Interview: All Hell at Shadow Woods

Photo: Charles Nickles

Hot off the release of their third record, The Grave Alchemist, North Carolina-based blackened thrash trio are having an exciting year. In addition to the release of their album, All Hell have played Shadow Woods Metal Festival and been announced to play the second Decibel Metal and Beer Fest coming this spring. Decibel caught up with All Hell vocalist/guitarist Jacob Curwen and drummer Kurt Henderson before their set at Shadow Woods to discuss The Grave Alchemist, playing outdoors and thrash metal.

You put out your 3rd album (The Grave Alchemist, Prosthetic) earlier this year. What’s the reaction been like? Have people been into it? Have you seen a bigger reception than your other albums?
JC: Yeah, it’s been really good. It’s our first official album on Prosthetic—they repressed our second album, The Red Sect, but this is our first one we did for Prosthetic—and the response has been really good. It got a lot of positive press and reviews and shows have definitely been looking up.

You haven’t played just yet, but what do you think about all of this? Are you excited to play? Have you played a lot of outdoor gigs before?
JC: It’s mostly been smaller fests and stuff that we’ve played outdoors. This is the biggest outdoor thing.

KH: Yeah, nothing outdoors with reasonable production, basically. We played a bunch of outdoor gigs that were not miked and stuff like that. It’s cool, but this is definitely a step up.

JC: We’re stoked to be here. We pulled up and we were like “Yes, this is a good place.”

You’re a thrash band, to some extent.
JC: Yeah, depends on who you ask. [laughs]

One of the things people say about thrash metal a lot, I think, is that it’s hard to do anything new or as soon as they hear that you’re a thrash band, you’re in a box… Do you do anything actively to avoid getting stuck in any tropes?
JC: I don’t think we’ve been pigeonholed too much as just a thrash band. No one would ever be like “Yeah, those guys are retro thrash” or “They’re part of the thrash revival” or whatever, but there are definitely thrash elements to our sound. We haven’t really been pigeonholed too much.

KH: We don’t do anything actively to not be a thrash band and get out of the box on that. I don’t think of us really as a thrash band, you know what I mean?

JC: There’s definitely a huge thrash element to our sound, but there’s also been the element of first wave black metal. A huge influence and inspiration on our writing and also just dark, death rock type stuff. Even going back to the first album, there’s Samhain influence all over some of our stuff. We’re big Christian Death fans, so it’s kind of an amalgamation of a few different things.

You put out the album earlier this year on Prosthetic and you’ve done a little bit of touring on it. Do you just go right into the next album?
JC: It’s usually how it works for us. We haven’t done too much writing for something new at this point in time, but the gears are definitely starting to turn. That’s kind of unusual for us; the way we did the first three albums, as soon as the first one was done, we started writing the second one. As soon as the second one was done, we started the third one. I would say probably three quarters of The Grave Alchemist was written before the second album actually came out. We try to stay busy and write well in advance.

How do you guys write? Do you do it as a group or does someone write a skeleton of something and bring it to you?
JC: Typically the way it works is I’m the main songwriter. I write the songs, and then present them to the guys at practice Kurt and Erik [Ballantyne], our bassist, and let them add their own elements to it and go from there.

How would you guys say your sound has changed over the three albums? Are there going to be be any surprises on the new album?
JC: I think there will always be surprises because one of our main things is we never want to make the same album twice. I guess our sound has evolved a little bit, a lot, actually.

KH: Like a fuck ton.

JC: The first record is a little bit more punk, and the newest one has a lot more death rock-ish influences. There’s some weird stuff. We try to keep it cohesive.

KH: So I joined after the first album, I joined for the second one, wrote that with them and then the third one and the first one, I came back and wrote over what the first drummer had done. From the first to the second was a huge jump. The songs I think got more complex and more interesting there—

JC: Definitely more complexity, not that there’s anything wrong with simplicity, but that’s just the direction that it’s gone in. I would say the new one is definitely our most ambitious as far as all the different things we’re trying to tie together with it and also it’s our longest one by quite a margin.