HELL SPAWN – A Talk With NICO DE VREESE (CEO Hell Spawn Mag & Webzine/ Co-Writer Rock Tribune Magazine)

Posted on September 29th. 2020

Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM

I would like to introduce you to a Belgian based, natural born metalhead and journalist. Someone who deserves a statue for his years of support for the Hard Rock and Metal movement, his name Nico De Vreese aka Mr. Hell.

His showpiece is without any doubt the magazine Hell Spawn which he first founded as a printed item, now only exists as a great webzine. Recently he released his own compilation and would like Nico to talk about this product and his life as a metal fanatic throughout so many years !

Stefan: Hails Nico, first of all congratz with the review of Hell Spawn Compilation, a product you can be proud of ! Before we have a conversation about this, I’d like to know how you developed yourself as a Rock and Metal freak. What has driven you to immerse yourself in this world?

Nico: Damn starting it off with a though one, I though you were going to take it easy on me ?. One thing I learned like and listen to whatever you like no matter what anyone else says! Even if you drift of the metal path and like a pop tune or whatever, it’s your life, you don’t have to answer to anybody for what you listen to! I kinda like the underdog so it seems, I also like some bigger bands don’t get me wrong, but even concert wise, I enjoy gigs in a small club way more than those in big stadiums…

Music is my life’s fuel, it cheers me up when I am down, and at times it gives me energy etc… About development, in the beginning I checked out interview with bands,  who and what they liked and checked those bands out, or if I saw some cool artwork, I decided to give that bands a listen and later on with friends and recommendations etc… Nowadays that’s so much easier thx to the internet, one thing leads to another ? You need the will of course, and it takes some time, but when you discover an awesome band I find it very rewarding! I am kinda on a never-ending quest to seek and find new bands/ music….


Stefan: What genre or bands were your idols back then – what appealed to you so much in the genre?

Nico: Well I always liked music, even as a little kid! My grandma used to tell me she often found me asleep near the radio haha. Growing up I realized  the music I listened only got harder and more rock! Queen, Duran Duran, later on Europe until I discovered Def Leppard’s Hysteria! I was sold I quickly tried to gather so much music from them and from there on my metal quest began ? Seeing I had no metal friends at the time I had to discover lots on my own!


Stefan: Regarding attending gigs, which band did you see for the first time and what was your impression of being able to witness a first gig.

Nico: My very first metal gig was Prong (who I didn’t know at the time) supporting Faith No More. FNM’s ‘The Real Thing’ still one hell of a record and still my favorite of theirs! It was really cool and even funny at times, and since then the microbe even bit me harder. For from then on I tried to do more and more gigs. Off course not all gigs are as great and memorable as others, but certain gigs give you such energy and unforgettable memories.


Stefan: Which genre appealed to you the most at the time, is this still the case today? Name a few bands considered as all time faves.

Nico: In my beginning day, I would say hard rock like Def Leppard, Guns ‘n Roses, Saxon, White Lion, later on I discovered other bands Like Savatage, Crimson Glory, Vicious Rumors, less rock and more metal. But honestly I still like the bands I started with a lot. Around my 16 or so I listened to a lot of death and black metal, but honestly I kinda got bored with the genre!

There are a few bands from It I still listen to, like Rotting Christ, good old Nocturnus and off course Death also never bores ? All time faves, deffo Warrior Soul, their debut ‘Last Decade Dead Century’ is to me one off the best albums ever made! But then we off course have also Santuary’s INTO THE MIRROR BLACK, probably the best metal album ever! Which competes to Crimson Glory’s Transcendence, another stellar release! I have to mention Megadeth aswell, also a band who I adore, Rust In Peace such a great album, the first 4  Def Leppard albums, I prefer not to choose between them, they all have their own charm. I could go on and on here.. There is so much great music out there… ?


Stefan: At a certain point you start with Hell Spawn, a Belgian magazine, what prompted you to do this and what were your ambitions?

Nico: Well due to a guy who lived close to me, also a metal head, at a certain day he began to talk to me in a record store and we became friends. He told he was writing for a metal zine called Fanfare and they needed people to review etc.. I agreed but started slow and did mostly demo’s in the beginning or smaller beginning bands. But then I quickly went up the ranks ? some people left the zine to start Mindview…

And some people in charge of Fanfare were a bit limited in their metal knowledge, nothing bad about that, so I got to help select the reviews, for sometimes more great unknown bands like a Mekong Delta got skipped, for the person who did the edit didn’t know them and often skipped more unknown bands which was a no go for me. Later on some off the people in charge there stopped for they wanted to start a family. With Noel one off the only remaining founders I continued the zine with some friends and some new guys. I became the second in command, learnt a lot.

But then we didn’t really agree on the vision after a few years, they wanted bigger names etc and I didn’t, so me and few of my friends quit! But we helped finish the zine we were working on. In the beginning Noel was a bit angry on me for that, but that’s all cleared out and we are good friends again. I then decided to do my own zine, which was still a bit tougher than I thought hehe. It was normally going to be called Apocalyptic Visions, even had a logo ready, but then Iced Earth’s ‘The Dark Saga’ was released.

Jon Schaffer told me the original title for the cd was ‘The Hellspawn saga’, but they were no longer authorized to use it from Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane. So I though damn, that’s a great name. So we switched it to Hell Spawn, my wife Sabine helped to create our first logo, which was a bit a combination of the Megadeth and Savatage logo, which got later on a bit cleaned up by my good friend Kris Verwimp!


Stefan: How many copies were printed at the beginning of this experience – How was it distributed?

Nico: I think our very first ones were around 500 copies, then often 700 which later grew up to 1000 copies. Most of the editions are completely sold out, and a few boxes got destroyed by a water leak in the garage! There are a few left of some of the latest editions, but not much! We did the distribution ourselves. Went to metalshops and stores and even some pubs. And some were sold at metal fairs aswell.


Stefan: Can you say a little more about the content of the magazine, what kind of fans were served at their beck and call?

Nico: In the beginning we did a lot of different genres. But mostly heavier stuff but always with an eye on more unknown bands, we were the very first to have a band like Iced Earth on the front before way bigger zines in the Benelux did, we also choose to use album art on our frontcover or a combination of that with pictures. We also had a comic story in the zine, Odoric, Kris Verwimps cool warrior, I think when we stopped with the printed zine, half of the story was published, he was planning to get it out asap, but he is so busy with creating art for bands…


Stefan: Was it difficult to find reliable employees and what to tell about the competition from other mags?

Nico: I had a lot of friends who were writing for me at the times, some dropped out when they couldn’t combine it with work or so! I used to be easier, for in the early days you got promo cd’s and sometimes limited press only copies. Nowadays it’s downloads or streams (I hate that latest and we say NO to that). I understand why they do it, but I don’t share my promo’s on the net and off course it costs the labels, but my time is precious too… We are a small group of friends who do it for the passion of music, but since we can’t do everything, we decided to focus mainly on the things we like!


Stefan: How many editions of Hell Spawn were released before you decided to quit?

Nico: I think we released 16! Last one we gave away for free, kinda as a thank you and a little bit ? to get rid of the hassle of doing these wide spread and collect afterwards!


Stefan: Why did you quit actually?

Nico: Pff as I said always a hassle for distribution, printing a zine isn’t cheap and getting advertisement was not always easy! And especially if you wanna keep your independence! I must say we got a lot of support from the guys at Metal Blade (Germany). Nowadays lots of zines survive due to label support and advertisement. You don’t interview their bands, no advertisement. It’s quite simple. Doing a webzine is cheaper, less costs and honestly you reach way more people, off course you can’t read it everywhere although these times everyone has a smartphone or tablet so…


Stefan: What was the best moment you experienced during the active years of the magazine?

Nico: One off the coolest moments was with Dave Mustaine from Megadeth! He was looking into our first zine, which was pretty crappy lay-out wise ?. He said he loved it and I said, it’s ok it still needs lots of work! Nah that’s not why, he replied! You don’t have all the means, but you try, this comes from the heart! I could not have been more proud!

Another proud moment was when the 3rd zine was out we got 2 or 3 add’s for a ½ page but the mag was done and lay-outed, but we couldn’t turn down the money so we added a flap around the mag, we got so much good results on it, but the guy who did our zine said he had no time to nit that and it was extra work, so my wife and my friend Mario (yes the one from Alcatraz) and his wife went to do that on a Saturday when I was at work.

For the zine after that everybody who booked an add wanted to be on the flap haha, but it was too much work to keep doing that! But a great one off! We also had Immolation as a part of the frontcover and after their show at the frontline Ross the singer came to talk to me and thank me for it!  When they (Immolation) released ‘Close to a world below’ which had stellar artwork we decided that we put that on the front, when we went to give them some copies at a gig he was really over the moon! He even dedicated a song to us haha! And the time when we put Lefay ( when Morgana Lefay split in two bands) on the front I want to give the guys a mag, one off the guys, I think the bassplayer, was so happy, he gave me a huge hug haha! Memories, there are so much of them…


Stefan: Hell Spawn was not buried, on the contrary, you are still doing very well these days, albeit as a webzine. How are things going at the moment?

Nico: Yeah we are still at it, but sometimes it’s a bit pushed back due to lack of time. For I work and also write for Rock Tribune. So I can’t give my baby all the time I need, but I try ? also depends on my shifts, sometimes I am too tired and we need some r&r aswell or you would get fed up when I becomes too much of a commitment. But don’t worry we aren’t going anywhere yet ?


Stefan: What do you prefer, Hell Spawn as a printed mag or Hell Spawn as webzine… why?

Nico: Though question, they both their ups and downs! Printed is more stress and more expensive but it’s more of a proud moment when you can hold it in your hand etc.. Zine is easier, cheaper, and you can still correct type O’s hahaha! Lets keep it with webzine ?


Stefan: In addition to your activity as head of your own webzine, you also became an employee of the famous Rock Tribune magazine, how did you end up in this Nico?

Nico: Well as I said earlier Mario (from Alcatraz and Rock tribune) used to write for Hell Spawn. I also helped with his Spin City (before Rock Tribune) but I wasn’t so fond of the direction it went so I quit that one! When he wanted to start with RT I got invited and liked it and I decided to stay. I the beginning I did some more stuff for there weren’t that much guys yet! Then I lowered the bar a bit, but then afterwards with a change at the top I got asked more often so I stepped up my game!


Stefan: Are there obligations, I mean do the articles have a deadline to keep an eye on?

Nico: No as soon as everything becomes too much off a commitment, I am going to call it a day! We do it as fun and as a hobby and to support the genre and bands we like! And what if my interview with this or that band appears a month or two later than the rest.. it won’t be the same and many zines have too much of the same bands at the same time!


Stefan: Recently one of your dreams came true, releasing your own CD compilation. This has now happened and after a thorough listening inspection I come to the conclusion that there is very interesting material on board. How did you start this project Nico?

Nico: Well In Rock Tribune we have often have a sampler compiled by labels etc but it are mostly well known bands who don’t always need it, don’t get me wrong it’s cool and you sometimes get an idea of a band or song or still discover something new, but not enough to discover for me! So I though why no create one with bands most people don’t know but who are also very cool! As you know I do lots of gigs, like to talk to a band after the show etc and with some I became good friends. I decided to make a little list, which only grew as the project took form!


Stefan: You’ve chosen lesser known bands, why?

Nico: Because some people are too lazy to check out new bands ? haha. Well yes and no, there are much bands in the world, not always easy to check them all, so some I really like, I decided to give them a push. And what I am hearing from people I choose pretty well for I am getting lots of great comments on certain bands! Which make me very happy!


Stefan: How did you end up with the bands, why?

Nico: Well some are very great bands that need to get heard and as I said some are good friend whom I glady help. I remember Ben from Avenging Benji (Crimson Glory) saying that he has a new album ready but is still looking for a label to release it! When I contacted him he was convinced directly, he said this could help us get extra attention etc… which is one off the goals help bring these so great underrated bands a bit more in the spotlights.

Promethium from Lancaster are some off my best friends, I like to call them my boys ? I helped them get over here for some shows! They needed to be on there! As for Lords Of Ruin that’s a new band where my friend Steve from Die No More (RIP) plays drum and they released that song as a digital single, well now it’s out on cd! Angerland, are some off the guys from Fuckshovel who I became friends with when they came over a few years back.

So they have a digital ep out, and I choose my favorite song of it to be featured on the compilation.  And then there are also some great bands from our own country who don’t get enough attention, so I made a selection of some, but there are so much more I would like to have featured on there, but there is only so much space on a cd!


Stefan: what did you pay attention to while selecting the songs?

Nico: Nothing special, I needed to like the song, there were a few bands that said I could choose, some suggested another, but I ended up with the one I had in mind! Also I didn’t just want UK or only Belgian bands, a bit off a pick across the world!


Stefan: The front artwork looks nice, as well as the reverse side looks very successful. Who was responsible for this?

Nico: Thx! Well the front was created by my good friend and brother Geert Lippens, I had some things in mind and he worked it out, there some cool try outs on my pc before we come to this result, I was never happy or 100% convinced, until we added the blue necroplasma as I like to call it!

The back of the cd was created by another good friend I know for years Kenny Molly from Sanity’s Rage and Tensor. He is also working on a HELL SPAWN shield as we speak, it’s going to be awesome! ?


Stefan: Overall I think the choice of bands and songs is far above average, mission accomplished I would say. Are there certain songs you prefer, why?

Nico: Though question, there are always bigger faves. I adore the Empyre song, that voice!!!! Avenging Benji’s ‘Head above water’ is a really cool one, with Wade Black on additional vocals. Hearing a lot off cool response to the Angerland song! Which is also a favorite. Promethium off course, love that band, that was the toughest decision to choose a song haha, so many favorites.

Love Dark Matter, with Jeff Lords also off Crimson Glory. A bit off a more modern and brutal version of CG. Sin Savage an awesome young band where I expect a lot from in the coming future! Orthanc a band I love ever since their demo. Fallen Man with my American friend Michael who I known for years, I like his band a lot and the song we have on here is a bit different than what they usually do, but I think it’s something unique on there. I could go on here for some time ?


Stefan: Where is this compilation available?

Nico: It will be added with the upcoming Rock Tribune and off course through me!  I have some spare copies! Next weekend I am going to Holland to visit my friend Henk from No Dust his awesome metal shop to leave some copies there aswell, there is a message option on our site www.hellspawn.be and facebook page (that is still under construction, I need more TIME!!! ? ) I might get some in certain venues, like Asgaard in Ghent and Elpee in Deinze!

Henk (No Dust records) & Nico

Stefan: May we prepare for a second edition of the Hellspawn Compilation – What are the plans ?

Nico: Hahaha you mind reader, I have been thinking about it! It’s likely that there will be a 2nd edition, dunno if I will continue after that, but I do believe a second one is a must, that one will normally have our new shield on the cover! I am brainstorming about certain bands, there is a chance one or 2 might return with another track ?


Stefan: Then I would like to thank you very much for your willingness to participate in this conversation. Do you want to say something before we finish? Cheerz brother !

Nico: Well thank you for picking my brain Stefan, my brain is boiling hahaha! Thx so much for this opportunity brother. Glad to have a Belgian brother who also has a heart for the underground! Keep METAL TO INFINITY alive, I know it is not always easy, but remember your zine your rules! And I also like the fact we keep introducing new bands to each other ? Hopefully till soon brother! A beer together is long overdue!