Published Jul 13, 2017Integrity have long flirted with the dark arts, wrapping occult themes into their brand of holy terror hardcore since the late '80s, but 10th album Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume (their first on Relapse) may be their most arcanely epic in scope. Vocalist Dwid Hellion's latest horror tale mixes art history with the oncoming apocalypse, his fire-and-brimstone imagery backed by a diverse musical blaze of crust, black metal, blues and more.
Speaking from his home in Wodelgem, Belgium, Hellion tells Exclaim! about how he storyboarded Howling for new songwriting partner Dom Romeo (Pulling Teeth), his illustrations and notes acting as "a list of ingredients" to be "summoned, exorcised, or pilfered" throughout Integrity's latest punishing release.
Part of Howling's plotline is a fictional account of how astral projecting through space and time influenced the grotesque artwork of late UK painter Francis Bacon.
"[Bacon] was having all these lavish parties throughout his life; he's pretty notorious for that. I had this idea: what if he had one of these wild parties and someone suggested 'Hey let's have a séance,' and while the séance occurs, he soulfully or spiritually travels to different events throughout time that had strong occult themes? Each time he witnessed one of them, he would be more receptive to seeing the demons that walk the Earth, so to speak. So when he eventually snapped out of it and came back to his senses — at this wild party where they thought they were goofing around with a séance — he would now be able to see the demons within the humans, and therefore his paintings would reflect what he saw. His paintings became what we know them as, if you're familiar with his works. If you're not, then the story makes absolutely no fucking sense."
Integrity's iconic skull logo was lifted from a horror comic book, as a tribute to Danzig.
The jagged-toothed skull that has served as Integrity's logo since the late '80s — and is featured on the cover for Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume — was taken from an issue of writer J.M DeMatteis and illustrator Kent Williams' 1987 mini-series, Blood. In addition to being inspired by the book's vampiric themes, Hellion's use of the image is a nod to hardcore hero Danzig similarly swiping his own bony logo from the comic world.
"I grew up a big fan of all things Danzig, and in particular Samhain. Samhain were a big influence on me. I don't know if you know this story, but Danzig got the skull from [artist] Michael Golden; Crystar was the comic. I was thinking about that when I was putting [Integrity] together, and at the same time I read Blood. I don't want to give away too much for someone that's interested in reading it, because the book is phenomenal, but there's a seamless quality to the book where it's a cycle that never ends. I really loved that idea of the book. At the time it was really at the forefront of my mind."
Current guitarist/songwriter Dom Romeo is a longtime friend of Hellion's, who almost got the chance to play in Integrity years ago.
While Romeo officially joined Integrity in 2014, he became pen pals with Hellion in the mid-'90s, has issued a number of Integrity records through his A389 Records imprint, and almost played with the band on an earlier tour.
"At one point I needed a guitar player for a tour and Dom was ready to do it — he already knew all the songs. But his father passed away suddenly, so he wasn't able to. Time passed. I do a lot of the artwork for his record label, A389 Records, so we've worked together off-and-on for a long time. We're really close friends."
Contrasting Dwid's inhumane howling with guest singer Monique Harcum soulful voice on "String Up My Teeth" is Integrity's way of giving their holy terror hardcore a gospel twist.
"Monique lives not too far from me here in Belgium. She's a gospel singer. She was actually in that film Do the Right Thing — she had a small part in that when she was a kid. She's also an American that lives over here, which is kind of rare. That's how we became friends. I've always wanted to try and add this element to a song and see how it'd work, I guess in the sense of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, or even the context of regular rock'n'roll songs that will have these gospel backups."
"Die With Your Boots On" is Integrity's tribute to late Motörhead singer Lemmy Kilmister.
"What a terrible situation. This [was] a god among men! I couldn't believe that this guy could even die. I don't know if you have this saying up north, but in America, 'die with your boots on' is this idea of a John Wayne cowboy who's out there, giving it all he's got until he dies. He doesn't give up, ever, he just keeps soldiering on. And so, I thought to myself 'He's got to have a song called "Die with Your Boots On."' I looked into the Motörhead catalogue and there was no song called that, so I said 'I'll have to write a song about him.' He means a lot to me. If it wasn't for him and his type of vocals, I would never have had a fucking chance, would I? Or maybe Howlin' Wolf. Between Howlin' Wolf and Lemmy, they gave me my little niche in the music world."