by Ryan Meehan
Integrity was and will always remain one of the most interesting and polarizing bands in the history of American hardcore music, even two decades after their seminal album “Systems Overload” shook the genre and made them legends. Hailing from Cleveland, brothers Aaron and Leon Melnick teamed up with vocalist Dwid Hellion to inject a new degree of metal into the hardcore landscape in the mid-nineties. On October 30th, Magic Bullet records released an official reissue of a 23 song collection entitled “Den of Iniquity” which is chock full of rare tracks and split 7 inch recordings. That very same day Magic Bullet also reissued the 20th Anniversary edition of the classic Integrity album “Humanity is the Devil”, remixed and remastered by Brad Boatright and Joel Fucking Grind of Toxic Holocaust. The importance of Integrity on so many subgenres of heavy music that we have come to be familiar with today cannot be stressed enough, and that’s just one of the many reasons I am happy to have vocalist Dwid Hellion as my guest today in ten questions.
RM: So are you currently still living in Belgium, or are you back in Ohio? How would you compare and contrast those two lifestyles of those locations and how they respond to the kind of music and art that you’re so well known for?
DH: I moved to Belgium 12 years ago, and where I live is quite inspiring. Belgium has a rich history and boasts incredible architecture and landscape. There are many abandoned castles that can be easily used to inspire ones imagination. My music and artwork is predominantly created for my own enjoyment, so the acceptance or lack thereof, plays little or no role in that process. I would say that there is a certain type of person that connects with what I am creating. It is not something for the masses.
RM: How does the way the Cleveland music scene is today differ from the way it looked in the mid-nineties when Integrity was at the forefront of the city’s underground heavy music collective? In what ways has it gotten better, and in what ways is it worse?
DH: To be honest, I would not know. Years ago, when I lived in Cleveland, my music was not focused on complimenting nor adapting to that of the local scene. We were doing our own thing. There are some cities where the geography dictates the style and sound of the bands in that area. And I think Cleveland had that as well, but it was not the style and sound that Integrity played.
RM: How would you best describe your current relationship with Aaron? When you were working on the remasters, were the two of you in the same room or did you show up on different days?
DH: I have a lot of respect for Aaron’s talent as a guitarist and songwriter. Aaron and I are rarely in contact these days. We communicate briefly when these re-issues are being put together. The remastering/remixing was done by Brad & Joel @ Audiosiege and sent the files to us through an online file transfer service for approval. I did not attend the sessions.
RM: Which aspects of an increased focus on those particular instruments coming through with more clarity and cohesiveness?
DH: The idea for the re-issues was based on the fact that our original vinyl records were selling on the resale market for prices that were priced far out of reach for our audience. We were approached by Clint from Organized Crime Records to re-issue those recordings and make the vinyl available at an affordable price. The next step was to update some of the artwork. Which would hopefully enhance the listeners experience and include additional imagery and liner notes/lyrics/etc. We have the master reels for those old recordings and decided to remix Systems Overload as a “Record Store Day” release. The reaction for that remix was overwhelming and the remix copies sold rather quickly. The label ended up making a version that was available to the public, and now we are working on a similar approach for “Humanity Is The Devil”. The remix series concept is mainly to use alternate vocal and guitar takes and integrate them into the new mix. To inject some new blood into the old corpse and see how it re-animates.
RM: I read an interview you did a while back with clevescene.com where you said “I have the ability to create that type of delusion and believe in it and convey it”…Do you attribute that character trait to what originally caused you to come up with the concept of “Humanity is the Devil” and the “Church of Holy Terror” in the first place? How long after you guys came up with that whole concept did you actually begin writing lyrics and developing a sequence to that disc?
DH: My character traits are where the lyrics and concepts for Integrity form. For good or bad, that is what I have to work with on my palette. I would not want it any other way. Some of those songs were written many years before that album was recorded. Since our first album “Those Who Fear Tomorrow” the concept of what would become “Holy Terror” was established. The lyrical themes on that album were the foundation. A dismal and hopeless apocalyptic view on humanity.
When we began pre-production for “Humanity Is The Devil”, the idea of releasing a “concept album” began to materialize. A concept album in the sense of how Iron Maiden or King Diamond would create, for example. Copies of ‘Humanity’ came with a small booklet that would help convey the concept and at the same time have the look and feel of a cult pamphlet that you might be handed on a dingy street corner in the late 1960s by an occultist spreading the Word.
RM: With regards to that record, do you think that if the band was able to achieve a greater sense of stability after that album was released that you might have actually been able to get a lot of younger kids who were interested in your music to start to believe some of the things discussed in the sleeve of that booklet? Was that your original intention to begin with; or did it just originally start out as a joke and then sort of snowballed into something where people actually started asking serious questions about the Church of Holy Terror?
DH: As I said earlier, I am not interested in other people’s opinion nor in converting anyone to my way of thinking. Integrity’s lyrics have been consistently rooted in the occult since the bands inception, so this was not a new lyrical direction nor a huge leap conceptually for the band. I am often asked this question of what if the band had a “greater sense of stability” and how we might have received a mainstream pop music type of success had we conformed to the rules of the music industry. The band was not created as a resource for the mainstream music audience. The belief that all music should aspire to be accepted by the masses is not appealing to me. I find this crude expectation that Integrity “could have been more popular had they conformed/compromised” to be short-sighted, vapid and adverse to everything that creativity stands for.
RM: If you had to summarize your working and personal relationship with Tony Brummel of Victory Records up until the band became distanced from the label in one paragraph or less, how would that paragraph read? How do you think the way he might answer the same question about you might affect to his willingness to allow labels like A389 and Magic Bullet to purchase a great deal of the rights to your back catalog?
DH: Tony Brummel is a businessman in the strictest sense of the word. I have not seen a royalty statement in more than a decade, and I have never received an iTunes statement nor payment for iTunes sales from Victory records, let alone Spotify. So I can amusingly relate to Tony’s recent public financial dispute with Spotify. (laughs) There is a conflict that I have regarding my perception of corporate financial institutions like Victory Records and The Catholic Church. Both are wonderful deceivers. I have a difficult time knowing whether to admire their corruption and hypocrisy or to despise it. Both are self righteous in their P/R, yet their actions are completely in contrast to their public preached philosophy. Often times you read about a musician who is immersed in the occult and darker philosophies who will condemn The Catholic Church for its corruption, for its unparalleled deceptions, its glorious hypocrisy…yet, the same musician will champion Satan. Condemning how “evil” The Church is, and how they are opposed to these acts of “evil” committed by The Church. I often wonder, if they realize that they may have it all backwards? Perhaps we need to rethink how we view these adversaries and perhaps even admire them for their brilliantly entertaining corruption. An evil so perfect, that they actually perceive themselves as the most righteous. That type of commitment to delusion is inspiring.
RM: One could make the argument that several different subgenres evolved out of the mixing of hardcore and heavy metal in the way that Integrity did…At the time did you ever think that what you were doing could have potentially been labeled as metalcore; and do you think classifications such as that one really hold any value whatsoever other than shithead journalists like myself using them in record reviews and interviews?
RM: How much time per week do you generally spend online? What kinds of things do you typically research when you’re in front of a computer?
DH: Too much. Mainly, I spend my online time communicating with my creative friends and working on projects. It is a helpful tool for me, as I live in Belgium and most of my creative friends live in other parts of the world. There is occasionally some content to find inspiration online. In the pre-internet days of the 1980s and early 1990s, the ability to read obscure texts was quite difficult. There were few resources for research. One of the best sources back then was Amok press, and later Feral House. Now almost every once obscure book is available online at the touch of a button. However, there is also quite a bit of corrupted texts and misinformation juxtaposed. Lies can also provide their own worthwhile reality and there is some merit to be found in that.
RM: Who are some of the visual artists you look up to that we might not be familiar with? What is so inventive about their work that you think connects with those who are interested in such a subjective craft?
DH: One of my favorite artists is Francis Bacon. His stark, belligerent brutality captivates my imagination. Pushead is another of my all-time favorites, and his artwork for Humanity Is The Devil is one of my favorite pieces of his artwork. As a boy, I would blindly buy albums based solely on whether Pushead had drawn the cover artwork. It was like a seal of approval. This was pre-internet days, so buying an album was always a gamble. Pusheads artwork on the cover would almost always guarantee an album worth listening to. Others would include, but not be limited to:
Sakevi Yokoyama, Ted McKeever, Ismaelta, Jan Svankmajer, Kent Williams, Barron Storey, Brothers Quay, Mike Huddleston, Patrick Bokanaowski, Ashley Wood, HR Giger, Gülden Hugo, John Heartfield, Guy Davis, Max Ernst, Ralph Steadman, Felicien Rops, Bosch, Al Columbia, Stephen Kasner, Bruegel, E. Elias Merhige, Vordb, and on and on and on . . .
RM: Will there be any artwork to accompany these two re-issues that was completed at the time of the albums’ initial releases but didn’t make it to the final cut of the records’ packaging? Conversely, is there going to be any artwork relative to the subject matter of the songs that has been done since then which will be included with the remasters?
DH: Josh Bayer has created some new artwork for the Humanity Is The Devil releases and I have created some artwork for the Den Of Iniquity release. The Humanity Is The Devil remix has a “re-mix” of the original Pushead artwork as well.
RM: Given the fact that you have been known to intentionally deceive the media in previous interviews throughout your career, how does a journalist such as myself as well as the readers of this website distinguish when you’re joking around and when you’re being serious?
DH: There is no telling.
RM: What’s up next for yourself and the rest of Integrity in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
DH: More re-masters & remixes are in the works and there are some new Integrity recordings that will eventually see the light of day.
Official Website: http://holyterror.com/
Integrity on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/INTEGRITY.HT
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