I don’t know if you like horror books or horror movies, but I am pretty sure that you will absolutely love Hell Theater’s horror metal! Hailing from Italy, Hell Theater released their sophomore album (“S’ Accabadora”) in 2022, after a long hiatus of ten years, and are literally back from the dead. Myth of Rock, thrilled with the horror metal tunes of Hell Theater, came in contact with the members of the band and had a long discussion: the Italian shock metallers gave some brilliant answers and piqued our interest with many super-interesting details! Well, that was an inteview!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
When, where, by whom and under which circumstances was Hell Theater formed?
Unh: First of all we want to thank Myth of Rock for the opportunity to reveal some interesting things and “secrets…” about our new S’ACCABADORA album! The starting nucleus Hell Theater was formed in 2008 with Victor and Brian, then they find me as the drummer and Perenz as the bass player. A year after, the lineup was completed with Bob as guitarist, so we were able to start working on old and new material and record the first EP “Smell of Blood”. You can see that the current lineup of the band is the same of 14 years ago, with the exception of the bass player. The band’s name idea came discussing about the band’s project: “Hell” expresses the stylistic direction of the band, for image, lyrics and music writing, while “Theater” represents the vision of a horror show, but also in the music itself. We strongly wanted to make something new, to push our own idea of “horror metal”.
There is a long hiatus between your debut album, “Reincarnation of Evil”, and your second album, “S’ Accabadora”. Why is that?
Brian: Yes indeed, we might say that “S’ACCABADORA” is a cursed album… I cannot list all the countless misfortunes happened before its release; I will tell you just the major ones for your curiosity… In 2015 we had 90% of the material ready for S’ACCABADORA, unfortunately our previous record label MyGraveyard Productions closed its activity. It was a pity because they were really happy of us and we worked very well together. So, we entered a studio to record a pre-production version of the album, in order to be able to search for a new label with good material to show. We contacted all major labels, without receiving any reply, never. Perfect silence. We received some replies by smaller labels but either making us understand that our music wasn’t “aligned to their music tastes” or asking us too much money. You see? It doesn’t matter if Hell Theater pay all studio expenses, mixing, mastering and all the artwork too, giving they a complete ready-to-market product: they want additional money to print and distribute the album… “Their music taste…” sound strange that S’ACCABADORA, without a capillary distribution is anyway receiving very good ratings from everywhere in the world. Stressed by this situation we decided to carry on the project anyway, preparing us for the studio sessions and produce the S’ACCABADORA master, booking the studio sessions to start from January 2017… A couple of weeks before Victor suddenly decided to leave the band for personal reasons. We were all shocked… and forced to change our plans. We started to think about some malediction on our project… In the meantime, the band continued to work on additional material and perform live. A couple of years after, Victor solved his problems and he came back in the band. So, the original nucleus of Hell Theater was rebuilt. But… the return of Victor somehow caused the immediate exit of our bass player at the time. Yeah, “the curse, of course…!!” Whilst the rest of the lineup remained solid… we needed to change 4 bass players through time. We were really pissed off! The solution came from a friend of ours, Guh.Lu (current norwegian Gorgoroth’s bass player): he was ultra-happy to join the band as guest bass player, for recording sessions and big live performances. Our friend Alekht Xeper for the other gigs. Without a label, we entered in a studio anyways and recorded a couple of songs to evaluate the result. We weren’t satisfied, so we decided to search for another studio. We started again to look for a label and found a Mexican indie label that wanted to do to with us a really good job with great production ideas. Fuck the deaf majors. The album was planned to be in a precious Digipack A5 (book size) with a 24 pages booklet inside: in addition to all lyrics, we put the whole S’ACCABADORA story inside. We still have this artwork ready and paid by Hell Theater… in a drawer. So, in late 2019 we selected another recording studio, with a clause to have the complete quality control of it. So, we were ready to enter studio for the third time… But COVID pandemic stopped us again. Gaining a special nomination in our album. Not only, the pandemic also caused the closure of our rehearsal studio and we were unable to find a good replacement! It was really hard for us. It seemed that this album was really cursed! Our fans were constantly urging us not to give up. No way. WE are the devils that make the rules of our destiny… at least we try, until we have blood in our veins. Dodging all the problems among all pandemic limitations we were able to end all recordings and start mixing sessions in late 2020. In the meantime our Mexican label suddenly disappeared, we still don’t know now what happened to its owner! Another hit from our curse!! So we needed to find rapidly a label again or – plan B – self produce and distribute the album… risking that this opera will remain undiscovered by most people. We finally signed with WormHoleDeath records. They already knew us, and they were the only ones that deeply understood and appreciate our music and our approach indeed. But this comes with a cost… and we needed also to put time and money to review all the artwork in a simpler Jewel box and less material for the booklet. That’s it. Last November the album was finally released… but believe me: we weren’t sure to see it out until it was physically in our hands!
Where would you trace the differences between the debut album, “Reincarnation of Evil”, and the new album, “S’Accabadora”?
Victor: Both are concept albums, both written by Brian, Bob, Unh and me, both based on a story that I conceived. But while “Reincarnation of Evil” is a fictional story, S’Accabadora is more real and inspired by true stories and legends from my home land, the Sardinia Island. On a musical point of view, everyone expects it, the last album is a more mature work, its composition and arrangements took much more accuracy and work because of its complexity, we didn’t say “done” until we are all fully convinced of each song, “Dressed in Black” was completely rewritten from scratch just because we weren’t totally convinced of its first version. In this album there’s more research to create something new, trying new solutions on all points on view. There’s more research in the sounds, feeling, trying to enter the skin of our listeners and touch the inside, staying there for a long long time… Due to this particular setting I had introduced some parts in ancient Sardinian (it sounds very similar to Latin) and there’s a particular part of “Domus de Janas” where guitars are inspired by Sardinian choruses harmonic schemes, nearly unrecognizable, but Bob is sure they act at a subliminal level, maybe they resonate with the listener’s bones… In S’ACCABADORA we introduced some keyboards (mainly for the intro and outro) and synthesizers sounds, but you will be surprised to know that many sounds apparently keyboards are actually done with guitars. It’s a big cooperative and inspired work by all members, adjusting music and lyrics in a continuous cycle until we get the perfect result.
Give us all the info about the recording, the mixing and the mastering of your new album.
Bob: Good question, there’s a lot to say about it! We are really tired of the latest “plasticky” productions, so perfect, flat, so unnatural, boring and nearly unlistenable. The band decided to go totally counter current, focusing to produce an album made to last, using all modern technologies yes, but with a natural aggressive sound. The watchword is “music played by musicians”, realistic sound, humanity. Digital must serve the music and not the contrary. Obviously it’s not the easiest and cheapest way… First, everything recorded is performed by the respective band members, nothing is built on the computer. No easy copy-paste: even when parts are repeated later in the song, they were simply re-played and re-recorded by the musicians. We are sure that listeners will taste the human tiny differences in similar parts of the songs. We have *banned* all the easy automatisms to fix the rhythm base, align rhythm instruments and massively auto-tune notes. In the editing, the small deviations in the human execution have been deliberately left to convey naturalness and warmth of the playing. Instead of “flattening” the tempo base to make everything easier, it was patiently detected in all parts by comparing live performances at different months. We wanted to preserve the “feeling” of tiny tempo variations even when not consciously noticeable by the listener. Nearly nobody does that in modern records! Again: minimal use of plug-ins: the well-known “Melodyne” tuning for vocals has been used for probably 5 seconds in the entire album, who can say it in the all last 10 years records? We also didn’t use any “easy” guitar amp/rack simulation plug-ins: what you hear are real guitars played by Brian and Bob, with the same rig of their live performances, amplified by their MESA BOOGIE heads with 12 incandescent hot tubes, their MESA BOOGIE cabinets and captured by an array of excellent microphones. People say our live performances are very similar to our CD… In the mix, the position of the musicians was almost always maintained, Brian on the right and Bob on the left to convey the feeling of having the band in front of you. Also, on the mastering point of view we went totally counter-current: all metal records today are highly compressed towards to the CD limit to give the maximum volume, which penalizes al lot the dynamics. We refuse to do it, S’ACCABADORA will return the right dynamics, violence and feeling. It’s something nearly lost in modern rock and metal records. Our research for a “Hell Theater” sound involves also particular innovative executive and instrumental techniques that we introduced to produce sounds that will perhaps be heard for the first time. You may be surprised to know that some sounds that seem keyboards are actually guitars…
Who wrote the music and lyrics of the songs of the new album?
Unh: We cooperate a lot together and compose mainly during our rehearsal sessions. Every one of us obviously compose mainly the parts of its own “instrument” (e.g., Brian and Bob the guitar parts, Victor lyrics and their melodies, Unh drums) but we give each other ideas also for the other “instruments”. So, it may happen that Brian suggests me a rhythm pattern saying “try something like tantatata tan ta tata tata tan ta”, or I suggest Bob a guitar riff singing “deundendeundelendeung” and the same for melodies and lyrics, everyone give each other comments and ideas, and then together we check and sign the final result. It’s a unbeatable alchemy of all members, not only on the musical area, each one gives a special contribute for the band to be as it is, catalyzing the results, something like 1+1 = 3. On the inspiration point of view we always keep in mind the story and the part of the story we are going to put in music, but the initial spark may come from a guitar riff by Brian or Bob, from vocal melody line from Victor, from a rhythm pattern or from a moment of an improvisation together. All four assholes making music together. There’s no leader, everyone works hard for the best result. You can note that the bass player isn’t involved in the creative process, it was in the past, but currently we have two bass players as guest live performers: Alekht Xeper and current Gorgoroth’s bass player Guh.Lu that recorded all the bass tracks of S’Accabadora. We were without bass player and now we have two!
Victor: Hell Theater are the cradle of my inspiration: I couldn’t do without them and I wouldn’t have the same “evil” force. The black magic that rules my hand is the same magic that unites every one of us in writing music.
Which are your main music influences? What does inspire you to compose music?
Brian: We all grew hearing all big metal bands of the 80’ and 90’ but we like also the special creativity of bands of the 70’ when musicians weren’t afraid to dare and experiment new things. This is the mood we try to have. But we are open minded, some of us hear a lot of classical music, experimental electronic music, progressive rock and other completely different musical genres. E.g. talking about Greece, Bob estimates a lot Vangelis (RIP), not exactly a metal head banger! This allows us to be open minded also on the composition and arrangement of our songs. We recently avoid to say “who influenced us” because it continuously happens that we are incorrectly compared with other bands, in good faith, we know, in the attempt to describe our music somehow, in a simple and practical way. We are also honored being compared with such great bands of the past and the present. But in reality we don’t need to be similar to anyone (even though our past look could be somehow deceiving, we know…), and, even if very difficult, we try more and more to find our own place in the metal scenario, with the help of our fans. The inspiration to compose music comes from a fire inside all of us and the stories we tell, a reaction from reality and the urge to throw that fire from the stage to the audience, with the music, lyrics, attitude and stage layout. We love to perform live and we want to give the audience all our energy and the best show possible, in the small current budget limitations we have. When we finish a new song, we can’t wait to play it live and see their eyes stare and bodies shake when they hear it. It’s a spark that come from inside when Hell Theater are rehearsing together and it continue in the live show, we are happy to see our fans capturing those feelings and being cursed with us.
You say that you play “horror metal”. Can you describe this kind of metal?
Bob: As mentioned, our stories and our mood are clearly horror, the stylistic direction of the band is towards a theatrical representation of horror stories, at the same time we keep away from the easy use of religious symbols or other similar “poor means”, we find them really boring and childish. It’s more difficult, but we want to move minds using higher level levers. Our “horror music” could be described as a mix of thrash metal, progressive metal, classical metal, but sometimes we’re sure you will find yourself thinking “what the fucking hell is this ??”. We are open minded and we use any musical mean for our final target. We continuously experiment musical and sounds solutions to push ahead the sound of Hell Theater and the concept itself of “horror metal”. We don’t need to find the easiest way but best one. In a part of “Domus De Janas” we wanted a special sound and it took an entire week to engineer it. You’ll be amazed to know how many crazy tricks we used together to get it. That’s our creativity approach: drums, bass, guitars, voice… when we have something in the head we try and try until we get it from the loudspeakers. I have personally been working and experimenting on a new guitar for a year with special pickups, new mechanical and electronic solutions in it, to create even new sounds. There’s literally my blood on it… I was hurt drilling its titanium bridge!
Your new album is a concept one. Where does this concept refer to? Give us the whole story!
Victor: I have already written the whole detailed story… unfortunately it wasn’t possible to put it a Jewel Case CD, maybe will be included in some future limited release of the album, if we will get the funds for it… In brief, the story is based on a traditional Sardinian figure, the “female ACCABADORA” or “she who ends”, who really existed in the past and I’m pretty sure still exists in some very rural areas. S’Accabadora were attributed to magical gifts, some sort of old witch dressed in black. Her real role was to put an end to the suffering of dying and terminally ill old people, out of pity, at the request of relatives, by striking a blow on the back of the head with a special “Mazzolu” hammer. You can see this hammer on the rear cover of our album. Sometimes, however, the relatives for personal interests tricked the Accabadora and then she unleashed her curses to all of them, mercilessly, even if they killed her. I’ll give you a spoiler: everyone will die! This is the first time that a similar story has been told in entire metal album and we are very proud of it, and we have created the perfect music for it.
Do you watch horror movies? Which are your favorite horror movies? Do you read horror literature? Which are your favorite horror books?
Victor: Yes, all of us watch horror movies, but probably I’m the more immersed in the horror movie production. I have a collection of about 300 horror movies, all original and regularly purchased obviously (like my 2000 CDs), to support the artists’ work. My preferred myths of literature are Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. My preferred movies are really a lot, from classic “Halloween”, “The Exorcist”, “The Home” to James Wan works, “Saw”, “The Conjouring” and “Insidious” series. This reminds me the “S’Accabadora” mixing and mastering sessions… we called Bob “Insidious” because he always stayed behind the sound engineer like a hellish devil… while he was working the rest of the band were silently ROFLOAO ! (Roll On the Floor Laughing Our Ass Off).
Bob: Yeah… I’m the terror of sound engineers, hahaha !! BTW I love Edgar Allan Poe too, this explains the nickname “raven”. I like the more science fiction horror movies, starting from the classical “Alien” and the masterpiece “The Thing”. On the contrary I’m really bored of all recent Zombies movies/series.
How much important is atmosphere for you? Which atmosphere do you try to create with your music?
Unh: It’s very important, and directly connected with the theatrical dimension of our show and the style of our music. We want to move the guts or our listeners, squeeze their souls, shake their bones from inside and it’s fundamental to create the right atmosphere for it. You can hear in our music, we pass from the extreme violence of a murder to suddenly a dreadful calm in a cold fog with strange creatures around… For us it’s easier on the musical point of view, harder for the show… you know, our ideas for the stage are incredibly much greater than our budget… so we hope we will find some co-operation to grow and realize them all in the future!
If a director asked you to compose the soundtrack of a horror movie, which would be your answer and why?
Bob: It’s a total and absolute YES. We simply want to do it, sooner or later !! If a horror movie director is reading this interview: contact us. E.g., we were in contact with Dario Argento, and Asia has our first album, unfortunately at the moment he’s not making new movies.
Do you play live in concert? Which are your tour plans?
Brian: We are performing some gigs, not as much as we want and not in big enough venues, as it was in the past. Pandemic has created a lot of additional problems and uncertainty for show organizers and our music isn’t exactly something for the masses… In addition, Italy isn’t a good place to play our music, we are more appreciated in northern Europe, Asia, USA, we will be happy to perform in the beautiful Greece! Russia also looks to be promising, I mean… when we released “Reincarnation of Evil” from two Russian websites they counted over 30.000 (illegal) album downloads in the first two weeks… we didn’t get even a single cent for them, but we want at least 30.000 people to see us if we will make a concert there! Anyway we aim to perform soon in some medium/big venue to promote our new album.
Send your message to the fans!
HELL THEATER: We love you! You are incredible, we have seen some of you driving for 500-600Km just to see our show, that’s amazing! Wow! And if you can’t see us live, we have a great respect for those who spend few euros to purchase some original music by Hell Theater: this allow us to make new records faster and survive. We are already composing another album… a new extraordinary concept, the story is written and half songs too, but don’t ask: it’s an absolute secret. But there will be another surprise that we can’t reveal until its release. We promise you will be totally shocked of what we are preparing. So, continue to spread the word: we simply cannot exist and make records without your support and your force!