Hellevate – Imposing WillThursday, 28th July 2016
Scouring the internet for new finds, my ears perk up to the sonic assault Kansas City, MO based band Hellevate deliver on their recently released second album Weapons Against Their Will. A great amalgamation of power, speed, thrash and death all come siphoning through a traditional metal template – the band true to the spirit of the genre since starting in 2007, while also unafraid to add a little bit of that modern angst to get their points across.
After ingesting copious playbacks of face melting material like the circular whirlwind “Blasphemer Deceiver” and every metalhead in high school’s dream anthem “Hall Pass to Hell” it would be natural to inquire more into the Hellevate force. Taking on these questions would be guitarists Dan Whitmer and Josh Cole, bassist Zach Burke, and vocalist Drew Lufkin (drummer RJ Whitmer rounds out the lineup). You’ll learn more about the challenges of self-financed recordings amidst studio shuffles and management issues, the sci-fi oriented cover art, as well as special encounters with Primal Fear and Exodus during their live show endeavors.
Dead Rhetoric: Hellevate started in the mid-2000’s but went through a few lineup changes before really striving forward in 2009. What were those early developmental years like for the band, and when did you start seeing the tide turning that this could turn into something special and productive? And how did you decide upon the unique name for the band?
Dan Whitmer: The first few years were a little awkward, we went through the standard fluctuating lineups that all bands go through when they are first forming. A handful of the songs that made it onto the first Hellevate full-length were written during that time. Our first really active lineup came together in late 09/early 2010, that’s when we first really started actively playing out. We spent a while as the “token metal band” on a lot of rock shows before we started meeting and playing with other bands more in-line with our genre. Our singer and guitarist of this lineup quit in early 2013, leading to a lineup shift resulting in our current lineup, during which we recorded our EP Kill Confirmed, as well as the full-length album we just released. There was never really a moment where the “tide turned,” so to speak, it was more a collection of moments as our career moved forward, such as the first major metal show we opened for (Kreator and Accept in 2012) and the continual development of connections and larger shows as our career advanced. It’s honestly been one long continual episode of development for us. As for the band name, I actually came up with it when I was 15; I just combined the words “Hell” and “Elevate” (raising hell, get it?) because I thought it was a good theme for a heavy metal band, and it’s stuck since then.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the previous EP’s and full-length recordings prior to your newest effort Weapons Against Their Will? Are there specific takeaways from each recording, and how do you feel about the overall outcomes of each now having some time to look back upon things?
Dan: Well the first album was a bit of a learning experience to be honest, it was recorded over a year or two, I tried recording guitar and vocals myself, drums were recorded through a friend of ours. Our “management” at the time told us that if we didn’t have the album out by a certain date that they would drop us, so the final mix ended up being much more rushed than we would have liked. Our singer and guitarist quit a few months after, at which point we brought on our current singer Drew as well as our friend Alec, who filled in on guitar. This lineup recorded the Kill Confirmed EP, which we recorded with a friend of ours at Andy J Productions, and was a much more solid release overall. I think overall, the first album has some good moments, but the rushed nature of the mix and recording process marred a good portion of it. The Kill Confirmed EP, on the other hand, we were able to take our time with, and I feel is a much stronger release overall. These lessons were taken into our current album, Weapons Against Their Will, and I think it is now our strongest release to date.
Dead Rhetoric: The newest album Weapons Against Their Will came out in July, a great mixture of speed, thrash, power, and death styles with traditional metal the apex of Hellevate’s style. Tell us about the songwriting and recording sessions for this effort – do you believe the band pushed themselves to the limit, and what challenges/obstacles/surprises took place?
Josh Cole: Writing began in early 2014, shortly after I had joined the band. The songs “Regicide” and “Switchblade” had already been written, but the rest were composed over the span of 2014. It was a different approach for each song. Pieces like “Blasphemer Deceiver” or “The First Flame” were composed entirely by Dan and I, respectively, and brought to the band. Songs like “Hall Pass to Hell” and “Nocturnal Grip” were composed partly, in the former Dan had a series of riffs I put together, and the latter RJ had written a drum part I took riffs over. Some of them, like “Memories…”, “Turris Mortem”, and “The Iconoclasm” were written entirely collaboratively, the last one taking an especially long time, we were sort of intimidated by it. It was primarily a learning experience for me, the rest of the group had time writing together for the 2014 Kill Confirmed EP.
Recording started at the beginning of 2015, we went to the Sound Factory in Kansas City, MO with engineer Adam Lichtnauer. That session got pushed back from when it was initially supposed to, the studio was closing so there was a lot of bookings. That meant Dan and I no longer had the time to track rhythms that we thought we did, so we had to do it over the span of several months when we intended to do it in a few weeks. When we finished, Drew took the vocals to the engineer Andy J’s studio and spent some time there doing that. In between those sessions we reamped with him. We sent it out to Ced from Rocka Rollas, and that was a big learning experience. There were some issues with the tracks that Dan and I had to sort out, which pushed back the mixing process. We definitely learned time-management pretty well, and we found a good process that we will shave a lot of time off for the next one.
Dead Rhetoric: How did that bass solo part in “Last Life to Live” come into being? You don’t hear a lot of that expressiveness in metal these days… seems like Zack Burke is a big fan of Steve Harris and Cliff Burton with his style?
Zack Burke: Dan wrote pretty much the whole song, and he came up with what would be the bulk of the solo. I took Dan’s solo he wrote and sort of changed it up, added some of my own style to it, and added the wah pedal. Steve Harris and Cliff Burton are two of my biggest influences for sure!
Dead Rhetoric: Where does Hellevate come from on the lyrical front? Do you draw from personal experiences or look at particular historical/fantasy tales for inspiration and content?
Drew Lufkin: I tend to look at current affairs and draw historical parallels for some of the story arcs. “Regicide” was based on Kim-Jong-Il, “Switchblade” is about child soldiers, “Turris Mortem” is about the Tower of London… There’s an infinite amount of existing material waiting to be turned into a metal song.
Dead Rhetoric: Who came up with the cover art, and how important do you believe imagery and cover art is to the overall theme for Hellevate and heavy metal in general? Can you tell us some of your favorite covers through the years?
Josh: The cover art was sort of a collaborative thing. It’s a piece of art for a thematic trilogy on the album, comprising the songs “Memories…”, “The Last Life to Live”, and “The Iconoclasm”. It’s a sci-fi piece about soldiers who are downloaded into cyborg bodies, and fight endlessly in an army. We came up with ideas, but ultimately we sent the concept to the artist, Caio Caldas, who came up with the final artwork.
I think image is a very important part of metal, and it’s definitely necessary to find a niche to place yourself in. We’ve spent a lot of time cultivating an image and “aura”, so to speak, both live and on record. We all have different idea of a favorite cover, though we really dig pieces like “Screaming for Vengeance”, fantasy art, and especially Manowar’s art.
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