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Hellryder's Axel Ritt: "For me as an atheist, there is no devil, but evil plays on you and tries to seduce you again and again. We are here to fight evil!"

Interview with Axel Ritt from Hellryder
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 17 April 2021, 6:59 PM

No matter if there is a heaven or a hell, an opportunity is an opportunity. Once the the pandemic hit the world, a whole lot simply stopped, delayed, cancelled, plans fallen apart. On the other hand, time began to be quite a frequent commodoty, so schedule dependent plans could have a fair chance of actually happening. Grave Digger's Chris Boltendahl and Axel Ritt saw their entire setting put on ice, since it was not possible to tour, therefore, an old idea slowly became a reality, and Hellryder was reforged from paper to the studio. About to unleash the fires of hell with their debut, “The Devil Is A Gambler”, Steinnetal had a talk with Axel Ritt about the new prospect in hand, taking the foot off the Grave Digger pedal, and the new band identity.

Hello Axel, it is an honor to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

I am doing comparatively well, basically I am not allowed to complain. The vaccination situation in Germany and the associated perpetual lockdown is a catastrophe, but apart from that, I'm doing very well.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been ruining the lives of many people worldwide. For now, there is a measure of hope that the vaccination process will kick into gear and eventually our society will be free, or at least protected, of the virus. How have you been coping with this idea of the pandemic over the last year, other than making music?

Well, I have the privilege of not only having my house but also my studio building on my estate, so that I only have to walk 10 meters across the courtyard in order to be able to work professionally at any time. I live more or less in the forest and can work around the clock at any volume without disturbing anyone. This enables me to be very creative, what I finally did over the past 1.5 years. But I mainly used the free time to work on my financial knowledge in terms of human capital, so that I now earn a certain part of my living on the stock market. It's really a very interesting area and while my knowledge in the music business is largely exhausted, I was able to learn a lot here.

You took a chance, right on time, with the shutdown of culture, and heated up earlier ideas that ended up being problematic to accomplish. The end result was Hellryder. Since 2017, it was mainly bits and pieces or simply fragments of material that weren’t materialized into songs?

In fact, the idea for Hellryder has been around for 4 years, but our schedule has always been determined by Grave Digger. We have now seized the opportunity and implemented something that we had planned for a long time, so we made the best of the situation. So far there have been no song or text ideas, we actually completely rewrote everything from September 2020.

Earlier, back in 2017, with Grave Digger focusing its attention on “Healed By Metal”, yourself and Chris Boltendahl came with this notion of a new Metal band that heads back to the roots of our beloved music. What was your motivation back then to start things up and eventually breathe life into it?

Grave Digger is a very successful band, but this also has the disadvantage, that you can only move within a certain range musically, otherwise the fans would react with great displeasure. Whenever we deviate a little left or right from the musical path, we reap one shit storm after the other. So we decided to invest our ideas, which we couldn't live out with Grave Digger, in a new band. That's where Hellryder came out of.

Would you say that there were connecting dots between the formation of Hellryder and the earlier appearance of Digger, one of the reincarnations of Grave Digger in the late 80s?

Certainly not. If you have a different opinion, you should listen to the two albums one after the other.

Let’s talk about the musical vision of Hellryder, merely stating the roots of Metal music is somewhat general. Is Hellryder a kind of a personal journey through the years of your youth, yet without involving epic proportions as on Grave Digger?

A little bit. Composing a Grave Digger song is always a very strenuous job for me, because it has to meet the highest standards, must not stray too far from the Grave Digger sound and still have to offer something new. It's different with Hellryder, I finished composing the entire album faster than I need for a single Grave Digger song.

For the creation of Hellryder, and forging it as a band, other than your partner in crime, Mr. Boltendahl, you took on two local heroes, Timmi Breideband to man the skins and Steven Wussow to tear down the lower ends. Both have been proving themselves in the German Metal scene for some time, even on a global scale. With such a variety of musicians, especially in Germany, which is the heart of Metal music, how did you know that these guys were the right ones for the job? Were there others that you checked out, perhaps musicians that you worked with in the past?

We did no auditions or similar. It was pretty clear to me from the start that these two musicians were the perfect complement for us, as they are excellent musicians and gifted showmen on stage. Timmi was immediately on fire, Steven hesitated briefly because his schedule was very busy, but I gave him no choice and just told him that he was now in the band, whether he wanted to or not. He has not regretted it.

What can you say is the image of Hellryder? What makes the band standout when it comes to its look and presentation?

We wear black suits, we have sunglasses and we are out in the name of metal. :-))) Seriously, we have a special baritone sound and will probably offer the hottest show live that you can offer on a stage.

Following the signing of Grave Digger to Rock Of Angels Records, I guess that it was only natural for Hellryder to become a roster band of the rising label. As a debut album, you are set to release, “The Devil Is A Gambler”. I wouldn’t say that it is that of a provocative title, yet it would be great to know what does it mean to you? What is the idea behind this interesting phrase?

Our entire image plays with the attributes of hell, fire, devil and the apocalyptic riders. For me as an atheist, there is no devil, but evil plays on you and tries to seduce you again and again. We are here to fight evil!

Through “The Devil Is A Gambler” spins around a number of themes, however, there is a one that stands as mutual, and it appears to be a twisted kind of occult, that appears to be connected to aspects of life. Can you elaborate on the subject? How did the devil find its way into the band’s material, mainly because of the moniker?

Well, evil is always and everywhere, it's part of our nature. Only our minds and empathy can fight it. We encourage everyone to face and fight evil and its demons. It is worth it!

 “The Devil Is A Gambler” features a kind of songwriting that is raw, untamed, free and somewhat youthful in spirit. The straightforwardness, along with the heaviness, and that Motorheadish kind of feel with the ounces of dirt, made is a rather exhilarating experience. How do you find the wild nature of the music? How would you say that it impacted your performance?

As the composer of the titles, I really enjoyed letting my ideas run free. It was shocking how quickly I accumulated riffs and arrangements, a lot of them found their way onto the album. The biggest challenge was to keep the songs exciting and to meet your own requirements. The second part in particular is becoming more and more difficult for me.

Was this transition for an historic theme based songwriting that you have been accustomed to, after years of making records that most of them are concepts, smooth in your opinion or was it hard to let go off the epics?

On the contrary, it was very easy for me to steer the compositional area in a different direction. In addition, all songs were composed for a baritone guitar, which generally requires a different way of playing and creates a different mood for the listeners.

When you said that you wanted to make something unique, along with the fusion of your influences and vintage driven styles of proto-Metal, I could only think of “Night Rider”, it is a twisted kind of 80s tune, but with a modernized touch, a crisp mixture of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal with fists raised high. What is your take on this tune?

It's my personal favorite because it includes everything I love about rock and metal music. Technically demanding, interestingly arranged and provided with a chorus hook that ignites the first time you listen. In the past, such a title would have been called a hit.

I felt even looser than ever, ready for the moshpit, with the Speed Metal meets of bowl of old school Punk, with “Harder Louder Faster”, which I also remember to be the Wacken Open Air phrase for years. Total aggression and ferocity, such an enjoyment. What can you tell about the song’s impact on the record?

I love this song! Brutal beating at high speed, on the verge of futility, with a chorus of three words that anyone can shout along with. Perfect for live shows!

Straying away to Grave Digger for a single question. Back when the Covid-19 was progressing with its first wave over Europe, you said that as long as Grave Digger can’t play live, it will release a new record every year, is that plan still in effect?

No, it won't last, because we are now taking on this part with Hellryder. We'll be releasing an album every year, but alternately with Grave Digger and Hellryder.

And back to Hellryder, do you intend for the band to perform live or rather keep in as a studio project?

On the contrary, this band was created for live shows. We only made the album to be able to go on tour!

Axel, I wish to thank you kindly for your precious time for this interview. It was an immense pleasure of mine to have you. Many thanks for scorching with a heavy to the bone record. Cheers.

You’re welcome, it was a pleasure! Cheers, Axel



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