Whatever your stance on metal’s ever-growing assault into the mainstream, one thing has always rung true; it’s in the underground that this music thrives.
Well below the surface of populist culture. In piss-, blood- and alcohol-soaked half-empty music venues. In decrepit, semi-soundproofed, mouldy practice rooms with second-hand, creaking, weathered instruments held by music-obsessed wannabes, inspired, via the sounds of anyone from Sabbath to Pantera, Venom to Slipknot, to create music for the sheer fucking rush of it. This is where the still-beating heart of heavy metal lives.
And though, for the most part, this is where it stays, that doesn’t make it any less valid, or less thrilling. But what happens when one of those bands escapes and begins to actually, bizarrely, rub shoulders with the sort of artists that you’d be more likely to see on children’s television rather than opening an all-day festival at The Underworld? Welcome to the weird world of Hang The Bastard.
“It was an overnight change,” says vocalist Tomas Hubbard. “One day we were doing some gigs in Tunbridge Wells and then the next day we were getting an invite to The Brits afterparty. I mean… it’s ridiculous.”
“THE STRENGTH OF THIS BAND IS THAT WE’RE ALL JUST A NORMAL BUNCH OF LADS WHO HAPPEN TO LIKE BIG, FUCK-OFF RIFFS.” TOMAS HUBBARD
Let’s back up a bit. If you’ve been au-fait with the UK hardcore movement over the last five years or so, then you’ll doubtless have heard the name Hang The Bastard – infamous for their extreme live shows and just for being the heaviest and nastiest band operating within the scene’s confines.
“We were always the most metal band at any gig we played, we never fit in fully,” Tomas explains. They grew more and more alienated from hardcore as bands began to favour energy drink-glugging and br00tal neck tattoos over actual musical endeavour. With a raft of lineup problems and the general apathy surrounding the band, they were close to calling it quits.
“The game-changer was being asked to do Download 2013. Our former vocalist, Chris [Barling], had left and we were basically winding down, we’d been doing so much more touring around the hardcore scene in the years previous to that,” Tomas reveals. “I was playing bass at the time, so we didn’t have a vocalist. Then we got asked to do Download, which set off this snowball effect. Download was huge compared to anything we’d ever done before, so we thought, ‘We have to get a singer,’ and that was what saved Hang The Bastard.”
With a goal in sight, it was imperative that the band found a new vocalist. They discovered that the right man for the job was sitting under their nose the entire time.
“We tried out a few vocalists, but weren’t really happy with any of them. We wanted to go heavier and move away from the hardcore sound,” sighs Tomas. “I’d done backing vocals on Rivers Edge and so one day Sam [Rice, guitar] just said to me, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I was a bit hesitant, but we knew we wanted to go heavier. Obviously, I’m a totally different vocalist to what we were used to, and it just worked. It always sounded a bit odd having the hardcore shouting over these really sludgy, doomy riffs, you know what I mean? We booked a little tour so I could bed in, so that I could be a frontman five times before our biggest ever gig, or Download would have been my first time ever fronting any band! Slightly overwhelming! Ha ha ha! And that’s the point where all of this madness started.”
The madness, as Tomas puts it, would consist of a packed and wildly enthusiastic tent that included various members of Down losing their shit during Hang The Bastard’s set at Download, followed by appearances at Sonisphere, supporting Black Sabbath at Hyde Park (a gig Tomas calls “The biggest honour the band has had or will ever have”), support slots with King 810 and Entombed (the latter being “one of the biggest influences on us as a group”), a record deal with Century Media, a management contract with the Jay-Z-affiliated Roc Nation Group and a new album, Sex In The Seventh Circle. A situation that Tomas deems, “All very strange!”
Which, of course, it is. In fact, Tomas appears to be selling the situation short – this isn’t just strange; it’s practically unheard of. This isn’t Of Mice & Men breaking into the Top 40 with a bunch of chart-friendly, catchy, pop rock anthems. One listen to Sex In The Seventh Circle will be enough to convince you that there’s some devious black magic at work here. Rather than becoming poppier and more radio-friendly, Hang The Bastard are now more vile, more demonic and more hopeless than they’ve ever been. No mean feat considering their back catalogue. …Seventh Circle is a stunning record, combining riffs that are as monolithic, black and sludgy as boiling tar with Tomas’s strange, pained, high-pitched screeches that place the band somewhere between High On Fire and Darkthrone. These songs are daring, challenging and violent compositions. Certainly not the usual Roc Nation fare…
“The thing about this band has always been the compromise between us as bandmates and friends,” says Tomas. “We are all into different music, and we all manage to meet somewhere in the middle. So the hardcore element, the traditional metal element, the more extreme metal influences, the doom and the stoner stuff, that’s all in there. We made the album that we’ve always wanted to make.
“All this stuff that’s happened to us is all very nice and very surprising, but the strength of Hang The Bastard at the end of the day is that we are all just a normal bunch of lads who happen to like big, fuck-off riffs! Ha ha ha! We’re not interested in being the next big thing. We don’t have a pretence or an ego. Even as things have got bigger…”
It’s very rare that a band get more successful the heavier they get though, isn’t it?
“Yeah, it is,” Tomas laughs. “I guess we’re lucky that we just went out, irrespective of what industry people were going to think, and made the album we wanted to make and they, the outside influences, liked it.”
“IT’S BIZARRE SEEING OUR UGLY MUGS HANGING NEXT TO SHAKIRA’S.”
It’s clear that there is no forethought or interest in garnering mainstream acceptance here. Think about it: the album title is Sex In The Seventh Circle and the band are called Hang The Bastard. Does that sound like they’re aiming at Beliebers and Directioners? Clearly not.
“Well, it’s not a punk rock ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!’ kind of thing,” explains Tomas. “It’s just reflective of the member change and the dynamics of the band. With both the backing and chemistry we have we’ve been able to do more sonically and creatively. Not just with music, but with themes, artwork and visuals. And we’re just nerds, you know? Warhammer and game-playing and so forth is all we talk about, so we can explore these ideas more in our music and our image as a band. And I think, if you look at the album cover or watch our new video, our passion for that really does come across.”
So, again, how did this band, playing this music with these themes, end up sharing management with Kylie Minogue?
“We’ve had the same manager for as long as I have been in the band,” Tomas explains. “And through the hard work that he’s done with bands like Mallory Knox and, more recently, Slaves, he got noticed by more mainstream management and set up with Three Six Zero Group, who are affiliated with Roc Nation. I guess, due to our relationship and loyalty with him, we were able to piggyback onto that. It is odd, but it means that we now have a week to record an album rather than a few days. And when we go into the office our picture is there on the wall… hanging next to Shakira’s! Ha ha ha! It’s a very bizarre feeling, seeing our ugly mugs next to all these beautiful pop stars.”
For those of you who dare to dream, and refuse to budge on the ethos, ethics and principles of metal, this is a story as inspiring as it is unreal. The DIY sludge metal band who are now poised to scare the crap out of the mainstream. Long may they reign.
Sex In The Seventh Circle is out now via Siege Of Amida. Hang The Bastard will tour with Entombed in November.