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Hellspike's Zellpike: "It feels like we became some kind of human cattle that prefers to be told what to do as we are busy with our lives and have no time to think much..."

Interview with Rick Metal & Zellpike from Hellspike
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 07 January 2021, 10:51 PM

There is a lot of anger going in, in particular with the ongoing pandemic that has been spreading, and the end, even if it is somewhere over the rainbow, is still not in reach. Therefore, a wholesome of anguish, dismay and disappointment as things could have been done differently to help others, ease the pain, ease the suffering of isolation and near loss of control. The newcomer Portuguese band, Hellspike, comprised of veterans raising the flag of old school Metal, have a lot to share with their listeners, their attacking form against society's crumbling. Following their debut album, via Metal On Metal Records, "Lords of War", there are morals and lessons to learn. Steinmetal had a chance to talk with Rick Metal and Zellpike of the band, and they had a lot on their minds, the current situation, their vision and the new album.  

Hello guys, it is great to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online magazine, how have you been doing?

Rick: All things considered, everything is as fine as possible. Even though this has been a fucked-up year, I can't really complain much. Thing is, I played a couple of gigs in the beginning of the year, then went to play in Greece and the world as we knew it ended… the festival was canceled at the very last minute, and I haven't been to any gigs at all since then, playing or attending, and it's a really weird situation for me! There hasn't been one year since the eighties in which I haven't been to at least a dozen gigs or so in the worst case scenario. So it feels strange.

The situation with the Covid-19 pandemic isn't simple, and it appears that the second wave of the virus is spreading in Europe now, locking down our countries and keeping people at home once again. How do you view what is going on from Portugal? And how are the Portuguese authorities dealing with it?

Zellpike: The way this pandemic has been dealt with, for me clearly shows that governments are not here to save as many lives as possible or to look after us. If politicians were telling the truth, they would reinforce substantially their respective national health sectors with more beds, build improvised hospitals only for Covid patients and would certainly have to recruit more medical staff offering them the necessary conditions to work and then proceed with damage control policies. Unfortunately, healthcare has been regarded as a commodity and the greed to maximize profits brought the decay of the public services required for everyone.

Evidence shows that the largest corporations are running away with all the money from huge bailouts and profits like never before while the world burns, keeping all for themselves without having to answer before anyone or being challenged by governments with some tax bill or whatever. This is clearly unethical and a symptom of a broken system. Is it really worth building a world like this? A world without freedom, no artistic appreciation, no restaurants, no pubs, no places to express our dreams or self-accomplishments. When money talks reality dies and that's why liberty has no price.

Governments have made their choice, they prefer to rule through fear, distraction and by controlling our lives, they control dissent. Creating a system where people who don't abide by the rules imposed, end up excluding themselves. Governments will never be accountable for anything, just blame the virus. They think they don't need small businesses and can always show signs of recovery through GDP, printing more money or by showing stock exchange gambling as evidence of economic improvement, all this by deception. This narrative has gained momentum and is now regarded as a semi religious cult. You have the rituals (mask wearing etc.), the mass (with media outlets evangelizing and spreading the message to everyone with sensational numbers thrown at us, lacking scientific accuracy, so that we feel scared and comply) and all this is made in order to save us. Whenever the church wanted to save us, we all know what happened, a much bigger death toll was guaranteed (remember the crusades, the inquisition, the epic of discoveries etc.). Whenever the heretics spoke, they had to be persecuted.

This is especially disturbing and now when medical experts talk about these topics, they are being silenced in social media with videos removed about false positives infection rates for example. Even if the opinion of a former scientific adviser for Pfizer like Mike Yeadon with 30 years of experience was wrong, why remove his videos? The answer to bad speech is more speech (so that this virus becomes less mysterious), never censorship or suppression. Clearly there is a predominant narrative here that needs to prevail. I'm more scared of that narrative than the virus itself. The way some media outlets as well as transnational organizations like the WHO are financed, mines their credibility. With so much money involved in issues that affect our lives, certain narratives become prevalent. I defend money out of politics and here, for sure, big pharma out of our way!

Rick: From my point of view, Portugal is particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic, as it's always been. Like Zellpike, I don't trust politicians at all… some are worse, some are less bad, but by definition they must all be a pack of liars and hypocrites. I do trust scientific research and it appalls me, the times we're living in. The current world is full of people who seek and find validation on the internet for whatever the fuck they decide to favor. In the past there was no easy access to information… now the access is quite easy, but legitimate information is drowned in an ocean of noise. I trust hard science – solid, peer-reviewed scientific data and conclusions, not crackpot blogs or the like, of which there are thousands these days.

Concerning the second wave of the virus and the measures being taken, it might be that the worst is about to come during this winter… and truth is it's surely hard to find a balance in order to hold the economy as much as possible and try to keep the contamination numbers down. It is a time of social and political crisis. I hope it goes the best way possible, but I'm sure the tough times brought by the pandemic are here to last.

As musicians, I believe that the impact of the pandemic is quite substantial on you, in particular due to the closed down clubs and venues, not allowing artists to perform, earn and promote themselves. How have you been trying to cope with this culture pause?

Zellpike: The trend to depreciate artists and cultural expressions has long been underway. If I would tell my parents that I wanted to be an actor or a musician, they would immediately try to dissuade me from pursuing these careers. It feels like we became some kind of human cattle that prefers to be told what to do as we are busy with our lives and have no time to think much. More and more, we tend to use less of our talents and capacities. Sometimes it's small things like going shopping using GPS (even when you know the way) instead of doing things by ourselves. With the pandemic and all the skyrocketing unemployment, it's clear that the governments will tell you that skilled musicians, painters or talented people in any branch of activity will have to work out of their area of expertise or in some gigantic Amazon warehouse in order to make a living instead of having these people doing what they know best. This is pure waste of human potential all in favor of the big business that serve only a small number of people who benefit from all this mindset. This pandemic serves their needs.

Rick: In our particular case, since Hellspike is and obviously will always be something we do because we want to, and not a means for any income or anything like that, it's not that much of a problem… What is truly dramatic is that we don't know what will survive this… many friends of ours are in dreadful situations. Many rehearsal rooms, recording studios and venues are closing down. The scene is going to have to re-invent itself when things go back to anywhere near the previous "normal" situation. The Underground network of gigs and festivals is sure to suffer a lot. People who work with sound and live events are having to turn elsewhere for a living and many may not come back. Many mid-sized bands, who really depend on touring and selling merchandise to pay their bills are in a terrible situation. We'll have to wait and see what happens. And it's impossible to predict when, if ever, Hellspike will play live.

Through your label, Metal on Metal Records, I got to know your new band, Hellspike, a newcomer group of veterans. What can you tell us about the foundation of the band? What motivated you to start a band once again, after being involved in more than a handful of others?

Rick: My position is that if I have a chance to do some old school Metal, I do it. It's more important than a number of other things I could possibly be doing. Zellpike and I always shared the taste for this kind of Speed Thrash, and when he left Ravensire, the intention to someday do something else together remained… We took our time, but eventually we managed to get Hellspike off the ground. Zellpike was even out of any other bands now, so he had the time to calmly work on the songs. I could say Hellspike is kind of an homage to all those obscure or semi-obscure bands of the eighties we have so enjoyed for many years. But it's more than that; it is most certainly a means of personal musical expression proudly upholding the flag of the only sound we truly care about. The way we see it, with bands like us the scene of old still endures as the decades pass by. Sometimes I think, fuck, I'm getting close to 50 years old (Zellpike is about a decade younger) and I only wear band t-shirts, even at work, and I spend too much money on albums, I have a beer gut and I wear stretch jeans… But it's not my fault the years passed. I'm still the same as I was when I was a teenager high on Kreator, Slayer and Maiden. And Heavy Metal rules, always!

Just recently, you've released your debut album, "Lords of War", presenting a strong statement against the social order worldwide. I wonder, what kind of understanding, or rather major criticism do you convey through "Lords of War" that hasn't been mentioned countless times by bands that came before you?

Zellpike: This world order is a mess! We have the last great empire still standing, proudly and alone. No cooperation or understanding with the other nuclear powers, just punishment and hostility. It's a vicious spectacle of a wounded beast that is heavily armed and willing to take us all down, especially those who defy its hegemony. All this desperation and human decay is very dark and extremely inspiring to write metal songs.

The message of this album is to open your eyes, get informed, ponder on these themes while listening to our music. Don't let the Gods of wrath divide you. Reach common ground with like-minded people. This might be the path to find our way to survive all this madness around us! Think harder, but think for yourself. The last two songs of this album carry the torch of victory that is by our side! Heavy metal rules.

Rick: When the Berlin wall fell back in 1989, people thought it was the end of the Cold War and the dawn of a new era of understanding. In the following years all those Thrash lyrics suddenly seemed to get progressively outdated and obsolete. It's sad to see that once again they are completely pertinent.

I could feel the anguish that you hold throughout most of the record and I would like to ask, what has been pissing you off that channeled that anger and dismay over to the concept of "Lords of War"? Who do you find guilty and who makes you want to trash the place?

Zellpike: The major criticism goes to the greed that is killing us. Look at the new American president filling his cabinet with all these sociopathic war hawks. They are willing to kill thousands so that they can have their contracts with the defense industry. Nothing can stop these lunatics from achieving their goals. Europe will suffer from all these wars with more humanitarian crisis coming our way. These social issues bring chaos to our European project that is collapsing before our eyes. In the meantime, European leaders are cheering the new commander in chief of the free world as if he was our savior. This human tragedy knows no boundaries.

Do you believe that mankind is worth saving? Is there anything that, in your opinion, can be done for the future and sake of our society in order to make it better?

Rick: From my point of view, humans are capable of the best and of the worst, but I fear the worst far outweighs the best, perhaps mainly because of the financial system that rules the world… Money is the true god. Human kind is unique in its capability to create art, literature, philosophy, abstract thoughts, storytelling. But in the past couple of centuries it experienced incredible technological development, more so than in all the previous millennia it's been around, and there hasn't been a comparable ethical development at all. I see ourselves as a species that is still in a very primitive stage, and the real question is whether we will give ourselves the chance to go beyond this. Personally, I feel very pessimistic… it doesn't look good to me. What could be made to make it better? The only thing that could save humankind is culture… education, science. The end of organized religions, which are a complete catastrophe. A different economic system and a different way to look at the world around us… an override of all the programming we receive from an early age. Perhaps in a few thousand years there is hope, if this naked ape doesn't terminate itself meanwhile.

What is the moral out of "Lords of War" other than the undoing of mankind towards itself, the damage caused to so many?

Rick: To me it is a portrait of this species we belong to and this time we're living in… in fact, other than the serious, socially aware lyrics of the album, there are some symbolic, more abstract fictional lyrics, namely the half-literary / half-mythological "House of Asterion" and the closing song "Stellar Victory", which is a kind of a more positive ending for the album, and a statement about attitude. Even though I wrote most of the lyrics, they follow the concept Zellpike came up with for the album. Not everything is bleak, and there are two sides to a coin… no good without bad. And even if I personally feel pessimistic about the future of man, this is the time we're living in and you have to make the best of it. Personally, I'm having a blast around here. So maybe that's the moral. Do the best you can.

Without a doubt, one of the key features of Hellspike's old school style is the diversity within the '80s metal era influences that is celebrated throughout the record. Whether it is Speed, Thrash, Black, Heavy Metal, it is all there, a bowl for a feast for the hungry for the old school reign. From your perspective, what are the advantages of incorporating elements of all these subgenres of Metal that influenced the rest that came after them?

Rick: Well, all of that is the music I like. It's the only thing that interests me, musically. Back in the late eighties, when I started listening to Metal, the boundaries were still being discovered… it was still the time for the great explorers. And it was amazing, because you had so very different things, and it was all still undoubtedly Metal! Only later, in the nineties, things started to spill overboard and all the fake Metal bands started becoming huge and you had all of these fucked up fusions with alternative Rock and later Pop and all kinds of shit. I care nothing about that. I love Heavy Metal, Thrash, '80s and early '90s Black, late '80s and early '90s Death, and also older Hard Rock, early Doom, and so on. If any of that comes up in any part of Hellspike's music, well then great! Decades passed, but I'm still the same Metalhead I was back in my teenage years, and I still feel as strongly about Metal as I did back then.

With that said, what do you think differentiates "Lords of War" from a whole lot of releases coming out nowadays carrying the sign of the old school on their front and back?

Zellpike: Diversity and memorability of the songs that deal with our lives and will make us listen to them more often. "Lords of War" is an upgraded version of the old classics like "Heavy Metal Breakdown" or "Branded and Exiled", but with all the elements we have experienced in the underground scene since these classics were unleashed, with all the new bands coming out, reinvigorated underground movements, concerts and everything we think was genuine.

Rick: That's not really for me to tell, but for the listeners. If all these bands are genuinely into old school Metal and if they play fucking great music, or at least play it truly from the heart, I find it great! For as long as people like these exist, Heavy Metal will not die!

What, if anything, have you done musically in Hellspike, on "Lords of War" in particular, that you could say was personally your first time doing that and was different than what you did with/in your previous bands?

Rick: Let's see, I think it was the first time I wrote lyrics inspired by the song titles and the concept that someone else (Zellpike) came up with. It was also, for sure, the first time I recorded the bass lines at home! We had everything recorded except for bass, and then all the pandemic thing fell on top of us and everything shut down. I bought an audio interface just because of that, and had it delivered by mail. Then I recorded the bass in the very living room I'm writing in now, sent it to the producer and hey presto! I've done stuff like that again since, but it was the first time. Musically, it was the first time I participated in an album in this particular style I so enjoy; I sang in Heavy Metal albums with Ravensire, I sang in fast paced Thrash Metal albums with Perpetratör, but this is somewhere in between, and I look very much forward to doing it again!

In contrast to the previous bands you were in, and are still in, would you say that your songwriting process changed for "Lords of War"? What kind of lessons from the past did you implement in the songwriting?

Zellpike: Indeed, my previous experiences with bands played a crucial role in my songwriting. One thing I learned was to never rush things. I think the biggest advantage underground bands have compared to professional ones, is the lack of deadlines from labels and the freedom to explore our identity the way we want. I also learned that the more we practice, the easier it gets to pass certain ideas or feelings to the strings. The important lesson I took from this last decade playing in bands is to work hard, stand up for something and the future is bright. Rock hard, ride free!

Listening to those enchanting instrumentals, "Full Spectrum Dominance" and "Iron Forces United", I couldn't believe it, to be honest. After listening to such harshness, there you have soothing moments of uplifting melodies, delivering an atmosphere that is beyond. What went on here when you thought of implementing these two into the release? Was it your initial intent to write instrumentals or was it a last minute decision?

Zellpike: The instrumentals are a tribute to all the power and glory of heavy metal. The melodic approach has a lot to do with the '80s decade that gave us the greatest metal bands of our lifetimes. It's our humble contribution to that golden age. "Full Spectrum Dominance" was being composed from the start as an intro to "Fallen Empire" and it later evolved into a more diversified instrumental itself. "Iron Forces United" was to be the solo for the "Stellar Victory", but as the riffs and melodies had so much potential it turned out to be the perfect instrumental prelude to the song itself, providing at the same time the ambience it needed.

"Fallen Empire" could have easily been a Necronomicon song, I'd tell you that. Your voice, and of course the direction of the music fits so perfectly and it says it all. On the other hand, you have that catchiness that is strongly felt. What can you tell us about this track and its creation?

Zellpike: The chorus riffage is the first Hellspike riff ever composed. In the beginning I was thinking about using it as a verse with a faster picking, but later I realized that these progressions were very powerful. Back in the Ravensire old days, I remembered that Rick knew how to take advantage of these kind of power chord progressions in songs I composed like "Beyond the Portcullis" or "Tyrant's Dictum", where he did a great job. Also he just doesn't follow the riff, he explores different melodies from the base riff which is great. I tried to contribute with some verses for that chorus and it all resulted in a more diversified approach. Rick is inventive and I think his vocal excursions go drink a lot in Ronnie James Dio who was a master at creating vocal melodies.

Rick: I just wish I were half the vocalist Dio was, but there's nothing I can do about that. Concerning Necronomicon, both Zellpike and I love the band. And my vocal approach is often inspired by bands like Necronomicon, Protector, Iron Angel, Violent Force, Exumer and the like.

After listening to the entire record and then coming back to "Storm of Fear", the aforementioned crossing between subgenres may drive a person wild. I wonder, will the next Hellspike efforts be showing such examples as "Storm of Fear", which is nearly an early '90s Black Metal tune with a Speed Metal crust?

Zellpike: Absolutely. bands like Kreator in the "Endless Pain" era, Infernal Majesty or the Swedish Merciless in the "Awakening" album have a very dark, almost black metal sounding approach to Thrash. It's such a grotesque brutality with great feeling. That's the kind of Thrash we love and for me, it goes well with German '80s speed metal with its guitar driven song structures that encompass rhythm diversity with great effect. This blend brings diversity where the fastest parts have more impact which can be found in a song like "Storm of Fear" that is structured to create varied atmospheres of uncertainty, violence, sadness and nostalgia. It does not go bursting in full speed, all the time. The song tends to breathe when following a certain lyrical theme. Those early '90s Black Metal bands like Samael (with that amazing "Worship Him" album from 1991) do have incredible mystique with those gelid riffs that can create some very impressive cataclysmic aura. It simply could not be ignored in an album like "Lords of War". Next album, expect some more of this "Storm of Fear" devastation.

How have you thought of promoting the release, as I have the feeling that you guys aren't the livestream types?

Rick: Not at all, livestream or playing for people sitting down is not something we see any reason to do. Concerning promotion, Metal on Metal have been sending promo material, we have been featured in a couple of magazines, and we are replying to this very fine interview. Other than that, we are posting stuff on Facebook, occasionally, and the album can be heard online for fans to know what they will be spending their money on if they want to buy it. There are no gigs, no meetings, no parties, nothing. I wonder what scene will still exist at the other end of this pandemic. The possible promotion is recording the best music possible and releasing it through a real underground true Heavy Metal label. It's what we did. I even wonder whether we will ever be able to take this on stage.

Where do you see Hellspike going in the coming years?

Rick: I hope that in 2021 we can have a new album out, and I hope that it's possible to play live again someday. What I would personally enjoy would be to have some more good music by Hellspike coming out, true Metal people enjoying it… and some invitations to play with good conditions would be great. I miss travelling Europe to play, the meeting the Metal family, and sharing the stage with kickass bands. Hopefully Hellspike may do this someday in not too long.

Guys, it has been a pleasure mate, thank you for your time for this interview. You plunged into this old school person's heart with ease with such a release. Well done. Cheers.

Rick: I thank you for your words and for this opportunity to be read by the faithful of the Metal Temple, from the bottom of my hardened heart. May you forever keep the Metal flame of old burning strong! Cheers!



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