Heleven – Opening New HorizonsSunday, 22nd January 2023
Exploring a great fusion of modern/alternative heavy influences with proper melody, hooks, atmosphere, and aggression, Heleven have steadily made inroads across their Spain homeland and beyond through their discography. Choosing to be heavier and punchier for this third album New Horizons Part 1, listeners can expect a mix of influences across North American/European lines – incorporating a great balance of groove, power, plus finesse and steady musicianship enhancement across the board of this material.
We reached out to vocalist/ guitarist Higinio Ruiz and guitarist Alvaro Castilla to learn more behind the formation of the group, where the new album sits in the catalog of Heleven, special video memories, the challenges of the Spain metal scene versus other territories, great memories surrounding meeting Gojira after a show opening for Iron Maiden in Madrid, and what the future holds.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me about your earliest memories when it comes to music in your childhood? And at what point did you start listening to heavier music and want to pick up an instrument/start performing in bands?
Higinio Ruiz: My first memories about music (took place) about eight years old, for a Christmas gift I wanted a guitar. I told my parents, please, I want a guitar. Here in Spain the three wise men brought me the guitar. All day I was strumming frantically, but I had no idea how to play. So, my parents went to a music school, they asked a teacher to teach me how to play because they said it was impossible to listen to this at home.
I remember I liked a lot The Final Countdown from Europe. I started to listen to not grunge, but The Offspring, Green Day, a step up from Bon Jovi. Then Iron Maiden, Helloween, and all the classic stuff.
Alvaro Castilla: When I was young, my father usually put some Dire Straits music on, so that’s why I love Mark Knopfler. I started playing at church, classical guitar there. I asked my father to get me an electric guitar, because I wanted to play like Mark. He bought me a guitar, and then I started to listen to rock music like AC/DC, Metallica, and finally I found Mark Tremonti, Sevendust, and that is what I listen to now.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me about the start of Heleven, as I believe the band started around 2015-16? What do you remember about the early days with the band?
Ruiz: We started with both of us – Alvaro and I are the founding members. We started because I was in another band. I had more music in my head, and I met Alvaro through an internet forum of guitar players. We didn’t know that we (live) near the next city to each other. We had never met each other. It was a great surprise. We have similar musical tastes. Maybe we can do something together. At the beginning we wanted something heavier, punchier, but with some melodies inside. The early songs are nothing like today’s sound. We started singing in Spanish, I prefer singing in English. I don’t know why, but I sing better in English.
Dead Rhetoric: New Horizons Part 1 is the third album for Heleven. What can you tell us about the recording and songwriting sessions for this album – and where do you see the differences or growth of the band compared to the first two albums Medusa’s Love Story and Into the Oceans?
Castilla: We had a really tough start at the beginning of the recording sessions for the new album. The drummer, he had a traffic accident, and we didn’t have our drummer to record. This is not a problem, we needed to start this as we needed to make this album a reality. We started to record the guitars, bass, vocals to finally work on the drums. What you are hearing is not all real drums, but he stayed with us to make the drums. It’s a big problem we have as a band, because it was the first time that our drummer couldn’t play. Now, everything is okay, we are so glad to make this decision, and we recorded the videos with him. We are also rehearsing for our tour here in Spain.
Ruiz: The last two albums with Into the Oceans and New Horizons Part 1, we are very happy to record. With Into the Oceans, we were under the COVID lockdown, and all that bad stuff. Now, with this one – all the three albums have made us grow as a band. Even as human beings, and artists. Myself, I know as a guitar player and a vocalist, I can hear the difference and hear my improvements since Medusa’s Love Story. The vocal lines are better, and how I sing for New Horizons Part 1. I’m very proud of it.
Dead Rhetoric: As you mentioned you have done three videos for the new record. The video for “When the Earth Leaves the Sun” is very special – how did the visual treatment and imagery come about, was it a collaboration between the band and the director and how do you feel about the final product?
Ruiz: Well, this is a very special video for me. Because it was born on the beach talking with my cousin-in-law. He was studying and making videos for other people. I asked him to show me something – he showed me clips. I thought it was good, and a different type of video than I am used to. I asked him if he would like to do something for us? He wanted to – and he had the song that fits us the best. That kind of video would fit well, I sent him the song without mastering or the final mix. He liked it a lot. It’s about our history as humankind, and how bad we are making the same decisions all the time as the human race. We make the same mistakes, and at the beginning I want something special from space. After that, the band start to play, images from Earth and nature appear. And that’s the video.
Dead Rhetoric: Because in another video, you guys are performing in the rain- was that a challenge too with all the water coming down?
Ruiz: For me, it was the hardest video to film.
Castilla: We love guitars. When we think about our guitars, rain, uh oh, this is not for us. We played with other guitars, not our usual ones. It’s raining and you have to move, give it all to the camera.
Ruiz: The floors were very slippery. When I was filming the vocals, I stayed in one spot and didn’t move, only sang. It was very cold, because when you were moving, it’s not a problem. We had to make sure everyone had some hot water. It was quite funny.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are some of the essential elements that need to be in an ideal Heleven composition?
Ruiz: That’s a hard question. I am not sure at all.
Castilla: It’s strange. We like to show people our feelings, we like to make songs with a lot of feelings and emotions. Higinio writes the lyrics, so he probably is the best person to answer this question.
Ruiz: The songs start with music in my head. I want some kind of song. I like to have a song like x, much more heavier, or with more groove, or more electronic-sounds. I want to have a song with a chorus, a certain riff like a certain band. I start planning that in my head. Like a building, I start to compose the core – the punchy, heavier riffs. After that I try to make the hard riffs into a song. I don’t want to say I make things more listenable – it’s enough to be aggressive. Almost all the songs with growls and screaming, but in the mix, we put them down. I want some melodies that can hook you – melodies not just on the guitar, but in the vocals. After that, when I listen to the core of the song, the song can be compared to something. I write song titles, and I match the song titles to the song, and then I start the lyrics to fit the feel of the song, and the titles. I believe that is the way that the lyrics fit the most.
Dead Rhetoric: Because the title of the new album is New Horizons Part 1 – is this a conceptual record that you plan to continue with other parts down the line?
Ruiz: If you have listened to the previous albums, Medusa’s Love Story was an alternative metal kind of band, Into the Oceans raised the bar a level or two in terms of heaviness, more brutality. And this album is another step above, more punchier and heavier stuff. At the same time, the vocals are melodic but not the same type of melodies as in the previous albums. It’s with more intensity, more attitude. When we planned this album, we wanted to be something in the middle. That’s why the last song is at the end, because the next album may be a continuation, or maybe another few steps above what we are doing.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the Spanish metal scene – do you have a healthy amount of support from promoters, venues, other bands, and are there any specific styles that seem to go over better than others?
Castilla: I love to talk about the metal scenes. They are like a family. Everyone loves each one, and they support other bands. But here in Spain, it’s not like that. We live in a music moment where bands hate each other. We as a band are trying to make something different. We work with two other bands the last tour, and we made new friends that are now family. We are trying to make a difference in the scene. We are working with Art Gates Records, and they support us a lot. We are also working with Hellfire Tour, they support us. We are so happy with them. We would like the bands of Spain to think more along the lines of the USA.
Ruiz: I believe in other parts of the world it may be the same with artists egos. We want to be away from that bullshit. We only play music; we want people to enjoy things. We want to make records, and cross fingers to make things in reality. We know that’s very difficult for us because we are from the south of Spain. I don’t know if the USA, there are more metal states than the others. For example, is Wyoming or Colorado more metal than California, or vice versa. In Europe, there is a lot of metal fans in Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland. But metal in Spain? In Spain you can do metal, but on the coasts its like flamenco only. There is metal in the big cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and in the north.
Here is Spain there are a lot of bands that are popular outside of thrash with folk metal, a bit of power metal, and metalcore bands. Those are the styles that people are mostly listening to now.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you name three albums that have had the biggest impact or impression on how you feel about music (metal or otherwise)? And what is your favorite concert memory for a show/festival you attended – and why did this make such a strong impression on you?
Castilla: I would say All I Want from Tremonti, Blackbird from Alter Bridge, and Seasons – Sevendust. Those three albums.
Ruiz: Images and Words – Dream Theater. Live After Death – Iron Maiden, because that is a double LP (laughs). I don’t know what to say for a third – maybe Magma – Gojira. And the most impact for me – Alice in Chains – Black Gives Way to Blue.
Castilla: The last show I went to I saw Mammoth, Wolfgang Van Halen. I love the band, they put on a really good show. I wanted to meet them, he’s a really special guy. He gives all to the live show.
Ruiz: It was five years ago, watching Iron Maiden and Gojira in Madrid. I went with my wife and my daughter who is only six years old. Because she was a big fan of Gojira. After the show, we went to the hotel. I saw the Sabaton singer in the hotel. I asked for a photo with him, and we spoke a bit. We went to the hotel room, in the room I was thinking if Sabaton is here, maybe Gojira is here too. It’s late but… I went to the hotel lobby. I went to the hall, and I sat down and waited. In that moment I saw Joe Duplantier and Mario the drummer walking around. I asked them if I could take a photo with them, and I did. I showed this to my wife, and in that moment, Joe asked me if I went to the show. I really enjoyed the show, I told them, it was very difficult they said to open for Iron Maiden. They wanted me to see them in a smaller venue, to compare the two shows. They were very kind to speak to me, the most enjoyable person I have ever met in the music business. They are Gojira, he told me he needed to rest a bit. Of all the people I have ever met in the metal scene, they are the best for me.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year shaping up for Heleven once the album comes out as far as promotion, shows, touring?
Ruiz: We hope to have a lot of work. Right now, we are doing rehearsals for the live shows to make everything fit in the way that we want. We designed a show that everyone can enjoy and at the same time, (hopefully)get impressed by the band. We hope that everything goes well.
Castilla: We spent our Christmas time in rehearsals learning the new songs. We hope everything goes well, so we shall see.