Interview: Hellbutcher “I’m kind of picky when it comes to the more extreme metal scene.”

We’re sitting down to chat with black metal legend Hellbutcher. We discuss his band and their new self-titled album, which they produced and mastered themselves and is now out on Metal Blade Records.

Listening to the album, its absolute music to the ears of black metal fans from the 90s. It’s so good to hear a proper black metal album these days. You’ve been a part of the Swedish metal scene for a long time now, with a career spanning four decades, and you’ve influenced many people, primarily through your work with Nifelheim. What changes have you observed with black metal’s increased exposure to the mainstream?

“I don’t observe things really. So, you know, I’m probably not the most interested person to try to search for new things. I’m stuck in the old days. But that could be a good thing as well, I guess. Because I have no idea what’s going on around me. So that’s probably why I’m doing the music I’m doing.”

You seem to have a very clear mission statement to preserve the core values of metal and black metal. Is this correct?

“Kind of. You know, I’m thinking, when I do music, I’m thinking of when I was a kid starting out playing music, or a teenager or whatever. I wanted to, almost all bands wanted to, be more extreme than the previous bands, in the sense of going towards the core of metal instead of developing out to something different. I’m going the opposite direction than the others, I guess, in one way.”

That’s what makes hearing the Hellbutcher album so refreshing. It takes us back to the core values and roots of what got us attracted to black metal in the first place. Do you think the timing’s right now? Because there’s been so much experimentalism in black metal, maybe people might want to get back to what it’s all about.

“You know I just did it. This album I never thought that something is going to be in the right time or whatever, it’s just like a coincidence that I did this album right now. But it’s good if it’s like you’re saying, it’s a good thing if it’s refreshing in some way, because I mean, there is a lot of experimental music, which I think is not really related to metal at all. That’s the thing that people forget about, what black metal and stuff is about, really. I mean, its metal, you know, it’s also metal, it’s no ambient synth music. It has to be some fucking rock and rolling to it as well.”

You’ve got a fantastic team of musicians around you for this. Did you handpick them yourself? Or did it just come together that way? Your drummer, Devastator, is a world-renowned drummer, especially because of his work with bands like Bloodbath and Opeth. How did you come together?

“Well, it’s because we are just friends really. So, me and the Devastator were talking, you know, on the phone and we started to make some real metal music together. We were playing together in Nifelheim many years ago and we’ve had contact since then. So occasionally I talk to him and then one day we were talking about like, yeah, we should do something, you know, like a real, real metal band and so we did.”

You’ve got a Necrophiliac from Mordant as well, and Iron Beast and Uld that completes your line-up. So were they also just friends you knew already?

“Absolutely. They’re all just like friends. I was very focused on getting people that I enjoyed. I want to enjoy their company when we’re going out for concerts and stuff like that. My previous band, Nifelheim, just collapsed because of all the arguments and shit. So, I didn’t want to repeat that. So, the main thing was that I wanted to have some guys that I really get along with. And then, of course, they’re all really talented as well. So yeah, that’s just a bonus.”

When you start out, you have to like everyone you’re with because if your relationship is successful, you’re going to see them a lot.

“Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s very uninspiring to be in a band where everyone hates each other. It’s really not a good thing.”

You produced this and mastered this album yourselves. Some of your bandmates actually have their own studios. Iron Beast has his own studio, and Devastator has his own studio. Is this correct?

“Yeah, Iron Beast has his own studio and he’s really good at what he’s doing. He did a big part of it, he did all the mastering, for example. The mixing was done by me, Necrophiliac and Iron Beast. We were in the studio for a few days. It didn’t take a long time at all, because I mean, I don’t know why, but we just knew what we were aiming for, more or less. So, it’s just a funny thing. We were trying to come up with what kind of guitar sound we wanted in the studio, we played the guitar, and we recorded a part of the guitar to listen to the sound and first, Necrophiliac, he tried out like five amplifiers or whatever. And he said, this is the sound I like. Then I took the five same amplifiers, and I was doing all the tuning things on the sound. We recorded that part as well. And when we compared it, we couldn’t tell which one was which! So, it was like, we had exactly the same sound. It was just like, what the fuck?”

Yeah, that’s all these years of experience. You just know what works?

“Yeah, exactly. So, it was really very smooth. It didn’t take a lot of effort to do it, actually. But of course, well, we have some experience and know about the drum sound and stuff like that. Devastator is very good at those things as well. I also had the idea, you know, that the old way of having the toms without the resonance heads, we took them off, to make the sound more old school in one way. And all that resulted in a like more, yeah, what can you say?”

It sounds authentic.

“I don’t know if it’s old school, but like we wanted to have a, you know, organic sound to the drums.”

Definitely comes across. It starts out clearly and straightforwardly. And it hits you straight away, especially when the first track hits you. We listen out for these things, and that’s the black metal sound we like. We like the old lo-fi stuff sometimes, but we like it when it’s modern but still authentic, and that’s what I got.

“Yeah, exactly. We didn’t think of old school sound or not lo-fi either. Of course, we just wanted to get a good sound that was done the right way. I think that’s how all the bands actually tried to do, what they tried to achieve as well. You know, they didn’t want to have a weird sound. They just wanted to have a good sound. But it may have ended up in a certain way back in the days. I don’t know. I’m not nostalgic in that way. I’m just trying to achieve as good a sound as I can. But my preferences are pretty old school. Well, now you have that template, you know what you want it to sound like, and it’s worked, it sounded good.”

It’s reignited a spark from what we’ve read in your other interviews. It’s a passion for this music with this new line-up. Will you be doing Hellbutcher for the foreseeable future now?

“Yeah, it’s my main band now. It’s definitely something that we’re going to continue with. And I want to make it clear that this is not only my solo project or something, absolutely not. We chose the band name because we couldn’t come up with something better. And of course, you don’t want to waste 30 plus years without even getting some recognition from your old band either. But except for that, it’s just a new band, really. So, we are all totally into this band now.”

It sounds like a band that’s been around together for a long time because it is so tight, direct, and focused. As fans of Swedish metal since the 80s when we first heard Bathory, this feels like a continuation of that kind of tone, that darkness. Was that the intention?

“You know, well, yeah. I mean, I also like Bathory very much. Definitely, I’m just trying to continue doing metal the proper way.”

We first came across Nifelheim when we saw Peter Beste’s famous photo of you guys, you know, that famous, in the True Norwegian black metal book he did, which had a few people in it that weren’t Norwegian, I have to say, yourselves included. Things like that might have switched on a different generation into, you know, that black metal that they might have missed the first time around. You say you don’t really look out at the scene too often. Are there any bands around at the moment that you’re interested in?

“I don’t know. I haven’t really heard any new bands. You know, I’m listening really to old bands’ new records more or less. So, I’m not really looking for any new music. It’s very rare that I bump into something that I like, actually. I’m kind of picky when it comes to the more extreme metal scene. Some bands, occasionally I can listen to something, and I think like, yeah, this is great. But it’s usually never something, you know, that’s mind-blowing, really.”

Well, you know what you like, don’t you? And that comes across in the music and in your approach to the music.

“My musical taste is like everything from, you know, the most classic, like Maiden, Saxon, that kind of stuff is my kind of favourite genre. But I was listening to, for example, the Italian band, Black Hole, they released an album a few years ago. I think they last released an album in 1985 or 1988 or something and then they just released another album after many years and it’s the most weird thing I’ve ever heard in my life, that one is a really, you know, milestone in my opinion but I don’t think a lot of other people agree with me. It’s an album called ‘Evil in the Dark’. Totally extreme in every sense.”

Oh good, that sounds like my sort of thing.

“Yeah, its torture, but it’s cool.”

So, are there any plans to take Hellbutcher on the road? Is touring coming up soon?

“Yeah, well, we are just now trying to book up as many gigs as we can. We have one Swedish tour, a few dates in the autumn, but we haven’t got any proper European or UK tours at the moment. But we’re working on it. I really hope that it will not be too long before we are on a proper tour all over Europe and the UK and everywhere!”

Interview By George Miller –

Band Photo Credit: Soile Siirtola