In a city that is largely dominated by the breakneck and frantic tempos of the thrash and death metal scene, it’s not hard to let some of the other subgenres fly under the radar. That can be applied to Calgary’s own Hellrazer, who have been bringing the masses their own blend of Painkiller-era Judas Priest metal for the better part of eight years.
Now on their third record – dubbed Operation Overlord – the band, including Gerald “Dr. Z” Zamponi (vocals, guitars), Stan Nakanishi (guitars), Simon Hirota (bass) and Shigeki “Kegger” Tsutsui (drums) is looking forward to getting back out onto the live circuit after a long and arduous recording process.
“We did it in pieces over the course of several months. We’re all professionals, we all have our own careers, so really, we took time on evenings and weekends to build it up bit by bit,” says Nakanishi, who took part in a conference call with BeatRoute that also featured Zamponi and Hirota.
The band explains they took their time with the album, which is being put out by Germany’s Dust on the Tracks record label. They have considerable distribution lined up and aspirations of “making it” in Europe, where they believe their target audience resides.
“We started writing the first songs about a year and a half before we recorded. Then, we didn’t really do a whole lot. We lost a bass player and tried to get a replacement in. Then, the three of us that are in the room right now just started working on a song at a time,” says Zamponi, who used to be the primary songwriter but has allowed for the band to take on a heavier division of labour.
That division is what Nakanishi believes to be key in their development and evolution as group, which shines through on Operation Overlord.
“I think this album is different than the previous albums, because I got to help out with the writing a little bit more,” he says, referring to their previous offerings, including the self-titled 2007 debut and follow-up, Prisoner of the Mind (2010). The band started out in 2004 as a cover act, dubbed One-Eyed Snake, but changed their name and approach in 2006. “I think we still build on all the classic ‘80s metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and with the album we brought in a lot of other influences,” he confirms.
Zamponi goes on to say that the band let more influences seep in from thrash bands like Megadeth and Slayer, while simultaneously channeling avant-garde groups like The Dillinger Escape Plan. The end result is a sonic metal assault that relies on chugging hooks, soaring vocals and blazing leads that has a heavy emphasis on the traditional style.
It’s a style that has never been exactly favourable here in Calgary, a scene that is, for the most part, immersed in the harsher side of metal. It’s something the Zamponi notes is more of a North American trend, while Hellrazer has a decidedly European flavour. Fitting with the notion, similarly influenced bands, such as the Kobra and the Lotus, have found success overseas.
“Most bands that we play with are really into growly death vocals. They’re all energetic and they’re all good at what they do, but they have kind of a style. People who come to the shows like that kind of thing. I think it’s more a North American thing,” he reasons.
It’s even more apparent on the lyrical side, where the band has remained in the worshipping metal vein with generally epic themes. However, they have incorporated more real time events to change it up.
“You write about things that are not too serious. This time there were a couple of things that were inspired by world events. ‘Operation Overlord‘ is really about the D-Day landing, right? ‘Raging Seas’ is about last year’s tsunami in Japan. Though, we still try to give a metal spin and make it not too serious,” offers Zamponi.
Hellrazer sounds like a recipe success in an era where fans are on the constant outcry for a return to the old school. If that is your poison, Hellrazer will surely please.
On Friday, February 22 head over to Lord Nelson’s Bar & Grill (1020 – 8 Ave S.W.) for Hellrazer’s CD release party featuring Warbird, Blackrat, and Edmonton thrashers Armifera.
By Brandon McNeil