Hideous Divinity – Isolation SongsSunday, 25th April 2021
With four full-length albums and now and EP in their back pocket, Hideous Divinity have made quite a name for themselves in the death metal community. Dark, brutal, and with a sweeping balance of technical musicianship and decided catchiness. The recently released EP, LVL-426, takes a concept pulled from the Aliens universe and goes deep into the isolation theme, one particularly relevant in regard to the last year globally. We spoke with guitarist Enrico Schettino about the concept, using movies as inspiration for songs, balancing technicality, the importance of artwork, and much more!
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel stands out about LV-426 as your latest release?
Enrico Schettino: There’s so much, if you think about it. It will always be thought of as being released in the time of COVID. Whether we like it or not, it has affected us. It has affected the songwriting process and the recording. It’s a very selfish release. I think we needed the possibility to do something that would make us feel alive, musically. The EP came out, and we can count on an amazing label like Century Media. That was a bit of a freebie, because we were thinking about [an EP] but we weren’t sure what they would think about it. An EP is a release that’s stuck in the middle. But before we could say anything, they asked us if we had thought about an EP as the next release. So we were like, ‘whoa, that’s a freebie!” The whole process was done in what was sadly the second wave of the pandemic, at least in Italy.
I think I will always relate LV-426 to a time when we felt we could do some experimenting, musically speaking – with the music and production. Without the pressure of a full-length or full touring activity. It’s crazy – perhaps the most disappointing thing along with not being able to travel in general. It’s a part of our lives that we are really missing, for obvious reasons. Things were going so well before this bloody pandemic. We literally came home from the tour in the US with Vader and Abysmal Dawn. That was days away from the first lockdown in Italy. We were facing a reality that we didn’t expect. So what I like about this EP is that everything came together fast. The concept, the music itself – maybe because I didn’t feel so much pressure in terms of creating new music. I felt a lot of pressure when we recorded Simulacrum. That was our first album for Century Media. We felt the whole expectation and the big change – what would people think about? We went to a much bigger label. Would it affect our music? Were we giving up on the underground?
So with LV-426, everything came out naturally. We all agreed that we weren’t going to shift to a lo-fi black metal production but let’s see if there was something that we could work on that was not our usual dogma or sound. We wanted to see what people would think about it. An EP doesn’t have the same attention as a full-length, so we decided to use that in our favor. The first single has been released and the reactions have been positive. But there are two more songs. The next one to be released is going to be a more ‘classic’ and super-fast wrecking ball of a song. Then there is a cover, which was an interesting project. It’s not something you would expect, because Coheed & Cambria is not something that you would think about when you listen to Hideous Divinity. But I’m really into experimenting with weird cover songs. I love the challenge.
Dead Rhetoric: The story is about Aliens, but in focusing on Newt, could you go into some of the parallels to reality now with the concept of isolation?
Schettino: As you know, there is an entire universe with Alien/Aliens, and looking at the size of it, it is second only to like Star Wars. To make a concept regarding Alien was something totally impossible to do. We had to choose a sub narrative. The old Alien movies, if you look at the four of them, I love them and their different ways. Let’s just avoid the Prometheus and Alien Covenant for now, which I enjoyed to some extent, but I want to focus on the old movies. It’s a really personal thing with Aliens. I first watched it when I was pretty young, like 10 or 11, and I was definitely a chicken kid and got scared of everything. But for some reason, there are some movies that are scary but they are so good that even if you are a kid, you are fascinated by the whole thing. The concept of Newt, which is a character you can definitely relate to when you are 10 or 11, I remember following the character through the whole thing. She is perhaps the true hero of the second movie.
The whole movie is pure genius to me, because James Cameron refused to do something in the vein of the first one. No one wanted to touch the first one – would you make a sequel of Pulp Fiction? No, there’s too much risk. So James Cameron said no, we are going to do a different movie. We are going to make a movie – the story behind is, very simply, is about Vietnam. It’s about an ambush. The genius of the narration is the universe, in which you actually forget the first one, which is a fantastic movie! It’s very difficult for me to say which one is my favorite. The character of Newt includes everything. We can even relate to Newt in the tiny room that she creates by herself. Aliens is about facing our monsters, because all of a sudden we leave childhood, and in this new reality of isolation and monsters that actually do exist, we leave childhood and become adults. So you have to face your monsters. Unlike what your mom told you, the monsters are real – the sense of isolation. Think about the planet and what mankind has been through in the last year or so. We all have to face monsters. So it matches with the times. I really wanted to make something with the second movie too since it’s so personal.
Not to mention, if you are an Aliens freak like I am, all of the backstage stories – the score that was composed by James Horner and he had to do it in like 2 weeks because it was crazy to work with James Cameron. When there are those crazy deadlines, I felt so empathic with that story. There are so many things I can relate to. Of course, everyone liked the idea of Aliens and it was something that was very focused and not shallow. It would have been really stupid to do a concept about the monster and not going any deeper. That would have been a terrible way to pay homage to a piece of art from the 20th century. Once I had the idea of where I wanted to go, it was easier to explain it to everyone, including Colin [Estrada], who did a fantastic job with the art. It’s always a problem for me to explain things to the artwork guy, but this time, I had everything in my mind, even the Holy Mary – I thought about Newt as the baby Jesus and the Alien having the silhouette of the creature from our two previous covers and having it be the Holy Mary but with the face of one of the creatures. I was like, this time I can be useful to the artwork guy, and I think I was!
Dead Rhetoric: This isn’t the first time that your music has been inspired by movies. What do you like about tying the two together?
Schettino: There are so many movies that have inspired my entire life and they are so easily relatable to extreme music. The concepts go together so well. Back in the day, when Hideous Divinity was just a demo that was sent to Unique Leader Records in like 2009, I knew for sure that I didn’t want to end up with concepts like anti-Christianity/religion or splatter/gore stuff. Not because those concepts are stupid to me, but the point was that I never belonged to them, and they never belonged to me. So it would have been fake. I was thinking about what was really important in my life besides music, and it was simple: movies. Good cinema – the movies that made me, just like the Netflix documentaries.
So I started making a selection, and there are simply some movies you can’t make a concept on simply because it wouldn’t work. To make a concept about my favorite movie, Blade Runner, right now in 2021 would make no sense. It would be wasted and I could never forgive myself. So the first one was They Live by John Carpenter, who is one of my favorite directions, in Cobra Verde and then things started to mix a bit with philosophy and I lost track of some of the movie content in the concept, but I think it’s because movies really stick in me. They are a part of who I am. The idea that I am celebrating and paying homage to movies with my music, which is in homage to the bands that made me, made perfect sense. Some movies can be extremely powerful and you can choose one of the narratives and concentrate on that. There’s a lot of room there.
Dead Rhetoric: What inspired the cover of Coheed and Cambria’s “Delirium Trigger?”
Schettino: [Laughs] Oh boy, I have to come clean about that! My first research was to look for relevant bands that came out with a song that was about the Alien concept. So I started there, but I couldn’t find one! There was no important band in like the ‘80s or something – no one cared to do something about Alien? I decided to not include, for example, very underground bands. When you want to make a cover, the message is to take something that is known and elaborate it in your style. At least that’s why I am a freak for covers. It gives you an opportunity to make your own version. Otherwise, it’s just a copy. Do we really need another band making a cover of “Raining Blood” or a song from Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel? I don’t think so, at least in my view.
So I found this band, which I didn’t know before, since I hadn’t checked out Coheed and Cambria before, and as I listened to the music, I thought it would take a lot of work. But then I thought, there is a trick I use with covers. When you choose a strange cover, try to take it and re-elaborate it into the sound of another band. For example, when I did the cover of “Embodiment of Chaos,” and rearranged it from Sinister. I thought about remaking the song if we were Aborted [laughs]. So I basically take a song and say ‘what would _______ do?’ In this case, this is a progressive and open-chord song and what is the song telling me. So I thought about one of my favorite bands on the planet, which is Ulcerate. So I asked, “What would Ulcerate do with a song like that?” I decided to steal from that sort of dissonant universe and create my version of it.
Whenever you make a cover of a famous song, people at a label and management ask if you think that the band is going to be pleased. I can’t make any guarantees, so that’s why I sent out my idea to the label. They asked if I would change the lyrics, and I said I had no interest in that. The notes are still there, but the entire atmosphere is something that has to do with us. At the end, we are their employees, I said that if they felt it would be inappropriate, fine. That’s how things go. I’m not going to slam my fist on the table to a super supportive label just because my artistic vision is telling me we have to do this. Let’s just talk about it. But in the end, we were lucky. They liked the idea, and I’m really happy with the final result. If people pay attention, they will see that we followed the idea of the song. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Coheed and Cambria –I took the whole thing as a challenge.
Dead Rhetoric: I really like the thought process of imagining a cover in that way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone explain it that way before.
Schettino: That’s cool. I think my favorite cover is an unknown one. If you listen to Brutal Truth’s Need to Control, there is a cover of The Germs’ “Media Blitz.” I was a teenager when I listened to it, and I felt it was genius. It was a sloppy, hardcore punk song and it is done with their attitude. It was Mike Williams of Eyehategod and the whole thing is like 52 seconds, but to me it’s like a manifesto. That is how you do a cover! It really stuck with me and I still love that song so much.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the Importance of artwork? Hideous Divinity always has some striking covers. Do you feel it needs to be a whole piece of the package?
Schettino: Totally! Let’s give credit to people like Tito, our manager, and in this case, it was Stefano who insisted on Colin. He made an amazing piece of artwork on what was supposed to be a new t-shirt. I wish we could have brought it out on tour when we were supposed to be out with Terrorizer in 2020. Of course, it didn’t happen. But we had the chance to meet Colin and he was one of the most receptive people we have ever met. Everything we wanted, Colin made it onto the painting.
I think art is important because of the visual identity that fans have with you. I really love this music because of how elaborate artwork is. I’m amazed by today’s artists. There’s this list that keeps getting bigger and bigger. We worked for two albums with Vladimir Chebakov and the first time I saw his art for us, it was amazing! It’s not just a death metal cover.
From that point forward, we understood how important it was, not to mention the whole merch thing. We all know the difference between quality merch, and not so nice quality merch. It’s something that catches the eye immediately. It’s something that, as a fan, you feel like you belong to something. Powerful artwork is a necessity, and that’s perhaps the most important thing for us – to have an identity in front of the fans, in the world that sees the creation of 100-150 bands a day, identity is everything.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel the band has changed over the years?
Schettino: We are still having a good run. The band has changed so much since the early days. The band has made 4 full albums and an EP. Music changes in the meantime. The death metal scene changed, we changed. I changed a lot as a listener. I don’t listen to the same stuff I was listening to 10 years ago. I think that’s fascinating. This music was taken for dead. It was sentenced in the early ‘90s, so like 30 year ago. I feel somehow that we wake up in the morning, and we listen to something, and it rediscovers our faith in the genre.
The last band I heard was Cambion, which has Chason Westmoreland, an ex-Hate Eternal drummer. They are some sort of a combination of if Defleshed and Angel Corpse both took a bath in acid and decided to have a kid. Then you think, whoa – there’s still stuff that gives you motivation and inspiration. The first time I listened to Vitriol, which we were lucky enough to tour with in the US, they are one of the best things to happen to death metal in the last ten years. You think, my goodness, these guys are surreal! I can say that I’m lucky, because all of this has an influence on my way of writing. It’s an ever changing entity. We feed this entity and we are fed by it as well. I really don’t see myself stopping, because it’s too good.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s important about the balance between technical musicianship and knowing when not to go too far with it?
Schettino: Oh boy, what you just said is the key. It was an easy choice to push on the technical accelerator in the early days of Hideous Divinity because there were a bunch of drummers in Italy who could do blastbeats. So to be technical and fast, it was the thing. It was an easy win. But then when I started the band, I looked around and everyone was so fast and so technical. I knew I would never be this technical. Let’s face it, to me when you talk about technical death metal, even if you are labeled as a technical death metal band, technical is more like Obscura. It’s not my cup of tea, but I’m not able to tune those guys’ guitars [laughs]. I don’t even want to be close to these people because they are monsters.
In a world when most of the famous guitar players are mostly YouTube influencers, you have to ask yourself what you want to do when you grow old. To me, the idea of technical death metal is more of a shock and awe effect. I know I could not make an entire record based only on the technical side of it, because my personal technical acuity is pretty limited. I look at the experience and the love for the sound that guides you through the super technical tunnels that tells you when you are losing the hooks comes up. Otherwise you aren’t paying attention to what the song is about. It’s about balancing the two things. We are still trying. This is our aim. For some listeners, we may push too much on the technical side a bit, and for some others, we aren’t as cool and technical as another band. So for me, its about serving the song. You must serve the song and try not to lose the focus.
Dead Rhetoric: What are the plans for 2021 at this point?
Schettino: It’s a big question because it doesn’t really entirely depend on us. There is a tour for late autumn in Europe, but it’s a huge question mark. If we were in the States, I would safely say we would tour in the fall, but being in Europe and having this mess – I don’t even want to start about how the situation was handled here because I just get mad. So there will be a time for sure, I would probably place it one year from now when things will hopefully be entirely fixed. At that point, there will probably be a tour every day of the week in your town. Then you will have to think about the overpopulation of tours and live events. Now we should do some programming – you move 6-9 months in advance, but it’s really hard to do that now.
We have more than a couple of options, and we are trying to cautiously reflect on each of them and see what happens in the end. I desperately want to play again. I need it, it’s like heroin. I need it. But we need to see when it will be safe. There are bands that have postponed their tour already three times. That’s a lot! I understand that there are reasons behind it that I don’t know and I should respect. How are these big festivals in Europe going to make it? Last year, it was really bad, but now with two years? How are things going to be, beneath the remains one year from now? Are people still willing to do this, or will things replace them? And how? So I really hope we can make this happen and we can be together again in the US. We have been missing Europe for quite some time. Our last tour there was with Origin in 2018, so I really hope to be on the road again.
Then we will also have to think about a full-length release. Trying not to overflood the market with too many releases too. Just yesterday I was talking about that with Tito and we were talking about it with the label. Maybe we should consider in the post-COVID age, dynamics will change rapidly and what we thought would be the way to do things has now changed forever and COVID just accelerated the process. Maybe we are all going to turn into entities that produce two records a year because that’s what Spotify is telling us to do? I don’t know, but I refuse to do that unless the music is good. That’s the only promise I can make.
Dead Rhetoric: With all these COVID changes, I had a band now describing themselves as a walking merch store, which is a weird way to describe yourself as a band.
Schettino: [Laughs] Sometimes you have a moment of clarity, and you think, “Is this what it’s really about? Am I doing it right?” Is a band supposed to make their own spicy sauce, coffee, or pasta brand? I don’t know. To me, I just want to stay on the naïve side and say it’s all about the music. I’m 41 and I made a lot of choices in my life, and this is what is keeping me active. The purpose to make good music. What comes afterwards, including funny gadgets, it’s cool but it’s not the thing. It’s an accessory.