up the steam. Try to get our fucking act together. And since then GEHENNAH have pretty much been the main priority in our lives.
You’ve recently released the title track Too Loud to Live, Too Drunk to Die as a single. How’s the response to that been?
Mr Violence: Well, it’s just been out for a couple of days but so far the response have been really fucking good! We are really looking forward to letting people hear the whole album. We are releasing another song, Life Metal Must Die, later today, that should be interesting.
You’re also to be congratulated on signing with label heavyweights Metal Blade since your reformation. How’d that come about?
Mr Violence: We met Alan from PRIMORDIAL , who also works for Metal Blade, at a Swedish festival called Metallsvenskan that we played. We ended up in the same team in a drunken football-tournament that is held at the festival. Alan knew us from back in the 90s, and asked us what we were up to, so we gave him a copy of the Metal Police EP. I guess he liked what he heard, cause we got offered a deal. We were as surprised as anybody else, we didn’t expect to be signed by such a big label. But we are really fucking happy we did, since Metal Blade have been really cool!
GEHENNAH’s first few albums came out in the mid-90s, a decade where metal could definitely be said to have struggled. Did you find it difficult to find gigs or record deals playing an “unfashionable” or underground style of metal during this era?
Mr Violence: Haha, yeah we did. We were “unfashionable” even in the underground, and a lot of the people didn’t understand anything when they came to our gigs or heard our songs. It was all about vampiric, atmospheric black metal or melodic death back then. We didn’t care, of course. We were really lucky that the guys from Primitive Art records heard our demos, and really liked the band. That gave us the chance to record our debut album Hardrocker. I don’t think many other labels would have been interested in releasing Hardrocker at the time, to be honest. No corpsepaint, no trolls = no sales. But Primitive Art didn’t give a fuck, which makes them one of the coolest labels around ever. The Primitive Art-guys have been really important to GEHENNAH. Herve of Osmose heard the album and really liked it, and so we got signed to Osmose and released our next two albums there. They signed some cool bands at the time – like INFERNO and LOUDPIPES.. Herve is a really cool guy, always honest. I guess he felt we were a bit to careless and reckless in the end, as we tended to be a bit drunk and chaotic, and the deal never got renewed. The fact that we didn’t sell a lot of records at the time might have something to do with it as well, haha.
In a similar vein the lyrical themes of your songs are heavily focused on the metal way of life, booze, playing loud and poser bashing featuring heavily. These aren’t the pseudo-intellectual themes that a lot of bands use these days. Do you feel that your lyrics are more honest in a way, in representing what heavy metal means to you?
Mr Violence: Yeah, for us that is absolutely the case. There are a lot of people out there nowadays who feel they are really smart, writing “dark poetry” about the big questions in life’s existence. The feeling is that the scene is flooded with self-claimed misunderstood geniuses, who can only channel their deep inner thoughts in metal lyrics. For every metal band that actually have something to say there is 100 bands that just think they have something important to say. Well, we are not smart, and we don’t pretend to be. We write about what we know – drinking, fighting, raising hell and getting into trouble. If you are looking for complicated answers to philosophical questions, GEHENNAH is not for you. We don’t give lectures. We are about chaos and metal, and that’s it.
As veterans of this style have you seen a change in its popularity since the turn of the century? Do you feel you’re responsible for laying some of the groundwork for that to happen?
Mr Violence: Oh yeah, there are a lot of cool band nowadays, and a lot more people interested in a more filthy and raw way of metal. There is also less top hats and capes at gigs, and that’s a good thing. The scene is actually pretty damn good.
I don’t know how much groundwork was laid by us, but we are often cited as influence for some of the newer, dirtier bands, and tend to get respect for sticking to filthy street metal when nobody else did. Much appreciated, of course.
Obviously social media, with all of its positives and negatives, has become a big deal for some bands these days. While you guys do have a presence out there, is that something you like doing or did you prefer when traditional methods of exposure were the main way of getting publicity?
Mr Violence: We try to use social media, but it does not come naturally for us. There is of course a lot of things that are good with Facebook and stuff like that, it’s easy to communicate with people. It always puts a smile on your face when somebody from say Indonesia puts up a picture of himself chugging a beer in a GEHENNAH-shirt, or something like that. That stuff is fun. But it’s not like social media is a part of our DNA, and we tend to use it kind of sporadically. We are trying to get better at it. Myself, I’m a big fan of old fashion, printed magazines. That’s how I learned about of a lot of my favorite bands when I was a kid, so I guess being featured in mags always feel a bit special.
GEHENNAH is something of legendary name in the underground. In part this is because of the Headbangers Against Disco campaign you guys founded. For those who don’t know, can you explain a little of what this was and why you felt it necessary?
Mr Violence: Well, there was a lot of wimping around going on in the scene, so we started a bit of a movement for the more raw, filthy and degraded metalheads, who wanted nothing to do with the white-shirted, well-combed bands that were so popular at the time. We wanted metal to be repulsive to a “normal” people, not try to convince them that metalheads were well-educatad and well-behaved, that seemed to be the goal of the more disco-sympathetic part of the scene. There were the EP’s released on Primitive Art records, highlighting some of the cooler bands around at the time, like INFERNO, BESTIAL WARLUST, USURPER, NIFELHEIM and SABBAT (whose contribution, Baby, Disco is fuck is a total classic!). We also arranged a big two-day party, were SABBAT performed, and everybody got insanely drunk.
What’re the future plans for GEHENNAH? Can we expect to see the metal police cruising through our towns on tour soon?
Mr Violence: Yeah, we sure hope so. We intend to hit the road as much as possible, and we are looking over our options as we speak. No tours booked at the moment, but hopefully we can change that soon enough.
I’ll bring this interview to a close by offering you the floor. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?
Mr Violence: Thanks for the interview! Keep fooling the police!