Hubris have been going for well over a decade now but it still absolutely blows my mind that Buffalo has an authentic black metal band. Frontman, mastermind, Andrew McGirr AKA Hellskald has been spearheading this project with his full heart, working with his bandmates to put “the pride of Satan” on full display on stages across the continental US.
Andrew moved to North Carolina in 2019, but has kept Hubris going despite proximity concerns. He’s also joined a newer, melodic black metal project called Helianthus, featuring members spread across the east coast of the US. You can find Helianthus’s new single, “Children of the Bow” at helianthus.bandcamp.com. As for Hubris, you can find their impressive discography going back to 2012 at thetruehubris.bandcamp.com.
Andrew and I are not strangers by any means, but this was our first one-on-one discussion about his many musical works come to fruition in the Buffalo and Rochester metal scenes. And as there is a lot of ground to cover, I’ll let Andrew take it from here…
1. Tell me about the metal scene in and around Raleigh, North Carolina. You’ve lived there for three years now, so I’d love to hear all about your adventures thus far, whether they pertain to music or not.
AM: The area around Raleigh is called The Triangle: Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill; three medium-sized cities that feed off each other as a spiraling hub of commerce, innovation, and funtimes, all connected by big highways. The scene here is robust. I moved to Raleigh right before the Plague, so we were shut in pretty quickly. However, post-vaccine, concert life seems to have returned to normal: solid turnouts regardless of what day it is, and plenty of venues as a result. My Durham-based band Antiquity debuted at Shadow Woods Metal Fest V in 2021, and we just hosted Selfgod on a Valentine’s Day Tuesday night in Chapel Hill—the crowd was wonderful. People here seem willing to try out new bands as a fact of their scene. It’s also very inclusive; many not-white-dude types frequent the shows, and it’s clear they feel safe to do so. All of that makes me pretty glad to be here.
2. Now take us back to the beginning of your black metal journey out of the frozen tundra that is Buffalo, NY. How did you first come to form Hubris and what were the first few rehearsals like?
AM: In 2007, I called my brother Jesse from my dorm at SUNY Fredonia, and I said, “Jesse, there’s an entire music school at this college, but they all just want to play jam band bullshit that takes no effort; they’re all waaaaay too happy, and none of them share our hatred for humanity; you have to form a black metal band with me.” Decisively, he agreed, we recruited our good friend Matt Emminger, and we became Hellskald, Lichfiend, and Melkorpse. Eareckson Murray helped us begin our descent into to the underground, but ultimately CW Dunbar would join as Deragore the permanent drummer.
With both drummers, I remember “wait, how does this next part go?” All of us responded, “It’s all in the recording,” by which we meant our Guitar Pro files: fully fleshed-out notations that dictated everything we needed to know. That was the standard of excellence from the beginning, and it remains so today in all of my groups. It became clear that rehearsal wasn’t practice, nor was it creative writing time—a rehearsal is to run pieces in full, scrubbing out problem areas and marking targets for individual workshedding. I make it sound like it was all work, but we played as hard as we worked, and it was always the best of times.
Part of what I loved about the early days was the songwriting. I would send Matt a song without bass lines, and he’d write the weirdest but best shit possible for it. In turn, he’d send me a song of nothing but bass, and I’d flesh it out into an elaborate full band of music. Jesse and I would collaborate on songs together, making them better than they could have been on our own. This is how we ended up with too much music; Hubris still has a reservoir of unreleased material, and it will last us years.
3. Going even further back, who or what first inspired you to become a musician? Tell us about the very first music you can remember being inspired by.
AM: My parents are both musicians: my mother a fine soprano and guitar/piano player, and my father a concert pianist. He had all the best repertoire in his fingers when we were kids, and on his lap as a toddler, I would ask for what I called “Bach, the Rhythm,” which would send his hands to work on what is actually the finale movement to Toccata in D Major, BWV 912. That’s just one moment, the earliest. It was reinforced over and over I needed to play, write, and perform. It had to happen.
4. Without putting too much thought into it, name your top 5-10 guitar players of all-time and tell us what makes them so special.
AM: Well, 5-10 means 7. I honestly don’t know what order these are in.
Fredrik Thordendal. Meshuggah is seminal, and Thordendal’s part in it is clear, but he also brings Holdsworth into the here and now.
André Olbrich. One of the most lyrical melodists in metal, I find his guitar style in Blind Guardian as iconic as Hansi’s voice.
Joe Leising. I can’t deny he came to mind first; this is likely because we were roommates for a year, so I had the privilege of having him noodle on the couch next to me. He’s always learning more about technique, always exploring different approaches that could change his understanding. That’s why Joe can play anything you put in front of him; he learned Ferus Din’s set in four days, and at the first rehearsal when I asked him how he was, he said, “my wrist hurts, and you’re an asshole.” Go listen to Ferus Din’s “Dissolution in the Spirit Pool” and find out what I mean.
Yngwie Malmsteen. Yes, he repeats himself, and yes, his ego is chronically enlarged, but I saw him live some years ago, and this man is one with the instrument; everything looked effortless for him—he was truly playing, just enjoying interacting with guitar, and the way he did so was wonderful.
Frank Zappa. This dude made his guitar the subject of avant-garde 20th Century Classical music, and managed to keep it within the organic framework of how the instrument actually functions. See: “Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear.”
Ani Difranco. I’ve seen Ani perform a few times, and one of those times, she had no band—she didn’t need one. Her mastery over the percussive nature of the right-hand made her guitar the rhythm section. She also has a very creative approach to alternate tunings that can show you the depths of despair or playful laughter, depending on the song.
Ihsahn. No one influenced my black metal writing style more than Emperor. Samoth wrote some very choice riffs, but it is Ihsahn who had compositional vision, drove towards complexity, and yet kept it bitter, lofty, and fierce throughout. From him, as well as bands like 1349 and Gorgoroth, I learned I could easily apply to black metal everything I learned from classical music about chord voicings and thematic development.
5. Similarly, without giving it much thought, give us your top 5-10 albums of all-time. We’re looking for any genre.
AM: This list is missing way too much, and I hate it:
10. Sabotage, Black Sabbath.
9. World Without End, Katharsis.
8. Coil, Orcustus. I’ll be no one reading this knows what that is. *flex*
7. The Planets, Gustav Holst. Any recording that takes “Mars: The Bringer of War” at a tense, anxious tempo.
6. Superunknown, Soundgarden.
5. Esoteric Malacology, Slugdge.
4. Era of albums Vile-Kill, Cannibal Corpse.
3. Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Emperor.
2. Sol Niger Within V3.33, Fredrik Thordendal’s Special Defects.
1. Hubris’s next full-length.
6. We love nerding out about gear, so tell us about the makes and models you swear by when it comes to guitars, amps, pedals, etc. Tell us your personal preferences when it comes to music related hardware and software, mostly for the sake of young people looking to piece together their very first live and in-house setups.
AM: After all this time, I still don’t truly have the gearlust that will bring me to telling you about pedals; I will say I’m tired of my 6505+ breaking, I’m planning on swapping the speakers in my Marshall 4×12, and I’m considering just buying an Axe Effects to be done with it—purists be damned. That said, I love the sound of the Mesa Triple Rectifier, so I have that in my sights as well. If I can get my hands on one of those and put it atop a Thunderbear 4×12, I think I’d be satisfied in how gnarly, round, full, violent, and beautiful the sound is.
What I know more is what I like for guitars. BC Rich gets a bad rap bc nu metal; my Warlock, Beast, and Mockingbird play beautifully, and they’re all at different price points—the ST Mockingbird is the nicest axe I own. They’re stable, adaptive, thicc in the neck (good for my giant tree hands), and the body types are vary so much that there’s something for every mood: neoclassical to unholy bloody war. I also love my Jackson Kelly X Series; the fretboard on Jacksons feels more cutting, like the frets are a little taller, and somehow that makes them a great match for great speed. I do also love my Ibanez X—Ibanez: the company that says “anything you can do, I can do cheaper.” If we’re addressing new learners here, Jackson and Ibanez make great entry-level guitars on a budget. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a Squier, either; the action is very slinky, making it easy to nail down bar chords and bends right away. That’s the music teacher in me talking.
7. Fast forwarding to today, tell us all about how you came to form Helianthus. This is a really interesting situation, since the members are spread up and down the US East Coast. Getting back to the band, what is the story behind the name, and how do you feel “Children of the Bow” has been received by listeners so far.
AM: I was the last addition to Helianthus; Rob Pollard and Laura Beach started it: a collaboration between a brilliant guitarist and brilliant vocalist. From there, Laura recruited Elán O’Neal on drums and Matthew Florio on bass; Rob recruited me for the other guitar part, and I was delighted as soon as I heard the music. Distance is not an issue; we’re all excited about Helianthus.
The name is special. Rob’s father grew sunflowers, and since his passing, he has seeds from those plants; from them, he will keep the tradition alive. The seeds of this band are much the same: from death there is rebirth, rising from decay to face the sun again. You can hear that in the sunny disposition of the chordwork in “Children of the Bow,” as hard-hitting as the song still remains. This is about finding a way forward in a very negative subgenre fraught with toxic elements and making something positive of it, something cathartic, purifying, energizing. Listeners seem to agree there; No Clean Singing reviewed the track the day it was released, and they call it “a true musical kaleidoscope, a real head-spinner in which all the moving parts are constantly shifting at high speed, and one that creates an exhilarating thrill-ride.” That’s nice to read, I’ll tell ya.
8. Promote your shows here! The February Hubris show will have passed by the time this gets published, but what else do you have planned stage wise for Hubris and Helianthus? You can also get into any details about merch or recording you’d like to promote for any of your projects.
AM: Hubris has been gradually piecing together a full-length of monstrous magnitude. This will be a tour-de-force representing an era of our work, songs we have long worked to be good enough to record. It will be called Acts of Sedition, referring to a great many things that do not serve us. We plan to tour on the album this year, and if we can, we’ll ride with Helianthus so I can play two sets a night. Meanwhile, Helianthus is in the process of learning songs for the debut album, and Antiquity is writing songs for the next album as well. This year will be full of music. Helianthus already has live performances lined up, which I am not at liberty to disclose, so watch and get hype for the lot of it.
9. What’s your favorite instrument to play besides guitar?
AM: Violin. I’ve been playing since I was seven. I went hard at the instrument as a youth, so I’m actually a better technical violinist than guitarist. That said, playing stuff like Paganini showed me the diminishing returns of the pinnacle classical stuff: work your ass off to master treacherous speedy lines, to play for…a few people at a recital? I’ve fallen more in love with Baroque music, not just Bach and Vivaldi, but the composers emerging from the Renaissance, like William Lawes, Salamone Rossi, Francois Couperin. Those composers often wrote a “treble” line, not necessarily a violin line, but that’s even better—what can you bring to that part with your violin? Apply yourself to the style and find out.
10. Tell us about the most obscure/lesser known stringed instrument you have in your collection!
AM: In the Medieval Period, the Spanish wanted a guitar they could bow, so they made one: thus, the Viola da Gamba was born. Literally “the Fiddle of the Leg,” it has six strings and frets like a guitar, and with a similar tuning, but it has an arced bridge so it can be bowed. It was popular until high Baroque. I came upon a treble viol in 2016 when I was playing with some early music folks in Buffalo, and I instantly fell in love: the depth of tone and breadth of expression, and the richness of real gut strings. It’s no wonder viola da gamba has surged in interest in the modern era in waves. I’m happy to be a part of the current wave; there may be more viol playing in my future.