Some bands are easy to pin down. Cannibal Corpse is death metal, Mayhem is black metal, Megadeth is thrash, and so on and so forth. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a band comfortably falling within one subgenre or another. On the other hand, there’s something exciting about a band that takes what they love from various subgenres and puts them together in a wholly unique package that combines the best of multiple worlds. It’s thrilling when a band takes elements from various styles of music and uses them to make something that sounds like no other band out there. Combining elements of groove, death, doom, and thrash metal, the English band Damnation’s Hammer certainly falls into the latter category of bands you just can’t pin down to one area of metal.
Since forming in 2007, Damnation’s Hammer has put out two releases in 2012’s Disciples of the Hex and 2017’s Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres. Later this year, the group will unleash their third full-length, Into the Silent Nebula, which is sure to help further define the unclassifiable sound of Damnation’s Hammer. I recently caught up with founding guitarist/vocalist Tim Preston via Zoom to chat about the band’s history and what fans can expect from the upcoming third record.
First off, how did you get into metal in general?
Tim: When I was at primary school, around about the age of nine or ten, I was into Blondie and The Police and stuff like that. I remember being on holiday in Spain walking past a record shop and in the window was the front cover of AC/DC’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It with Angus [Young] impaled on the guitar. I’d never heard AC/DC but I was like, what the hell is that cover? That band is gonna be awesome! I bugged my dad to please, please, please get me this album so he bought it for me. When I heard AC/DC, that was love at first hearing. The Bon Scott era AC/DC was one of my first loves. After that I got into Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon…all the classic British bands and then onto the heavier stuff like early ’80s Metallica and Anthrax and I got into thrash in a big way then into death metal and here I am today.
Who were some of the death metal bands you got into early that made you a fan of the genre?
Tim: Malevolent Creation’s Retribution is one of my favorite death metal albums, I love that. The first few Cannibal Corpse albums, Morbid Angel, that type of stuff. Deicide as well, I’m a big fan of Deicide. Those first three albums are awesome. I was at the show in Bradford when Glen [Benton] had his bass stolen. There’s footage of it on the internet. Someone filmed him during soundcheck when he realized his bass had gone and he went crazy. I didn’t steal the bass but I was at that show!
How did you get into playing guitar?
Tim: Well, I’m a bassist by trade. Back in the ’90s I was in a band called Dearly Beheaded, sort of a Machine Head type, like Pantera type of stuff. We were signed to Music For Nations and we did two albums with them. I just played bass. I didn’t write anything, I just followed what the guitarists were doing. Skip forward to 2007 and I went to see Celtic Frost. They opened up with “Procreation (of the Wicked)” and it was played deliberately slowly and I was like, “That’s what I want to do! That slow, heavy, gnarly stuff.” I couldn’t find a guitarist to play with so I reluctantly switched to guitar. I had never written a song before and, as soon as I started to try, I opened something up inside me. It’s not easy but I’ve an ability to do that that I didn’t know I had before. The same with finding a singer. I couldn’t find a singer to play with and I thought that I’m gonna have to give it a go. I absolutely love playing guitar and singing now so I’m glad that I made the change. I can’t play guitar to save my life, I can’t sing to save my life, but I can just put it together and it sounds like Damnation’s Hammer. I’m not a technical guitarist at all. I don’t know chords and scales. I just write riffs that I know I want to hear, which I guess is all you need to do, really.
Was it nerve wracking that first time that you had to sing in front of people then?
Tim: I was nervous for about a week before hand thinking, should I just quit and not do this? Once you get to a gig, it’s like anything. The nerves go away and you’re just looking forward to the performance and it went ok. I love doing it but I still get nervous.
You touched on it briefly but what was your band experience like before Damnation’s Hammer?
Tim: Dearly Beheaded, we were a United Kingdom five-piece. We did two albums with Music For Nations, toured Europe a few times with Pro-Pain, Annihilator, supported Crowbar and Testament. We had a good time but we were all sort of kids and had no idea about any of the business things. We did two albums and got dropped after that and the band sort of split up after that.
How did that lead to Damnation’s Hammer?
Tim: Like I said, I was thinking about putting a band together but didn’t know what type of music, and then I went to that Celtic Frost show and it was the “Procreation (of the Wicked)” riff played slowly. I originally wanted Damnation’s Hammer to sound as much like Celtic Frost as possible but then trying to emulate somebody else’s style of playing is pretty hard. When I started to write songs…I’d pick up a guitar and write a riff and it wouldn’t sound like Celtic Frost, but it sounded great and we kept it and the band has sort of evolved since then. People ask me how I would describe it because we always get a doom metal tag or slow-motion thrash is another one I’ve heard but I always say it’s ’70s Black Sabbath, ’80s Metallica with some Celtic Frost rolled in. That’s how I think of the band but when I set out to write a song, I don’t think it’s got to sound like this. If I like the riff, the riff is in the song.
What’s the music writing process like for you?
Tim: I pick up a guitar and just noodle about and just develop riffs. We’ll work out a verse and chorus and try to jam on it and knock it into shape. Some songs fall together really quickly and other songs [don’t]. When the music’s done, then I put the lyrics to it. Lyrics are always the last cause I just want to pick the guitar up and play something.
What is your lyric writing process like?
Tim: I don’t really have one. I just kind of brainstorm a few lines and see if it fits. I actually come up with the song title first. I try to come up with an interesting song title and write something around that. We’ve just finished recording our next album and it’s out in November, and we have a song on it titled “Do Not Disturb The Watchmaker” and I thought that nobody’s gonna have a song title like that. That came about because we have a song called “Outpost 31,” which is based on the film called The Thing. I saw an interview with John Carpenter and the headline for the interview was “Do Not Disturb the Carpenter” and I thought it was really great. Then I thought “Oh, what’s better than carpenter? Ooh, watchmaker! Do not disturb the watchmaker.” I kind of wrote the song like that. The thing behind that song is it’s an old guy that tinkers around with watches but he can turn back time with it so he can go back in time to assassinate public figures to alter the future. That’s the story behind the song. I just let the mind wander and come up with silly things like that.
That’s really cool though. The Thing is one of my favorite movies and always kind of blows me away.
Tim: It’s a great film. The song “Outpost 31,” we started with a sample of the helicopter and it’s a quite intro. Just before the main riff kicks in, we have Fenriz from Darkthrone, cause he’s Norwegian, and it’s him doing the Norwegian’s voice. I asked him if he’d do it and he went ok and 24 hours later he sent me an email with his voice just shouting in Norwegian and it worked out really well. I’ve got a friend of mine and he’s got a great character voice and he did the spoken word parts for MacReady.
How did getting to record the first album come about and what was recording that first one as a band like?
Tim: The drummer on that is an old friend of mine who lives on the Isle of Mann, which is the little island between England and Ireland and I live in England, so I had to record the guitar tracks to a click track and email them to him then he’d put the drums on it and email it back. We kind of built the songs like that. It was a very slow process. We did that album together and a friend of mine put the bass down. It was only afterwards that I thought I need to get in a rehearsal room and jam these songs and be a real band so I said to Steve [Leach], the drummer, that it’s not going to work, I really want to be a real band.
It took a long time, a couple years, to find a drummer to play with. Gary [Bevan], the drummer in the band, I have known for a long time and he’s a guitarist by trade and he’d never played drums before. I was stuck for a drummer and he said that he’d give it a go. A couple months later the penny sort of dropped and he became really good, really quick. He’s said all the songs are in “Tim timing.” He’ll go “What the hell timing is that riff?” and I’ll go “I don’t know but it works.” Then he’ll say “Yeah but it’s 7/9 or something” so he’s learned to play drums to my riffs. He’s always said that he can’t go into another band and just play 4/4 or something. I’ve ruined his inner clock. Jamie [Fowler], the bassist, he’s a guy that I’ve known for about 20 years but we kind of lost touch. He lives about two hours away from the rest of us and I used to be going out with a girl who lived in the city that he lived in, which is where I meant him. We bumped into each other at an Iron Maiden concert about 10 years ago and we stayed in touch. The rest is history.
How did you come up with the name Damnation’s Hammer?
Tim: One of the bands, after Dearly Beheaded, was with an old friend of mine. He’s a singer and was looking for a bassist and the band was called Hammer of Creation. Nothing ever came of the band, we only wrote about two or three songs, but I always said that Hammer of Damnation sounds better than Hammer of Creation and he’d say no, it’s Hammer of Creation. When that folded, I thought “I’m keeping Hammer of Damnation.” Then I just switched it around to Damnation’s Hammer.
What do you look for in band mates? Obviously you want a good musician but, hopefully, they’ll be people you will travel with and spend a lot of time with.
Tim: No egos. That’s a big thing. We’re all old. We’re not young guys. We are all sort of married with kids. I couldn’t put up with any drama, like a lead guitarist who’s being a prima donna. We’re all pretty chilled out and we just all get along and take the piss out of each other like English people do and have a couple beers afterward. We’re very lucky we don’t have any drama in the band. There’s no “Oh man, this sound’s not working for me!” There’s none of that. It’s a good band to be in, a good bunch of guys.
How glad were you to have that first recording done and were you happy with the final product?
Tim: I can’t listen to it now, it just sounds…it’s like a glorified demo for me. At the time, it was great to have it done but I was more proud of Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres, it’s heads and shoulders above that because it’s the live lineup that recorded that album as opposed to being a two-piece recording it over the internet. We recorded it properly, in a studio, with a real producer as well. We originally self-released Unseen Planets. We just got the CDs printed, pressed up ourselves, and sold it through Bandcamp, but we fired off a couple to some labels and Massacre Records in Germany said we’ll license it and put it out.
Was it a weird adjustment for you to go from recording the way you did on the first one to a normal, full recording on the second album?
Tim: No, we’d all been in a real studio before but it’s easier to jam along with a live drummer to get the tracks down and then put the guitars on top of it. It was easier than doing the first album over the internet, definitely.
Who did the cover for Unseen Planets?
Tim: The artist is called Chris Cold and it’s an image that I stumbled across on the internet. I messaged him and asked if it would be possible to license his artwork. We paid him and he said yeah, do whatever you want with it.
With this third record, is the band pretty comfortable as a whole unit with recording and writing music for Damnation’s Hammer?
Tim: I think so. We finished recording the album and then the first rehearsal back we started working on a new song for the next one.
What can fans expect from the new record?
Tim: There are some different things on it. The title track, “Into the Silent Nebula,” is two pieces of music. There’s “Into the Silent Nebula,” which is a bit fast and thrashy like Voivod and the next piece, which is called, “The Silent Nebula” and that’s more of a bluesy jam where we take it right down. It’s something we’ve never done before but it’s worked out pretty good.
One thing I’ll tell you quickly, since my daughter keeps interrupting, on “The Hex III,” which is the soundscape, you can hear a heartbeat on it. That was my daughter’s when she was in the womb. When we went for a scan, one of the nurses hooked my wife up to this thing and you could hear the heartbeat. I thought that I’ve got to record this, not to go on the album, but when it came to do Unseen Planets, I thought, “Oh, I’ve got her heartbeat, let’s try and see if I can put that into “The Hex III” and it obviously worked. And she’s on “The Hex IV” on the forthcoming album, the heartbeat is in there again.
How excited are you to release the album?
Tim: Really excited. We are really proud of the new songs and the way they’ve come together. It’s a step up from the last album, definitely. It flows really well. We have Sakis [Tolis] from Rotting Christ doing a spoken word bit. Aaron [Stainthorpe] from My Dying Bride is on there. He asked to be on the album cause he really likes the last one.
How much did COVID and lockdowns affect the album and the band in general?
Tim: We didn’t play any shows. Other than not playing live, it didn’t really affect us. We carried on after the first few months. In the middle of 2020 we could rehearse on a regular basis, which is when we wrote most of this album actually. Then we went in and recorded it late last year and finished all the recording in March and mixed and mastered in April.
Have you gotten to play live again?
Tim: Yeah, we did three shows last year. We toured the UK, a short UK tour supporting Xentrix [this year]. Then we played the Incineration Festival in London, which was mainly a death metal and black metal festival. We got asked to play. The promoter saw us when we played at Bloodstock and asked us to play Incineration. We’re lining up some UK shows for the end of the year when the album comes out but there’s nothing pencilled in yet.
How nice was it to return to live shows?
Tim: It was great. We did three last year, but the ones we did this year with Xentrix were awesome cause there were great crowds and we went down really well as well. It was a great experience. I love playing live, absolutely love it.
So with album three coming out in the fall, you said you already have somewhat of a start on album four?
Tim: Yeah, we’ve got one song written, no lyrics, and I’ve got riffs and ideas to write another two or three. We’re going to re-record the song “Disciples of the Hex” as well because we occasionally play it live and it was never recorded with this lineup. We do a slightly different version to the recorded version off the first album so I’d like to put “Disciples of the Hex” on there.
Looking at the future, what kind of goals and accomplishments do you still have your sights set on for the band?
Tim: I’d like to play Bloodstock again. I’d like the chance to go and play in Europe with this band, that’s a goal. Just to keep on keeping on, basically. If, for some strange reason, we couldn’t play live again, I’m happy jamming the songs out in the recording room as long as we get to keep recording them and putting out material. Having a chance to play with some of the bands we’re into as well. Gary’s a huge Rotting Christ fan so if we had a chance to play with them, I know that’d make his day. Like I said, Sakis very kindly lent his voice to this new album. He’s a fan as well.
Lastly, how up-to-date do you stay on the world of metal? What’s your listening taste run to these days?
Tim: I tend to listen to stuff like Overkill, Kreator, that type of stuff. When those bands release a new album I make the effort to go out and get it. As for new bands, I did spend quite a while checking out new bands but a lot of what comes out now isn’t anything I’m into. There’s a lot of bands that use a lot of guttural vocals, like death metal vocals, but they’re not death metal bands. That stuff doesn’t do much for me. There was a local band for us called Stormrider, unfortunately they’ve split up and they only did a couple of demos, but they were a great, like, New Wave of British Heavy Metal sounding band. They were awesome. I was really hoping they’d do something. I’m kind of stuck in the ’80s. I listen to Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Saxon, that sort of stuff. Celtic Frost, obviously, and Voivod and ’80s Kreator and Overkill. That’s sort of what I revert back to. I’ll tell you who’s a cool band, Evil Invaders from Belgium. Check them out. The latest album is called Shattering Reflection, that came out this year. That’s a great album. It’s like old school speed metal with crazy vocals that are almost a cross between Rob Halford and King Diamond. Great band, great speed metal band. That’s Tim’s top tip for tonight.
Photo at top: Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres album cover.