With Hell Unleashed, Evile may have just delivered one of the most explosive comebacks in recent memory. And for drummer and founding member Ben Carter, its release is a watershed moment, as Rich Holmes discovered…
It has been eight years since we’ve had any new studio output from Evile.
Eight years since the Huddersfield thrashers put riffs to wax.
Eight years which have seen Evile lose two original members, a guitarist come and go, and one of the band’s founders return to the fold.
These years of inactivity and turmoil could have spelled the end for many acts.
But the band are made of stern stuff.
Or Yorkshire grit…
April 30 will see Evile burst back onto the metal scene with Hell Unleased, their fifth full-length.
It’s a rapid-fire, high velocity opus which harks back to the band’s sensational debut, 2007’s Enter The Grave.
Hell Unleashed sees the return of guitarist Ol Drake, who left Evile a few months after the release of 2013’s Skull. As well as bringing his sensational fretwork back to Evile he’s also assumed vocal duties, filling the frontman’s role vacated by his brother, Matt, who announced his departure in 2020.
And it’s an Evile debut for rhythm guitarist Adam Smith, of rising Brit thrash outfit RipTide.
For drummer Ben Carter, the band’s only constant since the mid-noughties, Hell Unleashed has huge emotional significance…
“It’s a massive deal for me personally,” says Carter. “The past eight years have been really tough.
“I invest my life in music to the point that’s it all I know how to do and when you don’t have an outlet as a creative person it really gets you down… in more ways than one.”
The reaction from fans to Evile’s return, however, has been “mind blowing” according to the drummer…
“Our fanbase hadn’t really dwindled and I think we have one of the most honest, loving fanbases out there of any band,” he says. “People haven’t flocked away from Evile in any way and we have hardcore fans who stick with us throughout whatever crisis the band seems to be going through.
“We have had a few people message us about Matt’s departure, but that’s natural. People have favourite singers and favourite musicians and if they have looked up to Matt for a number of years in some capacity then obviously they are going to notice his departure more than anyone.
“But we had to pull our socks up, re-jig a little bit and brush ourselves down and get on with it.”
The rebirth of Evile
Evile supercharged the reigniting noughties thrash scene with Enter The Grave and its follow-up, Infected Nations.
And they battled through the aftermath of founding bassist Mike Alexander’s tragic death to deliver 2011’s Five Serpent’s Teeth and Skull two years later.
But the post-Skull years saw the band stagnate and flounder.
The band seemed lost.
Time moved on without any real progress being made and Piers Donno-Fuller – who came in to replace Ol Drake in 2014 – never recorded an album with Evile.
“Six months turned into nine months, which turned into a year, and that turned into two years,” says Carter, reflecting on that difficult period. “And before you know it this weird complacency set in and you were rolling with the fact that you’re not as active as you were.
“We didn’t know what to do for a new album. We were working on some new ideas but nothing solid.
“The tours dried up and then with Ol’s departure, that kind of stuck us in the mud a little bit as well.
“We become complacent. Being inactive became normal for us.
“Looking back now you can see how devastating that could be for other bands. A lot of bands wouldn’t survive eight years away from releasing albums.
“We thought (a new album) would never happen at some points. The horizon seemed to be getting further and further away for us.”
Carter, though, is justifiably proud of the band’s reignition… and what they’ve created in tracks like Gore, Disorder and War Of Attrition.
“For us to come back after eight years with an album as strong as Hell Unleashed is a testament to the level of resolve we have as a four piece,” he asserts.
“As far as comeback albums go – if you want to class it in that pigeonhole – I think it’s really, really strong. And I think it is going to do us really well.
“It’s certainly getting a decent push from our new label, Napalm.
“It’s exciting. We want to be active so much now. It’s made us realise – or re-realise – our passion for music.”
And the apprehension ahead of its release this month is “through the roof” according to the sticksman…
“It’s crippling anxiety mixed with a certainty that we have recorded a really good album this time around. Not that any of the others were sub-par by any means… but something is a little bit different with this new one.
“Hell Unleashed has teeth. It has aggression. And it has a little bit of something that has been missing on the last two albums, I think.”
He continues: “The new dynamic is great, not that it ever wasn’t with Matt, but Matt had a very deep way of working. He wanted to leave a lot to interpretation and a lot to the listeners to figure out themselves, especially lyrically.
“This time around we have tried to be a little bit more direct and are harking back to the Enter The Grave-era stuff, in terms of subject matter and the urgency and immediateness of how it is presented.
“A lot of the songs are straight to the point, no meandering, no 12-minute opuses or anything like that.
“We just wanted a short album that hits hard and showcases the technical, fast aspect of the band.
“We wanted to get the thing that made us get into music in the first place… and that was the speed, power and aggression.”
For Carter – who delivers a powerhouse performance throughout Hell Unleashed – this approach was welcomed with open arms.
“I personally missed playing stuff that just ‘took off’ and that excitement of playing those songs,” he reveals. “I love getting my teeth into dirty mid-paced riffs and stuff like that, but I like changing right up through the gears and going full out.
“The new album definitely suits my way of playing.
“It’s a lot more involving as a drummer. I’m going to have to really be on my toes when we play the stuff live because there are certain things that are going to catch me out!”
So is Hell Unleashed Evile’s definitive statement?
“I think it is,” replies the Yorkshireman. “We are going to miss Matt and there’s no question that his departure from the band hurt us, but it’s all about how you carry on and go forward from that.
“When Matt decided to walk away from the band, we kind of panicked and said, ‘who can we get that has the same level of flair on guitar but also knows the material and has the range vocally?’.
“It made sense for Ol to come to the front of the stage and take over from Matt. He is a founder member as well, he is hungry for it and the enthusiasm is there.
“Ol can turn his hand to anything given a bit of time, a lot of naysayers are saying how is Ol going to sing songs like In Memoriam and how he is going to be with older material, but people need to realise that Ol is Matt’s brother so the vocal structure in the architecture of the throat is pretty much the same. The only difference is that Matt has being doing it a long time.
“Ol knows how to sing and he is no slouch musically, we all know that.
“I’m pretty sure that six months down the line, a year down the line, it will be completely second nature to him because he is so virtuosic on any instrument that he turns his hand to. I have got no reason to disbelieve that his voice won’t do the same.
“Very much like Jeff Waters, he can do anything, he has that ability to just be good at something.”
He continues: “Finding Adam to take over the rhythm guitar part was the easiest thing in the world.
“Adam’s other band RipTide is an amazing up and coming UK thrash band, he’s a fantastic lead player, he’s a great rhythm player and is a great vocalist, and it all made sense to shuffle the band round in that way.
“The line-up we have at the minute is so positive and everything is lined up the right way and it feels like we are in good stead to kind of make a real crack of it again, whereas before there were times when we thought, ‘what are we going to do next?’.
“This new album is the perfect chronological evolution of Evile.
“I think it’s the album we should have made a long, long time ago.”
Evile and the renewal of thrash metal
Thrash metal was on the wane on the 1990s, caught between the onslaught of grunge and the emergence of nu-metal. Its power was fading… and fans who’d salivated at Reign In Blood back in ’86 were stagediving into the death metal scene for more brutal kicks.
And while the genre has never seen another ‘86/’87 heyday, thrash surged once again in the late-noughties, thanks to the likes of Municipal Waste, Warbringer, Gama Bomb… and four mates from Huddersfield.
Fast forward a decade or so and Power Trip t-shirts proliferate, Kreator headline festivals, and acts such as Virginia’s Enforced and Derby’s Devastator are releasing incendiary debut albums.
“It was amazing,” says Carter, when recalling Evile’s early days… and their place in the thrash revival. “We always thought we were the anomaly, in that we thought we were doing something that no one else was doing because thrash died out ages ago.
“Then we started gigging and travelling further afield we realised how many like-minded people there are and how big the scene was.
“We never really saw ourselves as the ‘spearhead’ of a movement or anything like that, we just loved doing what we did and we still love doing what we do.
“We don’t see ourselves as the saviours of thrash, we were just in the right place at the right time.”
Carter concludes: “If us doing what we do has somehow inspired other musicians and younger bands such as RipTide to lace up some hi-tops and play some thrash, ace!
“If I have inspired one drummer to pick up some sticks and smash the hell out of a drumkit, job done. I couldn’t be happier.”
Hell Unleashed is out on April 30 on Napalm Records. Read our review here.