Entertainment

The Hell Are Here to Save Hardcore, Again, With a Hardcore Opera

Not content with riling grown-up babies who love heavy music, the seven piece masked crew have brought their antagonism to the stage.
September 11, 2020, 8:00am
The Hell hardcore opera interview
Photo: The Hell
Heavy Britain is a rock column that looks into some of the heaviest bands in the UK.

The Hell are a heavy British band that some people hate to love and others love to hate. If you’re not already aware of their vicious, seven-headed Hydra of heaviness, allow me to enlighten you. Since 2013, they’ve released three albums (two through Prosthetic Records after “kidnapping the label owner and getting a deal”) and have toured and played festivals all over the UK and Europe, including Groezrock, Pukkelpop and Reading and Leeds.

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In 2013, after hearing the unhinged hardcore assault of a song “It’s The Motherfucking Hell (You Dick)” and seeing a photo of the then mysterious, bandana-clad gang of 12, I decided to interview them for VICE. Their misanthropic outbursts and jokey bravado – along with the headline “Meet the 12 Masked Men from Hell Who Are Here to Save Hardcore” stirred a reaction out from what felt like every British hardcore kid and metal head who was online that day. “Hardcore doesn’t need saving” was a phrase I got sent a lot over the week that followed, along with plenty of “fuck you”’s and general whinging about the interview.

Fast forward to 2020 and the haters will be pleased to hear that The Hell are back to save hardcore once again. And this time it’s with a hardcore opera!

Joris: A Hardcore Opera Pt. 1 is an exhilarating and warped rock opus made up of crushing volumes, a whole cast of characters and a heartwarming story. It tells the tale of kid wanting to better himself and escape his mundane life – and does so through the sound of furious hardcore, thrash and groove metal. There’s even some funk in there. As flamboyant as it is brutal, as fun as it is genuinely innovative, it is a concept album of subtle genius.

I caught up with The Hell’s singer and mastermind Black Mist to talk about the metal scene, their ever-changing members and their plans to take their hardcore opera to the theatre stage.

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VICE: So, that interview I did with you back in 2013 really ruffled some feathers, ey. I even had random men in their 30s sending me angry Facebook messages because they were so damn triggered by it. Bless ‘em. Why do you think some people acted like such babies when they first heard your music and read that interview?
Black Mist: It's a good question. Should be, it's your fucking job. Never in a million years did I think people would go so nuts. I didn't start all this to be an edgy wind-up merchant, but I guess we took on the pantomime villain role like a duck to water. When something that's meant to be fun rubs people up the wrong way it tends to be a reflection on their own insecurities, or some shit like that. I don’t know, who fucking cares?

Was it difficult to make the move into making more albums, touring and getting signed to a big label after the initial gimmick of wearing bandanas and being antagonistic?
You know what, our shtick is a fucking blessing, to be honest. We do what we want, when we want and I think people like that shit. I care about our punters, not some fucking dickhead at Pineapple Management and his cocaine addict mates. We never set out with some big plan, we’ve never sucked up to anyone for anything. Yeah, we’ve put records out through decent labels and whatever but everything is on our fucking terms. You come to a show and you know it’s all about us and the fucking punters. Know what I mean?

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Yeah, I hear you. Now that COVID-19 has forced everybody to cover their faces with masks and bandanas, are you tempted to rebel and whip your bandanas off?
Tell you what, I can’t even lie, the mask thing shit me right up. Every cunt looks like us now, so that look is dead in the water. Gone. We’re in a transition of becoming professional thespians as well as incredible musicians so that will be reflected in our new get-up, you know? Snug-fitting polo necks, neckerchiefs, all that modern Shakespeare clobber.

Considering you’re all meant to be tough guys with bad attitudes and worse reputation, I heard a rumour you’re all actually from leafy Hertfordshire. Is that true? That’s a bit posh, isn’t it?
That’s a great description, can I use that in our MySpace bio? [Laughs]. Listen, I’ve technically been a Londoner for two whole years now living with Turbo Rat. I’m basically running Finchley. The other urchins have dispersed a bit further out. Jackhammer is lying low in a gaff all the way up in Northumberland after a run in with… erm… actually I shouldn’t talk about that.

Haha. So you haven’t gone soft in your old age?
Nope.

Well, I have and I love your new album Joris: A Hardcore Opera. Can you explain to us what a “hardcore opera” even is?
Oh cheers, nice one John.

My name is Jak.
Yeah, well theatrical metal is already out there and it sucks. All that operatic shite where the video is always in the woods, you know? Yeah, none of that pap. And I fucking hate musicals. Can't stand them. Too much happiness. Bunch of over-acting cunts prancing about to awful songs. So… a hardcore opera is a grittier, realer take on theatre. That doesn't mean it's full of macho bullshit. I guess it's easier to explain what it isn't. Let's just say it's a story about someone struggling to find this way through life but finding people to help them on the way. What's more hardcore than that?

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True. Who’s “Joris”?
It’s a long, complicated story, but I’ll try and boil it down. So five years ago, a Belgian punter named Joris sent us an audition video out of the blue asking to play Groezrock [festival] with us and we thought, “Fuck it, why not?” We made him the face of the band running up to the festival, his own song, the whole bit. We even tried to get him elected as Prime Minister of the UK. He almost fucked it all up, mind you. Joris was nowhere to be seen and we couldn’t get hold of the daft cunt five minutes before we were due on stage. It all worked out in the end though. By our last song, thousands and thousands of punters were chanting, “JORIS! JORIS!” and he came onstage to rapturous applause to end the set with us.

Anyway, his wild journey to the top got me thinking I should write a record about a similar journey and name the lead character after Joris in his honour. This guy’s not exactly the Joris from Belgium, but he faces the same kind of trials and tribulations, I guess. Just in a north London hardware store. Does any of that make sense? Probably not.

Yeah it makes sense. Sounds like it actually has a bit of a moral message.
Yeah mate, of course. Everyone goes through shit and I think they’ll see a lot of themselves in Joris. Everyone’s been in a shit job wondering what the fuck they’re doing, dreaming of doing something bigger with their lives.

Is it autobiographical?
I can't give too much away at this point as it's only part one, but you might start to see some glaring similarities developing. I guess we all put ourselves into our art in some way. Listen to me, fucking John Malkovich over here! [laughs].

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What inspired you to take on such an ambitious project, instead of just making another The Hell album?
I'm sick to death of hearing and seeing the same old shit in heavy music. “Oh sick, you've released another album of breakdowns and shit choruses, have a fucking biscuit.” To me, there's only so far bands can take the “bunch of tattooed men frown onstage in front of kids kicking each other” formula. I want fans to experience something they've never seen before. That was the whole fucking point of this band to begin with. I wanted to do something immersive, create a whole fucking world of characters.

I can see that. Did you take inspiration from other rock operas and concept albums?

I've got a whole lot of fucking time for Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds. That record used to shit me right up as a lad. And years later A Grand Don't Come For Free by The Streets knocked me on my arse. I think looking back on our album I can hear both those records in there.

Nice. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine there’s much crossover with hardcore and metalcore fans and rock opera enthusiasts?

You know what, when a band starts to worry about who their punters are and what they might or might not like it's fucking over. I know I said I'm all about making the punters happy – we're always trying to do cool shit for them – but when it comes to getting creative, fuck everyone and everything. I don't give a shit about what is going on in metal or hardcore and I don't have a fucking clue what goes on in the theatre world. We're just trying to do something bonkers, you get me?

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Yeah man, it is definitely bonkers. Would you ever want to do it as a stage show, like, say, American Idiot?

100%. We'll be taking this the whole way. Best production we can do, the whole bit. Haven't seen American Idiot, sounds dross. Mind you, Billie Joe Armstrong, if you're reading this and have some spare clams burning a hole in your pocket, there's an Executive Producer chair waiting for you!

I’m pretty confident he’ll be reading this. So, who’s in the band now?

So there's the usual faces – myself, Nice Guy, Bad Tempa, Early Man and Jackhammer. We've had Turbo Rat doing the onstage light show and vocals for the last bunch of shows. Now she's really taken centre stage on a few songs with her savage vocals, which is great. Plus we've got a mad Yorkshireman beefing things up now called Haardvark. As well as us lot there's also a dozen or so friends from awesome bands helping us out with characters and vocals. I can't disclose any identities as they might get in trouble with their labels or managers.

Fair enough. Is it true that the other original members all left because you, Black Mist, are so insufferable and obnoxious?

Fuck that noise, I chucked the cunts out!

Sure you did. Have you got any final fuck you’s and edgy opinions before I head off to interview some real musicians?

Yeah I have, go and check out Joris (A Hardcore Opera) Pt. 1 and if you like it, the more clams you throw our way, the bigger and better we can bring it to the stage. It's only just beginning. Have you got everything you need now, James?

My name’s still Jak.

Okay, well do me a favour Jak and fucking do one.

The Hell’s Joris: A Hardcore Opera Pt.1 is out now. Listen here.

@Jak_TH