Interviews

Interview: Alex Hellid of ENTOMBED

ENTOMBED. When people think of Swedish Death Metal, they are the first and foremost band that comes to mind. They are the originators and innovators. In a career that celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, they shaped a sound born from raw Slayer and Napalm Death worship to massively heavy, engaging Death Metal to a new spin on the genre that became known as Death ‘n Roll. All the while, they ignored trends, keeping pace to their own inner muse as they laid the groundwork for a genre that has spawned an infinitesimal number on bands now. That’s not to mention the infamous guitar sound pioneered by the band that has now fostered an industry-wide boom in pedals attempting to replicate its distinct, furious snarl. Below, is an interview conducted with original guitarist, Alex Hellid two weeks before the mid-May release of the band’s monumental Clandestine Live album. Read on for further insight into the history, the sound, and the future of Entombed.


ANTIHERO: So, you guys are releasing the Clandestine Live album?

Alex Hellid: Yeah, the 17th of May is the street date.

ANTIHERO: And that was recorded on November 12th of 2016?

Alex Hellid: Yes, it was the 25th anniversary to the day of the recording because it was the exact day that it was released by total chance. We couldn’t have planned it like that. Then things take time to finish and one little thing happens, and it delays things another six months. I had to change the sleeve for example, and that pushed it back to 2019. Things take time. We’re very happy with this live recording and it’s the first time we’ve actually released a proper live album that we are happy with ourselves. It’s been a long time coming so another couple of months was ok.

ANTIHERO: You wanted to make sure the final product was just right.

Alex Hellid: Yeah, of course. In 2017 was when we finished the editing because we filmed it as well. The mixing and editing were done in 2017 and we delivered a DVD/CD package to the people that had helped us fund this project because we did crowdfunding. That took a while to complete that, actually. Then after that we went into the next phase of how we do this as a proper release. We teamed up with the people at Sound Pollution here in Sweden and they were always the people that distributed Earache Records back in the day. So, we’ve been working with them for a long time and known them forever, so we teamed up with them for distribution for our Threeman Recordings. It worked out well, so we look forward to having a new team and structure and trying it out for this new live release now. They definitely are giving us their full attention so it’s really cool. It’s been a while since we put something out and did it properly with proper promotion so it’s really nice to be working with people that want to work with us and do their very best. It’s really cool.

ANTIHERO: How did you guys hook up with the singer and the bass player that played in the concert?

Alex Hellid: The bass player (Edvin Aftonfalk) is actually Nicke’s (Andersson, drummer) brother and he was probably born around ‘91 or ‘92 when the album was released. He and the singer (Robert Andersson), used to be in a band called Morbus Chron so Nicke suggested Robert to sing. When I, Nicke and Uffe (Cederlund, guitarist) met up again and started talking about doing this and working on new stuff, we actually recorded a few songs in the studio to just get a vibe. We ended up doing a Death cover, “Evil Dead” and “Supposed to Rot” off the first album. We had this idea to do maybe 7”’s or something just to tell the story of the songs. Then we’d have a new version that we could control ourselves and do like a companion song which would have in one way or another influenced the album track, in this case, “Supposed to Rot”. We used to do “Evil Dead” back in the day when we did our early live shows. It’s a cool track. “Supposed to Rot” is kind of linked to the Evil Dead film and of course we all love Scream Bloody Gore. Anyway, Nicke asked if I had anyone in mind to sing and then suggested Robert so that’s how that came about. When it came time to do the show, we asked if he was interested. We asked Jörgen (Sandström, also from Grave and The Project Hate) who played on To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth, but he could not commit to the time period when we were going to play the show. I thought why not ask Nicke’s brother because he and Robert were in a band together. It worked out really well. It was awesome to have some new blood, actually. We were just very lucky with our non-auditions (laughs). We didn’t have auditions. We just ask people that we think will fit in and these guys fit in.

ANTIHERO: Are there any particular memories from that show that jump out at you, resound with you?

Alex Hellid: We hadn’t played these songs for a long time. I guess Nicke was the most…he hadn’t played this style of drumming in a while. The rest of us weren’t worried. He got right into it.  Uffe is probably the best guitar player I know. I wasn’t worried about the other guys, just mainly myself. Some of the songs we’d never played live so it was like going back 30 years and trying to figure out what was going on. Having Uffe is perfect because he’s got one of those memories that never forgets anything that he’s ever played, ever. So, we rehearsed for five days. Just building up to the shows was probably one of the things I remember the most. When you’re at the actual show, there are so many other things that it’s almost like you remember it from the photographs or watching the footage. It’s almost like a blur, the actual shows. There’s so much adrenaline and it’s such a short flash. The preparation and rehearsals before, I really enjoyed those.  We did a warm-up show on a cruise ship two weeks before because some friends of ours run Close Up magazine which is one of two sort of bigger Metal magazines in Sweden. They were having a 25th anniversary as well. They had been asking us to do one of the cruises they do once or twice a year. I really enjoyed the whole thing, actually. It’s great getting back together with Nicke and Uffe and it was great to have Robert and Eddie join us for this. Hopefully, we’ll get to do some more stuff with them.

ANTIHERO: Going back in the day, how long had you been playing guitar when you joined Nihilist (the band that went on to become Entombed)?

Alex Hellid: Not very long. I started probably around nine years old, but with a classical guitar. I was in third grade and we played sheet music. It wasn’t until I met Nicke in the summer of ‘86, and he was a little over a year older than my friends and I, he played drums and had a guitar and an amp. Meeting up with him was when I realized you could play music without a sheet of paper in front of you. You could actually play along to a record. That was when I forgot how to read sheet music. That’s how it started. I’d been playing classical guitar on a third-grade level for two, three years. Getting an electric guitar the same year we started the band, I was very fresh. Nicke was definitely a good person to show us how it was done because we had no clue.

ANTIHERO: Who were some of your early guitar heroes?

Alex Hellid: I grew up with Kiss and Iron Maiden, so it was probably those guys. When I started playing, I could never get fast so when looking at somebody like Yngwie, it was like forget about it. Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and people like that, I’d listen and be like, “no way”. I always loved the tone of a few people. Tony Iommi would be one of them, Angus and Malcolm Young, Brian May of Queen, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, I always enjoyed. When we started the band and started doing more extreme stuff, some of the guitar tones that I still enjoy and think had great tone was the guys in Obituary. Trevor (Peres) has just an awesome guitar tone…

ANTIHERO: I just saw them two weeks ago…

Alex Hellid: Awesome!

ANTIHERO: They performed Cause of Death all the way through.

Alex Hellid: Cool! I love ‘em. I remember we did a festival in France probably around 2011 or ‘12. For some reason, somebody was late for the show, so he was up there by himself just playing guitar for an intro. He had such a great guitar tone. That one guitar could be enough to fill up a festival by itself was just awesome. We met up with them in Canada, so he showed me his settings on his Marshall amp.

ANTIHERO: Really?

Alex Hellid: Yeah, he uses no high end at all and only uses the mid to get that tone. He’s got the treble all the way down.

ANTIHERO: That’s interesting.

Alex Hellid: Also playing the Fender Strat. I don’t know if he’s got humbuckers on there or single coils, but it just seems to be in his fingers.

ANTIHERO: Well, both of you really have simple set-ups.

Alex Hellid: Yes.

ANTIHERO: Back in 1987 or so, how would you describe the musical climate in Sweden in terms of Heavy Metal and Hardcore?

Alex Hellid: I guess there was some Punk stuff going on, but other than that it was probably Bon Jovi Hard Rock that we were sort of reacting to. Of course, we were quite young too so it wasn’t like we were going to venues. I was 13 so we weren’t really out in town going to shows. The stuff that was popular that I remember was the really commercial Hard Rock. The first couple of shows I saw was probably in’83, Iron Maiden. We saw the last show with Cliff Burton in ‘86…

ANTIHERO: Wow…

Alex Hellid: It was tragic because of what happened afterward. We were looking up to the Slayers and the Metallicas, but there weren’t that many shows. I remember we went to see Napalm Death just before we started working with Earache so that must have been like ‘88 or ‘89. Our early shows were in youth centers not in venues or bars or anything like that. The first Nihilist show was in my school (laughs)!

ANTIHERO: To be in a working band at such a young age, would you say that it was the band that drove your development as a guitar player?

Alex Hellid: Yeah, definitely. Also, it was like the first band. I’ve never been in these sorts of bands where you go around and meet a lot of people and jam. It’s always been this one thing. I guess I’m not the most versatile player. It’s not like I could join any band. I could probably fake it a little bit, but it’s not like I know every song and could join any band. That would probably be the case with Nicke and Uffe, they could probably join any band if they wanted to.

ANTIHERO: Did you find yourself at that time practicing and writing specifically for what your goals were in the band? Did you have a separate practice regimen?

Alex Hellid: No, since we weren’t experienced enough, at least not me, I wasn’t trying to write in a specific way. It was just trying to play anything and make some noise that you weren’t totally disappointed in. It’s very much like learning and not having a clue how to do it. Just from an understanding that you could listen to something and try to pick it out. That itself was a big thing so that kind of tells you what sort of level I was at when we started the band. After a while, you learn a few things and even if it’s not perfect, you like how you yourself make it sound. You can play something and it may not be exactly note perfect but you add your own little touch to it and it becomes your own little thing. I don’t really look at myself as a guitar player but more as someone who plays guitar and sometimes likes the noise I happen to make (laughs). Whereas I look at Uffe and he’s a guitar player because he can pretty much play anything and then figure out how to play it in different styles. For me, it’s more like I love the sound that comes out sometimes but I’m not skilled enough to play it in different styles.  For example, Uffe, when he’s talking about an album like Left Hand Path, he’s like “yeah, first I learned the songs, then I had to figure out how to play them cool,” but for me it’s like I can play them enough to pass (laughs).

ANTIHERO: At what point did you guys realize that Swedish Death Metal had really become a thing?

Alex Hellid: Much later. We always thought that we were just as we were. We were listening to a lot of U.S. bands, U.K. bands, and a few German bands. We thought we just ripped them off. It was what felt like much later, and understanding later that people would call genres of music after a distortion pedal like a Boss HM-2 pedal. Leif, our first guitar player was the guy who ended up buying that pedal the first time we, or he, used it. He was actually quite disappointed in the pedal, but I don’t think he could afford another one. So, he played around with it and the only sound he liked or sort of laughed about, he said, “oh, look at this. It sounds ridiculous when I turn all the knobs up.”. That became his sound that he used. We never thought anybody would pick up on that. Uffe took that sound and in the studio, Tomas (Skogsberg, producer at famed Swedish Sunlight Studio where Amorphis, Darkthrone, Dismember, and of course Entombed recorded) helped us put it together with the other guitar sound. He built something where the HM-2 was the extreme, and then there was a center guitar which together with the bass added a little bit of clarity. The HM-2, he would put hard left and hard right, and then we’d put a third guitar which would be my sound with a Boss DS-1 in the center with a clean bass. That’s how Tomas helped us develop that. In the beginning, we didn’t know if it was the guitar, the amp, or the pedal so when Uffe took over after Leif left because his family moved back to Canada, we recorded the last Nihilist demo, he borrowed Leif’s whole set-up because we wanted to keep the sound the same. We figured out, ok, it’s not this cheap guitar or this amp, it’s actually just the pedal. These days I think that it’s sort of in his DNA and in his fingers. I had this DS-1 and the sum of the two sounds became the sound of the record.  

ANTIHERO: What are your thoughts on the current pedal market now that it seems to be overflowing with HM-2 clones?

Alex Hellid: It’s quite funny. There’s this Kemper now that has a sound called 1990 Swedish Death Metal. I was doing some demos with a friend and he had one of those, and it was like, yeah, we can use this!

ANTIHERO: I actually used one of those for the first time just recently and it’s amazing how true to life they sound.

Alex Hellid: When we tour, the gear that you take with you, it sounds very different from venue to venue especially when you start using rented gear. It becomes an art form because every night you don’t know how it’s going to sound. With a Kemper, it’s like ok, you know that you’d have pretty much the same sound every day. If we do some proper touring, I’d be tempted to try one of those or have it as a backup thing for the gear that we carry around that’s a little bit less reliable.

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ANTIHERO: It’s such a giant leap forward in technology from say, the early Line 6 stuff to this. It’s incredible.

Alex Hellid: Definitely. I remember the guys in Meshuggah, they used something called Axe?

ANTIHERO: Do you mean Axe-Fx?

Alex Hellid: Yeah, they were using those, but they sounded, I don’t know how simple it was to get the sounds out of them. The Kemper stuff seems really simple, easy to use.

ANTIHERO: Do you find it annoying or complimentary that so many young bands out there are using those pedals to try and emulate that tone that you guys pioneered?

Alex Hellid: I definitely find it complimentary. It’s really cool. Usually, when people say, “listen to this, it sounds exactly like you guys,” I usually don’t think it sounds exactly like us, but that’s ok. I can hear what they mean. For example, I think it sounds maybe more like Dismember because they were sort of the same time. They started using the HM-2 pedals, but they used it on both guitars. So usually what I hear when people do that is that they probably do what Dismember do and use it on both guitars. I know both the guitar players in Dismember when we toured with them in 2010 or 2009, they used them on both guitars. We try to have different sounds instead of having two sounds that were the same.

ANTIHERO: It sounds better if you’re going to have two guitars, to have them sound slightly different. It gives an overall better sound.

Alex Hellid: Yeah, you get something that sort of becomes a third sound. It adds to it. If you do two sounds that sound the same, it sounds less aggressive or something. It sounds softer almost.

ANTIHERO: Almost like they cancel each other out…

Alex Hellid: Yeah, exactly, that’s the word I was looking for.

ANTIHERO: Are there any mysterious pieces of gear you use that we may not know about?

Alex Hellid: No, I mean I try to keep it as simple as possible. The only time I had to really start looking for more gear was when Uffe wasn’t in the band and I had to sort of fake two guitar sounds by running a few different amps at the same time. It was playing like three different amps and more about splitting the signal and maybe delaying one a little bit with some pedal and figuring out how I could kick them in separately and sort of control them. I quickly got back to my simple way when we started playing with Uffe again. For a while, though, it felt like I was trying to build a little city or something with pedals. It was quite fun trying to play certain parts where you play a little thing and loop it and then play something over it. It becomes more of an exercise. When Uffe wasn’t in the band for a little while, I really didn’t feel like trying to find somebody because I didn’t know where I would find somebody that played like Uffe even though it would have been easier to find somebody else.

ANTIHERO: When you use the DS-1, do you use that as a boost?

Alex Hellid: Yeah, like a boost. I try to run the amp as hard as I can to get the most out of the amp and then add a little boost with the pedal.

ANTIHERO: Your band has such a distinct sound when looking back at how Death Metal itself evolved, it seems like you guys evolved separately from the genre. What would you attribute to such a unique evolution?

Alex Hellid: I think it was maybe because we were listening to a few different things. It wasn’t just Metal and we weren’t only trying to steal from Slayer. We were trying to mix in a little bit of other stuff, the music that we were listening to. Maybe that, I’m not really sure. As I said, we didn’t really think that we were going out of our way to be different either. It was more trying to figure out how Obituary got that sound and Uffe figured out how they were playing certain chords. Uffe and Nicke really liked the B side to Napalm Death’s Scum, so that was an influence on the guitar sound. We took different things and put it together and of course, it’s not going to sound exactly like where the parts came from. I guess that’s why. Again, that’s probably how most bands do it also. I guess it’s a lucky thing that people think it sounds different enough to use it to describe it as a genre.

ANTIHERO: When I saw you guys live, it was on the To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth tour. To be honest, Entombed was the first Death Metal band I ever got into…

Alex Hellid: Cool!

ANTIHERO: After seeing that show, it hit me that yeah, you guys were a Death Metal band, but with a Hardcore delivery.

Alex Hellid: Yeah, when we first started the band, we didn’t start out to be a Death Metal band. We came from more of a Hardcore thing. We were listening to Suicidal Tendencies. We were skateboarding. And D.R.I., things like that. So yeah, definitely. On the first album, I think there’s still a few Hardcore riffs. Maybe on the second album, that’s more like a straight Progressive Death Metal album. Then after that, we felt like we had taken it as far as we could in the technical department and wanted to see if we could make it a little easier to get the live shows to sound better by simplifying things a bit. On the To Ride… album, I guess it was going even more in that direction where it’s less Metal, probably, and more, I don’t know where it went. It definitely started getting maybe a little muddier because the bass starting getting more distorted on the recordings whereas on the first two, three albums, it was more of a clean bass and Tomas Skogsberg always used to say that the distortion is in the bass so if you used distortion on the bass, it would tend to eat into the guitar sound instead of complimenting it. That’s probably why the albums after Wolverine Blues started sounding overly distorted. I wouldn’t say that Clandestine is completely distinct and clear, but it was more so than To Ride… and the albums that came after. That wasn’t a planned thing either. We weren’t trying to get more garage-y sounding. With this live album, I was happy to see some of the comments, and some guy said that he could pick out more on what was going on in the songs than he could on the original release. It’s fun to see if we can show people a little bit more about this album too.

ANTIHERO: Honestly, out of your whole discography, Clandestine is the one I’ve listened to the least. That’s not because I dislike it or anything just because of which albums I got at what time. It’s been cool preparing for this interview and going back and listening to the album, appreciating it more.

Alex Hellid: I guess since all the albums are different, some people that started listening to Entombed on the fourth album maybe don’t like the first two albums as much because maybe they didn’t grow up with that kind of noisier Death Metal. I was speaking to somebody the other day, a Swedish interviewer, and he said, “yeah, I was one of those guys who when you put out the fifth album, Same Difference, really thought it sucked”. He totally destroyed it. Now, he said he’d gone back and listened to it and really enjoyed it so that’s also cool. We confused a lot of people probably by changing from album to album.

ANTIHERO: When I was listening to Clandestine, I could hear signs of what was to come on the later albums. For example, “Stranger Aeons,” that groovy kind of riff that you guys were playing, you revisited it on Wolverine Blues and going forward.

Alex Hellid: Yeah, I think so too. Also, I think “Stranger Aeons” or “Evilyn,” Nicke said the basis of where he started the song was from some Van Halen song or something. There was a hi-hat pattern on “Evilyn” he took from a Van Halen song. Influences can come from wherever, but you take it and put it into the style of your band and hide it pretty well, where it comes from.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, I think one thing that speaks to the band’s longevity is that over the years, throughout the trends in Metal, Death Metal, you guys always went along to your own beat. Like when every band wanted to be super, super technical, you guys were more about the song.

Alex Hellid: Yes, definitely. We definitely tried to figure out how best to put songs together. That’s still what I enjoy the most with doing music, actually, is constantly collecting little things here and there whether it be words or titles or ideas and you try and build it into something that becomes more than the parts so it becomes memorable.

ANTIHERO: Are there any plans to put out any reissues? Specifically, I wanted to ask if you were going to reissue Morningstar at any point?

Alex Hellid: Yes, we do plan to do that. We did do reissues of To Ride…, Same Difference, and Uprising, and then the plan was to do the next three. There’s been a little break in those plans, but yeah, we’ll definitely make sure we do those albums too as soon as possible.

ANTIHERO: Do you have any plans to go into the studio with any new material?

Alex Hellid: Yes, actually I spoke with the other guys this week and it looks like the planets are lining up again so we can start recording some stuff. What I think will be the best will be to start releasing stuff where you record three songs and put them out. We did do that in between albums before also like putting out an EP. The way things work now if we’re going to wait around until we have four weeks in a row to write – we’ve never really worked like that in the past. The best thing now is to go and record when we have a chance to record and maybe put out 12” singles or EP’s and then compile an album once we have four of those or something. It looks like we can do that pretty soon. We were planning to record last year, actually, but then we wanted to start recording at Nicke’s place but he moved. Now he has rebuilt the studio that he had so he’s ready to go again. I don’t think it’s going to take forever. Dealing with so many things, sometimes it feels like it’s taking too long, but once we speak and you can hear that everybody’s still like “yeah, let’s do this”. I get really energized. We had one of those conversations this week and it feels like it can happen, and it won’t be like 2025 before we put something out. At least next Spring should be realistic especially if we don’t have to worry about putting out a full album. I think the most important thing for us as a band will be to get in a room together. It’s important not to put too much pressure on that. We actually have a couple of songs now that we can go in and start recording and just by being in a room together, that will lead to other things. That’s what I saw when we started rehearsing for the shows. When we got in the room together, it’s like we all got back into Entombed mode. Nicke wrote and demoed a song straight away also. I’m just trying to find an excuse to get everybody in a room together because it will lead to more songs, and I’m excited to hear what it will sound like. We’ll take whatever we find are the best parts from our first four albums and try and, as we always did, add something new. When we recorded the first three, four albums, there were always things we talked about doing and one of those things was actually like what would it be like to just go in and not have to record ten or twelve songs in one session, to do one song, finish that and mix it. That’s what we have left to try and it makes sense to do that now also.

ANTIHERO: Plus, the industry is completely different these days.

Alex Hellid: Yeah, it is. Then again, maybe it will just be full circle to what it was before when people only did 7”’s and it was all about the song. I guess the album is more, like you said, an industry thing that came later because you needed to sell, to charge a higher price, you needed to put more content on it. I don’t see any problems other than just getting our schedules to just be lined up enough. If it’s not like weeks and weeks in a row, then it’s more likely we can pull it off quickly.

ANTIHERO: Well, man, I’m looking forward to it, big-time.

Alex Hellid: Cool.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned before maybe using the singer and bassist from Clandestine Live?

Alex Hellid: Yeah, but when we record now, I think what will be natural for us will be to go and try and find a full band because that’s kind of not what we did back in the day either. I would say Nicke will probably play bass on recordings then we will worry about vocals. For the recording part and when we put the songs together, we can just do that ourselves then figure out who and when we want somebody to come in and put down vocals. We’ll see what the song needs. You can say it will be sort of what we did during the recording of Clandestine, actually, because we didn’t have a singer so Nicke ended up singing on it and he was never really happy with his vocals. We have recorded some stuff off the first album just to tell the story about the songs.

ANTIHERO: It’s been an honor. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.

Alex Hellid: Cool, thank you!

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