It is a sad fact that there are few people outside of Poland who will have heard of Hunter, a band formed in 1986 and whom have carved out a remarkable niche for themselves in their home country thanks to relentless touring, a live set that can only be described as blistering and several albums that rate incredibly highly, not least the adventurous, exotic, thoroughly unique ‘Hellwood’ which received a rave review here on SonicAbuse and which is still heavily rotated on our stereo.
Yet, for all that Hunter have been ignored here in the UK, the band have garnered a remarkable amount of success that culminated in the creation of ‘Hunterfest’ which saw bands such as Sepultura and Testament flock to Poland to share a stage with them. While Hunter may be held in high regard by fellow artists, that is nothing compared to the adulation heaped upon the band by their adoring fans for whom each Hunter concert is an EVENT which is guaranteed to leave them sweaty, exhilarated and often lacking the ability to speak having sung each and every word back with deafening enthusiasm.
The band’s story truly began in 1995 with the release of ‘Requiem’. A worthy album featuring several songs which continue to be live staples today including the rabble rousing ‘Freedom’ and ‘misery’, ‘Requiem’ is a wonderful debut for any band although it contains only flashes of the remarkable inspiration that typifies their more recent work while the bulk remains a beautiful love letter to the classic rock that Drak holds in such high regard. A live album followed featuring the band’s set from the Polish Woodstock – a free festival that has to be seen to be believed and which carries the spirit of Glastonbury (eclectic mix of music, free entry, genuine love and brother/sisterhood) far better than Glastonbury itself does these days – which included a beefy cover of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ as well as a mix of well received cuts from ‘Requiem’ but it remains rather more a curio and is probably the least essential disc in the band’s canon, although it creates a reasonable impression of the Hunter live experience.
Then everything changed. In 2003 the band recorded ‘Medeis’ which is , by any account, a phenomenal record. Showing a musical maturity and sense of purpose only hinted at on ‘Requiem’ (itself a fine album), ‘Medeis’ contains many of the tracks that set audiences a-screaming and, with its beguiling mixture of Polish and English lyrics, there is truly no excuse for the singular lack of attention paid to the album by metal fans outside of Poland. A crushing, heavy, melodic beast of an album ‘Medeis’ is a truly wonderful album that is best played from start to finish without skipping tracks, although of the many highlights ‘Fallen’, ‘fantasmagoria’ and ‘why’ stand out as the sort of massive, stadium-filling anthems which deserve to be heard the world over (you can check out ‘Fallen’here courtesy of a rather fine youtube clip). More remarkable still, the band went on to better ‘Medeis’ with each subsequent release, but even if they hadn’t this would still be a remarkable achievement.
While ‘Medeis’ set out the band‘s musical style in no uncertain terms, follow-up T.E.L.I (released in separate Polish and English versions) consolidated Hunter’s position with a selection of songs that ranged from the ferocious title track to the utterly beautiful ‘pomiedzy niebem a pieklem’ (‘between heaven and hell) a track which is both hauntingly beautiful and lyrically stunning (it is this track that goes a long way to explaining why Drak might be seen as a poet even as he himself prefers prose). With T.E.L.I proving hugely popular with fans (I was lucky enough to catch the band several times on the T.E.L.I tour and can testify to the rapturous response the band received on each occasion) the band released another live effort, this time on DVD along with a bonus CD of covers (including a bonkers cover of Outkast’s ‘Hey ya!’) and demo tracks that once again highlighted the band’s strengths as a live band. The DVD is a beautifully shot and recorded effort featuring two full sets from Woodstock and it serves as a wonderful testament to the festival and to Hunter’s appearances there. The sense of fun that pervades both performances is palpable and if there is a complaint to be made it is the lack of violinist Jelonek who wasn’t to appear as part of the live line up until later.
However, none of the above could possibly prepare the listener for the next record. Released in 2009 Hellwood is simply a perfect record. Mixing up a huge amount of disparate instruments, a genuine passion for the subject matter (based around a variety of films and leading up to the astonishing trilogy that closes the album and which saw Drak learning Rumanian) and some jaw-dropping riffs that saw Hunter approach the very pinnacle of hard-rock musicianship, if there is one album that you need to hear by this band, this is it. Indeed, we were so taken with ‘Hellwood’ as to rate it one of THE albums of 2009 and if you haven’t checked out this band you owe it to yourself to do so now. With every track telling a story and every element ruthlessly honed to perfection, ‘Hellwood’ is one of the finest albums to have been recorded in recent years and it is a genuine loss to music fans in the UK that it has not been more widely acknowledged.
We are, therefore, immensely proud to have had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Drak, the guitarist and singer with Hunter who kindly corresponded with us to provide the following answers as well as a selection of pictures and Youtube links. A remarkable act, Hunter are a band who are truly deserving of the unswerving support that their fans bestow upon them and it is about time that UK fans had the opportunity to hear this amazing band.
History and beginnings:
- When you released ‘Requiem’ back in 1994, did you expect you would still be doing this now?
Yes. No doubt. It was our live. Still it is. We deeply believethat we will die on the stage and it would be the grateful death!
- What (or who) inspired you to start playing music?
We grew up on the classics – Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin. It was our first inspiration although some Polish bands also inspired us to start this madness. Also my first music school and violins, and particularly my violin-sadist-teacher who hit me for my mistakes and cut my too long nails so sometimes blood flowed like a river! Now I think that my hate for violins pushed me to seek something new and finally I found the electric guitar. Can you imagine his face when he saw me on the stage playing Mozart’s Tukish march through a highgain amp??? Priceless! These were my inspirations… And of course rock ’n’ roll live!
- You recorded some songs (and a version of T.E.L.I) in English, do you think that your songs lose something in the translation from Polish to English?
Most translations lose the meaning of the author. Every language has its own specific elements, idioms, slang etc. It’s sometimes impossible to translate something exactly,but of course we tried. Two girls helped us to do this anyway. One of them – Patricia – lived in New York for about 20 years. Another – Angelica – has been passionate about the English language for years, so I think 90% of the real meaning we translated successfully. I like word games, the second, even third meaning of words, new words and I’ve used it for years. Some of them are of course impossible to translate. It’s sad but there are so many differences between languages. I’m sure English is also ready for these word games 😉 but I have to know it much, much better.
- What inspired you to add a violin player to your line up?
As I said I’m a violinist, or maybe rather the victim of the violin, so of course I’m not as good as Jelonek, but I started my music adventure as a violinist anyway. After music school and completely broken down by my sadistic teacher I put away this instrument and focused on the guitar, it was heavier and louder and I loved it! For the next few years I forgot about classical music and instruments. Till ‘MedeiS’ time. During recording we met Jelonek. Our producer – Aka – introduced us and asked me if I would like to put some violin parts on the recorded tracks. I thought – why not? Jelonek did it. He surprised us and became part of Hunter to this day. Sometimes we play live on our violins together. You can find it on Youtube. It’s funny. I play mostly with octave so it sounds like a cello.
- You have been running Hunterfest for some time now, how does it feel to have one of the most successful metal festivals in Poland?
It was the worst part of Hunter live! This festival almost killed us. Our manager was the main organizer. We totally trusted him and didn’t expect to the last edition that he completely couldn’t handle it. It’s a long story. We are happy it’s over. It was for one moment really the biggest festival in Poland but from backstage there were always lots of problems and as I said it almost killed us.
- Who are you most proud of having played with?
Every band was for us totally a reason to be proud: Sepultura, Testament, Kreator, and many more. For a band from a town with 30,000 people it was really great experience.
Szczytno is a small town in Mazury so nobody expected bands like Sepultura or Testament would come and play on the beach between the old knight’s castle and the lake. No-one. So it was really something extraordinary. Like a heaven, our dreams came true. Finally the bitter end made these dreams a nightmare.
- Have you ever considered playing a concert outside of Poland?
We have played only some very small gigs in Germany, once in Glasgow, four times in Czech Republic, and some gigs in Russia and Belarus. That’s all. Unfortunately we have always had bad luck for it.
- Do you have any plans to release a DVD of your newer material? Holywood (live DVD/EP release following the release of T.E.L.I) was great, but it would be good to see you playing with your current line-up.
On 07.11.2009 we played a XXV-anniversary gig in Warsaw and recorded it. Now we are finishing this material and I hope in the beginning of the new year we will realize it.
- What song are you most proud of writing?
There are so many… I like most of them so I think it would be easier to find disappointing tracks!
- Hunter fans are always very energetic at shows, how does it feel to have them all singing songs like ‘Fallen’ and ‘Pomiedzy niebem a pieklem’ back to you, word-for-word?
That’s the most magical moment. Sometimes I know I could stop singing and fans can make it for me. It’s comfortable by the way. When I lose my voice or I’m ill they can really sing the whole gig! It happened once; 5 years ago In Gdynia. In the middle of a gig I recovered my high tones, and then I was ok, but half of the gig was sung by the fans. It was amazing. Singing fans is the most heavenly music for a band.
- You covered Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’ on the Holywood EP, what made you choose that song?
It was our manager’s idea. I knew that song from the TV clip. It was a great video. Our manager asked us if we would like to prepare our version. Why not?
- Are there any pieces of art or literature that have particularly inspired you?
I was always an Oscar Wilde fan, Michail Bulhakov and some other classical writers. But I mean only the spirit of them, and I search for the spirit, not words and ideas. That is my job and my way. So I’m not a poetry fan; I don’t read poetry. It’s boring for me. Most of it is difficult to understand. It’s strange because most of fans say that Hunter’s lyrics are poetry but I prefer prose.
The New Album and the future:
- Hellwood features some really unusual instruments for a rock band to be playing, what encouraged you to develop your sound in this way?
Since ‘MedeiS’ time we decided to break all the rules. We play what we feel, it doesn’t matter if it is metal or not. So we called our music – soul metal, because it i really is the music of our souls mixed and put together. We are big Monty Python fans and we love to provoke, so you can find in our music elements of reggae, classic, punk, new metal, rock, acoustic, even pop. But we play it in our own way. Sometimes these elements are hidden in the background, sometimes even further. If any idea is interesting – we take it; mixing styles, provoking, searching and every possible mutation – that’s our style. Bruce Lee says in Enter the Dragon – “My style of fighting? It is a fighting without fighting!”
- What bands do you listen to now, and do you feel that they have changed the way you write music?
At this moment I don’t have bands such like this. Years ago Metallica changed the way I wrote music as did early Def Leppard and the whole NWOBHM. There were also some German bands like early Scorpions, Accept and Helloween. Then I decided to go my own way and this moment I’m still going that way. Now I’m listening to Stone Sour, Korn, Rammstein, Tool, Slipknot, but I’m also still a big fan of my first bands, classical monsters! It is my source, I think to the end. I like to listen to these bands. Every one of them has their own spirit but I’m not inspired by their music anymore, because this is their music. They inspire me strictly to find my own spirit. That’s all.
- The final tracks on the album seem to be in the form of a story, can you tell us more about that?
Hellwood is a tribute to some of my favourite movies. Inspiration – I mean lyrics of course. You can find on this records some shadows of Pan’s Labirynth, Apocalypse Now, The Clockwork Orange, Harry Angel [this film was Angel Heart in the UK –ed.], Zeitgeist, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and many more, sometimes even in one word or meaning of the lyrics. The last three songs are a tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram’s Stoker Dracula. I’m a big fan of it. Gary Oldman rules! I divided the story into three parts and every song is inspired by these parts. I even learned the Romanian language for it. One of my friends has lived in Bukarest for 50 years and she helped me very much. So all the Romanian parts are original and I’m very proud of it. I felt almost like an actor during recording! Hunter are big fans of movies. This is our second passion. Our video clips are the proof of it!
- Are there plans to release an English version like you did with T.E.L.I?
If it will be any chance to play outside of Poland we will make it. But as I said – we have bad luck for it so we are waiting for any opportunity. Maybe this interview will help us!
- What inspires your lyrics?
Mankind. The Master of selfdisaster!
- The new album has a lot of depth and requires a lot of listens to get everything from it, do you feel you have matured as songwriters since the early days.
I hope so! We do our best to make it that way. I love songs which provoke people to listen to them one more time, and a second, and a thousandth. This is it! And we prepare our music as well as we can.
- What’s the high point of your musical career so far?
I don’t know. After 25 years in this madness there have been so many points, good and bad, so it’s really difficult to say which is exactly the highest. Maybe the song – ‘Kiedy umieram…’ which was for over two months no 1 at VIVA Rock TV Charts (winning with Slayer, Cradle of Filth and other greater bands than Hunter). From this moment people started to listen to what is going on with this band. Maybe it wasn’t the highest point, but it was very important. This song changed everything. And it is about dying! [And here is the excellent clip for Kiedy Umieram – the interview continues below – Ed.]
- It is very difficult to hear about Polish bands outside of Poland, what do you think would help to change this?
I hope you can tell me that!!! We’ve tried for years but you are the first who sent us questions. We are ready anyway to conquer the West, seriously. So it would be great to start before we die on the stage!
- A lot of people are unwilling to listen to music with non-English lyrics, does this ever bother you?
Some bands have changed this. For example Rammstein. Maybe we will be next? We are trying to do this but as I said…. 🙂 We are recording our record aswell as possible, our songs are more unexpected and much better. And what? And no one call us… Ungrateful live!
- Are you planning a new album?
Of course! But first – our Anniversary DVD. Then probably an acoustic DVD- ‘unplugged’ with a 20 person choir, unusual instruments, string quartet and some new ideas. We will play our songs in acoustic arrangements. We’ve tried to do this on various occasions and fans were very happy. Then a new great record!