Who are the names that you always think of when it comes to old-school death metal? Obviously you’ll bring up bands like Cannibal Corpse, Autopsy, Impetigo, Dismember, and the list goes on and on. But there has always been one band that seemed to never get their dues, and that is Benediction. Since their inception in 1989 they put out classic albums such as “Subconscious Terror”, “The Grand Leveller”, and “Transcend The Rubicon”.
Being one of the forefathers of United Kingdom death metal definitely comes with its advantages, and in recent years Benediction has put out a new album (“Killing Music“) and metalheads who may have been unaware of their existence have started to go through the bands back catalogue and find their influence has always been relatively widespread. Benediction has always been one to progress naturally in the world of death metal, and despite being one of the longest running bands around, they show absolutely no signs of stopping any time soon.
We met with Frank Healy, the bass player of Benediction just after he come off the stage, having delivered a terrific performance on the second day of the Bloodstock Festival.
MB: Frank, thank you so much for being with us here today.
The first thing everybody wants to know is when can we expect a new Benediction release?
Frank: Well, we’ll go into the studio this November, hoping for a March/April release. There is no title yet and no title to the songs. It’s called “the new album” and it’s tracks 1 to 17, that’s all we know at the moment, until Dave finishes all the lyrics.
MB: Regarding the lyrics, is Benediction just as protective of them as Dave is towards the lyrics of Anaal Nathrakh?
Frank: No, it’s the total opposite, they’re for all to see. It’s not as deep as Anaal Nathrakh; he [Dave Hunt] likes you to think more about what he’s screaming or singing in Anaal Nathrakh, while Benediction is far more straight forward.
MB: At the same time, Benediction does have this common theme of politics, religion and corruption…
Frank: That’s an undercurrent of it, we’re not overly going for that, but that’s Dave‘s mindset, you can’t switch that much from Anaal Nathrakh and Benediction, he’s still in the undercurrent of what he’s trying to say just not as extreme as with his Nathrakh stuff.
MB: Does Anaal Nathrakh, through Dave, deeply influence Benediction?
Frank: I don’t think so… well, I’m on the inside, so maybe I don’t see it since I can’t really be objective. Someone needs to look from outside, since I’m standing right in the middle of it all the time.
This is the weird thing about the Birmingham bands, everyone is in each of those bands and helping out, there’s a good camaraderie, everybody loves each other and looks after each other, lending each other gear and giving each other shirts…
MB: You mention this camaraderie between the Birmingham bands as “weird”. Do you think that you don’t see this so much in music, that there isn’t so much camaraderie and that it’s mostly a competition?
Frank: Who are we going to compete with? We’ve been doing this for 25 years, who could we compete with? If you’re better than me, fair play, I don’t care.
[Bands in] other genres in music don’t seem to want to help each other out, I’ve noticed that. I don’t know if it’s a Birmingham thing or not, but all of us as a collective will always look out for each other. We’ll never be like “Oh you gotta go after us because you’re a bigger band!”, none of that shit, none of that bollocks. We’re all just mates.
MB: Clearly the central force behind Benediction is friendship, the love for each other.
Frank: Yeah, everyone is bounded by the friendship and the music. You ask each other what you think of things; like, I’d go to Mick Kenney‘s [a.k.a. Irrumator, guitars in Anaal Nathrakh] house (when it was in England) and he’d show me new Anaal Nathrakh stuff and ask me what I think of it, I’d send him Benediction stuff to know what he thought of that, we’d talk with the Napalm Death boys to know what’s going on… it’s all good for us. I don’t know if it’s a weird thing we do… hopefully it happens in every genre of music, but I don’t think it does.
I mean, there was bullshit going on today, with a band saying “Oh, we can’t be there at a certain hour, so can we have the later spot?”. We said we’d play anyway, that we don’t care
MB: So you had a problem with…
Frank: We didn’t have a problem, it’s other people who seem to have a problem!
MB: I know, what I mean is that there was a change in schedule.
Frank: Yes, originally we were going to play in the afternoon, but then this one band says “oh, we can’t be there at that time, because our flight is too late, so can we swap with someone?”, we said yes, since we don’t care. And then another band, the one that was fucking next, said they wouldn’t be able to get here at that time… I got here at 9 this morning, and they were already here! So that’s the politics of people outside of our genre, they get this thing about “I have to be on later to be better”. Play first [on the bill] and still be good! It doesn’t matter at what time you go on, if you’re good enough, then people will be there, and I think we proved that today.
Fuck it, I’ll say it, I Am I bullshitted us, they’re lying shits for what they did. It didn’t bother us, because our crowd will be there anyway.
MB: I’m always amazed when I speak with bands that play a “violent” type of music, like Dave, in Anaal Nathrakh, or Barney, in Napalm Death about-
Frank: How quiet we all are [laughs]
MB: Yes, but beyond that, it’s amazing to see that you have these deep conversations, while when you talk with “happier” bands… well, it’s shit.
Frank: [Laughs] Yes, there is a lot of bollocks.
This sort of extreme music is like an outlet for us. If you’ve got an issue, it’ll come out in the lyrics or it’ll come out in the way you play, so you’re calmed. You’re calmed after you’ve done all that mayhem to get it all out of your system. It’s a cliché, isn’t it? That violent music gets it all out of your system, but it does.
Our music has this stigma to it that it’s just a bunch of mongoloids who don’t know a thing, but most of those vocalists [you mentioned] could hold their ground in any argument, in any debate in any University, in quite a lot of subjects.
MB: But do you understand why people might think that this music is “less refined” or “less intellectual”?
Frank: It’s primal, isn’t it? It’s right back to basics, you get that out of your system. You’d have to speak to Dave or Barney to go in deeper about it, because I’m in the music side, but we give it our full support. [Since] Dave is studying for his [master’s] degree [in philosophy] we will not do shows in certain times, so he can get on with that, and rightly so.
MB: Being in charge of the musical side of Benediction (part of it at least) and the music being this extreme… did you always know that you wanted to play this type of extreme music?
Frank: Well, I’m the oldest one in the band, I’ll be 50 in about two weeks.
MB: I thought you were 25!
Frank: [Laughs] Thank you!… what a lying shitbag.
I don’t know… we were all kids, always looking for something new. When I first heard Judas Priest I thought that they were the fastest band in the world, then I heard Slayer and I thought that they were the fastest band in the world, then Napalm Death, then I was in Napalm Death. Suddenly, everything I had wanted to do, I ended up doing it, I became a part of it.
A lot of our stuff comes out of the punk-rock scene, the anger and the… pissed off.
MB: It’s always an incremental path, going harder every time. What would you say was the first time you actually listened to a “proper” brutal band? Something very powerful and raw, and then realized “that’s what I wanna do”?
Frank: It wasn’t so much a band, it was a venue called “The Mermaid”, in Birmingham. This guy Daz Russel would put up all these bands, you’d see 15 or 20 bands during the day, for about 1.5 pounds, something like 2 or 3 euros.
The music that came out of Birmingham, which as you know is Napalm Death, Sacrilege and bands like that, it was all from this Mermaid place, which was an amalgam of this punk attitude with extreme metal, this mismatch which ended up as what we call “Death Metal”. It was more the venue and the people. We were looking for something a bit different.
MB: Would you say that bands like Napalm Death, and this type of music altogether, wouldn’t exist , or its existence would have been delayed, if it wasn’t for punk rock?
Frank: Personally, I can’t see it without punk rock. You look at other bands, you’ve got Slayer covering G.B.H., Metallica covering G.B.H., everybody is covering bands like that, like Discharge and Exploited.
MB: Napalm does the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck off!”. There seems to be a political influence, even beyond a musical one.
Frank: I agree with you there; we’re not just going to sing about swords, fighting, murder, killing each other and all that bollocks. There has to be a bit of integrity in what’s written.
MB: Do you think that is important, that musicians try to do something more than simply entertain the audience?
Frank: I’m between a rock and a hard place here. I think that music should be there for entertainment, but if someone wants to put…Well, we don’t want to be overly preachy, saying “This is this, this is that”. We put the undercurrent there, saying “this is what we feel, it’s not necessarily what we want you to do”.
MB: “We’re not here to teach, but to give you the information”?
Frank: Not even that. Well, I’d argue with Dave over this, since he’d say that it is about that, but I’d say that it isn’t about that. That’s the joy of being in a band, everyone has his own agenda.
MB: You’re obviously familiar with Bolt Thrower.
Frank: Of course! They’re very good friends ours.
MB: The last album they released was, apparently, the last one, since they’ve said that they can’t do any better than that. Do you think that is possible for Benediction?
Frank: I can’t see it, since we enjoy it so much. I love playing live, and as long as we’re doing it and people want to come and see us, that’s what we’ll do.
In the case of Bolt Thrower it’s not that they will not record again, they will record again. They’re just not happy with what they’ve got so far, it’s as simple as that. They’ve got some tracks together but they’re not good enough, so they’re not going to release them. Whatever they do has to be better than their last album, otherwise there’s no point. That’s their way, not our way!
MB: Do you think that it’s important for a band to maintain a certain style (as Benediction has masterfully done)? Or should their sound be changing constantly?
Frank: Well, there’s enough of everything, isn’t there? We don’t need to evolve. I think Gavin, from Bolt Thrower summed it up best: When they were asked “How is your new album?” he replied “What new album? All we’ve done is our first album with a different title, and carried on and on”. This is our style, this is what we do.
Fair play to all the bands that are going to evolve and change their style. They’re free to do that and I’m happy to find new stuff, but within the realms of Benediction and Bolt Thrower… we’ve found our niche, and we’re quite happy with that niche. We don’t need to evolve.
As soon as you buy a Benediction album you know exactly what you’re going to get, the same with Bolt Thrower. Why change something that we like doing? There are loads of other bands that you can check, and that are much more diverse and that are willing to go through all the change, but we’re just happy with what we do. We don’t go “Oooh, we gotta do something different this time”, we just hear a riff we like and that’s it.
I don’t begrudge bands that change. Rush is one of my all-time favorite bands, and they’ve always changed and done something new. Or Morbid Angel, some people hated their last album but I thought it was fucking brilliant, and when they played here last year they were absolutely awesome (I think they were the best sounding band of the weekend). Or Paradise Lost; they’ve managed to nip in and out of everything they’re doing really well
MB: What bands do you listen to regularly, besides the Birmingham ones?
Frank: Foo Fighters and Depeche Mode, stuff like that. I mean, I play death metal, I record death metal, I go to death metal festivals… the last thing I wanna do is go and listen to fucking death metal. You need to listen to something different. I mean, bands like Paradise Lost are fucking great.
I love more commercial stuff.
MB: How about Lady Gaga?
Frank: No. I hate that bitch. She just tries too hard to look like a twat, and is doing very well at looking like a twat.
MB: Any messages for your fans?
Frank: Thank you for nearly a quarter of a century of support. It’s amazing, I never thought I’d be doing this; as I said, I’ll be 50 in two weeks, I’ve been doing this shit since I was 18, and I think that it’s an absolute privilege, and I’m overjoyed, that somebody still listens to us and still wants to listen to us so thank you to everybody, obviously. And this comes from all the band, because we really are grateful for it.
It’s just amazing. We’ve been doing this for almost 25 years, and you saw the response this morning… the “Benediction Breakfast Club”, it was amazing. I’m very happy with that.
MB: Thanks Frank, it’s been a privilege!