Australian Guitar - - Feature -

Hard­core and opera don’t gel in much (or any) of a tra­di­tional sense, but Hel­lions live up to their name­sake in that they don’t re­ally care about your rules. Their 2016 opus,

Oper­aOblivia, beau­ti­fully mar­ried the pit-start­ing gruff­ness of their punk roots with the histri­onic grav­ity of a baroque mas­ter­piece.

It was an am­bi­tious feat, but one that paid off in spades with unan­i­mous crit­i­cal ac­claim and a string of sold-out tours across the globe. So it only makes sense that its fol­low-up would not only con­tinue on that path of dra­matic grandeur, but kick it into ab­so­lute over­drive.

“We’d al­ways been build­ing to­wards what we achieved with Oper­aOblivia,” de­clares gui­tarist, bassist and – start­ing with LP4 – co-lead vo­cal­ist Matt Gravolin. “We sort of found our iden­tity there, and I think the defin­ing fac­tor of our iden­tity is that the­atri­cal el­e­ment. So this time, we just wanted to re­ally cap­i­talise on that, and the melodic side of our sound, and re­ally sort of up the ante.”

Rue – named for its over­ar­ch­ing theme: the du­al­ity of man’s in­evitable mo­ral con­flicts – be­gan life as a sprawl­ing, 17-to-20-track mecca dot­ted with bal­lads, in­ter­ludes and the oc­ca­sional “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody”es­que epic. Multi-part cuts like “Blue­berry Odyssey” and “Theatre Of The Lo­tus” chan­nel that opu­lence (their snarky, vaudevil­lian un­der­tones would feel right at home in a Tim Bur­ton flick), but in shav­ing down the al­bum to just a breath over 30 min­utes, they’re un­der­cut with jams like “X” and “Get Up!” – huge, boom­ing an­thems de­signed for the dance­floor. “We wanted it to still be quite arty, for lack of a bet­ter word, but we also wanted it to be, like, a ‘bangers’ record,” Gravolin says of the al­bum’s struc­ture. “We didn’t want to me­an­der around too much or have the record be too lengthy. It needed to be a big punch from start to fin­ish.”

Of course, craft­ing such a mon­u­men­tal re­lease didn’t come with­out a few hic­cups – namely, the fact that Hel­lions spent three times as long as they nor­mally do in the stu­dio.

“Oper­aOblivia was recorded in one month, but it took us three to record Rue,” Gravolin ex­plains. “The pres­sure might have got­ten to us a lit­tle bit, and we might have done a bit of over­think­ing, but that’s okay be­cause it brought us to where we got in the end and the record that we love so much. We ini­tially planned to spend two months in the stu­dio, just so we’d have am­ple time to ex­per­i­ment with some things, and it was sup­posed to be re­ally easy­go­ing.

“But when we ended up with be­tween 17 and 20 songs, we ran into some stylis­tic is­sues. We tried a lot of dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic, and I guess we weren’t re­ally done with the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion by the end of it, so we had to come back for that third month. It was a strug­gle, hav­ing to be hon­est with our­selves and say, ‘Is any of this new stuff any good? Does it have a place on this record?’ Hav­ing that hon­esty about us was prob­a­bly the big­gest chal­lenge, I think.”

The ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that Hel­lions em­ployed on Rue didn’t just pay off – it’s paving the way for the Syd­ney four­some to be­come one of Aus­tralia’s hottest al­ter­na­tive acts. Es­pe­cially jaw-drop­ping is the in­ter­play be­tween Hel­lions’ broad stroke of gui­tar tech­niques; sel­dom else­where does pris­tine noodling blend so mag­i­cally with chain­saw dis­tor­tion and pit-split­ting at­tack.

Gravolin cites an ESP Eclipse with 73-gauge bot­tom strings as the nu­cleus for the lat­ter, with credit for those crys­tal-clear rhythm tones due to a rather unan­tic­i­pated source: a Jack­son Pro Se­ries Sig­na­ture Mark Mor­ton Do­min­ion (say that five times in a row).

“We have a very good friend over at Fen­der,” Gravolin says of how he fell into the piece. “He’s al­ways looked af­ter us with amps and gui­tars, and he re­cently of­fered me a Jack­son en­dorse­ment. I just freaked out. I was very hum­bled to have been asked.”

And though Hel­lions are far from your av­er­age bub­blegum ra­dio-rock band, it seems a bit out of place that Gravolin would grav­i­tate to­wards the metal-cen­tric gui­tar made so fa­mous by the Lamb Of God ax­elord. But as Gravolin ex­plains, the piece was just too spe­cial not to snatch up.

“I’ve never been much of a fan of heavy metal look­ing gui­tars,” he ad­mits. “But [our friend] had given me this mag­a­zine to flick through and I saw the thing that I’m play­ing now, and I just fell in love with it. It’s such a gor­geous gui­tar! So I loved the look of it, and then I sat down – y’know, ob­vi­ously I needed to hear it – and played it for a while, and it was just won­der­ful, man. Love at first sight, love at first play.”

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