The Hounds of Hasselvander

Released way back in late 2011, “The Ninth Hour” should have already been heralded as the return of a legend. Led by Death Row & Pentagram sticksman and multi-instrumentalist, Joe Hasselvander, with old comrade in arms, Martin Swaney on bass, everybody should have been quaking in their boots. This is heavy. This is dark. This is inspired. Why you did not purchase it as quickly as Pentagram’s “Last Rights” or Victor Griffin’s “In-graved” remains a mystery. But it is never too late for redemption….

Welcome Joe to the realms of Pariah Child. Thank you for taking the time to grant us audience. What have you been doing since “The Ninth Hour” tolled?

Well, as a lot of people know, I have been on an extensive North American Tour with Raven supporting our long awaited DVD documentary, “Rock Until You Drop (A Long Day’s Journey)” chronicling the band’s rise to fame in the 1980’s and it’s new found resurgence today. I am also heading up a few new projects with other people set for release in the near future. I love keeping busy.

When speaking to Cosmic Lava last year, you described how you were now painting with much broader musical strokes and it would be difficult to argue that the latest album was neither diverse nor captivating yet still wholly cohesive. So how has your approach changed? Why do you think you have achieved so much here and now? Experience? Hard graft? Undiluted vision?

From all of my playing with different bands and years of vinyl archeology, I feel that I’ve tapped into the real essence of what makes real Heavy Metal tick. It has its roots in so many things musically and emotionally. A lot of tragedy, high strangeness and triumph. It’s much easier to create when you have thrown off the shackles of popular opinion and just rock with the truth that is in you.

While the album was recorded by a band and the sound is undoubtedly rich I still find it fascinating that you handle all of the song writing as well as the lion’s share of the roles as singer, guitarist and drummer. Does this ever pose problems? Do you never get stuck?

No, actually it is much easier that way as I hear in my head, the whole band while I am writing the music on guitar. I can produce an album much faster that way as I already have all the various parts of the rhythm tracks mapped out. The overlaying stuff I save for discovery towards the end of the session. That is often times where the magic happens.

Who was responsible for the cover and how do you feel it captures the mood of the album? For me, there are echoes of the debut Black Sabbath album with the thick undergrowth suggesting the passage of time and the lonely figure in black an omen…

The cover came from a group of photos that were taken next door to the studio where I was recording. There was a group of old tobacco barns and an old imploded house. I was seriously worried at the time about a proper title for the album and a correlating image for the cover. When we reviewed the shots at the end of the day, this image stood out like a sore thumb and said “Use me”. Originally it was black and white and at first just looks like an old decayed structure when suddenly your eye is lead to my figure behind the old vines and scrub grass like the sudden sighting of the ghost of the person that once lived in this ramshackle heap of weathered wood. Quite freaky, actually. When I saw the job Black Widow did in augmenting it, I also caught the first Sabbath album vibe. I like ours a lot better. It also represents the bumpy road I had been on for a few years where the struggle was hard without much return. It kind of says, “Here’s my empire of decay”. Ah, but that’s Doom.

Delving into the lyrics, there is not a strict story from start to finish yet the songs are bound by recurring themes of doom and redemption. The title track warns of time passing and the impending Armageddon. But not without hope, given the tone of “Restless Soul” and “Coming of the King” so ultimately would you consider it to be an honest, reflective and uplifting record?

The lyrics are from my observations of the way society has gone into a hyper-drive tail spin because of its money, sex and power fetish. Sexy is no longer about sex and money is all about who you can bribe. The people who don’t think inside this narrow box are usually seen as throwaway and outdated by the rest of the world and shunned for actually having integrity. It’s a true Twilight Zone episode in real time. I had no shortages of lyrical content.

“Suburban Witch” and “Salem” share a different theme in common. Given that the latter most be relatively close to your Massachusetts’ home, have you a burning interest in the history and folklore?

There is always a grain of truth in all folklore. Sometimes you find that it’s no exaggeration and things can get dangerous if you pursue it too closely as I have learned from personal experience.

“Heavier Than Thou” is a feisty anthem! It could equally apply to any number of relationships or rivalries. Was it written with anybody particularly in mind?

It was originally about my days with Pentagram and a few other so-called employers who secretly hated me and were trying to discredit my work and my personality. I never realized how jealous they were of me. They read me wrong because they wanted to, because I had become some kind of threat to them which was totally fabricated or imagined. I have always worked with people fairly and they know this but you can’t argue with a narcissist nor expect them to have any of your interests at heart. Karma’s a mother and this is what the song is about.

Your rousing rendition of “Don’t Look Around” slots in rightly in to the album proper! I like it when a cover feels at home within a body of work rather than an awkward spare part tagged on to the end. But why this song? Does it capture the wild untamed side of your youth as a musician on the road?

It does capture that in a nutshell. I also once played with Leslie West back in the 1970’s and he truly gave me my first big break. He was a consummate professional despite his career setbacks. He is a very strong willed man that you can’t keep down for long. He has proven that over and over. This was my tribute to him and my favorite song by Mountain.

Now if I understand correctly, “Ancient Rocks” was recorded in tandem with “The Ninth Hour” yet it is wholly a covers album dedicated to the early ‘70s Hard Rock like Jerusalem and Bang. I find it strange that in your youth you fought so hard to break free from the limitations of the covers circuit yet would dedicate such time and energy to this pursuit all these years later! What has changed? What was the motivation? Old friends, comfortable in the skin, knocking out classics for fun?

These were the songs that defined my teenage years and had me perfectly aligned to go forward on my own journey through song writing. These bands were a tremendous influence on how my taste developed in music and they were the best in my estimation. They were all pretty famous in their time but have been all but forgotten today. My parents were both teachers and I think a lot of that rubbed off on me. I find myself constantly educating people that there was life before Metallica. A lot of my efforts have paid off especially with my large Facebook crew who are for the most part, light years younger than me. Did I also do it for fun? Absolutely!

Judging by the artwork released by Black Widow Records, “Ancient Rocks” will be represented by a mysterious old stone structure. Fitting themes. Was that your idea? Given that you had thought it would have surfaced by now, what is the revised timescale?

I toyed around with a few ideas with the title in mind and was one day contacted by a man who was selling artwork for album covers. The first one I saw was called “Ancient”. It has an old stone abbey with a Druid elder standing among the fallen columns looking out upon the remnants of a war torn world.

There had been talk that you would tour to promote “The Ninth Hour” on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with Martin Swaney, Russ Strahan and T.C.Tolliver. Did either happen last year? If you intend to hit European shores, will you give me enough warning to save up a few pounds for my flights, unless, that is, Ireland is on your itinerary?

I had fully intended to tour with that line up but no one could pay enough for us to make a buck or even cover expenses. I don’t perform for free and never have unless it is a benefit for a worthy cause. The other guys in the band also have to be paid as they are old hats at this. These things happen because there are at times, too many bands out on the road. They would rather book something that has been around a very long time I think. The Hounds are relatively new. If an adult-minded offer comes, we are there.

Given how vast your musical legacy has been to date and that it is still expanding, without any sign of the threatened autobiography, please would you recall and explain the following choices:

My favourite instrument to play is drums.

My favourite line up I have played with is the current line-up in Raven.

My favourite album I have had a hand in writing and recording is The Hounds Of Hasselvander’s debut album.

The song that most captures who I am is “Pull The Switch”

Thank you Joe for so much top class heavy music over the years! I’ll see you in Manchester with Raven in November for my birthday bash. The final words are yours…

Well folks, I’m not likely to stop creating the very best and heaviest music I can for you. This is a life journey that doesn’t stop until the engine seizes up. Rock Until You Drop!!! Cheers.

And Manchester was flattened! What a killer band. For all manner of vivid memories from the man himself, you would do well to set some time aside to read

Danny Angus
September 2013

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