How Devil Sold His Soul changed UK metal

Devil Sold His Soul

British metal is in rude health in 2017. From the mainstream strides made by Bring Me The Horizon and While She Sleeps, to the fertile underground sounds of Venom Prison and Employed To Serve, it’s hard to remember a time when we’ve have had it so good.

But as we bask in the glow of a superb home-grown music scene, it’s worth thinking back to a time when it wasn’t as easy to be heavy, interesting and British. Sitting in the cosy back room of The Dome in North London’s Tufnell Park, the members of Devil Sold His Soul are reflecting on a journey that has featured highs, lows, hard graft and, most importantly, some incredible music.

“It was certainly a different time when we first started,” smiles returning original frontman Ed Gibbs, reflecting on the past decade. “You didn’t really think about commercial validation because…”

He pauses, as if the very idea is absurd.

“…I mean, why would you?”

Why indeed. We’re here tonight because Devil Sold His Soul are revisiting their debut album A Fragile Hope, playing it in its entirety to celebrate a decade since its release, with Ed returning to front the band for the first time since 2013, alongside his replacement Paul Green. It seems the perfect time to look back on the world that the album was born into.

“We were just looking at bands like Will Haven and trying to do our own version of it,” says guitarist Jonny Renshaw. “There were some really good bands around at the time we started: Johnny Truant, Beecher, Eden Maine, great bands. But they never made much of an impact to lots of people, so there wasn’t much point in thinking about our music in those terms.

“I don’t even think it’s our best album, I guess it just connected with people. I remember walking into a record shop and seeing it amongst all these bands that were huge and it just didn’t feel real. We just did what came naturally to us, hopefully it’s worked out alright.”

Sonically there is no arguing that it didn’t work out “alright” – A Fragile Hope still sounds breathtaking today. You’d be hard pushed to find a more perfect mixture of emotionally charged post-metal and scathingly violent riffing.

“It actually surprised me at how heavy it is,” laughs Ed. “When I went back to try and tackle the songs again, the vocals are really screaming, almost like black metal. I mean it’s totally impenetrable. I was finding out how to use my voice and what I could do with it. I wasn’t comfortable with expressing the emotions I had at that time, there are quite a few bad memories that come back when I listen to the album. It’s been goodto have Paul here with me so that we could do some new, something more interesting with the songs now.”

The inclusion of Paul is an interesting one. As a man who joined DSHS as a fan and now sings those songs, he has a much more detached view of the album.

“I was a huge fan of that record, it was really inspiring to me,” says Paul. “Some of the vocal lines and the really expansive nature of it was what made it really stand out to me.

“My previous band The Arusha Accord were much more tech, much more frantic, and they didn’t have that, but the way you could go deep and really seduce people was something that we found really inspirational. There was nothing really like it at the time.”

Despite this innovation, Devil Sold His Soul are not the name in metal that they maybe should be.

“From that scene it’s just us, Bring Me and Architects as the last men standing,” Ed says. “I think we have been guilty of just drifting along. I left because it became hard to motivate yourself, and I didn’t see the point of just doing it for the sake of it.”

“There were certainly times where I thought about giving up,” nods Jonny, “but this seems like a good time for us to be active now. The shows have been some of our best, the relationship between all of us is great; we’re not completely alone and just this weird band like when the album first came out.”

A few hours later and a sold-out Dome is standing in awe of Devil Sold His Soul mark III. As ever, the oppressive strobe lighting the band employ makes them stand out from 99% of the bands that play venues of this size. The added visuals of seeing both Ed and Paul throw themselves around makes it all the more exciting, but most importantly the songs from A Fragile Hope sound more grown-up and rounded, without scrimping on the visceral edge that made them so powerful originally.

If anyone had written DSHS off then this is the perfect riposte.

“The legacy of this album?” muses Paul, blowing out his cheeks as he thinks. “I still think it sounds great, it sounds cutting edge, but it fits much better today than it did back then. You just have to look at the reaction to it. Yes, there’s nostalgia at play, we have to acknowledge that, but I think that it is because it broke down a lot of doors for people. Not millions of people, but just some people that went on to make the music that our scene is producing today.”

“We do get a lot of people approach us,” Jonny continues, “people in bands, telling us how we influenced them. If we’ve played a part in making the scene what it is today, then I’m really very proud of that.”

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Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.