Track Premiere + Q&A: Kevin Hufnagel – ‘Pulse Controller’

Photo: Cathlin Goulding

By now, guitarist Kevin Hufnagel has garnered a reputation for writing and performing some of the most original and challenging music in extreme metal. His work with Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, Vaura, Sabbath Assembly and others has earned him many accolades and his influence on extreme metal is undeniable. On top of the bands he’s played with, Hufnagel has an extensive solo career, which continues with new album Messages to the Past.

Inspired by the likes of Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy and Mercyful Fate, Hufnagel turns to a new page in his extensive discography with Messages to the Past. Hear the first single “Pulse Controller” exclusively through Decibel and continue reading for an interview about the new record. Messages to the Past will be released on June 29 and is now available for pre-order through Translation Loss.

Your new album is entitled Messages to the Past, and you’ve described it as a return to your roots as a guitarist. Can you elaborate on that a bit? What are your roots, and why was it important to you to return?
Phases as a musician, like phases in life, are a funny thing when they come full circle. After a series of rather experimental solo albums focused on abstracting guitar sounds as much as I could, I had the urge to do the exact opposite. I wanted to try my hand at making a more straight forward, traditional instrumental guitar album. I grew up in the 80’s, so my roots are from that era. That’s when I received my first guitar and got into music. I took the things I love the most about my influences from that time (the dark, minor-keyed riffing, big harmonies, melodic approach to soloing) and hopefully put my own weird spin on it. There are also moments on the record that go beyond those early influences, but that was the foundation.

There are no drums, bass, vocals or anything but guitars on Messages to the Past. Do you find it more or less difficult to write music for just guitar compared to a full band?
True. Yes, I knew right from the beginning I wanted the record to be all guitar. I thought it would be a bit unconventional, especially for the more metallic pieces, to write these multi-layered guitar instrumentals and not have any of those full-band elements you’d expect to hear on such a thing. I don’t feel like I’ve heard too many records like that. Maybe there’s a reason? Ha! I don’t find it any more difficult than writing for a full band, just different. I have to say, it was super fun to write this material.

You cited acts like Randy Rhoads/Jake E. Lee-era Ozzy, Mercyful Fate and Fates Warning as influences on this album. What is it about that era of heavy metal that appeals to you?
The moodiness, the mysteriousness and the atmosphere of a lot of those records resonated from any early age, and those qualities became ingrained in me. I don’t think they will ever leave, no matter what type of music I’m writing.

You have a rather hefty solo discography (I’m counting 12 releases), and many of them sound quite different from the others. Are you more comfortable constantly exploring new sounds rather than dwelling in the same musical sphere?
Definitely. That’s the best part of being a solo artist. I still see many other directions to go in, and things to do with the guitar, that I haven’t yet.

Were there certain emotions, themes or ideas you wanted to convey when you wrote the record?
Being that this is instrumental music, I like to clue people in to such things through the song titles and artwork, but beyond that I never want to get too specific. There’s an aura to this record that, for me, evokes certain childhood memories (outside of music). Days of exploring forests with friends or watching eerie TV shows in my parent’s log cabin. Some people have said these songs have a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic vibe or erotic thriller feel to them as well. That makes sense since I was also inspired by some of my favorite film soundtracks. If it gets people seeing or feeling things, even if they are wildly different, then mission accomplished.

On top of your solo career, you play or have played with Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, Sabbath Assembly, Vaura and more. People feel very passionately about a number of records you’ve played on–does that create any pressure or expectations for you? And if so, how do you deal with that when writing?
I never feel any pressure from outside sources when working on music. Perhaps that is the bright side of having a small audience. The only pressure I feel is usually just living up to my own standards.

The art for Messages to the Past looks very mystical. Who created it, and what makes it a fit for the music on Messages?
I’m very pleased with the artwork. It compliments perfectly the nocturnal, escapist ambiance of the album. I was searching for imagery with the atmosphere of those paperback sci-fi/horror book covers from the 70’s and 80’s. Or perhaps the long-lost twin to Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian album cover. Through some searching online, I came upon the work of artist Bryan Olson. I wrote him an e mail explaining I wished to purchase some of his work for my album design and he agreed. His art is fantastic. You can see some of his other album covers and further works here.