Hammercult – Grinding the Axe

Tuesday, 11th February 2014

Bands who complain about touring or lack of opportunities thereof, take note:

“You see, if you are a European or American band and you wish to tour, all you need to do is, as Henry Rollins said: ‘Get in the van!’ and off you go! Not in Israel. Where [can] a metal band can tour around here? Lebanon? Gaza? Syria? I don’t think those options exist, not only to a metal band, but also diplomatic-wise.”

Speaketh be Hammercult frontman Yakir Shochat, who from his Tel-Aviv homebase gets to witness the daily conflict going on locally and in his surrounding countries, ones that make our little “problems” over here seem utterly minute. A lot of us view the Middle East as a regular hotbed of dissension and disorder; Shochat sees it as reality, thus, spurring his desire to turn Hammercult into a success.

In the span of less than four years, ponder what the band has done: They won the 2011 Wacken Open Air Metal Battle contest, were taken under the wing of former Noise Records head Karl Walterbach for his Sonic Attack Management group, and have managed to pump out two albums, the most recent being the excellent Steelcrusher, released by German metal staple SPV. Not too shabby for a band entrenched in Middle Eastern conflict, oftentimes beset with limited resources.

“When we started Hammercult in October 2010, the only goal that I had in mind is to go global and have a successful run with it,” says Shochat. “Now keep in mind ‘success’ as a term can be very subjective, and defined differently by various people. For one, it could be a definition of being a multi-million album seller with an unlimited bank credit, while the other can define success by not drawing a dime – but having recognition.

“My definition of success was making an impact in the short run and leaving my hard print in the long run,” he continues. “And most importantly, having fun along the way. Everything else along the way just doesn’t matter. I’ll rest when I’m fucking six feet under.”

The band’s victorious Wacken Open Air Metal Battle gig can be viewed as the turning point for Hammercult going from simply a demo outfit, to something to be taken seriously. The battle usually finds several countries vying for entrance, with one victor selected from each, who then enter the final round staged at Wacken. Hammercult were up against 29 other bands. Pressure indeed.

“Everything about the Wacken experience has been amazing, and this place has a dear place in my heart,” says Shochat. “I do remember that during the flight to Wacken, I had this emotional thing going on, as if we are on an epic quest to achieve what dreams are made of. Some will just see it in a glimpse, others can touch…only one will grab it. I had no intention in mind to but to grab and never let go as if my life depended on it. We performed that day as if tomorrow we die.”

As for Steelcrusher, the album emerges as a deadly mix of death and thrash, operating without the usual disregard for songwriting structure and dynamics. The album has those things in spades, whether it comes from some gang shouts in the chorus, fiery leads, brash riffing, and, Shochat’s venomous vocals. According to the frontman, the band’s process for songwriting is a familiar, but time-honored one.

“The formula is simple, yet effective: I only write songs that I would enjoy listening to,” he says. “Now hold on – you might think that it’s obvious that every artist does so – right? Not really. My musical brainchild is still that 19 year old rebellious metal head, who for him listening heavy metal music is still a religious experience. I know many of you readers know what I’m talking about. Did some of ‘that magic’ was left behind during the years that a passed by? I’m sure that it did for many of us – but in order for me to write something for Hammercult it’s got to bring that ‘magic’ back! For me, we keep it alive and strong in everything we do, from the artwork to the songs. That’s what is needed for a tune to be a Hammercult song.”

Conversation with Shochat naturally shifted toward their management setup under Sonic Attack. Management head Karl Walterbach has a strict formula in place where he only takes bands under 25 years of age under his wing, meaning, obviously, the Hammercult guys are all just above the legal drinking age. Still, taking guidance from someone with vast experience is a tough pill to swallow for most young bands. Not Hammercult. Here’s some knowledge from Walterbach spoken via Shochat:

“1. Know your role: Be respectful – both to yourself and to others around you.

2. Relationship and people: You will meet many people along the way, some of them will build you from scratch and some of them will rip you apart. Know both types, recognize them – and keep ‘em close.

3. Be humble: In this industry you can rise one day in a blaze of glory, and crush into flames on the next day. Always be humble.

4. Be a sponge: Absorb whatever you can. Keep your ears open and your mind working. Listen and process from your own journey and from others – the good and the bad. Learn from it – knowledge is power and experience is priceless.”

The rest of 2014 should see Hammercult engaging in all sorts of live activity, in addition to finding a replacement for co-founding member/guitarist Arie Aranovich (“We are still great friends and will work with him again in future projects,” says Shochat). Still, it all comes back to the band’s work ethic, which is about as relentless as they come.

“That’s something that I carry with me since day one,” finishes Shochat. “Growing up in an environment that struggled financially, you only got a few choices: You either give 110% of all your blood, heart and soul into your goals – or there will be less food on the table. I give it all I have and then some. That’s work ethic. My philosophy in life is simple: If you are doing something, put your passion into it, go hard all the way and finish strong! That’s what Hammercult are all about.”

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