Few figures have proven as single-handedly influential on the recent history of underground music as Dwid Hellion. As vocalist and sole original member of Integrity, he’s spent the past quarter-century exploring the dark extremes of heavy music. Though his band was among the first to create the sort of metal/hardcore hybrid that would become immensely popular in the subsequent decades, Integrity were never able to follow the same paths to popularity as many of their followers.
Few figures have proven as single-handedly influential on the recent history of underground music as Dwid Hellion. As vocalist and sole original member of Integrity, he’s spent the past quarter-century exploring the dark extremes of heavy music. Though his band was among the first to create the sort of metal/hardcore hybrid that would become immensely popular in the subsequent decades, Integrity were never able to follow the same paths to popularity as many of their followers. On one hand, the band suffered from several breakups and reformations, constantly shifting lineups, and poor treatment by labels; on the other hand, they have always defined their music by an unwillingness to cater to the listening public’s expectations.
The band’s current lineup – consisting solely of Dwid and multi-instrumentalist Robert Orr – has existed for the past five years and, in that time, has crafted a steady stream of EP releases that have explored a rawer, more metallic side of Integrity’s music that was always present, but not always placed front and center. The duo’s first full-length release, Suicide Black Snake (set to be released by A389 Records and Magic Bullet Records on June 11th) is one of the most sonically varied and compelling albums Integrity has yet released, one more demonstration of their ability to evolve without straying from the elements that made them great in the first place. The band is also touring for several weeks, including stops at Maryland Death Fest and Chaos In Tejas. In anticipation of both the album and the tour, I managed to get a few questions in with Dwid regarding the past and future of his creative output.
Integrity has been infamous for (among other things) it’s shifting lineups, having had dozens of members over the years, but the past few releases have been written by you and Robert Orr. What brought him on board and what is it about his work that has continued to resonate?
Yes, the band has existed 25 years now. So, members have come and gone. Most have changed musical direction and left to pursue other projects, while a few others have left to pursue their employment/careers/family life, etc. Rob joined Integrity five years ago, just as we were mixing The Blackest Curse album. Shortly after, Mike and Nathan Jochum left Integrity to form the unique and original sounding southern occult act, Ancient VVisdom. After their departure, Rob and I decided we would write and record everything ourselves. Rob has given new blood to an old vampire.
How has your approach to songwriting evolved since he’s been involved?
Rob and I have a certain voice together when writing music together. While we often can anticipate the other’s next move, we can also surprise each other with something unexpected. Mainly we write the songs to please ourselves. So there isn’t a calculated attempt to appeal to any audience or demographic. We are our own audience, the rest are eavesdropping.
Suicide Black Snake strikes me as one of the most sonically diverse Integrity albums to date, managing to incorporate tougher-sounding hardcore, GISM-style metal/punk, and even some bluesier moments. Was it difficult to expand the recent developments in your music into a full-length, as opposed to the shorter-form releases that you had done since changing lineups?
I have always preferred recording singles. To be allowed to focus on one song and make it complete is the ideal approach to songwriting for me. A full length can become too overwhelming, with too many chapters. Oftentimes the individual songs might suffer the lack of attention that the song deserves. Rob and I demoed most of the songs on the new album and worked long and hard to make each song have its own individual voice and its own character before we began the recording of Suicide Black Snake. Focusing on singles and individual characteristic songwriting is not the most popular approach to songwriting if a band wants to appeal to a popular audience. It is generally perceived that writing a similar version of your last album over and over again is the ideal approach (according to many recording labels). But this is entirely boring and soulless. We write the songs that we wish to listen to. We have no one to answer to. And that freedom allows us to write songs that we enjoy.
Blues music created metal. Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil long before Black Sabbath took inspiration from a Boris Karloff horror film playing at the cinema in Birmingham. Before Jimmy Page discovered Aleister “The Great Beast” Crowley’s writings, Page was first obsessed with Robert Johnson. These are the roots of metal.
GISM were the first metal/punk band that I listened to as a kid. In 1984 I bought a compilation 2xLP titled Peace/War and it opened my eyes to GISM and Septic Death. Both bands have been incredibly influential upon my music and my artwork.
You were one of the first lyricists from a hardcore background to incorporate occult imagery and mysticism into what you wrote, an approach that’s become somewhat fashionable in recent years. Are there other artists who you feel are approaching such subjects with the gravity you’ve afforded them?
Danzig has always been an incredible songwriter. His lyrics, music, and imagery have created entire universes within themselves. His approach to the occult is always a unique perspective. Samhain/Danzig have always been among my favorite recordings.
Blind Willie Johnson, while singing predominantly Christian lyrics. I still find the Christian belief system to be heavily rooted in the occult, and his delivery is remarkable.
VVegas, one of the most forward thinking bands that I have had the privilege to record music with. A German expatriate living down under. A grandson with a unique voice on this dying world.
Vetala, Mons Veneris, Irae, Black Cilice, and several other Portuguese Black Circle bands exude a deep lyrical belief system.
Son House, again often Christian, but often blasphemous. A great dichotomy of the occult lyrical approach.
Oede, a one man band from Norway that plays his distorted music on hand made cigar box guitars. His approach to lyrics and music is a refreshing wind in this stagnant musical poison we are trapped in.
Ancient VVisdom, dear old friends who have found a new approach to occult music.
Cape Of Bats, an Irish-based horror occult band that has a vicious attack on 80s punk and black metal.
Charles Manson, his lyrics, music, and philosophical approach to the occult as well as life have always been a dangerous inspiration.
How has your relationship with these ideas changed as you’ve further explored them over the years?
I have learned more over the years, but i am always learning and experimenting and trying to fill in the missing pieces. We need to hold a global trial against the Vatican for their crimes against humanity and their theft of man’s history. It is amazing and incredible that they have been allowed to steal our history and wallow in golden thrones that they have built upon the blood of their conquered humans. A religion based on love that has used only bloodshed and rape as its tool of conversion. I admire their abandoned sense of humanity. But, I still wish to see them suffer and to be forced to reveal the stolen books that contain our true history. They are solely responsible for the dark ages which we have never recovered from.
You’ve spoken of the idea of terror and terrorism, and the term has found its way into the name of your label and many descriptions of Integrity’s music. How are you able to take an idea that’s based on negation and turn it into such fertile creative ground that, for all its darkness, has proven a cathartic, motivational force for so many?
“Cult,” “terrorism.” These are terms used to describe unpopular belief systems and those who wish to express these unpopular belief systems upon the masses. It is not to be ashamed that our ideas are unpopular. The world is full of followers who blindly accept what is put in front of them. Our belief system is unpopular in the spectrum of the world, so it is definitely deemed as “cult” and our expression of our belief system is defined as “terrorism.” If this creates fear in the hearts of the worms, then it brings joy to my heart. I am not fond of humanity nor its disease. Total extermination is our only salvation.
You’ve started two labels, Dark Empire in the ’90s and Holy Terror more recently, how does each reflect your outlook on art in general?
I started each label to allow the music that was not being heard at the time to be heard. These record labels are but a small reflection of my musical taste. I am also affiliated with the label Negromancy. Negromancy is a label that releases music from musicians that have built their own electric guitars and other instruments from found trash. It is heavily distorted and intricately rooted in the occult.
What sort of differences exist between the goals you have in mind for Holy Terror now and those you had for Dark Empire then?
There were never goals of success. Just a forced expression upon the stagnant music scenes.
Your son recently re-established Dark Empire to release a Rot In Hell album. What was the motivation behind passing that down to him?
My son is a fan of Rot In Hell and he wanted to release their record. I feel that the new Rot In Hell record is phenomenal and that my son and his Dark Empire have done an accurate continuation of the label. www.DarkEmpireRecords.com
Photo by Oede
You’ve spoken of a desire to continually move forward with your music and not dwell heavily on the past. How did the decision to remix and re-release Systems Overload fit into that mindset?
I did not remix the Systems Overload album. That was Integrity’s current guitar player Robert Orr and Integrity’s first guitar player Aaron Melnick. They are good friends and they decided to work together on a remix. The original mix was contaminated by the record label and the recording studio wishing to inflict their unwanted opinions on how the album should sound. Mixing it behind our backs. Now it has been properly mixed by Melnick and Orr.
You’ve recently been involved in projects incorporating folkier elements – whether that’s the Oede EP that you released or the harmonica playing on Suicide Black Snake. How do you feel that these complement the more aggressive side of the music you’re involved with?
I am not certain I would call Oede “folk”, unless you mean the “folk” of an outcast society of barbaric vikings poised on a blood soaked warpath armed with cigar box guitars and ten tons of distortion!
The harmonica and other blues-based instruments were originally used to convey the lament of human life towards their God(s). This should not come as a surprise that such spiritual instruments would be employed to exact the feelings of mortal hopelessness within a song. Popular instrumentation or approach does not interest me. I find most of the modern popular music to be boring and contrived.
You’ve been involved with a variety of side projects and collaborations over the years. How have some of your more recent ones (Vermapyre, Kill Life) differed from the older ones (Psywarfare)?
Vermapyre is new skin on an old corpse. Homemade electric guitars aimed at the hearts of the human worm. Psywarfare have a split 12″ coming out with Rot In Hell. It has been a thirteen year hiatus, so the time is right to bring back the sonic attack. Kill Life is a project that I am involved with that includes many of my friends and some rather legendary musicians. It has been quite an honor to be involved in a project that involves Mike from Eyehategod and Penny Rimbaud from Crass.
Given that you’ve been involved with more side projects recently than in years past, how have these factored into your larger body of work?
I have always done a variety of projects: Lockweld, Psywarfare, Roses Never Fade, and some lesser known ones. I do not have an opinion on the perception of all of my music as a whole. I suppose it reflects who I am in its bits and pieces. Unravelled and cut up over these projects. I am not certain I have been able to be fully successful with expressing how I truly feel through music, perhaps that is why I continue this assault.
One of the weirdest places I’ve heard of your music being used has been the recent Lil Bub And Friendz documentary. How did that come about?
The director, Andy Capper, is a close friend of mine. Andy felt that our song “Kingdom Of Heaven” would make a good fit for the “hell” scene of his feature film. I think when you see the film, you will agree that it works quite well in that context.