About Me

Interview with Hellripper

Hellripper is the project of the “one-man band” James McBrain, an Aberdeen Scotsman, whose fast music and memorable riffs, can make The Affair of the Poisons, one of the best black / speed metal albums of 2020. With 5 years of existence as Hellripper (although he has other projects, always solo), McBRain launches his second feature film, after Coagulation, of  2017. James agreed to answer our questions, about the new album, about him and his eclectic inspirations.Recording everything alone in his house, he is a person with a DIY approach and the results of which are destructive guitars and visceral songs, which put Hellripper as one of the most exciting names in the British underground.

M.I. – Hi! How are you? Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

Hi! I’m doing fine, thank you very much! 

M.I. – Why did you decide to create a one-man band? Did you want full control of your music?

Originally, Hellripper was formed as a one-man band simply because I could not find other musicians that were willing to play this style of music! I soon learned that I much prefer writing music and working alone for many reasons! Yes, it allows me to have complete control over the music and direction of the band which is a great plus for me, but it also means that I have no deadlines and I can do everything at my own pace whenever I feel like it at home!

M.I. - How did you come up with the name Hellripper?

It was just something that came into my head at some point! I thought it sounded cool and that it was a good fit for the style of music I wanted to play, so I decided to use it!

M.I. – You also did the same with other projects (Lord Rot, Lock Howl). And they all belong to a different genre. Is it a way to express your musical eclecticism?

Yes, I love many different styles of music and, of course, it would be silly to release a post-punk album as Hellripper for example. If I have material that is vastly different, then I would prefer to release it under a different name. 

M.I. - With such varied tastes, what are your main musical influences? Which ones inspire you for the music of Hellripper?

I am inspired by all sorts of music, although I usually veer towards guitar-based music in some form. Hellripper is influenced primarily by a mixture of thrash, speed, traditional and black metal, as well as punk and some hard rock.

M.I. - What are the main challenges of "being alone" in a band? In addition to having to pick up others for the live concerts, of course.

I think the main challenge is finding the time to do everything. I like to keep the band as DIY as possible and there’s quite a lot to do! Especially during busier periods such as when a new album is released.

M.I. – Now speaking about the new album… How has the reception been to “The Affair of the Poisons”?

It seems to have been mostly positive so far, and I am very grateful for that! I’m very pleased with how the album turned out, so I am glad that others enjoy it too.

M.I. - What is it about? What are the themes?

The album’s lyrics primarily revolve around the themes of witchcraft and the occult. Some of the songs are based on true events or legends and others are just fictional stories that I came up with heavily influenced by old horror b-movies.

Both “The Affair of the Poisons” & “Beyond the Convent Walls” are based on separate true events involving possession and witchcraft that occurred in 17th Century France. 

“Vampire’s Grave” is based on the true tale of the “Gorbals Vampire”. In the 1950’s, hundreds of children went hunting for this creature as they believed it had eaten a couple of local schoolchildren. The vampire was rumoured to roam around Glasgow Necropolis and kill and devour children with its large iron fangs.

M.I. - In this pandemic time and without live concerts being possible, how have you been promoting the album?

I’m always active on the band’s social media accounts and that has always been my primary means of promotion. Of course, Peaceville have also been doing a lot in terms of promotion on their end so that’s been great!

M.I. - You released your first album independently. Now, you've turned to a label. Was it necessary? Was it for more support? Was it to reach more people?

Yes, although I have always released my music independently, various labels throughout the years have put out physical editions of my stuff and have all done a great job! Peaceville is the first label that I have “officially signed to”, and it’s been going well! A big part of me signing with Peaceville is of course the ability to reach more people with my music and there are just some things that a larger label can do that I can’t do myself. There’s a lot of worldwide distribution for example which has been a great thing!

M.I. - Coagulating Darkness turned out to be more successful than you expected. Because it is a great album! Do you think you managed to keep the standards with The Affair of the Poisons? Or, perhaps, even surpassed the first album?

Thank you! It did receive far more attention than I initially expected, which was great! I do, however, think ‘The Affair of the Poisons’ is a better album overall. I think the songs are catchier and I believe the album is more cohesive overall than my previous releases. The production/sound is quite different this time around too and I much prefer it.

M.I. – Talking about the future… Is Hellripper a project that you want to continue alone or do you plan to include other members permanently?

I intend to keep Hellripper as a solo project for the time being. I love working alone and it’s a hobby of mine. Things are going well right now too, and I am very satisfied with the music I am making, so I see no reason to change.
I have said in the past however that if I stopped enjoying the process of creating Hellripper music, or if I felt that the quality of the music was starting to suffer then I would consider bringing in other people or changing things up somehow in order to freshen things up.

M.I. - Tell us more about yourself. When you are not composing or recording, what do you do?

Most of the time I am composing or recording! It’s my main hobby so that’s what I enjoy doing most. Other than that, I am a football fan and I watch quite a bit of TV.

M.I. - If you could go back to the past and watch 3 concerts you’ve never seen live, what would they be?

Metallica in the late 80s/early 90s.
AC/DC with Bon Scott in the late 70’s.
Iron Maiden during the Powerslave era.

M.I. - How is your writing process? Do you think of the lyrics first or the melodies? Do you give prominence to one instrument in detriment of another?

The writing process usually starts with a guitar riff. I will mess around on guitar for a while and write down anything that sounds usable. I keep a folder of riff ideas and song parts and occasionally, I will re-listen to them and try to expand on them if I can until eventually a full song is written instrumentally. Lyrics for the most part, are written when the rest of the track is fully recorded as this allows me to get a better idea of where vocals will work best in a song and what melodies and rhythms will fit at particular points of the song.

M.I. - Which instrument do you like to play the most? And the least?

I love playing guitar the most and am always just messing around at home. I think my least favourite would be vocals, especially when recording. Having to record several songs and doing several takes of each part to make sure things are sounding as good as possible takes its toll after a while!

M.I. - How is the Scottish underground metal scene? What bands do you recommend?

The Scottish scene has been growing in recent years and I would advise anyone to explore it! Check out bands like Disposable, Thrashist Regime, Vuil, Wound, Boak, Dog Tired & Tommy Concrete! There’s plenty more but that should be a good starting point, as that little list covers a few different genres.

M.I. – Plans for the upcoming years?

Just to keep creating music, and to keep enjoying it! Hopefully once things return to a somewhat normal state we will be able to get out and play shows again!

M.I. - Almost wrapping up… Do you know any Portuguese metal bands?

I know of a few! Alcoholocaust, Vectis & Toxikull off the top of my head! There are most likely quite a few more that are escaping my mind at the moment!

M.I. – Any last words for our readers?

Check out the latest Hellripper album, ‘The Affair of the Poisons’ out now on Peaceville Records, and check out Hellripper on all the usual online platforms!

M.I. – Again, thanks for your time, continue doing that awesome metal and stay safe!

Thank you for your time too! Cheers!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Ivan Santos