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With fourth album 'Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden' just out, Comrade Aleks wanted to have a chat about it with Hex A.D. founder Rick Hagan.

Interview with Hex A.D..
"There were two men at the foundations of Hex A.D. back in 2010 - Norwegian drummer/vocalist Rick Hagan (who played live with Blaze Bayley, Paul Di'Anno and Tim 'Ripper' Owens) and legendary UK sound producer Chris Tsangarides (who worked with such artists as Black Sabbath, Bruce Dickinson, Judas Priest, King Diamond, Anvil and more). This interesting collaboration led Rick to a unique amalgam of Doom and Progressive Metal, with some vocal parts strongly reminding me of Lee Dorrian's exalted shouts and artwork created by Dave Patchett himself! The bad thing is that Hex A.D. remains a dark horse of the Doom scene, but maybe that situation will change with the release of their fourth album 'Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden' and this interview with Rick?"

Hex A.D. (Photo: Arash Taheri).

Hi Rick! How are you? Did the coronavirus panic reach your place?

Yes… Norway is basically shut down by now!

Okay, we're here to talk about music anyway… Rick, it's said that Hex A.D. is the brainchild of you and UK producer Chris Tsangarides (R.I.P.). How did you meet each other?

He contacted me via MySpace back in 2010 and wanted to work with my old band 21st Century Rox. At that point the guys in that band were on very different places in life, so we broke up and I went to Kingsdown alone to record with Chris. He was working in The Ecology Rooms - the studio in "Anvil the Movie", and he arranged for me to stay in a flat right next to the studio.

Why did you join Hex A.D.?

A doomy and classic heavy sounding band has been my vision for over 20 years, and as my previous band fell apart, I took the chance to see how my vision would turn out. Besides I can't suppress the kind of music that comes naturally to me.

(Photo: Arash Taheri).

How much of Chris is in Hex A.D.'s first album 'Even The Savage Will See Fair Play'? Did you work on songs together from the start?

Well, I must say that a lot of the songs were written and arranged before I went over to England, and my playing and singing would have been basically the same in a different studio. Chris' magic lay in getting the sound and the engineering. He had a great ear for tonality and sonics. Listen to his works with Priest, Sabbath or Lizzy… I mean the guy was a magician in the studio.

So was it you who set the concept of Hex A.D.? Who come up with the band title?

Yes I came up with the direction both musically and image wise. My previous band had hints of what Hex would eventually become, but it had a bit more of a raw edge. Where 21st Century Rox had a nasty unpredictable element, Hex became more refined.

I came up with the name without realizing there were so many other bands called Hex. I decided to go for a minimal alteration to avoid any confusion, but still keeping with the original identity.

Hex A.D. - 'A Spitting Image' (Official, 2015):

You performed all the instruments alone on this album, how hard was that session?

Yes I did. At that point I was playing drums for Paul DiAnno and Ripper Owens and in a band with Rowan Robertson (Dio) as well as having been the singing bassplayer in 21st Century Rox for 10 years. I have always played a lot of guitar at home and made demos where I have played everything myself, so even though it might sound strange, it felt quite good to blast out my own vision in that way with Chris behind the desk. It wasn't hard; it was actually one of the most enjoyable sessions I have ever done! Furious passion!

Do I get it right that the album's artwork was created by David Langbach? Did you just ask him to imitate Dave Patchett style or was it his decision?

No! David Langbach was just the guy who put the gatefold together and took the pictures. The coverart is of course by Dave Patchett. It's a detail from his 2008 painting Wedding At Cana On Planet Evian.

How did you manage to get his painting?! And do you have an option to have personal artwork strictly for Hex A.D.?

I got in touch via Dave's old website. He has always been super cool about his art. Both the artwork for Last Nail In The Coffin Lid and the new record are Dave's. Both are my visions and ideas that he has interpreted. So yeah - we've already has artwork made for Hex A.D. all the way back to 2015.

I didn't find the songs' lyrics, what is 'Even The Savage Will See Fair Play' about?

They are printed in the gatefold sleeve of the album… hehe… well there isn't a concept to the record, so all the songs deal with different topics. 'Wicked Is As Wicked Does' is shamelessly inspired by Hellraiser, but for instance 'Fields Of Gehenna' is a menacing portrait of the crucifixion of Christ.

Hex A.D. - 'Rapture' (2015):

Despite the album's high potential you released it on your own. How long did you look for a label before releasing it DIY?

Well, I got a local vinyl to press it and release it here in Norway. Unfortunately their network was much more limited than what was presented to me initially, so the record ended up getting a lot less exposure than I had hoped for. I still have a lot of copies of that first pressing. It's a very nice edition with 180 g. vinyl with gatefold and a killer artwork. Freshtea has released it online to make the band's discography available for everyone.

But you played with Paul Di'Anno, Blaze Bayley and Tim Ripper, to mention a few. You should know the right people in the Metal industry who could show you the way to better promotion and distribution. Why didn't these contacts work for Hex A.D.?

Absolutely. I know promoters all over Europe and Scandinavia. Unfortunately most of them didn't see anything in a solo-project from these guys' drummer. Believe me, I tried! Haha… HOWEVER – it is very important for me to say that I met our current manager and label boss Sverre for the first time when he booked a gig with Blaze.

Rick, did you try to promote the band on your own?

I did, and it was quite successful here in Norway, with heavy coverage in the Norwegian metal press and great reviews of the debut both in magazines and online.

Hex A.D. was hugely inspired by Cathedral from the start. This band has a very diverse discography, which of their albums do you like the most?

I have never actually gotten to address this theme. You see the thing is that our link to Cathedral is mainly the artwork. I think Cathedral was a great band, and I like their records a lot. I know that Adam is a massive Blackmore fan and that Gaz worships Iommi (who doesn't), and I am sure I like both Purple/Rainbow and Sabbath as much as those guys, which finds us all drinking from the same musical source. The same goes for Leif in Candlemass, his two main inspirations are Sabbath and Rush. There's bound to be similarities between bands that have grown up with the same music, and as long as the riffs turn out juicy and groovy and the arrangements are elaborate - who can complain? Hehe!

Hah, I agree – artwork is the key, but I would also mention your vocals. Some parts remind me of Lee Dorrian's manner of singing, but I guess you're right considering source of inspiration… Also Cathedral's discography is really varied, so it's easy to find a connection with lot of bands playing different sorts of doom. Did you ever meet anyone from Cathedral?

…If that is the case, that is a huge compliment. Lee has one of the most iconic voices in doom! I have had many a conversation with Adam Lehan over the past few years. I loved his guitar work on the early Cathedral records, and I'm a massive fan of his current band Workshed! Total riff-overkill!! I've met the other guys in Cathedral a couple of times, just as a fan basically. In Sweden once and at the Wacken festival in 2004.

Hex A.D. - 'Netherworld Triumphant Pt 1' (Live, 2019):

Doom metal is quite a conservative genre, and yet you added more Progressive influences on Hex A.D.'s second album 'The Last Nail In The Coffin Lid'. How did it happen that you started to expand in this direction?

The direction on the second album came naturally, and the reason for the slightly more progressive touch came as a result of me writing for myself rather than writing for a different guitarist and drummer. Most of Even The Savage Will See Fair Play was written for 21st Century Rox in the last few years leading up to 2011 when I recorded it.

Did you work on this album the same way with Chris as on 'Even The Savage Will See Fair Play'?

Yes, we worked very much the same way as before. I recorded drums, guitars and bass over five days. Magnus Johansen had joined the band at that point and came down to add Hammond and mellotron. It made the record even more epic sounding, and 'The Madrigal Of The Black Hooded Crow' is still one of the band's most impactful songs onstage.

Can you pick other key songs in Hex A.D. discography?

I must say that the 2017 single 'The Cranium Seal' and 'A Nocturnal Report' are the two stand-out songs that represent how I want to hear Hex A.D. the best. But it's hard to ignore tracks like 'WarChild' and the new song 'Deadly Nighshade'. They all have what I feel to be the Hex A.D. trade marks.

What made you gather a full band when you were working on 'Netherworld Triumphant'?

Well, you see that's what many people get wrong. Netherworld Triumphant was recorded by me exactly like The Last Nail In The Coffin Lid. Only difference was that we used a local studio, and that Chris wasn't part of that album except for two days where I went to him to work on vocal melodies. I produced it and played the drums, all guitars (except for Rowan's insane solo on 'WarChild'), bass and sang. Magnus put his organ parts down in the same studio before we both messed around with our new mellotron to add that twisted King Crimson sound to the mix! It is however important to point out that the live band had solidified quite a bit by this point, so we're all featured on the promo pictures and in the gatefold of the LP.

(Photo: Arash Taheri).

Why didn't you use a Dave Patchett painting for this release?

No particular reason really. We got a great artwork from an Italian artist called Montdoom. We really liked it, and it fit the mood of the album very well.

At what moment did you start to play live with Hex A.D.?

Hex A.D. played its first live concert in July 2012. Arry and I are the only two remaining members from those first years. We played live quite a bit with the first live band, but as the music started to develop we just didn't sound right. It became much too hard and less heavy. We're all still great friends with Jon who used to play guitar and Stig our old drummer, but when we came into 2015 and the ideas for …Coffin Lid were beginning to surface it became clear to me that a change was bound to happen with the lineup.

Rick, what are your highlights from the band's live shows?

There are a few standout shows that we've played over the years. The first gig we did with the current lineup was magical. We supported the Swedish band Civil War in Mandal in Norway. After that night, we knew that we had found the right sound. We did a tour with The Skull (ex-Trouble) in the spring of 2016 which was amazing. Around the same time we played the Doom Over Skania festival in Skåne in Sweden. That gig was a great experience for us.

Last summer we got to play at the Tons Of Rock festival in Oslo, which was a personal highlight. Recently I must mention the second release gig with Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth, Spiritual Beggars) on keys, in our hometown Larvik. Perfect lights, great sound and a great audience.

'Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden' was released by Fresh Tea Records on February 21st, how do you see the principle differences between this album and 'Even The Savage Will See Fair Play'?

Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden is a much more progressive and lighthearted record than Even The Savage Will See Fair Play. I have grown immensely both as a guitarist, singer and writer and the addition of Matt and Arry gives it a whole different flavor. Needless to say that Chris' signature sound is missing, but we have made some great partnerships here in Norway now with Forsiktig Instrument Studio in Larvik and Røffsound Studio in Oslo. We intend to keep on working with those studios in the future. They have become parts of the team!

Hex A.D. - 'War Child' (2018):

What do you like in these studios? I've seen that you produced 'Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden' yourself? How do you work with studio crews there?

I like that the engineers are passionate about sound, and try to capture the organic feel of real drums, guitars, keys and bass. I produced both Netherworld Triumphant and Astro Tongue myself yes. I even made a lot of production decisions while working with Chris too.

The engineer at "Forsiktig Instrument Studio" is a dear friend and a great guy. He has a great collection of mics and amps and is ALL ABOUT the feel and sound of the real instruments. He has some unorthodox ways of micing stuff up too, which is inspiring to me as a performer and producer. Vegard at Røffsound Studio has a fantastic ear for details and knows how to get that massive sound that we enjoy. He makes a mix, and then we both go over it to make adjustments together.

Which bands from the Progressive realm formed your perception of this genre?

I've been a huge prog rock fan since I was little. My brother and I have grown up on Genesis, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. My main source of inspiration these days are prog bands. For instance I love the Norwegian bands Ring Van Möbius and Wobbler! I used to be a MASSIVE Steven Wilson fan too, but after he decided to swap his PRS and his Bad Cat for Depeche Mode cassettes and some old 80s synths I just had to come to terms with that fact that I don't like where he's headed… which is a shame really, because I worshipped "The Raven that refused to sing" and "Hand.Cannot.Erase".

'Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden' is fresh and new, it was released less than a month ago. So what's your plan for Hex A.D. for 2020?

Right now, we can't plan any gigs, so that's out of the picture for now. We will finish writing the songs and then record the follow up to Astro Tongue in June. We are of course super excited about Astro Tongue and can't wait to get back onstage. As of now our first scheduled show is Spetakkel Festivalen in September.

Rick, thank you for this interview, much appreciated! I hope this interview will help to reach more fans. How would you summarise Hex A.D.'s ultimate message to finish our conversation?

Whenever in doubt, always ask yourself: What would Tony Iommi do?

Hail the Riff.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Hex A.D. bandpage.

Interviewed on 2020-04-20 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
Aesthetic Death
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