Most music fans wouldn’t know it but Diablo Blvd have actually been plying their hard rock trade in their native Belgium for over a decade now, yet it is their new album Zero Hour which has suddenly got the whole world talking about them.
Formed in 2005 with famous comedian Alex Agnew at the helm the band has toured with the likes of Epica, Ace Frehley, Life Of Agony and Machine Head while also creating their own festival in Belgium called Diablo Fest. Alex recently sat down with Heavy Mag to have a chat about Zero Hour and talk about the state of the world today as well.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride,” says Alex describing what it has been like for the band since signing with Nuclear Blast. “The moment that we signed with Nuclear Blast we also got the opportunity to do some international tours which we had never had the opportunity to do before. We’re from Belgium and we normally played in Belgium or in Holland, but that was it, and then all of a sudden you are on tour with a band like Machine Head and you’re all over Europe. That was quite an experience. I think it also did a lot of the band to realise that when you start touring on an international level you suddenly have to compete with the world, you’re suddenly not the big fish in a little pool anymore. You kind of realise that you have to step up your game as well. That was what we intended to do with Zero Hour when we started working on the new album we were thinking ‘well we’re going to have to be more distinctive, the songs are going to have to be even better.’ It was a bit of an eye-opener actually.”
I ask Alex about the unique sound that Diablo Blvd have on Zero Hour and he explains to me how the album came about. “When we normally start on a new album we listen to our old album and distil the things out of it that we thought we did really well and then try and get rid of the things that we think we didn’t do that well,” he explains. “The whole thing kind of came about when I was at this party with a guy from Nuclear Blast and he said ‘what I enjoyed about the song ‘Follow The Deadlights’ was that it sounded like 80s new wave mixed with rock and metal.’ Because he said that it was kind of like this puzzle piece kind of fell into place and was like ‘yeah, absolutely that’s what we are going for.’ So, we decided very early on that we wanted the album to be very dark because that was like the period that we were in as well. Our lead guitar player had departed from the band so it was a different line-up and we wrote the album with the four of us and we just realised that we had to go for this much darker sound so that was what wanted. Here in Belgium and Holland I’m a pretty famous comedian so I’m normally very social critical, as a comedian I am but I wasn’t so much a social critic in my lyrics before – they used to be very metaphorical and on every album that we have we one song like that, like on the last album it was ‘Rise Like Lions,’ but on this one I realised that I couldn’t get away from it anymore – the things I was writing about were very personal and socially critical things which I felt were necessary right now. You know that 1980s nuclear thing that made its way into our sound is not a coincidence. I grew up listening to those bands because I was a young kid in the 80s, so I’ve lived long enough to see some things go full circle. Things that I thought were gone are kind of coming up, there are a lot of things that you see in the world today have a lot of parallels to the 80s. It’s more of a difficult time again now and I felt like I needed to say something about that because I don’t think there are that many bands who do that anymore.”
Our discussion comes around to the recent film Atomic Blonde and we talk about the fact that even though that film was set in Berlin in the 1980s a lot of the themes and the political climate explored in the film are happening again today and that led to Alex talking about how easy it was for the band to slip back into the 1980s feel for the album “It was very easy,” he says laughing. “It was easy to get into that frame of mind because that is how I’ve been feeling for quite some time. I think that is what the song ‘Sing From The Gallows’ is all about as well. You know if you look at the parallels – we have a female Prime Minister in Great Britain, we have Great Britain voting for Brexit to leave the European Union, they’re talking about closing the borders again, they are talking about more isolationist politics, you have a strong man in Russia saying ‘let’s make Russia strong again,’ you have a President in the U.S. that nobody really took seriously – which was exactly the same with Regan, there is even a joke in the film Back To The Future where he is like ‘really? Regan the actor? Who is Secretary Of State, Jerry Lewis?’ You know nobody took him seriously either and he turned out to be a very influential President because all the things that Regan implemented the war on drugs, the war on terror, he even ran on the same campaign slogan that Donald Trump ran on which is Let’s Make America great again. So we have this unbelievable nostalgia where we kind of pretend that everything was better than, well I still remember when the Berlin Wall was still up every week we got another story where somebody was shot with a machine gun trying to get over it, people trying to defect from Soviet Russia and that kind of thing – and that is the way history works, people only remember what was good about it and forget all the horrible things. The 1990s were like a period of hope because the end of the 80s saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, you saw Europe become one with the opening of the borders, the Euro the one currency and now everybody seems to want to go back to that own little isolation – like let’s do America for America, let’s do Russia for Russia and let’s build a wall. Everybody is reversing everything they did in the last few decades. So it was not that hard to get back into the frame of mind, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that they are making films like Atomic Blonde again. People are listening to a lot of 80s music and there is a lot of 80s influence in contemporary pop, so it’s a feeling that people have where we are reverting to a period where we are pretending it was better than living in this time, but it wasn’t.”
This brings us to talking about bands and why so many don’t have political messages in their music anymore and Alex says he feels it’s because a lot of younger bands don’t want to outrage anybody but the older guys still go for it. “I’m an older guy and you notice the older guys still,” he says. “Look at Prophets Of Rage they are pretty much all old guys that are still pissed off about the same things that they were pissed off about when they were kids. So when I was a teenager punk and hardcore music that made sense. They were the genres that talked about the stuff that I was thinking about. Bands like The Dead Kennedys, The Sex Pistols, Exploited and Pantera, stuff like that they were talking about things I was interested in and angry about. Rage Against The Machine bands like that. It is because it is in your DNA, I always think what is inside you is what is going to end up coming out so to me I didn’t really have much of a choice. Like the song ‘Animal’ the opening song on the album was written right after the attack on Brussels – on the Brussels Airport. The funny story about that was I had just flown to London that same day and a guy there said ‘have you read this, the terminal is gone’ and we were like ‘what?’ It was really close to home, it could have been me there, it was just a matter of minutes and hours, so it was one of those things that just really hit home and I kind of felt that I couldn’t stay quiet about something like that. I couldn’t not sing about that or I couldn’t not talk about that. It was difficult because I didn’t want to offend people, the same with my music and my comedy I’m not going out of my way to offend people, but I’m also not pulling punches because somebody may be offended. You kind of has a bit of a responsibility I think. If you’re going to make something you need to. I always thought what Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails said once was cool, he said ‘art is resistance.’ I’ve always liked that, I’ve always thought that is what it is for me. It doesn’t have to be but in my case, I really do believe that you have to say something, there are not a lot of people doing it so somebody has to.”
Zero Hour is out now.