If you will, it was Gothenburg’s own Helvetets Port who kickstarted the renaissance of traditional heavy metal in Sweden (and elsewhere). Formed in the early 2000s, their debut album »Exodus To Hell« was originally released on High Roller Records in 2009.
When Helvetets Port started out, there was no trace of bands like Bullet,
Ram, Enforcer or Screamer in their home country. But somehow they don’t get the kudos for being one of the first of a new generation of bands to believe that heavy metal was not dead. According to lead vocalist Tomas (Witchfinder), there is a reason for that: “The official releases of Helvetets Port always came a bit later than the ‘notion’ of our activities, I think. By the time we released the single, Bullet and Ram had also released stuff. I can't say since I don't have any stories to corroborate it, but it would be cool if we had somehow shown that ‘hey, you can actually have a heavy metal band in this day and age’."
As just mentioned, the re-issue of »Exodus To Hell« comes with the »Man With The Chains« EP as well as the band’s first ever 7” single »Metal Strike« as bonus material. Tomas explains: “The first Helvetets Port song ever written was ‘Heavy Metal Night’, in 2000. Then the two other songs from the single were written in 2003, as well as some that would later end up on the album. We started recording »Metal Strike« in 2005 when we had just become a three-piece band. The plan was to record everything during the same week but it turned out to be a bit more than we could chew, having never rehearsed those songs together until that week, and Inquisitor never having played them before then. So we recorded the drums, regrouped and then recorded the rest a bit later on. I remember that I used a microphone for the vocals that was just like a small stick, a three dollar thing meant for basic home PC use. I thought it gave a much older sound than a real singing microphone. To tell you a secret, that's what I also used for the video version of ‘Lightning Rod Avenger’ four years later. When recording the guitars, I used my distortion pedal and plugged that one into the computer by the 3,5 mm jack, which gives an awfully trebly sound - which was then dulled down using a low pass filter. Those were the crude beginnings of Helvetets Port!”
There is also a cover version of the song "Highway Rider" by NWOBHM
band Wolf to be found on the re-issue of »Exodus To Hell«, coming from a NWOBHM tribute compilation. “That's right,” confirms the Witchfinder. “It was originally featured on the »Granbretan Invasion« sampler. We are big NWOBHM fans and that's how I started my journey into the more obscure corners of 1980s heavy metal. Choosing a Wolf/Black Axe song was partly because we wanted to do a cover by a band that's not active at the moment, in the hopes of maybe lighting some form of spark. And of course, partly because it's from one of the best full-length albums ever made.”
When »Exodus To Hell« was originally released in 2009, it was not embraced by everybody, as Tomas explains: “It was kind of a watershed, a love/hate thing. And more of a people's record than a reviewers' record. Some people have always thought of us as a gimmick band, simply because they have no suitable frames of reference, or none at all, when it comes to old, serious heavy metal. We had almost no experience of recording in a studio, so in hindsight it would have been better to let it take longer, grind more takes and experiment a bit more with the arrangements. The album's sound still feels good, however, and the song material is rock solid.”
In stark contrast to Ram, Enforcer or Screamer, and many similar bands, Helvetets Port always tried to mould their own style of heavy metal, whereas a lot of other acts are content with sounding like a carbon copy of Maiden, Priest, Accept, Manowar or whatever. Helvetets Port were never like this … Tomas says: “I think that many of the Swedish bands around that time had kind of their own niche, compared to each other. Of course Helvetets Port were the most retrospective ones. It's hard to put oneself in another songwriter's shoes, but it seems common for contemporary bands to sound like they don't bring much uniqueness. But maybe they aim to do so, maybe most songwriters do. You simply hope that what you do is perceived as such.”
Guitarist Christian Lindell was an early member of Helvetets Port, he left to form Portrait in 2003. Now, just as Helvetets Port, Portrait are a very original and hard-working Swedish metal band as well, they too managed to cultivate their own style. “Yes, Christian was the first designated guitarist of the band, and a good friend to this day,” confirms Witchfinder. “However, we never rehearsed together. Actually, even before Helvetets Port was thought of, me and Christian toyed around with some heavy metal songs that had an eBay theme, which we sent to each other over the internet. My ‘band’ was called Item Description and his was Feedback. So if there are any bands of ours people may accuse of being gimmicky, it might be those...”