13 Years Of This Is Hell’s Debut Album Sundowning
Thirteen years seems like a lifetime ago in some respects and just a season past in others. This Is Hell released Sundowning on May 16, 2006 and it seemed like the climax to many years in the making. In 2004, five guys from three different fledgling bands got together and decided to drop everything to make this one project our lives. The process of that is what spawned the record. The good, the bad and the everything in between.
We knew we wanted to start the record off with a fast and short little banger. Quick, to the point and full of energy. It’s almost a circular theme lyrically as it’s looking back at all that had happened in our lives over the previous two years with perfect hindsight.
This is my favorite song on the record and possibly the one that stuck in the live set list the longest. Musically it’s a punch in the face, followed by a punch in the stomach. We chose a goal for the band and ourselves, and pushed everything else aside for better or worse. One of those, ‘Strap in, enjoy the ride and lets see what the fuck happens’ because there was no backup plan. Anyone that tried to bring us down was left in the dust.
Here Come The Rains
The working title for this song was Cowboys From This Is Hell because of the hammer-on type of breakdown deal at the end. Not that it sounds like Pantera, but it did enough for it to be one of our many idiotic working titles. The mix of melody and aggression within (what we perceived) the hardcore format without going too metal or metalcore was always fun for the band, and especially on this song. You never know what’s going to happen when you take a leap of faith and put all your eggs in one basket. Sometimes it’s filled with failures and roadblocks.
Sometimes songs flow so easily it’s like they write themselves. Jeff [Tiu, bass] and I sat in a room on a day off in Germany playing guitars for about 10 minutes and this song wrote itself. It was almost as if we were practicing a song we already knew. There was initially a really heavy breakdown at the end that Dan [Bourke, drums] and I thought was the best part of the song, but after the whole band learned the song together Jeff had the idea of ditching it for the fade out. There’s a reason Jeff is a doctor now and I’m not. Probably the best decision the band ever made. This song became our anthem and set closer. Being in Europe for the first time, especially before international cells phones and widespread internet use, it’s like living in an entirely different world. You can see what’s happening, but you can’t help. Sometimes it feels entirely selfish to be gallivanting around the world playing music and having fun while real life and death is happening for others.
We received a terrible message a few days into our first European tour that reinforced that helpless feeling. More times than not you’re helpless to things proceeding, regardless of your location. The feeling this single guitar interlude took the place of the words here.
I’m not sure why we started dabbling in drop tuning, but we did for one song on our first EP and this was the first one on this record. Unintentionally this song was written in a very basic pop music format despite being a heavy hardcore song, but it felt real good and smooth from the start. I love the contrast between the pop structure and the ultra cynical lyrics. Where we’re from, there were always a lot of detractors and whiners in our scene, and it seems like the slimiest are the ones that garnered the most respect. Interesting to think about where some of them are now.
Talk about riff salad! We wound up taking bits and pieces of three or four different songs I’ve had from times past, and pieced together one short cohesive guy through the lens of the other guys in the band. It’s interesting to have such faith in a specific ideal from afar and then once you dive headfirst into it, the reality is not as appealing as the fantasy. You can become one of the demons yourself or you can expose them.
Who says you need more than two chords for an entire song? Obviously not us. There was a bit of a schism in the studio as to whether to use the E-bow guitar lead at the end, or to go with the initial overdub that was written. One got most of us psyched and one sounded like Love Potion Number 9 so that’s how that was decided. We were in Poland when the pope had passed in 2005 (he was Polish) and the entire town was in mourning. Candles and vigils and the like were everywhere. We were reeling with our own fresh losses at the same time, while also being vilified by a sect back home for living our lives. A real heavy 24 hours, amidst a heavy month, amidst a heavy year…
Speaking of heavy, Broken Teeth would have crushed the iceberg that the Titanic hit and still had time slam Andre The Giant before Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III. Hyperbole? Maybe, but I doubt it. This song is as aggressive as it comes. The dichotomy of ‘highest of highs due to your dream’ and ‘lowest of low due to everything else’ is hard to swallow, but unavoidable at times.
It seemed like tragic occurrences were coming in waves and sometimes the best way of dealing with it is to emote via the music as opposed to words.
So this was my least favorite This Is Hell song of all time, for a while. Maybe it’s because the lead over the verse was a pain in the ass for me to play at the time, or because it was a song that I felt wasn’t interesting enough musically, so I kept tooling with it and it seemed a little convoluted by the time we recorded it. Who knows. I’m over it now and I think the breakdown at the end rocks. Lyrically I love it, and Jeff did as good of a job with this one as he did every other song on the record. The guest spot by Daryl Palumbo from Glassjaw on this one was a fun addition after we had him on our first EP also on our 108 cover. Honestly what I think of most when I hear this song is that Josh [Holden], who played in American Nightmare and Head Automatica with Daryl, coming to the studio and saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know bands played this style anymore!’
Nobody Leaves Without Singing The Blues
Initially this song and the next (Epilogue) were one song and written specifically to be the album closer. At one point the idea of separating them into two songs was brought up and I loved it, because it gave it a live feel of songs bleeding together like we often did. And speaking of American Nightmare before, we always got the, ‘You guys sound a lot like American Nightmare, man. Come on!’ when we started. That never bothered me, because it deflected the way more obvious thing that no-one ever mentioned, despite this and the next song’s, ‘Could a band be bigger marks for The Hope Conspiracy or what?’ By the way, If you understand where we lifted the song title from you are a champion. ‘DRINK ITTTTT!’
This is as simple as it gets and one of the things I loved most about this album. It starts off in a panicked fury and ends in a slow, emotive dirge. By the time the record closes it’s like a purge of all emotion built up and explored throughout the album. Almost a last exhaustion of energy. We never did that bullshit live of what we called ‘being shot by invisible arrows’ at the end of our set though. You know the whole 2000s thing of bands pretending to be ‘so exhausted and emotionally spent at the end of the set that we need to lay on the floor and lean on our amps because we just can’t take it anymore’ deal. Take that shit to the mall (TM Ryan Rainbro). Lyrically though, the album is circular and this brings it back around perfectly. It was thematically our lives in and out of the band, but it could be anyone’s life from a certain point of view. Highs, lows, life, death etc. Choosing a path and dealing with what may come with it, one way or the other. Embracing the good, exposing the bad, and doing what needs to be done to survive through it.
That’s my take on the album anyway, but I was only one of five people involved and each one of us may very well have different thoughts and feelings attached to it, let alone what anyone else that has ever heard it thinks and how they choose to interpret it. This record is without a doubt the one that put us on the map and made it possible for the members of This Is Hell to have any semblance of a music career, however long or short it may be, both in and out of this band. It’s amazing to me that anyone cared back then, and even more so that people still care about it now 13 years later. It’s going to be sick as hell to come back to the UK for the first time in six years and play this album from start to finish for some old and new friends. The years may have passed, but our passion hasn’t and the energy has only increased.
This Is Hell play Sundowning in full in the UK in June. Get your tickets now.
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