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Helslave's Jari Sgarlato: "…the live dimension is the ultimate reward for all the sacrifices we make, nothing is more satisfying than sharing a concert with new fans and Death Metal aficionados!"

Interview with Jari Sgarlato from Helslave
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 25 April 2021, 1:11 PM

One the HM-2 pedal starts scorching, it is bound to be heavy and utterly brutal and yes Swedish. But not quite, as it has been years since that infamous pedal has been swarming the world, feasting and feeding Death Metal hot blooded bands right from the get go and down to retirement. It is addictive and ever fulfilling. The Italian Helslave didn't really need to state much as their material of their new album, “From The Sulphur Depths”, kicked into gear. Newly signed to the old school festering label, Pulverised Records, Helslave are bound to contribute to the old school driven Metal to be as powerful as possible. Steinmetal talked to Jari Sgarlato about the new release, new era for the band and more…

Hello Jari, it is great to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing? How are things going on your end?

Hello, greetings to you and to all the readers of Metal Temple. Things are going quite well over here, we are promoting the new album, which was released on April 23rd, and the reception has been above our expectations.

If I hadn't checked your nationality first, I would have sworn that you guys are veteran Swedish Death Metal band from the early 90s, making a comeback. However, I did dig a little deeper to find out that you are actually Italians but truly know how to revamp the same bludgeoning sensation of the classic Death Metal years.  A general question for you, what really fires you up personally within the spectrum of the Swedish style of the production of Death Metal?

Thank you so much for the compliment. We are all fans of Swedish Death and Black metal and Scandinavian Metal in general. This has been our common thread since our beginning, and it will probably be for the future as well. We like to play in this style and we are trying to do our part to keep certain sonorities alive, with the hope of getting more people interested in the genre.

It has been six years since your debut album, and that little sign of life made by an EP released a few years ago, and here you are with your sophomore, and signed to a new label, stepping out of your local market and into a wider area of interest. You recently signed with Pulverized Records, which I believe is a suitable host for your direction of extreme Metal. What are the strong points that you find in this signing?

Signing for Pulverised has been a reason for great pride for all of us, we have been following their releases for many years and we are fans of many of the bands they have released in the past. Entering their roster, side to side with these important monikers, has been a great push for us in terms of self-esteem, while also supplying us with the awareness that we are working in the right way. We also found a really supportive and passionate figure in Roy \[Pulverised’s chief] and we strongly hope that this will be the beginning of a long-term collaboration.

Titled “From The Sulphur Depths”, I could feel the heat coming out of the underworld’s pits as I was listening to the constant machine gun fire going on. Since I am sure that this form of title isn’t really just for kicks, or simply because it sounds cool, what do you make of it? What is it all about for you personally?

The title is a verse from the chorus of Perpetual Damnation (“drenched in blood divine/ from the sulphur depths arise”), which is one of the first songs that we had composed for the album. We felt that this phrase perfectly summed up the whole atmosphere and aesthetic of the record.

What would say is the most prominent, and dominant, theme on “From The Sulphur Depths”? Is there a relation in some form of analogy to what is going on outside, meaning the pandemic that has yet to cease?

Almost all of the songs from the album are pervaded with a sense of impending doom and apocalypse unfolding on the world and mankind in particular, which is often depicted as submitted to evil forces and destined to be reattributed for its greed or other vile conducts that naturally characterise it. Besides that, a couple of songs are built around horror and gruesome themes which are commonly found in death metal, with the particular instance of Funereal Lust being inspired by the true story of Carl Tanzler, a doctor who exhumed the corpse of one of his deceased patients and proceeded to perform necrophilia. Despite some verses might in fact sound like references to the pandemic (“cast the disease on the pure” on Rotting Pile of Flesh), there is absolutely no relation, since we had already written the whole album before the pandemic started.

The album’s artwork, made by the amazing talent of Juanjo Castellano, is a one of the many visions of how Hell has been pictured, as a main servitude for constant suffering, the flesh hunting lava. Through this artwork, which is high level, what are you really stating? How does it hook up with your system of beliefs?

Since the beginning, we had the intention of getting a really vast and detailed landscape drawn, on the same style of many albums from the 90’s that we love. Juanjo is currently one of the bests in the field and he has a really recognisable style, which is modern but with an eye looking on the past, as we also do. We tried to supply him with as many elements and suggestions as possible, but he managed to deliver greatly above our expectations, by depicting an infernal scenario which perfectly fits the album title. The purpose of the cover, as well as the lyrical content, is to create an all-round cohesive work of art, where all of the elements contribute to the immersion into a certain atmosphere. We are not really trying to make any personal statement, just to create an album that we would love to listen and look to.

As mentioned, you haven’t been a stranger the Scandinavian kind of Death Metal, and you actually made lemonade out of it. The sound is right, and also the engineer was hired to make it, but even better, the right attitude, the aching melodies and the gruesomeness that made “From The Sulphur Depths” a shining beacon. How would you say that this record perfected your skills as a songwriter and as a musician?

We had very clear ideas on how this record should have sounded since the beginning, as it was also clear that we had to take a step forward in terms of composition and production. I think that the experience we gathered during the years, the various shows we played (even abroad), and having improved our craft as musicians has allowed us to deliver a way more mature and refined work, which also fits the genre better. We have always been extremely self-critical while composing and arranging songs, throwing away all the ideas that do not convince us 100%. This aspect became particularly prominent during the whole process of writing and producing From The Sulphur Depths: we knew that this had to be our breakthrough record and we carefully took care of every detail.

Since old school driven Death Metal has been on the rise through various underground labels, allowing it to thrive again and slowly making its way upwards, there have been quite a lot of bands on the market. In light of  “From The Sulphur Depths”, how do you find Helslave as an uncanny feature, a ground breaking band that brings something new to the table?

I do not think that Helslave is a band that wants to bring something completely new on the scene, it is simply not our intention. We play in this style because we are deeply passionate about it, we like playing it, while also paying homage to the bands that inspired us. We surely implement elements from our favourite bands differently than other contemporary bands do – everyone does to a certain extent – but we are by no means revolutionary, nor do we aspire to be. If we will manage to bring a breath of fresh air, that’s for the listener to say. What we care about is doing what we love with the right attitude.

What form of elements on the new album were exemplified, or better said, emphasized, that made it somewhat different than the previous?

We already performed a certain sound change with the release of our 2017’s EP “Divination”, by switching from the Melodic Death style of the first record to a more old-school tinged Death Metal. The use of the HM-2 pedal surely better defined our sound and our target audience, compared to our debut, together with a lower pitched and rawer voice. Now the riffing is even fiercer and more impactful, stripping away even more of the melodic element, which is however always present in order to conjure sinister of nostalgic scenarios.

Working with Dan Swano, which is truly a master of his craft as an engineer, made you even closer to the Swedish Death Metal brand, even closer than actual Swedish bands of the same direction. What is your appreciation of working Mr. Swano? How do you find your sound?

Being aware that we had to make a leap forward in comparison with our previous works, we knew that we had to aim at the best in the production phase. We have always been Dan’s fans, both as a musician and as a producer, it has thus been a real honour to work with him. He confirmed himself to be a great professional and an incredibly friendly and helpful person, who was always willing to meet our needs. We wanted a powerful and raw old school sound that still retained a certain clarity which is up to date and the end result satisfied us completely.

What kind of challenges were at your way while working “From The Sulphur Depths”? How were you able to handle these hardships and take them head on?

Having to change our guitar player halfway through the writing process of the new album has made things slower and has somewhat discouraged us. Luckily, our long date friend Marco has been ready to fill the role and gave us the necessary push for the completion of the album. We now have a very stable and close-knit line up and even though our singer lives in another city, which might sometimes be an obstacle, managing to complete this record with such results gave us further motivation to go on.

“Sentence Of the Living”, the final nail in the coffin of this release, grew on me rather fast, and also portrays a fine mixture between bits of British Death Metal, al’a Bolt Thrower, and of course the giants of early 90s Swedish Death Metal. Furthermore, I found it to be a level up in its articulate nature in comparison to the rest. What do you make of this tune? How do you find its impact on the record?

That is one of my favourite tracks from the album. The initial idea was to create an instrumental which provided an atmospheric crescendo, a more pensive closure, after 30 minutes of balls to the wall. At last, we decided to add a few very introspective vocal lines, which perfectly fit the melodies of the song. It was the first time that we dealt with such a slow song and we will surely repeat the experiment in the future.

Severing limb by limb, as a straightforward meat grinder, is no other than “Rotting Pile Of Flesh”, heavier and merciless, it generated for me everything that embodies Death Metal in its old school form. Also, the melodies played their part within the aggregation. What can you tell about the creation of this monstrosity?

Rotting Pile Of Flesh is the first of a few songs in the record that have been originally written by Marco and Luca and were later perfected and rearranged when Marco entered the band. The guys have been housemates for several years and the initial composition of this song goes back to 2016. The idea was to deliver precisely what you are talking about: pulling together all of the most extreme and aggressive elements of old school Death Metal, with fast galloping a la Unleashed, blistering blast beats and an abrupt stop with roaring and catchy vocals, followed by a sinister and oppressing slow section. We are greatly satisfied with this song and decided to release it as our second single.

Since I have the feeling that you guys aren’t really the type to charge the newly found mainstream market of shows, have you started perhaps thinking of ideas for the next album, perhaps not waiting that long?

We have some spare ideas from the upcoming album that we might restart working on and we started writing new material as well, but there’s no rush, also because of the current situation, preventing us from seeing each other regularly. We usually need some time to metabolise the fatigue of the previous work, and once the album has been released and promoted, we put all of our effort on the next release. However, we do not follow any precise schedule, it might be that new music will be released way earlier than the usual.

In regards to the pandemic, it has been a torture for everyone, in particular those that lost their jobs and of course their well-being. What do you make of the situation? Is there a way out of it?

I want to think that we’re close to the way out, especially now that the vaccinating campaigns have started. It has been a difficult year for everyone, but it has been surely worse for those who have lost their jobs, have faced health problems or even loss of dear ones. We luckily have been quite well in general, so we are hopeful that it will be possible to get back to a normal life.

On a positive note, how do you see 2021 in relation to performing shows? Are we looking at the end of the year?

There is a hope to get back on stage by the end of 2021, but I don’t want to be delusional, it is way more realistic that we’d get back on full regime starting from 2022. It is surely frustrating not to be able to promote our album on the live side, but as we said, there are more important problems than concerts. We cannot wait to get back on the road, the live dimension is the ultimate reward for all the sacrifices we make, nothing is more satisfying than sharing a concert with new fans and Death Metal aficionados!

Jari, I wish to thank you for your effort on this interview. Thank you for delivering such a strong and gritty Death Metal album that reminded me once again where are the true good vibes of the sub-genre. All the best

Thank you for the kind words and the space you granted us. Talk to you soon!



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