Heads For The Dead are a Death Metal band based in Germany. Permanent members Ralf Hauber (vocals, lyrics) and Jonny Pettersson (music and production), both come from a rich death metal pedigree having been members of a number of other groups such Ursinne, Wombbath and Revel In Flesh. Serpent’s Curse is the band’s first album, for which the duo brought in support for drums and guitar solos, with the rest of the album being put together by Ralph & Jonny. The album is great piece of brutal, atmospheric death metal, that sucks you in, beats you to a pulp and spits you out onto the side of the road like a classic gory horror movie. I loved the album and was delighted to get the chance to interview the band. So here it is:
– Hi Ralph & Jonny, thanks a lot for agreeing to an interview for Blessed Altar Zine. I’m a huge fan of the Serpent’s Curse album so it’s really cool to have a chance to find out more about the band and how the album came about. From the long list of reviews on your site it seems a lot people loved the album as much as me, how’s the response been to the album overall so far? What did you expect when you first released it?
Jonny – The response has been overwhelmingly good. We knew that we were working on something special when working on Serpent’s Curse. But as with everything that you spend a lot of time with and really pour passion into it’s hard to not get a bit blind to your own product. So you never truly know how it’s going to be received. Even though we write music for our own pleasure first and foremost it’s always nice for it to be appreciated by others.
Ralf – Flattering to us is that the album itself gets a worldwide good response! Mostly your focused on what’s going on in your own country’s scene but TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY Records really did a world wide social media and “die hard” web promotion so according to the Likes and their origin we really managed to attract interest on a worldwide scale, which feels good since METAL is in the end one community!
– What’s the story behind the birth of the band? How did the two of you decide to collaborate and did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to make?
Jonny – Ralf asked me if I’d be interested in working together and as we had worked together already with two of my other bands I was on board straight away. I had a few ideas for songs that I didn’t see fit in any of my other bands. But they were merely a means to get started. We knew pretty much from the start that we wouldn’t have any restrictions to the music. If we had a part that we’d see fit for the music we’d use it regardless of genre. There is some bit’s in there wasn’t even intended to be metal but just happen to fit so well that we used them. It’s a form of freedom you don’t get with most bands.
Ralf – Jonny already nailed it down! HEADS FOR THE DEAD is for me a kind of fresh breath and breaking out of the limits that our main bands more or less have. “Serpent’s curse” is to me an album that grows in each direction and is not limited on one single sub genre of the huge world of DEATH METAL. We have DOOM, we have CRUST, we have GRIND and we have ATMOSPHERE, too. The good thing is that this band allows us to grow in each direction!
– One of the first things that struck me about the record was the atmosphere you created from the very first moments with the ominous intro to the first track. Were you consciously trying to create an overall mood to the album or did it all fit more together at the end when you laid the tracks out?
Jonny – It was one of those things that came naturally. One of my biggest musical heroes is James Bernard who’s written the music for loads of old horror movies. He always manages to capture the true essence of horror so I wanted to get the same type of atmosphere on the music as he does. So that was always in the back of my mind when writing the songs. If you know where they are you can find references to his music all over the album.
Ralf – My work basically starts when Jonny already has the main “corpus” of the song itself! I usually listen to the ideas on headphones to get into and one with it. Then the idea for possible vocal lines and maybe fitting lyrics grows piece by piece! Vocals & lyrics need to fit the atmosphere, so according to HEADS FOR THE DEAD it’s about a trip to the fathomless depths of HORROR!
– Is there a story behind the choice of album artwork and title?
Ralf – The artwork is a pure eye catcher! It’s done by Studio BRANCA from Catalonia. The artwork has grown over several sessions with the artist. BRANCA comes more from a Doom/Stoner background and we wanted to get that vibe along with a HUGE retro touch guiding back to the movie posters of the 60ies/70ies. It should be a simple cover with main elements speaking for the contents of the album and to raise your level of imagination! Furthermore it should have been an artwork about HORROR, but still FREE of the let me say standard Death Metal thing!
– Can you tell us a bit about how you come up with the songs? What’s the creative process like and where do you start?
Jonny – It usually starts with a riff once I have the feeling for that riff I chase that feeling throughout that song. And once I have the rough sketch for the song I get Ralf involved to make sure we have something that can be elevated with his vocals. Once the rough track is done Ralf does his vocals and when I get it sent back I have a picture that is 90% done to which I can chase the feeling of until we have it 100% right. During this process all the ambient and atmospheric stuff starts growing taking the song to a completely different place.
– When I listen to ‘Serpent’s Curse’ I feel like I’m being dragged through the aural equivalent of all kinds of violent attacks. Was there any particular impression you wanted to make on listeners?
Jonny – As far as the music goes I wanted the listener to feel that same feel as they do when watching a really good horror film. The build-up and the tension followed by a violent attack.
Ralf – Actually when I contribute to the song I simply do what feels good to me and I don’t think what others might think about! So it’s more like getting into the flow and do what you can do best!
– When you listen back to the album now are there any musical influences that you think played a big role in shaping the record?
Jonny – As mentioned before James Bernard’s music was a big inspiration for me. But also the freedom of not having any restrictions played a big role.
Ralf – Due to our main bands many writers etc. seen HEADS FOR THE DEAD as well in this “swedish sounding bands” box, too. Personally I was never really aiming for that since vocalwise and when it comes to lyrics I was more influenced by stuff like early IMMOLATION, REPULSION, AUTOPSY, CATHEDRAL, SAINT VITUS, PENTAGRAM, WOLFPACK or NECROPHAGIA. Furthermore I really draw influences from checking topic related arts & books. On the one hand HEADS FOR THE DEAD is wilder than my main band, but otherwise there are more details, more experiments, more gateways to other ways of extreme Metal than before. It’s a challenge!
– Aside from the music, what other inspiration did you draw from? You mention a love of old school horror movies. Are there any in particular you want to give a shout out to? And was there anything else like comics or mythology that influenced you?
Jonny – For me a lot of the old House of Hammer films played a big role. They have always been a big influence. The Devil Rides Out, Quatermass and the Pit, Curse of the Crimson Altar, Night of the Eagle to mention a few.
– You list a number of collaborators on your website (guitar solos and drums)did you have an opportunity to practice the songs together as a whole bandor was the recording process more pieced together one layer at a time?
Jonny – Once we had the finished foundation for each song we sent them out to our collaborators to do their thing. They then sent us their finished efforts so I could add to the final mix. Living in the digital age makes it a lot easier to work with people from across the globe.
– Are there any plans to put together a full band that could play this music live and maybe tour?
Jonny – Never say never. We have a lot friends who are musicians so getting people fill the roles wouldn’t be a problem at all. But it would have to be the right gig. Brining our vision to the stage would be really cool and it would definitely be something the audience will never forget.
– What else is on the horizon in 2019? Are there plans to do another recording as Heads of the Dead or do you think you’ll move on to other projects?
Jonny – We have actually started working on the next album. It’s still early days but we are carrying on where we left off on Serpent’s Curse. It’s going to be a long hard road to walk to get the next album the way we want it. But it will all be worth it in the end. As with anything that you have a burning passion for.
Ralf – The hunger for more HEADS FOR THE DEAD styled HORROR is growing deep in the catacombs, rotting, dwelling and be sure there is more to come. Like in many good horror movies there will be not only one chapter 🙂 BEWARE!!!
– Thanks very much for your time (and your music!). I’m looking forward to hearing more from you both in the future.
Jonny – Thanks for a great interview!
– Ralf – Thanx Tom! Good questions, far beyond the standard! We’re glad that u like the album…stay tuned because Evil never dies!!! Cheerz!!!
Interview by Tom