Jay Rollins talks with Alex Hellid about A Canadian’s Role in Swedish Death Metal and the future of Entombed.
The signature guitar tone credited to Entombed, was in fact crafted by a disgruntled Canadian. Well he was at least part Canadian. Leif Cuzner, may he rest, is noted for the “buzzsaw” guitar sound distinctly recognizable in Swedish death metal. Maxing out the Boss HM-2 pedal in order to get a tolerable sound partly led to Entombed’s distinctiveness, which was required to be noticed. Necessity is the mother of all invention. The tone was later adopted by Uffe Cederlund and finally, by Sunlight Studio in general to appear on many Swedish death metal albums, such as Dismember’s “Like an Ever Flowing Stream”, “Left Hand Path” by Entombed, or “Across the Open Sea” by Unleashed.
Swedish death metal you say? Alex Hellid is his name.
Here for a chat Metalheads Forever has founding member Alex of Entombed, the band known for defining the Swedish death metal sound. Thanks for your time, man.
Thanks for having us.
Right off the hop I need to ask, when the story about creating the buzzsaw sound with the Boss HM-2 pedal is told, it is often said that Leif, may he rest, “moved back to Canada.” Which makes me question, did his family have Canadian roots?
Yeah his dad is Canadian.
Um, I always thought it was Vancouver, but I’m not gonna swear to that but they moved back to Vancouver so I always assumed that was where his roots were.
We are based out of Canada, mainly, now we have a following in the States as well, but I always like to find those Canadian metal connections.
Yeah, he’s definitely Canadian.
The anniversary performance of pinnacle albums in a band’s history is becoming a metal tradition. What I love about your anniversary performance of Clandestine is that you are approaching a brutally dark album from another sinister vantagepoint by using a symphony. When did the idea for this kind of show first come to you?
It started way back in 2005 actually, from two different events. The first one was that somebody that we didn’t know from Germany was a member of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra and he was also an Entombed fan. So, he sent us an orchestration of “Chief Rebel Angel” off of the Morningstar album and some other little piece of Entombed stuff, we thought that was really cool. Around the same time another person sent us a letter asking us, “did you ever think about how Clandestine would work with an orchestra?” No, but now that you planted that seed, I couldn’t really stop thinking about it. I didn’t know how one would ever afford it, or how you would go about approaching somebody with something as weird a question as, can you make this for us?
It seems ambitious given the style of music.
When the (orchestra) asked me to do this project, I knew exactly what I wanted it to be, I wanted to do Clandestine from start to finish. Mainly because of that letter that somebody sent us. I have no idea who it is, somebody that we’ve never met, but it would be fun if I could find (the letter) again, you know?
It just goes to show that Clandestine isn’t just an important album for you but for the Death Metal genre. Original members of Entombed joined in on the symphony’s performance celebrating the record. Were there many differences between what you had to play with the symphony and playing the album live the second night?
Yeah definitely, for the orchestra I wanted Thomas to totally not think of the band at all. To only think about what notes are the basis of the song and what would an orchestra do. And that took a couple of tries, before he actually took me on my word to not have a drum kit there, to not think of a band with some violin and guitar. It was big, a lot of work for him to totally redo everything but for us it meant that our part in the orchestra was really to do as little as possible. We could do nothing, and it would sound perfect anyway.
Our version, we tried to just play everything as well as we can. Doing it straight after the orchestra was of course setting the bar very high. Also, playing this type of music for a sit-down crowd was a totally new experience. You don’t feel like you’re gonna get away with anything, because nobody is drunk, everybody is just sitting, maybe headbanging, but they are definitely looking at you and listening to everything.
Were you nervous about playing such similar music two different ways back-to-back? Was it hard to keep that distinction in your mind?
Art: Dan Seagrave (2016)
No not really, it’s very different unless you’re used to it, at least for me it was. To play with a drummer, you look at the down beat and you see when the snare is being hit or when the stick is going down, that’s the beat. For an orchestra it’s the other way around and I didn’t know that before going into this, actually for the orchestra the downbeat is of course up because otherwise how would they see? If he puts his stick down most of them would be blocked by their paper and sheets, so it’s on the upstroke instead. Just that makes it difficult to watch a conductor unless you’re used to it and know where your wand is going to be when he’s going up instead of down.
Yeah that makes a lot of sense it’s an interesting nuance that I would have never picked up on.
Considering your recent legal battles I’d like your opinion on Paul Stanley’s recent statement that KISS can go on forever, without any original members. At the end of the day do think that is true of any band? That fans will basically go see an officially sanctioned tribute act.
I think so, especially when it’s Kiss, because they are a live show. I totally understand when people say they have a problem with it also, but if you let go of that and think about it more like, would most people have a problem with, for example, Phantom of the Opera? It’s not a problem if (Paul Stanley) does it and then somebody else does it around the world for the rest of the tour, it becomes two different things.
I know personally, I would rather see Max and Iggor Cavalera perform old Sepultura than the new incarnation of Sepultura. At the same time that’s not really the option we’re being given; It’s, well does Kiss stop playing, or become new members? Or do they go the hologram route? To me at the end of the day, people age so they’re going to stop playing due to mortality. So do we want holograms or real live musicians filling those roles?
You’re probably looking at both. I mean, since I was born in ‘73 even though I grew up with Kiss, they were like the second albums I bought, Destroyer and Rock and Roll Over, I had never seen them live until like 96. New kids are gonna discover Kiss that were born too late, so they couldn’t see them in ’76. They are gonna see them on holograms, since they’re not gonna have a choice, they’re not gonna have a problem with it either.
I felt the same way about Black Sabbath when I got to see them on the 13 tour and people were talking about Bill Ward. I would have loved to see Bill Ward in the band, don’t get me wrong, but as a fan going to see those concerts were just as magic to me as if it was the seventies.
Yeah, that’s even more like Sabbath. The fact that they’re alive and doing well, to me is magic. Of course I would want to see The Beatles too, but unless you make it back in time or are in the right time to see those things as they happen, it becomes something else down the line. You’re happy that you get to see something. I would much rather see Paul Stanley and Gene, actually I haven’t seen them with the other two guys with Eric Singer and Tommy, and I’m not sure if I will get a chance to.
I guess that also ties into the importance of keeping an ear to the underground, so you do get a chance to see some artists and these bands before they break big. Get to see that magic in the underground.
Definitely but also one of the things that’s cool these days with YouTube and stuff like that just randomly I was somehow recommended a band that I wasn’t really listening to when they came out in ’93, Rage Against the Machine. A suggestion came up to see their very first performance on an outdoor little stage in a park with like three people watching. And just to see that is (amazing), cause of course not a lot of people witnessed that at the time but somebody captured it.
And it is it’s great to be able to go back and see all those old shows. I think Tool has a similar show out where it’s a super early performance in a gym hall somewhere.
Awesome, that’s cool, and you know as a band you’re not super excited about those shows where it’s like, okay we have to play now and there are no people here at all. But now it’s just the best that that’s the first show and there was nobody there and they still did a great performance. It’s proof that every performance counts.
The Entombed legal disputes have been pretty well documented in the media. Now that things seem copasetic between yourself and Lars Petrov. Do you think we’ll start seeing more of Entombed?
Definitely, we plan to record some new stuff and have it come out way later. Just this week Nicke got back from a tour of the US with Lucifer. He’s got his studio up and running again and he’s got his drum kit set up. We got some songs, so we’re thinking about doing it the old school way. What we did back in the beginning, where we would have the songs and not worry about having too many in one go. Just go record them, finish them, and then release them. For us it was never really the way to have 4 weeks in a row and sit down and write an album and then go record it for another 4 weeks. That wasn’t the way we worked back in the day. The best thing we can do is to work similar to what we’re used to and that’s what I saw when we started rehearsing for these shows. It was great to see Nicke and Uffe get back into Entombed mode very quickly. Just by being in the same room they started to sort of pump out ideas and I knew that if we would have just had one more day at that place some songs would have been recorded, which reaffirmed this wish that I had that I wanted to somehow get them back in the fold.
A Canadian, kind of a doom metal band, White Swan, go the EP route. They come out with an EP every year, 3 solid songs, and then tour them. Fans love them, fans get something fresh every year. They’ve always got something new to put out. They aren’t overburdened and they’re able to just breathe easier as a band.
It’s definitely not a bad thing, it’s not very often these days that people put out a Raining Blood, where it’s a full album that you just want to go listen to it over and over, so.
Absolutely. Just one last thing before you go, I was wondering with the new setup and songs, the fact that you now have had this exposure to the symphony, do you think you’ll incorporate more of that into the new songs? Or can we expect more of the old school Entombed?
What we talked about was taking what we think is best out of, say the first four albums, then try and add some new stuff. Back in the day recording the second album and the third albums there was always talk about trying different instrumentation but there was never enough time. So that was one of the things that Thomas talked about, how he would have loved to maybe record just one song at the time. Had some more time to play around with doing what the Beatles would have done, because he was a big Beatles fan. They would have finished one song and mixed it before they went onto the next song. Also try some cello or something like that. Now that we have Thomas in the greater Entombed family that is definitely something that we have access to which is awesome. Like I told Nicke the other day, “it’s gonna be great.” And I can say that because I know that when the guys are fired up and in good spirits, good things happen
Awesome man well I know you’re on a tight schedule so again on behalf of the Metalheads Forever legion, thank you for your time.
Awesome, thank you very much for having us.
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MHF Magazine/Jay Rollins