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We caught up with Alicante-based Hela for an in-depth chat about their history, their 2017 sophomore release, and their recent return to a line-up of the founding trio of members.

Interview with Hela.
"Spanish Doom band Hela have been around for a few years now, and their sophomore full-length album 'Death May Die' recently saw release through a coalition of Spanish labels. With the band currently down to its original trio of founder members, we wanted to ask them about the state of their art now, and their plans for the future. Thanks to drummer Miguel Fernández for furnishing us with these answers."

Hela's founder members, and current line-up: Julián Velasco (guitars), Miguel Fernández (drums), Tano Giménez (bass).

Greetings, and thanks for talking to us today! How are things down in Alicante right now?

Hello! Thank you for this interview. Very sunny and warm weather right now in Alicante, almost like hell! And we are very busy with our musical projects and regular life, but everything is fine!

You started the band back in 2012, is that correct? What brought you together originally?

Yes, it is correct, we started in 2012 after we disbanded The Sand Collector, which was a band more stoner metal oriented. The singer and the second guitar player of that band left and in those days we were writing new material, more dark and heavy, so we decided to quit and start like a new entity, which was Hela obviously.

What made you decide to call the band after Norse goddess Hel? Didn't you want to use something more related to your own culture and history?

Initially we wanted a short band name that could fit with the music we had in mind. It didn't matter if it was related to our history/culture or whatever. So we wrote a list of names of all kinds and we found this, not very unique, but it was short and fit, or that's what we thought, with our music; because Hela, as you might know, is the half rotted-half beautiful, goddess of the underworld, and we try to write songs that are dark and heavy yet melodic and beautiful, so...we think it fits. And that's the story behind the name.

Hela live at Katakroken Fest, 2015. (Photo: Tachas y Metal).

What were your main influences and inspirations when you formed the band, and have they changed significantly since?

We wanted to leave behind all the stoner influences we had when we were The Sand Collector, but it was impossible at the beginning. Slowly our real influences, more doom metal oriented were growing up. The three of us played in doom metal bands in early 2000, so yes, our influences and inspirations changed looking to the past and, now, we enjoy again bands like The Gathering, My Dying Bride, Rapture, Katatonia, early-mid Anathema, etc...together with bands like Kongh, Yob or Triptykon-Celtic Frost.

The three of you - Miguel, Tano and Julián - have been together since the beginning. How much are you all in tune with each other over the band, and how do you organise the various duties between you?

Yes, we started with The Sand Collector 10 years ago and now we're still playing together with Hela. Also Julian and me were playing together since 2000, when we formed Nahrayan. We are perfectly in tune with each other and we organise the duties as we can, because issues of time and regular "life" are not the best allies.

Usually Julian is the person behind the computer to record and mix demos and makes all the design and artwork related stuff. I try to do all the administration side of the band, social media (not always) and am the one writes the lyrics (not in Death May Die, I only helped out in two songs). Tano tries to help as much as he can with everything he could do because of his job, and right now, we all together write the music.

Hela - 'Flesh Ceremony' (2012):

Are you looking for another female vocalist to take over from Mireia? Would you consider having a male vocalist, or would that not fit with how you want Hela to sound?

We have considered different options. We are not looking for anyone right now and further, but there will be female vocals in our next album. Or that's our idea. In the new songs could fit female vocals or male vocals, also grunts maybe, but we will keep our style with melodic vocals, because it's what we think fits better...but who knows...we are really open minded...

Speaking of Doom more generally - what do you consider to be its essential qualities, what sets it apart from other genres, and how do you bring that into your own sound?

We discuss about that a lot of times between us and with friends and other bands, because now doom seems to be a trend. In our opinion, what people understand as doom, is not very accurate (repeat, in our opinion, doesn't mean we are right).

For some people doom is just about down tuned guitars, slow drums, weed, witches, tits, skulls, devils and that typical stuff. And it's ok. But for us it's more about feelings, dark and melancholic melodies, eerie ambients, and not necessarily gothic, we are talking more about human feelings, related to despair, death, melancholy, wrath, sadness or even happiness (yes, there is a place for happy feelings in doom, but maybe not many); and on the side of instrumentation, there is room to experiment in my opinion. Doom tends to be a slow music, but could be blast-beats if you want, or electronic stuff or whatever...I mean...it's ok to use clichés, but the bands we like the most, started as doom-death bands and with an open mind, they expanded their style, being unique, without losing their essence. That's doom for us.

We are trying to follow our own way, but it's inevitably linked to all I said before, and we'll always try to do our best, writing the music that comes from our heart.

Rehearsing in the Basement of Doom, 2016.

Looking back, your debut full-length album, 'Broken Cross', came out in 2013 - as I recall, it was quite well-received. How pleased were you with it, and how well did it do, from your point of view?

It was a very good starting point. We were one of the first doom bands with female vocals in Spain with no gothic metal background (but not the first, Deadmask started before). It was a very quick transition between The Sand Collector and Hela, and we wrote and recorded the album very fast, so it was quite good considering all the circumstances. We'd maybe change something about the production, very harsh in my opinion right now, but we are very thankful to that album, because it opened a lot of doors, and there is a lot of respect for Broken Cross in the underground, and that's something we never could imagine.

You followed that up with a single, and a split with Lodo, in 2014 - how did those come about? Were they steps along the way towards establishing the band?

The main idea behind that split was in Julian's mind. He started his own label, Marchalenta Records, and he wanted to do that and release it. We are friends with Lodo (Julian plays bass with them right now), so it was a cool idea. Again it was a little bit hasty, but for me the two songs we wrote, The End of Times and Norns, were great. Nearly funeral doom, slow, heavy, dark yet melodic, and again, very heavy. It also opened our path away from stoner, because it was more metal oriented and I was happy with that.

Hela - 'For My Fallen Angel' (My Dying Bride cover):

And, of course, we were very pleased to welcome your contribution to the Doom-metal.com My Dying Bride tribute in 2016. What made you pick 'For My Fallen Angel' as a track, and did you enjoy creating your interpretation of it?

It was amazing that you asked us to contribute. We were beyond happy! "For My Fallen Angel" was the first option that Julian picked, the rest in the band picked our own options but finally we were between "My wine in silence" and "For my...". "My wine in silence" was chosen by another band so...we ended with "For my Fallen Angel". Anyway, the three of us are huge fans of My Dying Bride, and we wanted to end with a non-typical one, but it didn't matter, to cover any of the songs of My Dying Bride was good.

We enjoyed a lot with the song, Julian was who re-arranged the song to Hela's style. We enjoyed it, as I said, but it was a difficult one to record, because the song structure was different from what we are accustomed to.

'Death May Die' line-up, with Mireia Porto (vocals).

And, finally, we got the sophomore full-length, with 'Death May Die' towards the end of last year. What would you say was the most important step forward that took over your previous releases?

It was a step forward in our opinion. There was a new member in the band contributing with her own ideas and we worked in a different way. We tried to change our writing style and our sound in production terms. A lot of reviews said there is a lot of alternative rock (maybe on the vocals) but there is a lot of metal; where people see a Deftones influence, we see a Katatonia influence (Discouraged Ones, Tonight's Decision era) and so on with another comparisons. The song structures are better imo than previous albums, the progression between parts are fluid and dynamic. I don't know, maybe it's our best album until now. Obviously we would change some things...it was hard times, everyone had their own personal issues and there was a lot of tension during the recording sessions, and we learned a lot of good things and bad things. So, if everything was different, maybe we could have ended up with a still better album.

Although there's a Lovecraft quote inside the cover, and the intro track uses words from one of his stories, I wouldn't really have said it was an especially Lovecraftian album. What sort of other influences went into it?

You are right, it isn't a Lovecraftian album. Lyrics are more on the feminist side, anti-religion, anti-abuse of power, and very inspired by movies like Alien, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby or The Witch.

I did think the packaging was particularly nice, and it's a joint release by multiple all-Spanish labels. It wasn't always the case that Spanish Doom releases got that level of treatment - do you think the situation, and the local scene, has improved lately?

The digipack edition was released by Discos Macarras and Cosmic Tentacles, from Spain, and by Musica Hibrida, from Ecuador. It is a very nice package, really nice, and the Discos Macarras preorder came with a beautiful mug with Death May Die's design.

There are very good bands and labels here in Spain, but again, being located from Elche (Alicante) sometimes it's difficult. We are far away from big cities like Madrid or Barcelona and we must put our best in everything we do to have some recognition.

We must say also, the LP edition was really nice too, released by Lay Bare Recordings (Netherlands). If you want a copy (black, splatter are sold out) check their Website. And if you want a CD digipack, check our Bandcamp.

We reviewed 'Death May Die' recently: would you say that's a fair assessment, or are there any comments you'd care to add, good or bad?

In our opinion the review is perfectly fine. We like reviews that have a reasoning and a logic, even if are bad reviews (not in this case). Sometimes people reviewing albums simply "destroy" all the work that the band has done because they don't like it, not analizing the album.

This review shows that you have listened carefully to the album and what we try to express with our music and with quotes like this you seemed to understand what we try to do:
"...is actually pretty much doing its own thing with a commendable degree of pride and enthusiasm. I wouldn't put it at the very top of any particular tree - partly because I can't think of any tree it fully fits into - in that respect, but it's certainly doing a fine job of welding a whole bunch of disparate influences into a believable whole."

Hela - 'Dark Passenger' (2017):

So what's going to be next for Hela? Are you working on anything at the moment, or are things on hold until you can recruit another vocalist?

We are far from being on hold. In January we became a three piece. We took a few weeks to rest and then we started to write a new album...and the album was written in less than two months! In May we recorded all the demos, 5 new songs; all the instrumental parts are done. We just stopped due to reasons of jobs and the recording of an album with another band (The Holeum), but now we will start again to write the vocal lines and lyrics. We don't know, but maybe, after playing several shows we have booked with The Holeum in September, we will enter the studio to record the new album. We don't know, schedule is always a complicated thing, but we will try.

And do you have any longer term view for the band? Is there anything you'd particularly like to achieve with it, maybe a few years down the line?

Mainly, to write new albums. Write new music as much as we can. And release those albums obviously. If we can play live it's ok, maybe when we finish the new album we will start again to play gigs, but the most important thing to us is create new music and continue evolving.

You do have involvement with other bands - how much of your time does that take up, and how is it different from being in Hela?

Yes, Julian and me we play together in The Holeum, which is also doom metal oriented, with a lot of different influences (from jazz to post metal to drone) and we have a new record on the making. I play drums also in Neptunian Sun (doom metal-black metal, with a new album in the making as well) and Julian plays bass in Lodo, an instrumental post metal band. Also Tano plays in a cover band.

Speaking for myself, every band is different because it's different people, but we all are veterans and the way to do things is similar. We try to rehearse one day per week/band, but when we are recording or something like that, maybe sometimes we skip a rehearsal with one band to give more room to the one that is recording or whatever.

Live in 2016. (Photo: Seven Sins Seven Magazine).

And what else do you do outside of music? Do you have time to indulge in other things?

It's really difficult to find more time to do other things apart your regular life and the bands, but you know, we are just three normal guys...we try to watch movies, read some books, play some basketball, nothing special.

That's all of my questions: thanks again for your participation, and if there is anything you'd like to add, the last words are yours.

Thank you very much for the interview, the review and asking us to participate in the My Dying Bride compilation. Always a pleasure. And for everybody out there, keep an eye on our Facebook, soon we will be updating everything about the new album. Expect something different. We can say the new songs are really cool and we love them, we hope you like it too when they are released!

Thank you!

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Visit the Hela bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-07-02 by Mike Liassides.
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