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Helvetets Port's Tomas Ericson: "It has never felt particularly exciting when musicians, who once were distinguished members of beloved bands, then go on to form a new band. Maybe because it has usually been some completely awful type of modern music"

Interview with Tomas Ericson from Helvetets Port
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 13 August 2019, 1:05 AM

No matter the band's previous magnitude on the market, is it always great to welcome back a band after a long time without a studio album. Things could change, or not, but there is new music to feast on. Sweden's Helvetets Port return with “From Life To Death”, via their old label High Roller Records, prevailing with their NWOBHM fascination. Steinmetal chatted with Tomas Ericson of the band regarding the new album, musical approach and even K.K. Downing. 

Greetings Tomas, thank you for taking the time for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing mate?

Hey man, thanks for the interview. I've been pretty busy lately with our music video and preparing for our release party which is the same date as the album release, August 23.

Well, I bet that is quite exciting, better be busy that simply wait right?

Let's get on with it shall we? A decade has passed since your band, Helvetets Port, debut album, “Exodus To Hell”, and now you are back, as if out of thin air. What happened all this time? A long hiatus? Lack of inspiration, or motivation, to write new material? Life happenings perhaps?

Yes, a combination of things, including the ones you mentioned plus the band moving even further apart geographically. However, we've been active in this “second wave” for quite some time now, since 2014, and it's the scope of the album and the ever present geographical issue that's prolonged the release for the past few years.

Renewing your relationship with High Roller Records, which also released your debut, made it happen for the future of your brand new release “From Life To Death”. Were you welcomed back with open arms or in fact you never really left the label?

It sure feels like yesterday; I can't really remember what was said back when we kind of drifted away, but anyway we sent them a promo for the album and they welcomed us back on board.

That is good to hear, well done for that

What do you think really changed between “Exodus To Hell” and “From Life To Death”? From where I am standing, there are barely any musical differences between the releases, especially with the continued effort to relive NWOBHM, in a Swedish form of course. What is your viewpoint on the matter?

It's an interesting point of view, most people who've heard the new album think it's very different. Personally, I think it's different when it comes to the production, musicianship and to some extent the songwriting, but in a way it's still the same old Helvetets Port. As for continuing to relive NWOBHM, I look at it like this: We try to play the best possible style of music, and it happens to be one that had its heyday in the early 80s. That also includes the visual impressions. In the band's very beginning there was more of a conscious effort to revive the past. Now it feels like our style is so much of a second nature to us that the entity of Helvetets Port can do whatever it wants and I'm confident it wouldn't stray.

Was there a new approach to your songwriting style throughout the album’s making?

This time around there was more focus on epicenes and melancholy. It's what came most naturally when writing the new songs. Next time around you might see a different approach. There are many roads to go down even within the same classic base of heavy metal.

Have you played some of the album’s tracks live prior to the release? What have been the reactions to the new tunes?

Yes, "Hård mot de Hårda" has been a concert staple for a couple of years and also "Stan Brinner" and "Thunder Ace". There's never been any recording of "Hård mot de Hårda" circulating but it's still been recognized at the shows and people have been banging hard so that's a nice boon.

Lyrically, any particular focus on a theme that led you to write songs for “From Life To Death”? Was there a conceptual vision?

The Egyptian concept for the cover artwork and for a couple of the songs came a bit later in the process, so that wasn't planned from the beginning. The general songwriting style as I said focuses more on the epic side of things, and so most of the songs also have lyrics in that vein. This time around I wanted to keep some distance from the “nightlife” type of songs which wouldn't fit very well with the general theme or feeling.

Which of the album’s tracks do you find as your number one? That track that made an impact on you. Please elaborate on your selection and explain why.

I would say my personal favorite is "Ruled with an Iron Hand" and that's also the one we made a music video for. I believe that at the first spin it could be perceived as simply a “heavy song” but then you begin to discover layer after layer of melody. I see the melodies in the song as being “black as tar” but still remaining classical and vibrant.

 “From Life To Death” is the second album with several Swedish sung tunes. Honestly, what is more appealing to you, in English or Swedish? Is the English for the marketable reasons while your true passion is singing in your mother tongue? Please explain

I would say that there's a special feeling for us when doing a song in Swedish. They tend to sit a bit closer to the heart. However, it's all about the ideas that pop up in your head while writing a song. Sometimes English comes more naturally, sometimes Swedish. And once you feel like it's the right fit, nothing else would be satisfactory. Usually, when trying new vocal melodies for verses etc., English comes more naturally.

You recently left your guitar post, I guess in order to concentrate on your singing, and recruited a new guitarist. What made you take on this decision and make it a reality? Looking back, do you think it contributed to the band’s efforts?

The initial reason was that I had injured my arm and couldn't play for a couple of months, and we had a gig in England coming up. So we took David on board to play guitar at that show, and then we found out that it was actually a good idea regardless. It's been a good move; singing is easier without having to play at the same time, and David is also a great guitarist. I still play when writing songs and recording demos, and also some stuff for the album.

With more than a several NWOBHM driven bands, which have been a part of a major revival wave that has been spreading worldwide, do you think that this sort of revival has what it takes to survive and actually retain the glory of the 80s?

I believe it can stay very healthy and vibrant albeit in a somewhat limited fashion. I don't think it will be as popular among regular people as it was in the 80s. Especially not since there are other forms of metal that for some reason seem more popular. But hey, if enough people got to hear it, then one could always appeal to the sense of human kind to actually recognize what a great genre it is.

Continuing the spirit of the previous question, do you have an appreciation to the modernized version of Metal music that has been taking a strong stance, especially in the second decade of the 00s?

I have heard very few records made in the 21st century, usually I lose interest when hearing the style, production etc. of newer releases. It's not an isolated case to modernized styles of metal, even classic sounding bands can suffer from this. So often nowadays, it just feels like there's something missing. But I'm lucky that many people don't think like that. Also I would like to point out that I think it's a shame that many new heavy metal bands (who are going for a classic heavy metal approach) seem to think they have to rely on speed, heaviness, occult themes etc. I believe that melodies themselves can bring about the feeling of heaviness, and when they do, it surpasses what can be accomplished through just a sheer wall of sound.

To which bands have you been listening to nowadays? Any newcomers that are deemed to be the next Metal gods?

Lately I've been listening a lot to Cerebus, Karion, Millennium (their song “Kill or be Killed” is the best one I've heard in six months), Kim Sixx and Tryckvåg to name a few. Among newer bands, Lethal Steel are in a league of their own. When listening to them you immediately feel that they have “it”, that thing I mentioned that was missing from so many newer releases.  Another band, or project I should say, that is capable of this “it factor”, is Ice War, with the song “Falling Out”.

Just last week, K.K. Downing, ex-Judas Priest, performed for the first time in years with Ross The Boss at the Bloodstock Festival. It surely is one of the most important moments of the festival, and in overall, it seems to me like a calling for the veteran guitarist to get back to the stages. What do you think? Should K.K. return in a certain form to unleash his might or he should retire?

Well, I believe that if he was to return, it should be in Judas Priest. I'm always in favor of old members coming back, even if they aren't in their best form. As long as they can do it safely, of course. It has never felt particularly exciting for me when musicians, who once were distinguished members of beloved bands, then go on to form a new band. Maybe because it has usually been some completely awful type of modern music. Then they should return to that beloved old band, or fill a vacant spot in another beloved band. Speaking strictly from a selfish fan's perspective, hehe. For example, it would be cool if KK Downing joined Ross the Boss for real, if there was no room in Judas Priest.

How do you intend to support the new album? Any local shows or tours in the planning sessions?

Yeah we're pulling some strings to set up shows in the near and mid-distant future. Next up, apart from the release party, we're playing at the Storm Crusher festival in Germany September 14. We're looking to set up some winter tour in Germany, and also gigs coming up in Sweden, Finland and the UK (Live Evil in January). We'd also like to go to North and South America but no leads so far on that.

Tomas, I highly appreciate your time and effort for this interview. I am glad that you guys are back. Let’s hope that it wouldn't have to be another decade until next time. Cheers mate.

We're not going to sit this one out, Helvetets Port are here to stay. Thank you for the interview, stay heavy (and melodic)!



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Edited 05 June 2023

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