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Dwid Hellion (Integrity)

Interview with Dwid Hellion from Integrity
by Anton Sanatov at 31 July 2017, 12:50 PM

Passion is a virtue of the greatest, and in a world of pragmatism, is one of the closest things that we have to magic. There may be many trials before one comes to the discovery of said imminent goodness, but once that flame ignites with a genuine spark, there is no supressing it.

True music comes from a place of pure appreciation and unquenchable love for the medium, and when you look at the discography of a pioneering band like INTEGRITY, it’s hard to deny that the Metal/Hardcore collective’s sound has any other origin. On the brink of the release of their brand new record “Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume” Metal Temple had the opportunity to talk with the band’s formidable leader and vocalist, Dwid Hellion, a true music connoisseur and one of the most enlightened and impassioned musical personalities out there; not to mention one of the most courteous and insightful people that I’ve had the privilege to encounter. So prepare to immerse yourself in contemplation as we converse about books, nightmares, Blues and the fate of humanity.

“Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume”, your new record, is said to be a conceptual foretelling of the final days of the Apocalypse. Is that correct?

Well yeah, I guess that’s sort of correct, I mean, that’s the publicity angle of it all. (Chuckles slightly.)

So do you believe that Armageddon is indeed upon us?

I believe that Armageddon is upon every generation. Every generation believes the end of the world is coming for them and they have always believed that. I don’t personally consider it a real Armageddon, in the sense that everything will end, I think that it is an Armageddon in a sense that things will end and things will begin, there will be regeneration; and it’s been going on like that for thousands of years. I don’t think that it necessarily signifies the end of humanity.

And do you think that there is any hope left for humanity in its current state?

Hope for it? I don’t know. I don’t think that humanity has ever had much hope. Humanity is a destructive creature, it wants to devour everything in its path; it wants to destroy everything. I believe that in everybody – myself included – there is a small piece that wants to self-destruct, not necessarily in a positive way, but it’s just there. A lot of people have the ability to fight that impulse, but a lot of people are not able to, and I just sit and watch it happen, and enjoy the show. There are, of course, aspects to it that make me wonder why it’s like that, wonder if things could be different, if they could be better if I wasn’t self-destructive, and how the world would be if others around me weren’t self-destructive. Nevertheless I do think that the human creature is a very destructive parasite that is set out to destroy, whether they like it or not. That’s just my perspective.

In keeping with the theme of the record, what is your own worst nightmare?

I guess that my own worst nightmare would be to be confined within myself without the ability to express myself, to be trapped inside myself in silence; which, I sometimes feel I am, and that is probably a big part of why I have this bombastic band and try to make a big statement. That is probably my greatest fear.

If it weren’t for music, what creative outlet would best allow you to express yourself?

Well I also make artwork – I made the artwork on the album and I’ve also made artwork for my band’s other albums and some of my friend’s bands. Writing is an important thing for me as well; mostly reading, but I use that as a sort of a well of sources and inspiration. Music however worked out in a weird way to be the most accessible tool for me. I’m not such a musical person though, but somehow it worked out to be the path that I would take; I’m not entirely convinced on it but, you know, 30 years later that’s where I’m at and I’m still doing it. I’m actually able to yell louder than I did when I was younger, which is a weird thing. I never really thought of myself this way but somehow it turned out to be thus.

It is rather appropriate that you mention a love for reading, for one might certainly regard you as a man with quite a library. What are some of the literary tomes that have inspired INTEGRITY’s sound?

Well, if you want to go to the foundation, the real, basic first book, then that will be the Old Testament. This is the book that a lot of people who are into Punk, Metal, and underground music, would initially be repulsed to hear as a reading recommendation, but if you were to approach it with an open mind - and I’m not saying this from a Christian point of view - this is the most violent, debauched book that has ever existed in the world. Sometimes I find that when I do interviews about things like this, you’ll hear Heavy Metal people say that the most evil book is the Bible and things like: “I hate the Bible because I’m evil”. Well, that statement confuses me, because if the bible is the most evil book, then why is it not your favourite book? To me it is a very majestic book in the sense of everything debauched and everything terrible about humanity; and I enjoy reading that. From there, I’ve read other religions, I read a lot of occult books, a lot of books on less popular religions, books on magic, books on history, books on everything; I’m a big fan of books. I have too many books and it’s becoming a bit of a problem in my house. I have a library outside of my office here with two big walls of books that face each other. On one side there are illustrated books – comics, art books etc. – and on the other are books of philosophical and religious content, and books on nature. I have to build a third wall because I have stacks of books and it’s becoming a problem; I have a terrible addiction and I probably need to see a therapist. (Laughs.)

I think you’ll be just fine. I do indeed agree with you regarding the Old Testament. Hunter S. Thompson actually wrote that one of his go-to books for inspiration was, in fact, the Old Testament.

Well I have a shirt that Hunter might approve of… (Chuckles and points to his attire, which is a brightly coloured Hawaiian-esque shirt; one that very much echoes of the renowned journalist’s sartorial choices.)

Here is something that sparked my curiosity. One of the album’s singles is called “Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame”. Could you tell who these “Children of the Black Flame” are?

Well, it isn’t specifically like that, it’s more about the people who are outcasts, people who exist outside of established society, established religion, and people who see themselves again as outcasts; those who resemble how I grew up and how I guess I still am, they are the ‘children of the black flame’, with ‘flame’ being a flame that a moth would be attracted to, but at the same time like a black sheep. So there is this concept of being an outlaw and being an outcast, and finding some peace with the congregation of your friends who are interested in the same kind of things. When I grew up it was a terrible thing to like this kind of music, and these kinds of creative things were considered to be the worst in the United States. People wanted to fight you for liking this kind of music. I found that to be incredibly bizarre. Yet I was not in any position to make any kind of judgement on it because I was just a victim of that, and because of that it perhaps created a stronger bond with me, because I was in a place where I was ridiculed and criticised for this kind of music, and it strengthened my bond with the kind of music that I was making; it made it much more passionate, much more personal - a shield, a weapon and at the same time a heart to defend against the outside enemies. It created such an intimate connection with me that it stuck for a long time. I’m almost three decades into making music - next year will be the 30th year for the band - and it’s been quite a wild ride.

And after all of these years, does Punk/Hardcore still means the same things that it meant to you before, or has you perception of it evolved?

I don’t think that my perception has evolved as much as the world’s perception has evolved. I was a boy growing up in Louisville Kentucky in 1984 when I first discovered what Hardcore music was; and the definition that I learned is that it was Punk music that was Metal. So you have this mixture of Punk and Metal, but they don’t necessarily come perfectly together; sometimes it’s more Metal, sometimes it’s more Punk, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between. That to me, as a guy from the 80’s, was very important because you had bands like BLACK FLAG or SAMHAIN, or different groups that had different values of Metal and different values of Punk. So you had this great variety that over the years has become gentrified, so to speak, and they made it into this stagnant depiction of something along the lines of LIMP BIZKIT’s demos, and that’s what Hardcore had become, more or less; and that’s not really what I aspired to do. I aspired to make something that I like more than Punk and more than Metal, and those are just two of the many genres that I enjoy. I like a lot of other kinds of music. For me I just like to put everything into a cauldron and stir it up, and see what comes out. I don’t really want to subscribe or confine myself to these enclosed depictions, to these genres. Because if you’re just going to say: “Hey, I only like…Punk or Metal or something”, I mean, how fucking boring can your life be in that regard; especially if you’re going to be a musician; only playing one thing all the fucking time. Come on…nobody wants to hear that shit over and over again. Personally, I like to listen to a lot of different things; I like to have a lot of different experiences. I like to have a lot of different spices and flavours in what I am doing, and that to me is more rewarding than doing that same old thing over and over again, because I couldn’t even imagine making the same album 10, 20, 30 years in; that would be just a terrible prison sentence in a way. (Laughs.)

In a recent interview with Decibel Magazine, you mentioned that you don’t really listen to new music because you can’t relate to it, and that if you want to hear new music you listen to old bands or make an album yourself. Bearing that in mind, do you still listen to new records by old bands?

Well, that quote was taken slightly out of context, just as sometimes it happens in interviews. What I was really saying was that I’m not chasing after new music. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, from a lot of different genres, and a lot of new stuff as well. So that quote was a little bit out of context. Although I think it’s a fun quote, and an interesting quote, but it isn’t exactly an accurate quote because I listen to a lot of different things. I think that the way that quote came about was that I was saying that I like to make my own music, I like to be creative, I like to take this kind of stuff and that kind of stuff and smash it together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That was really where I was going with that statement, and it took on wings of its own, and some people saw it as a pompous, derogatory statement against music; and I didn’t mean it that way at all. I like a lot of different things. Mostly I like things that are very passionate. It doesn’t matter what style of music someone is playing, what matters is that they’re passionate and they mean what they’re saying. When they’re playing what they mean at a 150%, that gives me Goosebumps, that gives me inspiration, and that makes me interested in listening to their music. Then there’s a lot of stuff that’s a little bit more popular driven, where there isn’t any soul, and that doesn’t interest me so much.

Perhaps that is why you love the Blues so much.

Yes, and blues is not just pure passion but is also pure misery in a way; and as much as I hate misery, it has its reward, and that’s the blues. I think that with Metal music, or any other kind of underground music, people tend to think of Blues music as of this kind of archaic “caveman” music of something, but ultimately this is the music that gave them Metal. If it wasn’t for Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads, you would not have had bands like LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH, and then eventually BLACK FLAG and SLAYER, and whomever you want to go to from there. I mean, this was the foundation, this was Alan Lomax and his Library of Congress, the basis for what our generations know music as; if it weren’t for that gift, we would have nothing. That stuff was where it all started, and to me it’s fantastic. There is a series of recordings done by Alan Lomax, field recordings from a prison in the American South, of prisoners on a chain gang. These are several men chained together by the ankle, breaking rocks with a sledgehammer, and they would do it in such a way that their legs would move and that would make the chain sound percussive, and then their hammers would smash and it would also sound percussive, and they would sing in different places throughout the piece, and to me that is the greatest piece of music that has ever been recorded in the world. I hear that and my skin just jumps off my fucking bones, and I know that these were people who had no hope at all. I mean we can talk about Punk, we can talk about Metal, we can talk about all these things that I love, but these were people who had no hope but they still gave everything to their music, and they did so for no reason. They didn’t know that this recording would be heard by anybody, they just did it, did it because they were escaping their flesh prison and ultimately their real prison, and they were pure souls at that moment. If you listen to that it’s just mind-blowing, it changes your life. It’s something so special. (At this point Dwid’s eyes appear to glaze over with tears.) There was no commercial interest at all – they had no idea that it could be sold or that people would talk about it a hundred years after this, and it’s been about a hundred years since they recorded this thing, and man, if you have a chance to listen to it I highly recommend it; I think you’d really appreciate it, and I think that you will probably have the same…hormonal, emotional, and just every sensual response of your fucking body reacting to this kind of music because it’s so glorious. Anytime you’ve ever been feeling in a box or oppressed, this is the most explosive fucking voice that any human being has ever created. These guys…to me it’s fucking magical (grins in pure elation). I even tear up thinking about. It’s something so special.

It means a lot to me and I hope that you will give it a chance and listen to it, because it is something that is so special; and that’s why music exists, that’s why there are passionate people like you that interview bands and love music. There is this kind of beautiful unity and “otherworldness” of it all, where we are in this kind of church of music and we’re just existing there and we’re giving everything of our souls to it, and I think that is very important.

Now I’m going off on a tangent, I’m sorry…

No, not at all - I love Delta Blues myself. And given you admiration for it, would you ever consider recording an acoustic album?

Yeah I would love to do it. What kind of Delta Blues are you interested in?

Well, I got into Blues when I started getting serious about my guitar playing, and I became a huge fan of guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan and other Texas Blues greats, and I went back to their influences and discovered guys like Robert Johnson and Son House.

Have you heard of Blind Willie Johnson?

Oh yes, yes indeed I have.

I love Blind Willie Johnson.

He had a really raw sound.

Yes, sometimes he truly had the rawest voice. I mean, some people say that I have a voice that sounds like a terrible MOTORHEAD or something, but Blind Willie Johnson sounds even worse than that (laughs) and it’s just amazing; I love that. I also love Howlin’ Wolf; he’s a hero of mine. I mean, people who love DANZIG can see all of that stuff culminate into his sound, and also into SABBATH, and even ROLLING STONES and all that. I mean, without these guys we wouldn’t have anything to talk about right now. I don’t know what we would be doing. It would be pretty fucking boring. (Laughs.)

Especially considering that most of the STONES’ and ZEPPELIN’s early material were covers of Blues songs and old standards.

Yeah, and new stuff too. The new STONES album is also a covers record. So they come back around, which is good. I think that it’s a good album also. There are a lot of Little Walter covers and it’s very nice. It’s a good record, and Mick plays a lot of harmonica on it, and he’s a good harmonica player. I think that it’s a good record; it turned out pretty nice. And they don’t have anything to lose you know? They could just do a bunch of fucking pop songs that no one wants to hear but they chose to do something that’s true to their heart and I like that. They didn’t have to do it but they chose to do it, and that’s cool.

Well, we’re coming to end here; I just have one more question for you. What would be your ultimate goal as an artist?

Oh man…that’s a hell of a question; I’m glad you saved that one for last. Well, I mean, I guess what I’m always trying to do is to please myself, I’m trying to entertain myself, but at the same time I’m trying to find some answers. I try to use music as a religious tool, to find out things that I’m not able to, to try to figure out why I exist, how I exist, how I came to be this way and how all of us came to be this way, but I’m approaching it through music and that’s probably not the right way to do it, but that’s how I’ve been doing it. It would be great (within my lifetime) to figure out more answers to why humans exist the way we do, but I naively lay that all on the music, and I don’t think that music is going to be the answer to that question, but that’s sort of where I’ve been going with it; I’ve been approaching it with a sense of discovery, self-realisation, and just finding out about other things and using music in a spiritual way. That would probably be the ultimate thing, but sometimes there are peaks in my live performances and recordings where I feel like I am standing on the edge of the abyss and for mere seconds I am elevated to some kind of higher spiritual way, just ever so slightly, within the music. Again it goes back to the Lomax recordings and those guys on the chain gang, and I feel a little bit akin to that. I feel that I have escaped the fleshy prison and I’ve gotten to a place where there is more purity to my existence, and I guess that is where I would love to find myself musically, but I don’t have a lot of confidence that it’s going to go there, but I’d like to keep trying. 



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