Hellripper travelled from their native Scotland to perform in front of a packed crowd at the last Damnation to take place at Leeds Student Union – before the festival crosses the Pennines to Manchester in 2022.Paul Castles grabbed 10 minutes with Hellripper’s commander in chief James McBain.
ZT: Hi James, so youmust be looking forward to finally playing a few tracks live from last year’s album The Affair of the Poisons? JM: I am yes! I’m very pleased with it. The album was actually finished about a year before it was released in October 2020, and the pandemic delayed things a bit. We had hoped to tour it but of course that never happened. But I’m happy with the music which is always the main thing to me and other people seem to like it which is a bonus. Some bands were affected much worse than I was by Covid, losing money on tours and so on so I can’t complain.
ZT:Was the approach with this album very different to your debut, Coagulating Darkness in 2017? JM: With each new release I try and incorporate some new element into the sound but I always want it so sound like Hellripper. The first album has a lot of speed metal influence. I was listening to Maiden, Steelwing, Angelwitch at the time but this time I’ve been listening to a lot of thrash like Artillery, Annihilator and Testament and so maybe that came through a bit more.
ZT:And has the actual songwriting process changed? JM: No, it’s still just me writing at home on the guitar and I then play everything at the recording.
ZT:So how does that solo approach align with stage shows? JM: I have my live band. These are the people I always go to for a show or tour but if any weren’t available I could get other people. With Hellripper there’s the studio which is myself and the live band which is a separate entity in itself. But the guys on stage with me are all very good friends and great musicians – I encourage them to add in their own things when playing so they can add a fill or different part where they can and that’s fine with me.
My ambition at the start was to release an EP for the local scene in Aberdeen – but I was snowballed with people getting in touch from the US and labels talking to me about shows
ZT:So beyond Damnation what gigs have you coming up? JM: Well of course we lost all the Euro dates we hd scheduled with Midnight which was very disappointing as they are one of my favourite bands, but when there’s nothing you can do you just have to accept it. We played our first show in 18 months at The Garage in London with Primordial and The Infernal Sea which was great and I always enjoy playing in London. The live line-up has four of us who all live in four different cities across the UK so that gig was the first time I’d seen the others in around 18 months. There will hopefully be a UK tour in the Summer followed by a few European dates if all goes to plan
ZT:Are there any concerns that Brexit or Covid-19 (or both!) may hinder travel plans overseas? JM: A little yes, some countries say you now need a visa and some don’t. There also seem to be additional complications I believe around things like merch, so everything seems to have been made more difficult.
ZT:And any recording plans? JM: Yep, we’re just trying to finish recording the new album now, hopefully that will be released later next year although industry delays around vinyl pressing delays don’t help. But we’re hoping to finish it off in January.
ZT:Have you any concerns on the long term impacts of these issues on the underground scene? JM: Well I now live in Fort William in the Highlands so there is not a local scene as such for me here. but I know some venues have gone and that the creative industries have suffered heavily through both Brexit and Covid.
ZT: Hellripper have done well since you started the band – How ambitious are you with the band? JM: I suppose I would like to take it as far as I can . Hellripper has been going for six years and playing shows for around four, so it’s still a relatively short time. But we’ve seen a gradual increase in popularity. It would be good to play bigger shows and in more countries. My ambition at the start was to release an EP for the local scene in Aberdeen but that snowballed with people getting in touch from the US and labels talking to me about shows. Now I’m with a good booking agent and label in Peaceville so I’ve a great team assisting me.
ZT:I’ve seen some Hellripper merch flying off the shelves at Damnation… JM: Good to hear! I commission it, order it and store the merch and post it out myself. There’s now so much of it to do I need some help! Sending hundreds of packages out when you’re also preparing for a tour isn’t easy but it means you get on first name basis with the local post office. I used to turn up with 100 parcels but now do shorter trips more frequently. I like to have merch that looks good but it still feels weird when I see people wearing Hellripper gear.
ZT: Does living in the far north of Scotland present additional challenges? JM: Yes, it certainly does mean there are additional complications around shows and tours. Even to get to Leeds today was a six-hour trip and London can be nine or ten hours hours. So it’ s a lot of petrol money and time taken in actually getting to shows.
ZT:Is there a life for you away from Hellripper? JM: Not much! I’m usually either songwriting, planning social media, on tours, designing merch or recording. Hellripper is now full-time for me and there is a lot of stuff to do but of course I enjoy it, and any down time is usually related to music, or listening to new playlists.