Name dropping is always a welcome marketing tool of the established record companies, so it wasn’t really a surprise that a band that consists of members from THANATOS, GOREFEST, HOUWITSER and ASPHYX quickly gained a lot of attention in the Death Metal scene… But unlike many other so called "all star" projects Hollands HAIL OF BULLETS musically really has something incredibly strong to offer! Their debut full length "…Of Frost And War", which has just been released by Metal Blade Records, is a masterpiece of oldschool Death Metal that surprisingly pleases underground diehards in the same way as the more mainstream oriented folks. Needless to say that we at Voices HQ also had to get our background info first hand from frontman Mr. Martin van Drunen…
Who did come up with the idea (and when) to get together and jam and was it already meant to become a serious band at that point?
"Actually we never jammed before. Steph came up to me with the idea of founding an oldschool Death Metal project / band when we played together with Thanatos and Death by Dawn. I said yes and a some time after that he mailed me that he had a complete line up. We decided it would be a good thing to have a serious drinking session in the centre of the Netherlands, just to get to know each other better. And we had a great evening / night. Great fun, all got drunk and we all shared the same opinion in how real oldschool Death Metal should sound like. Our influences were the same. So personally and musically it had to work. And it did. From the idea of a project we evolved rapidly into a band."
Did you guys already know each other previously?
"I knew Paul and Steph and heard of Theo and Ed. But the last two I’d never met personally. All the others knew eachother already."
Was it difficult in any way to get everyone who’s involved in HAIL OF BULLETS nowadays interested in such a project?
"No. All were totally enthusiastic about this from the very start."
Who came up with the band’s name, what inspired it and did you have any other options in mind as well?
"I think that was Ed. We had been mailing for weeks about a striking bandname but nothing amongst all other suggestions was THE one we were looking for. Dunno how much other proposals we went through, must have been a hundred or so. What inspired him I don’t know. It was just a killer name that’s easy to remember and that covers the heavy load of the band."
Did you start writing / rehearsing as soon as the line-up was completed or had you already begun a bit earlier already (like when just two or three members were involved)?
"As soon as the line up was a fact the riffs and songs came in. Nothing was written before. HAIL OF BULLETS never existed out of one or two or three members. We were a five piece band from the beginning. Rehearsing started as soon as the first songs were complete. We live too far away from each other to waste time with writing songs in a practice room."
Where the songs that ended up on the promo EP the first four songs you had finished as a band or had you already more material to choose from at the time?
"Those four songs were the first we composed and because we didn’t want to waste any time in finding a good label we booked the studio and started recording. There were more bits and pieces and riffs, but we thought four songs should be sufficient. Just like in the old days : -)"
The fact that you decided to sell that EP through a big German mailorder resulted in a bit of negative reactions, so in retrospect – do you think it was a good decision?
"Those negative reactions were absolutely minimal, maybe 10 people worldwide, to my knowledge. And the EP was sold out pretty fast, so it definitely was a good decision. Besides, Steph had to stand in line in the post office to send those CDs during the breaks of his job. Nobody thinks of that. It saved him hours of time. And we did many people a favour to print it on vinyl also. Costa at Iron Pegasus did a great job with that."
Does it bother you in any way that the fact that all members are pretty wellknown in the underground most certainly helped you to gain attention and a record deal this quick?
"No, not at all. Our objective with the promo was to get a decent record deal and that’s what we’ve achieved. We’re all part of the scene for decades working hard to get where we are now. So taking advantage of that is absolutely correct. We earned that."
Talking of the record deal… how many companies besides Metal Blade had shown interest in the band and what made you sign with Metal Blade in the end?
"We started by sending it to our favourite labels and they immediately reacted, so I don’t have a clue how many more would have been interested in signing us, haha. But in the end Metal Blade came with the best offer and they were open for all kinds of suggestions from our side. And they are fulfilling every promise made and do a marvellous job. It definately was the right decision."
Who’s the main songwriter in the band or have you contributed ideas equally to each track that ended up on the album?
"Ed Warby wrote most of the songs. But who knows what will happen on the next. There’s no such person in HAIL OF BULLETS that’s considered to be the main songwriter. Could be that Theo will write 80% of the next album. That’s all hard to predict."
It seems that the album lyrically exclusively deals with World War II… when did your interest in this part of our history start and was it already clear that "…Of Frost And War" would end up becoming a concept album or did all this develop slowly but surely?
"I’ve been reading a lot about the Eastern Front for over years now and became fascinated with it.First I was interested in horror literature, but after reading Plieviers Stalingrad and the rest of the trilogy I wanted to read more and authors like Richter, Parth and Ledig went through my hands. Then I needed to know the details and I started digging in history books. German journalist / historician Guido Knopp was very educative with all the material he published. Internet helped a lot too. And I also had the opportunity to talk to a lot of old people from your country who experienced the war. But of course in a complete different perspective as for example my father and my grandparents did. All very interesting and gripping and I learned a lot from everything. So when I heard the first HAIL OF BULLETS songs I knew I could work out a concept that fitted perfectly with the heaviness of the music. The others liked the idea very much and I started working on it."
Would you mind telling us a bit more about the lyrics here?
"’Ordered Eastward’ – the start of the Barbarossa campaign. Germans shattered the badly equipped and starving Red army. ‘Lake Ladoga’ – the surrounding of Leningrad. A black chapter. Almost a million citizens died horribly of starvation. ‘General Winter’ – the frost, the snow, Russian allies, Stalin waited for this and the German advance was brought to a halt. The Soviets struck back and for the first time successfully. Moscow was saved. ‘Advancing’ – the new German offensive after the winter, heading south to the Kaukasus. ‘Red Wolves’ – about the Russian partisans attacking and sabotaging. ‘Nachthexen’ – Soviet pilotwomen. Complete female squadrons including groundpersonnel. Quite extraordinary. German landser feared them and gave them the name of Nachthexen (Nightwitches). ‘Crucial Offensive’ – Operation Uranus, a massive soviet offensive that shattered and entrapped Germans and their allies in Stalingrad. The decisive battle of WWII. The turning point. ‘Stalingrad’ – the slow decay of the 6th army. Betrayed, left in the cold, ordered to stand ground, without supplies, rotting away alive in the bleeding heart. A senseless collective dying. They gave their lives for nothing. ‘Insanity Commands’ – many German officers could have stopped the unnecessary suffering and withdraw or surrender. They refused and left their soldiers to die. They feared Hitler and so they were resposible. And guilty. ‘Inferno At The Carpathian Mountains’ – leftovers of the Wehrmacht fled over the few mountain passes to get to the homeland. In raging blizzards many did freeze to death. A bit of a forgotten tale. ‘Berlin’ – the end. The city in ruins, the women raped, the men killed. Hitlers legacy."
From what I recall you had already written war related lyrics in ASPHYX in the past as well… Now ASPHYX is also back together again and besides yourself the band also features PENTACLE’s Wannes Gubbels, who’s very interested in that type of lyrical topics as well… So, wouldn’t it have been better to separate HAIL OF BULLETS lyrically a bit from ASPHYX?
"Nah. Wannes likes to use the war topic more in Pentacle as in Asphyx. And there’s so many different wars or various events that occur in certain wars. Plenty of material. With Asphyx I only wrote two war songs. I have enough complete other theme’s for an eventual coming Asphyx album."
Despite the obvious musical- and songwriting qualities of the HAIL OF BULLETS debut full length "…Of Frost And War", I personally would have prefererred a production that sounds less digital, especially considering the oldschool style that you’re playing… What’s your opinion on this? Don’t you think a killer production would also have been possible in the oldschool way?
"The music is oldschool, but still sounds fresh, and that’s due to the sound and Dan’s outrageous mixing capabilities. And c’mon Frank, let’s be honest, if you put Massacre’s "From Beyond" next to this one, it’ll blow it straight into other dimensions… Not even to mention all the other "oldschool Morrissound productions“ that were almost all way to compact except for "Slowly We Rot" (and was this all analogue, by the way?). The Swedes knew how to do it, and Harris Johns also. And with Asphyx we created the recognizable saw guitarsound at Harrow’s. "Last One On Earth" was digital for sure and heavier than "The Rack", but this one is real goddamn heavy thanks to Dan and to Ed and Hans at Excess. Just put the vinyl on. I’m afraid analogue can’t beat this bastard no. But it doesn’t really matter to me if something is analogue or digital. As long as you have that in your heart, blood, bones, guts and soul what it takes to create this kind of brutal oldschool Death. Then it’s of absolutely no importance."
All of the songs from the promo EP ended up on the album as well now… was that planned from the beginning or did you do that in order to get the album out a bit quicker?
"No they were part of the lyrical concept. Impossible to let those out. That was the problem a bit in writing a concept. You start from the beginning and that’s why those songs are all at the start of the album. But to be honest, we could easily put 4 or 10 extra songs on the album, instead of the promotracks, that much material was available. But we picked out the best and still the album is almost an hour of playing time. But they were planned to be on the album, yes. Besides, not that many people have the promo."
What is the reason that there’s a limited CD edition of the album that features an additional bonus track?
"Those who’ll buy first will get that one. It’s an extra for the die hard HAIL OF BULLETS fans. The ones who deserve it truly, so to speak. And if they order it directly at Metal Blade they can have a shirt and a dogtag with it also for a damn fair price."
Now that the album is out, will there be a tour in support of it or is HAIL OF BULLETS a studio project exclusively?
"It’s not a project as many people think. We are a band and at this moment we have several touring offers. We’ll see which one we’re gonna take. Still some negotiating to do as we’re not some starting band… And there’s also all the festivals we play this summer."
Your time is probably very limited these days because of ASPHYX and HAIL OF BULLETS, so will you still continue to be a part of DEATH BY DAWN as well?
"I left DEATH BY DAWN for about 7 months now. There was a mentality problem with one of the members who left after my departure. But Pippo and Ingo continued with new members and I wish them the best of luck as they are great guys and will always be mates of mine. I feel sorry for them that I had to leave, but on the other hand, now that things are going that fast with ASPHYX and the BULLETS, I don’t think I would have had much time left for DEATH BY DAWN. And all the travelling took a lot of my time really. I just feel rotten, it had to end this way. Especially for the two persons mentioned above."
Ok Martin, that’s all for now. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. The last words are yours…
"Ok Frank thanks a lot as usual for the intie. There’s three now on Voices from me I guess haha. Not afraid you’re overdosing people? (nah, as long as the bands that you’re involved in continue to deliver great music it shouldn’t be a problem – Frank). And last thanx to everybody for the massive support. We’ll see you at one of the HAIL OF BULLETS shows this year, somewhere. Sometime. Salutations."