Abaddon magazine

Music magazine

Friday, November 27, 2020

Interview: From Hell

From Hell, San Francisco based Thrash/Death Metal band led by Mr. George Anderson, alias Aleister Sinn, released their second album “Rats & Ravens” on March 26th, 2020. Let this epic interview help you get to know this extraordinary, intelligent, well spoken, open minded, versatile hell of a man better.

Hi! First of all thank you so much for your time and an opportunity given to our magazine. How are you considering the chaos around Corona all over the world, elections in the USA?
Well, things are rather shit right now. No money. No job. No music. It’s really disheartening. Corona virus has killed off so many people and so much of the economy. The results of this election so far are disgusting. The results, despite who wins, says to me that so many people in this country have a penchant for hate. People want to openly express their racial hatred toward other people. We have come so far, only to fall so far back. I feel like the USA is regressing.

First of all, can you tell me something more about the band name, any deeper meaning behind it?
The name comes from the name from the movie and the graphic novel From Hell about Jack the Ripper. With the idea in mind of telling horror stories over music, I felt this was a good way to describe the bands’ music and vision of these horror stories. Horror stories From Hell.

Before you formed From Hell, you were a vocalist and guitarist of Down Factor. If we turn back, we can say Down Factor was focused on political, social engaged lyrics while From Hell is more into horror stories. What made you change the course and follow the horror concept?
Politics made me change course. I hate politics. I got tired of it. Down Factor was my pedestal for bitching about politics. Toward the end of DF, I felt the weight of the political struggle and how it was just pointless to stress over anymore. It’s like a giant force from the sky pressing down on you and you can push back on it and it just moves around you, but never moves away from you. No matter where I push back, it’s still there and push part of it away and it moves temporarily only to fall back into place when I move my hand. I felt the best thing to do was lay lower and not worry about it. So, I decided to do something completely differently because whatever I had to say politically, was not going to change anyone’s mind or actionize them to do something. It still hasn’t. So, why bother to expend all of this energy and angst into something I love doing? It was only polluting what I loved doing by constantly bringing politics into every situation. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. So, I created FROM HELL.

FROM HELL would allow me to get away from politics and social bullshit and put me in an imaginary place where these horror stories are happening. By doing this, I could envelop myself into this world and when I listen to the music or sing the songs, I’m only thinking about the music and the story. I’m not thinking about anything else, because none of that exists in these stories. It makes a happy and hellish place to be at the same time.

I would like to mention another band, Grandma, a tribute band to King Diamond. Why King Diamond? What fascinates you about that band and Kim Benedix Petersen?
King Diamond is God! In my musical world, King is God. King’s music just resonates with me. It’s dark, heavy, melodic, evil, shredding guitars and amazing drums by Mikkey Dee. There are a lot of elements there that are just right for me. The way the drums are played, the guitar riffs and King’s creepy vocals. It was all so amazing and was the exact antithesis of popular music that I was looking for. It was like Halloween land for music. Horror themed music that was all about everything I liked. No stupid love ballads or bullshit innuendo about telling a girl how much you love her or want to fuck her. The persona of King Diamond was cool too! Kiss without the love songs. It was great! Grandma was my King Diamond Tribute band where I sang and played guitar. That was tough, but it was fun! At one time, I could hit those really high notes. I think the way I sing in FROM HELL or perhaps I smoke too much weed, I can no longer sing those super high notes. I think it’s FROM HELL, because the Grandma band smoked weed all the time and it didn’t seem to bother me then. But the scratchy way I do FH, I think has taken a toll.

What fascinates me about From Hell is that epic horror concept. I am a pretty imaginative person and when I am listening to music I like to create my own movie in my head based on the main theme. So, tell me something more about the concept you wanted to develop when you formed From Hell?
That is exactly perfect my friend! I love when people use their imaginations and doing FROM HELL, I get to present something to people where they can use their imaginations, just like King Diamond albums did for me. And that is what I am hoping people will do when they listen to FROM HELL. I want people to know the stories so that when they listen to a song, they can think about that chapter of the story. They’re not thinking about politics or relationships and people cheating on each other, emotions and sadness. They’re thinking about this horror story and what is happening and what will happen next. That being said, it makes releasing singles rather difficult because the lyrics are out of context and don’t mean anything. Maybe it will compel people to check out the whole album.

“Ascent from Hell” is focused on a corpse who wakes up in Hell and finds out he cannot rest and must return to the land of the living to find his soul that still lives on inside the body of a priest and drag it back to Hell. What inspired you to write that story?
It’s based on the first song, “The Walking Dead” and the final song called “The Sleep”. “Ascent From Hell” is basically an extended version of these two stories and songs. In fact, the original title of the album was going to be called “The Walking Dead”, but then at the time I was about to record it, out came a TV show with the same name. So, I had to change the title. I wrote “The Sleep” back in 1997 and just expanded upon it. I recorded it again because I had the opportunity to have Paul Bostaph play the drums on it. “The Sleep” was inspired by part of the movie Hellraiser where Frank escapes from Hell and the Cenobites come to find him. In my story, the psycho killer’s victims’ corpses crawl up out of their graves as zombies and come back to get the psycho killer, including the corpse of the psycho killer, but who’s soul has switched bodies and still lives inside another body, the body of a priest to be exact. There is a little bit more to the story that I just couldn’t quite fit into the lyrics and music as I wanted. You know. Some parts of the story get cut in the editing process just like a movie. There was a segment about the psycho killer plucking the eyes out of the corpses and pinning them to the wall. From there, the eyes of his dead would always be staring at him.

Six years after “Ascent from Hell” you released “Rats & Ravens”. Now, I will let you tell us the story behind it.
“Rats & Ravens” is about a witch who steals children and reanimates their corpses with rats. She sacrifices the children and casts a spell. When the raven comes to take their souls, she traps the bird with the soul, and takes control of the children’s bodies caught in limbo. She feeds the rats the blood of the children and then through cuts on their wrists and ankles, the rats crawl into their bodies and then are possessed by the will of the witch. The rats live inside the bodies of the children and compel the dead children to walk. She sends the rat-like zombie children back to the villages to terrorize the people and steal more children. She calls them “Lilium”.

The story takes place somewhere in East Europe, any specific country? If it is the 14th century, I would say Romania and Vlad Tepes, but 13th… Have you ever been travelling to East Europe or researching European folklore?
Yes, I have been to Eastern Europe, although only briefly. Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Russia. It was very cold and frozen outside, but the land was beautiful and haunting. I did lots of research when I wrote this story. Certainly of Vlad Tepes. But I did research it. Lots of research in Middle Eastern folklore, the gods of which is where the witch derives her power. I wanted the story to have some real world references in it so there is the idea of plausibility, when the ideas that these dark forces did exist. There is a giant confluence of ideas in this story including Lilith, Samael and Ninkilim. Hecate. The album art is based on Hecate and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I researched many things, but still wanted to create a fictional story. In my story, the witch’s son, before she was a witch, was taken from her and tossed into a pit of rats. She is the sister of a lord or duke, who wants an heir to his fortune. But each child produced from his sisters, is born deformed or unhealthy due to incest. Her child is taken and she goes out into the woods to pray to Lilith, Samael and Ninkilim for the power to avenge. Her brother accuses her of witch craft and they attempt to burn her at the stake. Somehow, she doesn’t die when the fire goes out, but is badly disfigured and left to die in the woods. As she is dying, a raven comes for her soul, but when it tries to leave, it gets stuck in a thicket and her soul remains in limbo. The rats in the forest crawl into her body and through the powers of darkness, she comes back to life.

You released videos for “Lilium” in March, “They Come at Night” in April, then in May you released the album and in June the video for “The Witch”. “They Come at Night” brings a mystic, dark atmosphere. Can you tell me something more about the idea for a video? Where was it filmed and do you have any anecdotes from the set?
The idea behind the video was to try to create the atmosphere somewhat of where the story could have occurred. Really, though, you have to suspend belief. We live in California and our forests don’t look anything like the forests in eastern Europe. But, it’s what we had to work with. We shot the video in Joaquin (Wah-keen) Miller Park in the hills just above Oakland, CA. We filmed it with a friend of mine, Rick Glenn, a director from LA, Paul Nordin was the Director of Photography. Paul also directed a zombie movie I was in a few years prior to this called The Dead and the Damned. He was great to work with and so I wanted to use him for this video and he captured some amazing shots. I had some great footage to edit when it came time to put the video together. Joaquin Miller Park is a National Park Reserve and so I had to get permits for us to film there. I am certainly glad we did. We had a giant smoke machine that we just billowed into the trees to give it that ambient feel. At one point, I could hear a helicopter flying over trying to see if there was a fire someplace. I’m sure without that permit, the shoot would have ended sooner rather than later and big fines would have been levied. Especially now with the crazy fires that California has been experiencing. I’m sure we would end up on the news. On one of the days, there was also a preschool having a field trip and they were walking by as we were filming “They Come at Night”. What’s funny is they really seemed to like the music, but then one of them asked why I was so angry. Somewhere, there is a picture of Aleister Sinn with a bunch of preschool kids all gathered around hanging out in the forest. I scared the moms and teachers more than the kids. They were fearless! It was fun!

Speaking about the albums, what is the main difference in the creative approach? Six years passed between “Ascent from Hell” and “Rats & Ravens”, there must be some differences.
Certainly. I wrote many of these songs with the story concept in mind already. I started writing “Rats & Ravens” right after finishing “Ascent From Hell”. I had the basic idea of what I wanted for the story very early on. For “Ascent”, I had three songs, the two mentioned previously and “Soul Crusher” and from there, I created the story. With “Rats & Ravens”, the time gap is really more just about life. Life gets in the way sometimes and you just have to deal with it. We actually shot both of those videos in February 2018. We thought we would be in the studio that summer recording. We still had a little bit of work to do, but again, life happens and shit takes longer than it is supposed to. Also, this story was coming out a little bit differently than planned. I couldn’t write the lyrics to the songs until all of the songs were finished. I also couldn’t finish writing the lyrics until I knew which order the songs were going to be in. This caused a major delay in recording. Until I knew the vibe of the album and how each song was going to work together, I couldn’t write what each song was going to be about until then. The songs in a different order would tell a different story. I have many versions of alternate lyrics to some of these songs. And it all came down to the order. I thought doing a second album would be a lot easier after the first one. I was kidding myself. It was quite challenging.

What was the major challenge while you were working on previous From Hell album “Ascent from Hell”, since we are talking about, to use that term, a super group whose band members are also super active…
Before the super group members arrived to record, the album was finished. It was written and ready to go. I actually already recorded it before they came around. The drummer I was using fucked up a couple of things and refused to fix it. So, I canned him. Tired of locals who have other vested interests, I decided to ask Paul, Damien and Steve to play for me. I live in the Bay Area and am friends with all of these guys. Steve recorded some guitar leads on the Down Factor stuff and I worked with Damien in other bands. I knew Paul and would see him around, but this was the first time we worked together. They were all great to work with. The best part was their ethic to playing. They never bitched about playing certain parts or doing things a certain way. Often, they had great ideas to contribute. It was a great experience! Steve is actually still with me today. He recorded on “Rats & Ravens”.

Before all of that, the major challenge to writing “Ascent From Hell” was tying the story together. I was able to write that story as I wrote each song. Weirdly, I had a beginning and an end, but no middle. I had a really hard time tying the story together. The big question was, “How and why do I make this zombie come back from the grave to find this character that is still living?” The characters of my story: A corpse, Aleister Sinn, a psycho killer, a priest and a nun. The nun was actually last. “Nun with a Gun” was the last song written for the album. It was this song and “Eyes of My Dead” that tied the story together. I came up with the idea of the psycho killer’s soul leaping into the body of someone else and staying alive. And then of course, how did he die? Being killed by a vigilante nun. Of course.

Speaking of challenges, what is the best part of the creative process?
To me, the best part is recording. I love bringing to fruition the ideas and sounds floating in my head. When we record, those ideas finally come out of my head and stop driving me crazy. Because, I can hear it! That’s it! I just can’t wait to listen to it for real! And when we finally get it recorded and mixed the way it needs to be mixed, then the satisfaction of the creative process takes over.

Today there are not so many old school death thrash metal bands, which band influenced you the most?
King Diamond, Slayer, Testament, Death, Coroner, Sepultura, At the Gates. Bands like that.

It is obvious you draw inspiration from horror culture. Few questions about that… Let’s start with the literature… Which horror books and writers do you like to read?
I sadly haven’t read any books in many years. Many of my jobs has been technical reading of documents and so, reading at night was the last thing I wanted to do. When I was reading, I read books by Clive Barker, Stephen King, John Saul, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft. I also read fantasy novels which helped to expand your creative mind. I read a lot of Barker and King. Growing up though, I read tons and tons of books. So, I don’t necessarily feel like I haven’t had my quota. But, with so much free time right now, I may start reading again.

In the field of horror movies, tell me your favorites. Let’s say one old school, one “modern” and one remake that you consider being better than original as well as one remake you think it failed.
That’s easy. The best horror movie ever made was “The Exorcist”. Nothing will ever compare to that one. Rob Zombie’s Halloween I thought was a great remake. I hate the rest of that guy’s fuckin’ movies. They suck and are terrible as all hell, but Halloween I thought was great! Speaking of failures, The Omen and Poltergeist remakes were terrible. Most of the remakes are just terrible. 95% FAIL. Evil Dead is a great modern horror movie. It’s only sort of a remake. I don’t know why they gave it the same name. I would have called it a chapter in the history of The Necronomicon. Because it definitely was not a remake. You know how stories go, “All the heroes who have come before you, perished because they weren’t strong enough, are you the right hero to break the evil power of the book?” I think this movie is right there. A group of people who didn’t survive the book. There was no Bruce Campbell or campy goofy horror antics. This movie was scary as fuck! Evil Dead 2006.

From Hell reminds me a bit of Nocturnus and Revenant. What bands you like to listen to the most these days, maybe not only metal?
Hmmm. I actually don’t listen to either band. Perhaps I should check them out to hear what I sound like. Hahaha. I mostly listen to horror movie soundtracks and the news these days. Sometimes, I listen to Behemoth and Coroner and my friends’ music when they release it, but otherwise, I listen to horror soundtracks. Partially because I’m a work-a-holic. A lot of what I do requires thinking and I can’t have metal blaring around me while I’m trying to do that. The soundtracks are dark but don’t interrupt my thoughts. It fills the room with music but doesn’t disturb me until one of the kill scene music starts. But otherwise, it’s just dark and mellow. When I’m driving I usually listen to the news. I’m tired of that shit though.

Each of your bands released albums for Scourge Records, which easily lead us to the conclusion that you might be the label owner. What is the main goal for Scourge Records? Will you expand the list of clients?
Yes. Scourge Records is my business front for the band. Many organizations in the music business don’t work with bands, so the label is my business front. If I ever make extra money doing this, I will expand my roster of clients.

You were supposed to go on European tour in September with Atheist, Cadaver and Svart Crown. The tour is cancelled due obvious reasons and now I see new dates. February/March 2021. Maybe too optimistic?
I personally think so. I don’t know what is going to happen. But it seems too early to me.

I am curious about the concerts and tours… Since the band members on the first album “Ascent from Hell” are pretty much active with their mother bands, did you even have concerts? How did it work? Do you have touring band members and how will it work in the future?
Good question. That was one of the hard parts and life gets in the way problems. After recording “Ascent From Hell”, Steve went back to London and Paul rejoined Slayer. I had to train a whole new band to play these songs. I was essentially back to square one, however, I had an album recorded, so people could learn the songs. Also having amazing players like those guys on the album, I wanted to find other players who could do that. It took a little while, but eventually, I found them. On drums, replacing Paul Bostaph, I have Wes Anderson, who has played for Keho Nation, Young Lions – Noah of Neurosis, Les Claypool, SOSA, Cirque du Soleil. His variety of playing styles is just amazing and I love the parts the Wes comes up with. He had some very big shoes to fill, but he wears those shoes pretty tightly I think. Then when we toured Europe in 2016, we toured with Possessed and Belphegor, Stephen Paul Goodwin joined us on bass, suggested by Damien. Damien could not commit due to prior commitments with Death Angel. Steve also had commitments Claudeous just left FROM HELL to join Possessed. and Justin Sakogawa joined us and shredded Steve’s lead work. He was awesome to play with. A few months after this tour, we landed a tour in Russia and Wes and Stephen joined me. Steve again had other commitments and Steve Danska joined us in Russia. Too many Steves! After completing “Rats & Ravens”, at the moment, the line up is Wes, Stephen and Steve Smyth, providing that Corona virus has not decimated all of our lives. As time permits, I do believe that we will all tour, but I honestly don’t know at this point. No one does.

You are known as Aleister Sinn, often we can see you are wearing the First Satanic Church t-shirts and I have to ask you are your beliefs/attitudes/philosophy closer Anton Szandor LaVey′s or Aleister Crowley′s?
Neither to be honest. I guess if I had to draw a comparison, probably LaVey’s beliefs. I am also friends with his daughter, Karla LaVey. FROM HELL has played three shows for The First Satanic Church in San Francisco. Every show is awesome! The Satanists are awesome people! Extremely gracious and cordial. We have always had a great time playing those shows. Aleister Sinn is a character, my version of King Diamond. It’s what I thought of when I asked myself, “How do I be King Diamond without being King Diamond?” Aleister Sinn is what I came up with. Otherwise, I am a strict Atheist. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, Satan or God or Allah, Jesus or Muhamad. Religion is a tool to control people. FROM HELL is about telling horror stories. It’s not about Satan or the devil, although, I do like to walk that line just to get a rise out of the religious right. My personal beliefs are to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Even your enemies or those who think differently than you. The moment you stop being able to convince someone of your position is when you start name calling and belittling them. You can never achieve anything that way. I highly regard all of the people who work for me and help me achieve the things that I do. Without them, the things I do accomplish would never happen.

How would you comment on religious extremism in the XXI century in the light of recent events in France?
People are stupid. I hate religion. God or Allah is just a figment in everyone’s imagination. People are so gullible. What happens to people on this earth is what we make happen. I studied biology in college, so I also have a scientific perspective on the world and view things in a very skeptical way. Sometimes, shit happens to people that no one can explain. Is that God or a ghost? A demon or an angel? I don’t know. I highly doubt it and find that to be very dubious. There are many things we can’t explain yet. They still don’t really know what the Pyramids were created for. And even if there are angels and devils, I’m not going to waste my time praying to them and waste this life hoping for a better life after I’m dead. So, I don’t really care. I have other things to worry about than to go to church every week. Thanks. I’d rather sleep. I get it. The churches or rituals and ceremonies are simply communities for people to gather in and feel accepted by other humans. Maybe I’m just a stoic and skeptical isolationist. I’d rather go to a concert or local show and watch bands than go to a church or ritual ceremony. People so devout to religion are the main problem with the human species. The cult. The single mindedness. Projecting their sins on others for what they really are. You know what they say, if you listen to the voices in your own head, you are crazy. But if you listen to the voices in someone else’s head, it’s religion.

A lot of bands have lost their incomes during the Corona pandemic, do you have alternate job in case this situation prolongs?
Nope. I’m rather fucked right now. Coronavirus fucked up the release of this album. This is the second time this has happened to me. When I released the first Down Factor album, “Pure” in 2001, the day I went to master it was 9/11. Sometimes, the world just sucks. No money. No job. Nothing. Just paid my rent for the last time that I can. Something has got to change. I have no idea what I am going to do.

I will ask you one question about the Corona. Which scenario is closest to you: realistic, apocalyptic, conspiracy theory or maybe something else?
Enough people are dead and enough countries are affected in serious ways that I do not think it is a conspiracy. If it was a conspiracy, it would be more localized to a single nation. If it is a conspiracy, then, it is a global conspiracy and the Illuminati has its foothold and we lost a long time ago, so then we might as well just continue living in The Matrix and not worry about it. Apocalyptic? From a creative religious perspective, yes, apocalyptic because it fractures the entire world and has created whole new divisions between people in order to conquer them. Such as the Antichrist comes and turns the people against one another. People who were friends are now enemies. How and why? Over politicians? It’s ridiculous. The virus has caused countries to close their borders. People regard everyone with suspicion. A cough is treated like the plague. So, when does Jesus come to save the day? Does he have a red cape or carry a sword like Gabriel? Are the Watchers going to intervene or let the humans die? Will we see the return of the Nephilim in the final battle against Satan? Will an asteroid fall from the sky and cause global extinction or just a tsunami that washes away the wicked. Great stories by the way. Just insane that people are willing to kill each other over it or die for it.

Since we are all mostly at our homes, how do you spend your days? Maybe you are already thinking about the new album?
I spend my days right now studying photography and video. I used to manage a giant rehearsal studio with 160+ studios, maybe 300-400 bands. I’m no longer doing that and must change professions. Before working at the studio, I was already studying video editing and production, so I have returned to that. I spend a lot of time editing and learning video production. The goal is to do product photo and videography as a new profession. I like editing. I like the creation aspect of video work. I’m also not as picky about what I work with when it comes to video production as I am with music. So, if you need any kind of video editing or production, I can hook you up. I edited “They Come at Night” and “The Witch”. So, you can get an idea of my editing and production style. I have done lots of other editing projects as well, but that is the metal stuff.

At the end, live stream concerts. What do you think about that idea? Have you seen any live stream shows and would you do one with From Hell?
No, no and no. It could be a good idea. It’s lot of effort and work to make something look good. And it just costs money. Since I’m not working right now, I can’t really afford to do that right now. It just costs money. I want to pay the people who work to make shows happen. The tech companies take too much money from artists’ creations. The artists should be making the lion’s share for having created the art. Can’t make any money streaming a show on the internet. It costs just as much with little return. It doesn’t sound or look good on a computer screen. Some people will have good systems, but most people won’t. There are problems with the stream connection or camera feeds. Might as well just film the show and produce a video instead of trying to do it live. And most importantly, there’s no audience to feed back the energy of the show. The energy that the crowd creates is the most vital part of every show. Without that, there’s no show. Just a production. Might as well make it a production. From an evolutionary point of view, the technology is growing and things have to be tried in order to get to the bigger and better things. Every success and fail paves the way. It’s cool. But, I can’t say that I participate. I would rather save the effort for a live performance or wait to see a band live. Even if it is a year away. And also right now, with Corona virus and social distancing, until it is safe to pack people into a club or into an arena, shows won’t be the same. With so many people dead from this fuckin’ virus, I would rather my band and the fans be safe before we play live again. But nothing will replace the energy of a live show.

Thank you so much for your time and cooperation. I hope we will see each other soon in Europe. Till than…