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30 years of Integrity: an interview with Dwid Hellion on his vast career

Integrity
photo by Jimmy Hubbard

At 30 years, many bands become cliches, lose relevance or simply flicker out long before such a benchmark. Integrity hasn’t suffered such a fate, on the contrary in fact. As the shape shifting brainchild of founding member Dwid Hellion, Integrity has assumed innumerable forms, including their classic metallic hardcore back catalog. In celebration of the band’s 30th anniversary, I spoke to Dwid himself about the many stages of their vast career, dream collaborations, Dwid’s love of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, and more. Read on for our conversation…

Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume, the Integrity name’s newest form, was among my favorite 2017 albums and has become an overall favorite of your discography. To start, how has the album’s wider reception been, and how do you all consider its place within Integrity’s vast catalog?

Thank you. That is very kind of you to say. I am humbled and grateful for the enormous positive response that Howling, . . . has received. Dom [Romeo] and I worked long and hard to create an album that we would love to listen to. We have been fortunate that others also have been enjoying the album.

Never ones to shy away from experimentation, Howling… featured several interesting tracks that strayed heavy from typical Integrity fare, namely “7 Reece Mews,” “String Up My Teeth” and “Viselle De Drac.” Much of this experimentation meshed with surprising ease (“String Up My Teeth”), leading to one of the album’s most entertaining tracks. What were among the inspirations that led to these tracks’ creations?

“7 Reece Mews” was intended to be something like an epic ballad, something cinematic that conveyed emotion. “String Up My Teeth” employs some majestic gospel vocals courtesy of Monique Harcum. “Viselle De Drac” was the most experimental and is a stereophonic fairy tale, each speaker channel tells a conflicting story simultaneously.

What is everyone’s favorite track(s) among your new material, including your just-released split with the almighty Krieg? My personal favorite was your “Deathly Fighter” cover, insane shredding throughout!

I do not know if I have a favorite, I like the songs and that is why they were included. Each song offers its own merit for me, so I am unable to choose one above the rest. Glad to hear that you enjoy, “Deathly Fighter.” On that song, I sang in Japanese, that was quite a challenge to accomplish.

Are there any other tracks from the Japanese heavy music scenes, past or present, that you would like to cover?

I have covered Randy Uchida Group and ZOUO in the past, I seem to connect with certain Japanese bands more than most. I think I may have reached the point where I have covered enough Japanese songs. But, you never know!

On the split, its artwork and Howling… appear as part of a thematic series, and is among my favorite of Integrity’s visual gallery. Said art has a Gustav Dore vibe about it, was this intentional and how do these visuals tie in thematically with this stylistic era of the band?

For Howling and the new split LP with Krieg, I used a collage style which was rooted in the use of Victorian era illustrations. Some of the imagery is sourced from Dore, the rest is from a variety of sources. Often times that style of engraving is attributed to Dore. The album writing began with a storyboard and those illustrations inspired the songwriting.

I would say that this aesthetic approach will continue for a while, as it is part of how and what we are writing at the moment. When it no longer serves its purpose, a new visual direction will be invoked.

With such a storied history, there’s a trove of questions I want to ask, but first among them is what is your favorite release or collection among Integrity’s discography?

The next album is always my favorite album. That is why I continue to move forward, because I look forward to the next recording and what it will reveal to me.

If there was one album you could record, which would it be and of course, why?

That is an interesting question. I suppose I would have to say, Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers is a near perfect album. I love its diversity, and yet it still flows as a cohesive album and does not feel like a compilation. That or Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil.

Though the list is exhaustive, from 1988 until now, what bands have you enjoyed playing with most?

My side project, Vermapyre played a festival with G.I.S.M. and that was a dream come true. Over the years, Integrity has toured and performed alongside many great bands and as many great people. It would be impossible to narrow that down to one group.

Are there any artists that are no longer active that you would’ve like to have worked with? Are there any current artists that you would work with and why?

I would have loved/would love to work with Bobby Byrd, Danzig, Randy Uchida, Streisand, Marion Raven, Lee Hazlewood. Jim Steinman would be an inspiring producer to work with.

With many bands planning entire tours around playing one nostalgic and/or influential album live, would that be an option Integrity would ever explore? Of the band’s arguably three most beloved releases, Those Who Fear Tomorrow, Systems Overload and Humanity is the Devil, which would you play live? Of those three, which is your favorite?

I have not been asked to do that, I guess it could be possible, it has never crossed my mind and all of those albums have passed landmark anniversary dates already, so I do not know if that would have the same marketing appeal. I do not have favorites, I enjoy all of my albums.

There has been a cult of personality that has surrounded you and the Integrity name itself for decades now. Much of this is cultivated by the intriguing imagery, much of it coming from the Process Church and featuring Charles Manson. Is there any imagery used in the band’s history you would omit now? Or any imagery and themes you had planned but abandoned in favor of the final product?

No. Every aesthetic approach for INTEG had a specific purpose and intention.

What is the intent and purpose for Integrity’s aesthetic?

Expression. Conveying the mood and emotion of the music. Offering visual stimulation for the observers imagination when listening to the music.

Coming from a movement like hardcore where ideals and music are firmly hand-in-hand, how has your mindset in relation to that sentiment shifted from when you started the band as Die Hard way back when? Is there any aspect of the band that you have ensured would endure time and all its wears?

When I was in Die Hard, I was a kid. Only one song from that period of my life was good enough to travel along, “Judgement Day.” INTEG lyrics focus on personal ideals, torment and philosophies. As it related to who I am as a person, it does not become dated for me. INTEG is not a hardcore band, it has aspects of hardcore and many other variations of music within it, but it is definitely not hardcore.

Out of Integrity’s more recent discography, which song best represents the band in its current iteration?

I do not think one song embodies what INTEG is about. It is the accumulative sum of all songs that define where it was and where it will be is always a variable.

What does the Integrity name mean to you now, 30 years on?

The same as it always has. It is an esoteric diary of my life and my creative mind.

As I mentioned before, Integrity’s momentum is almost unprecedented. With that being said, done and obvious, where do you see Integrity in the near future? How do you see yourself finally laying the Integrity name to rest?

I have no immediate intention of retiring, I have many more albums inside my mind. My future plans are to make the concepts of each album more involved and to share more visuals with the music and lyrics. I also will be increasing the dramatic elements and pushing the boundaries between what I would like to listen to, and what is deemed acceptable at the moment to include on a heavy metal album.

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