Interview: Jonas of Bombs of Hades
Interviewer: Paul Hutchings
Following the release of their latest EP, ‘Phantom Bell’ a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview one of the founder members of Bombs of Hades, guitarist and vocalist Jonas Stålhammer. Jonas is also a member of many other bands, including At the Gates, Darkcreed, The Lurking Fear and God Macabre as well as a project with former members of Crippled Black Phoenix. Bombs of Hades formed in 2002, released their first demo, ‘Meathook Diaries’ in 2006, their first EP, ‘Carnivores’ in 2009 and from there have produced four full length albums as well as several Eps and split releases. Jonas was at home in Sweden when I called him via Skype for an enjoyable conversation.
The Razor’s Edge: Welcome to The Razor’s Edge. How are things in Sweden with you now?
Jonas: Well, it’s kind of the same as everywhere I suppose.
The Razor’s Edge: And are you keeping busy? Can you do what you were doing before?
Jonas: I’m at home, so I’m doing a lot of writing and work on songs; that’s the only thing I can do now.
The Razor’s Edge: Can we start by going back to your musical history. I’m amazed by the number of bands you are involved with. You are of an age that you would have been around when the music scene in Sweden exploded. How did you discover music?
Jonas: Being my age in Sweden Kiss was an especially important band for most of the guys my age, those that started playing death metal, Kiss were the first band that got me into music at all. I have an older brother and he listened to a lot of hard rock, and a lot of other stuff, punk and reggae and there was always music blasting from his room and that got me into other stuff like Sabbath and especially Thin Lizzy, who became even more important to me musically than Kiss.
The Razor’s Edge: Kiss were one of the bands that first got me into music and for me it was the whole package, the imagery as well as the music. Was that the same for you?
Jonas: Yes, I think I was around three when my brother bought destroyer and just seeing that cover. Then there was ‘Detroit Rock City’ with the car crash and all the sound effects, that impacts on a three-year-old more than a great riff at that age!
The Razor’s Edge: Was the appeal of Thin Lizzy, because you are a guitarist, the style of their songs?
Jonas: Yeah, even though I think Paul Stanley is a great song writer and has written some fabulous songs, Phil Lynott was more poetic and the whole structure of the songs and the guitar playing. I loved Ace Frehley, but when I got into Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham their playing was special.
The Razor’s Edge: And how did you progress to the heavier stuff that you play with most of the bands these days?
Jonas: Well, then I heard Priest and Maiden and then Venom, and after Venom, who were not the best players. You know, before Venom, the bands were really good players but although they were not there was something about it. As a kid, you were always looking for the more extreme sounds, so you went from Venom to Hellhammer and Celtic Frost and then Metallica came along and the whole playing fast thing. At the same time I was also getting to American hardcore bands like Black Flag and The Misfits so the whole playing fast thing, it just became the most brutal stuff you could find and of course, when you got into the tape trading scene in the mid-80s, finding all the underground bands that were taking it even further.
The Razor’s Edge: When did you first take up playing the guitar seriously?
Jonas: Seriously, not until I was a teenager, but I started when I was about seven. My older brother had an acoustic guitar in his room and being eight years older than me, he wasn’t there a lot of the time when I got home from school so I was so I would go to his room and listen to his records and play his guitar and start to learn AC/DC songs. One afternoon he came into my room and gave me his guitar and said, “you’re going to be so much better than me”. He was struggling with chords and I was already picking things up by ear you know. I wasn’t learning the most difficult stuff, but I was learning. It wasn’t until I was 12, 13, that I started to form a band, and it wasn’t until about 1987/8 that we formed a real band with four people in a rehearsal room. Before that, there was one guy and me, he was the bass player in my first band, we had been playing together since we were seven or eight, and we couldn’t always find someone to play drums, so we’d just jam.
The Razor’s Edge: Do you listen to much new music?
Jonas: I listen to a lot of the same stuff but when it comes to metal I don’t listen to new music, there isn’t much that excites me. I’m not really interested in what is going on now, it’s been with me my whole life and it just doesn’t excite me anymore. I’d say I’m through with it, listening wise. If I do listen to it, I put on old stuff, you know, like the first two Autopsy albums, or Entombed, or ‘Ride the Lightning’ or early King Diamond. I’m a pretty devoted record collector and I’m into a lot of prog stuff. If you read what Mikael from Opeth likes I’m very much the same tastes as him. I can always spot the stuff he lifted off other bands in his songs!
The Razor’s Edge: You are a member of several bands. In terms of creativity, is it helpful to be working with such a wide range of musicians? Are you able to draw influences from each band and utilise them into new ideas for other bands?
Jonas: Just playing in a bunch of different bands with different people is one of the things I really like. You get to feed off the musical energy of different players; of course, a lot of the bands feature the same members!
The Razor’s Edge: Let’s talk a bit about Bombs of Hades. Your Biog says you started out in 2002 with the intention of playing some crust punk and drinking beer. It’s changed a bit since then!
Jonas: The first few years, the band was active drinking beer and bashing out crusty death metal. It didn’t go anywhere and I didn’t have any ambitions with it but then in 2006 I just got heavily into Autopsy for a weekend and I just went to the rehearsal room and did three songs, playing everything myself, and it turned out so well that I thought maybe we should do something with this and me and the bass player (Anders Ekman) asked the drummer and the guitar player to join and make it into a proper band and they agreed. After that, I didn’t know anyone in the scene and it became an underground thing, releasing on small labels.
The Razor’s Edge: You have released four albums and I believe that there is a fifth in progress?
Jonas: Yes, the plan is to record it in September/October, to do it before the next At the Gates album so it is over and done by then.
The Razor’s Edge: You favoured EPs in the earlier years, plenty of splits as well, but this is the first EP since 2011’s ‘Into the Eternal Pit of Fire’. What’s the reason for ‘Phantom Bell’ being released now? Is it just to keep people aware of the band?
Jonas: Yes, it is. I realised that we won’t get the fifth album out until early 2021 and as it’s four years since we released anything apart from the vinyl version of the seven-inch compilation.
The Razor’s Edge: I was listening to your albums today and your sound has progressed and developed over the years, with the Mellotron appearing more and more orchestral sounds. Is it an organic thing, is it natural to blend it all together?
Jonas: Yes, there is Mellotron on the ‘Carnivores’ EP, we’ve used it on almost every release, and Mini Moogs and stuff. It’s the stuff that inspired me. If Discharge were trying to sound like Opeth, that’s what I describe our sound as. We aren’t as good players as the Opeth guys. I want to have one-foot sounding like Motörhead. High of Fire are a big influence on us. They have a sound I think we can be close to.
The Razor’s Edge: Certainly, the Motörhead link is apparent. A band close to your heart?
Jonas: Oh yes, to all of us. Two of the band plays in a band called Puffball, who sounded more like Dwarves but Motörhead was a big influence on them too.
The Razor’s Edge: ‘Phantom Bell’ includes a cover of Townes Van Zant’s ‘Lungs’ although I admit I didn’t connect when I did the review. What was it about this song?
Jonas: All of us are huge fans of Townes Van Zant, he was a great songwriter and an incredibly special, yet tragic guy. Since I always listen to music, I listen to stuff that grabs you. I have a list of songs that in the future I’d like to do a cover of and it contains everything from Townes Van Zant to ‘Intruder’ by Peter Gabriel and it was actually between those two songs as to which one we did on the EP. The lyrics are so dark and haunting, the phrasing of the lyrics was perfect. His version is mainly acoustic and the whole flow of our versions was more of a mash up of ‘Orgasmatron’ and the original.
The Razor’s Edge: It’s only been out a couple of days. What’s the initial reception to ‘Phantom Bell’ been like?
It’s been good so far. We are getting recognised more since the last album. I really wanted to make a different record and people are getting more into it. We don’t sound like the typical Swedish death metal band.
The Razor’s Edge: I would imagine your diary has changed in recent times. What does the future hold?
Jonas: We weren’t booked with Bombs of Hades to do gigs, but we had a full summer with At the Gates planned which has gone now. There was bunch of stuff planned and Bombs of Hades have a show planned in September which may still go ahead (featuring Per Wiberg). There was some other stuff planned, an album with all ex-members of Crippled Black Phoenix. We were supposed to record two weeks ago in the UK, but it didn’t happen.
The Razor’s Edge: So, you are just waiting to see what happens.
Jonas: Yes, I’m working of the Bombs album and there is the new At the Gates album and The Lurking Fear album; a lot of song writing going on which is nice after having been on the road for two and a half years.