Interview with Gehennah’s Rob Stringburner

Having a history of active service in the ranks of metal stretching back to the early 1990s, Swedes Gehennah have seen their fair share of ups and downs over the years. However, the recent high point in signing with Metal Blade records seems to have breathed new life into this particular sleeping dragon. Valkyrian Music quizzes guitarist Rob Stringburner.

Gehennah

Paul: First up, while the Metal Police title was used on last year’s EP, the material on the 2015 long player also consists of re-recorded versions of older tracks, and the sound is pretty different. Is it more in line with what you had originally imagined?

Rob: That’s a good question. Back in the day we didn’t care that much about the sound, we just played on any equipment we stumbled upon, and, once in the studio, we got in and out as fast as we could, with just a few moments of setting up the sound. I remember that I specifically asked for ear-splitting cymbals like on ”Blood Fire Death” at one point, but I don’t think we ever managed that. In the end, the drinks were a lot more interesting.
Regarding the new versions, I think we play them a bit better, more groovy, but, yes, perhaps a bit slower. The actual production of those six songs didn’t turn out exactly as we wanted, not like the other 6 from the original EP-session, but it’s OK I guess. Mostly, we had a lot of issues with the mixing phase, and also this time around we only spent three or four hours in the studio recording!

Paul: When I listened to the album, I heard an obvious leaning towards the Venom sound, but there seem to be a lot more intangible influences throughout. Who else has helped to shape the sound?

Rob: Yeah, Venom was the main influence from the beginning, and we were huge fans of the ’80s harder metal scene, with bands like Destruction, Sodom and Celtic Frost, but we also grew up straight into the Death and Black Metal scene, so we took a lot of influences from there as well. For example, the first song we ever rehearsed back in ’92 was a cover of Beherit’s Unholy Pagan Fire, since we found Venom too complicated, and we’ve listened to a lot of punk and hard-core, too! Can’t forget about Motörhead either! Anyway, I’d have to write a way too long list to include all the obscure bands we’ve taken ideas from.

Paul: Have you picked up any new influences in recent years?

Rob: Well, we have of course listened to music for another 20 years so I guess it’s bound to happen, but as far as the song writing goes, we try to stay in the same style as we did before. I think for my part that my solos have become even more rock ’n’ roll and country-influenced, perhaps, but then again I could never play ”metal”-type solos.
Ronnie Ripper was one of our main songwriters before, so his departure has obviously changed things a bit, but I think that Charley has added a thing of his own that fits perfectly into our sound.

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Paul: Kicking off in 1992, you landed smack bang between the original wave of NWOBHM and the current musical climate which seems to crave more and more retro styles. Do you think you were born too early or too late?

Rob: Always wondered that myself. We were certainly born wrong in some way! Even if we took a lot of influences from the ’80s, when we started out I don’t think we’ve ever been retro. We just didn’t include the keyboards, angeline female vocals or rap into our music like others did at the time.

Paul: A lot of bands aim for that old school sound, but few actually achieve it without sounding a bit contrived. Do you think it’s possible to emulate the vibe, or is it just something you grew up with?

Rob: I guess for us we have never tried to sound ”old”, we just did what we wanted to do and had mostly old favorite bands, but perhaps you end up sounding contrived when you set your sights on a certain sound that has already been done, in any way, it will not be entirely you. I think that there are perhaps a bit too many “role playing” bands around these days. We like a lot of old bands but I don’t think we aim to sound old specifically, just right.

Paul: I think one of the great things about the Gehennah is that you have fun with the lyrics and subject matter, but still have serious song-writing as a back-bone. Do you think some bands take the ‘having a laugh’ thing too far?

Rob: Thanks, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do! I agree that it’s a fine line between being a band that have fun and being a comedy band.

Paul: As a collection of new material and classic tracks, Metal Police seems like a full release unto itself. Are there any murmurings in the Gehennah camp of a complete album of new material?

Rob: Yeah, we’re writing a new album as we speak! Why this release ended up as it did was more of a coincidence. When we recorded the EP in 2013 we just recorded the first songs we wrote with the new line-up to get something out there as soon as possible, and when Metal Blade picked it up they asked us to fill it out with something so they could do a proper release.

Paul: Underground thrash is on the rise again, at least in the UK. Would you ever consider doing another Headbangers Against Disco, like you did with Sabbat and others in the late 1990s?

Rob: Of course that would be cool! It was actually our old label Primitive Art Records’ idea to do the releases, and I guess we’d need devoted people like that again to realize such plans. As far as the actual HAD-membership club goes, I don’t think we’ll ever have the time to start that up again, but it was great times with cool parties while it lasted.

Paul: What plans, if any, do you have to take this on the road (or to Britain, to be precise)?

995031_697785776938673_588357176_nRob: As I’m writing this, we have just got back from a small tour in Italy, and we’re gonna focus on the album a while now, with just the odd gig in Sweden during the spring, but as soon as we get the new album recorded we’ll try to hit the road! Hopefully UK of course. Never played there before, and that’s of course a cryin’ shame as it’s the home of so much legendary stuff. Promoters get in touch!

Paul: Do you have anything else to say before we wrap up?

Rob: Thanks a lot for the support, and watch out for a new album, and perhaps even Gehennah showing up at your doorstep in the future!

Interview by Paul Macmillan

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