Monday 23 July 2012

MARDUK - Burning Black Flame

Swedish group Marduk, commanded by its only original member, guitarist and main composer Morgan Håkansson, is a fine example of an underground band, which through its impeccable consistency, dedication and persistence made it to the extreme elite already years ago. May 2012 saw the release of the band's crushing twelfth full-length "Serpent Sermon", their first release for Century Media. It's their fourth record since the departure of the charismatic frontman Legion in 2003. Completed with new vocalist Mortuus, "Angel Plague", "Rom 5:12", "Wormwood" and the latest opus surely belong to Marduk's strongest offerings to date. Morgan spoke to We Wither to explain what fuels his desire for metal destruction, why is it important to tour and his vast interest in history.

You were a 17-year-old kid in 1990. The Marduk biography says that you wanted to create the most brutal and blasphemous metal act ever. What kind of person were you at the time?
Back then I was very young and hungry. I never really wanted to be the most blasphemous because I didn't want to compete with anyone. Around 1990 a lot of metal bands became mellow and mainstream, which we really disliked. With Marduk we wanted to bring back that darkness and hate to metal music, which we think is essential.

After twenty years on stage and twelve albums how do you maintain the energy and will to keep doing what you're doing? What drives you, is it anger, passion, a need to prove something?
I feel a black flame burning inside me, which fuels everything I do and it drives my actions with Marduk. It keeps me hungry and eager to stay on course in my long dark journey that started over two decades ago. I'm inspired by the people I play with, we inspire each other and push ourselves to do extreme music. Together we create magic and we let the energy loose which affects our sound. It's a pure reflection of our spirits. I don't feel a need to prove anything. I never experience that.

Since Mortuus joined Marduk in 2004, he seems to have had a huge impact on the band. You recorded songs which correspond very well with what he's doing with Funeral Mist, for example, tracks such as "Accuser/Opposer", "Coram Satanae" and "Funeral Dawn". Did the results or your collaboration top your expectations?
It absolutely passed my expectations but from the beginning I knew we would be able to do great things together since Mortuus is as eager and passionate for extreme music as I am. He has got such a unique voice so the fact that some of Marduk songs sound a little bit like Funeral Mist is natural and doesn't bother me at all. I think we’ve achieved fantastic things so far and there is so much more to follow in the future. We constantly work and even only a month or two after releasing "Serpent Sermon" we have already started writing for the next record.

Does replacing the original logo on the cover of "Serpent Sermon" mean anything or is it just refreshing the band's image?
Some people asked me why we dumped our original logo and that's a mistake because we never got rid of it. On this album we decided to use the alternative logo, which by the way has been in use for some time now, since it looked better with this particular cover art. The original Marduk logo is something I'm very proud of and we would never dump it. I actually hate when bands do that. Possessed got rid of the white inverted cross from their logo when they released "Beyond the Gates", which really sucked.

fot. by Herman Stehouwer
Do you write and perform sensing there is pressure on your work?
I don't feel any pressure at all. I just try to get out what I have inside and channel it through music. I do what I think is right for myself and Marduk and I believe in my creativity, that's what artists do.

You start your hell of a European tour in August 2012 in Poland and finish it after over forty dates in October in Poland again. You also recorded the live album "Warschau" here. Is this a coincidence or is Poland more important to you somehow?
Yes, it is important. One of the reasons for it is that our booking agency Massive Music is from Poland, so it's great to be able to start and finish the tour there. It's very good logistically for us as well. This tour is indeed a huge one. It's 40 shows in 48 days. I have always been interested in Warsaw since it's a place connected to the history of many wars, not only the Second World War. I'm very interested in the history of wars between Sweden and Poland in the sixteenth century. I read a lot about that period. It has always been a great inspiration to me. The idea to record a live show in Warsaw was fantastic since it's a historical city and we always had very successful tours in Poland and we have extremely dedicated fans over there.

You have always toured a lot around the world. Ten or fifteen years ago Eastern Europe was a place where fans were really crazy and all the bands were talking about it. This was also the case in South America. Do you still feel the extreme and exciting hunger for metal amongst the fans now as in the ‘90s? Are metal-heads as devoted as they used to be?
Its hard to say, it gets better or worse from time to time. Actually I think it's getting better again lately. Wherever we go, Europe, America or Asia, we always meet very dedicated and fanatical fans. That's why we push each other to go to new places and reach as many new countries and cities as possible. It's very exciting to play in new places. It doesn't even matter if there is a huge crowd or only a bunch of people. Eastern Europe was always the best place to tour, it's like a highlight but there are awesome fans all over the world.

You have so much material that it must be difficult to choose the set-list each time you tour. Do you ever think about which songs fans would like to hear or do you not compromise at all in this field?
We always perform only the tracks we want to and don’t compromise. For me what's important is the present. I believe that the band is as strong as its last album. I don't want to live in the past, though we play some older songs too because we are proud of the older material as well. My idea for live shows is to play as many new songs as possible. I like to present the new material live whenever we go on tour so we usually put quite a few new tracks in the set.

Lots of musicians joined and left Marduk over the years. Supposedly so far you’ve had three vocalists, three guitarists, two bass players and three drummers who are no longer in the band. According to your experience, what position is the most difficult to replace?
I would say it's the vocalist. In my opinion, to find a charismatic frontman who is determined and 100% devoted is definitely a very hard thing. There are lots of awesome guitarists and drummers around but good vocalists are rare. When I recruited Mortuus I didn't want him to be a copy of Legion and was sure that he would be able to lift Marduk to another level because of his extraordinary energy and dedication. His voice is so unique that you recognize it right away when you put the record on. I don't think that's been the case with any of our drummers, though they are all good musicians.

Most metal bands have two guitarists but not Marduk, apart from your early years when Devo was a guitar player. Do you think playing with one guitar makes metal more straightforward?
In a way it does, though it can sometimes sound a little empty. If you ask me about the current line-up, I have to say I feel very confident with one guitar right now. The whole band is very tight and focused at the moment. It's the best line-up we’ve had since forever.

Marduk often speaks about Nazi Germany and the Second World War. You seem to have a lot in common with death metal veterans Vader in that field. Is your interest in history one of the reasons you have toured together so many times?
Not in the beginning. One of the reasons we toured together a lot is that we have the same promoter. We became very good friends with Vader and playing with them is always a pleasure and a good chance to spend time talking about some aspects of the history since Peter and I are both interested in lots of similar things, such as the Second World War. We often discuss the history books we read and films we’ve watched. Once when we were on a European tour and we had a day off in France, Peter and I went to the panzer museum, which was just great.

A relatively small population of ten million Swedes has been able to produce an endless number of groundbreaking and essential metal bands. Scandinavia also has a very high percentage of people who listen to metal. What do you think is the reason for this and would you dare to explain it?
For some reason, it seems everybody here is somehow involved in a scene, playing in a band or doing something connected with metal. For example, my hometown of Norrköping has around 90,000 inhabitants but there are quite a few awesome bands around here. Let's mention the occult hard rock band Year of the Goat or the doom group Griftegård. And there are more. I can’t really explain why Scandinavians love metal so much, but the extreme stuff might simply be in our blood.

fot. by Herman Stehouwer
Do you care if Marduk is called a black or death metal band? Is it important to you to be labeled as black metal?
The line between death and black metal is pretty vague nowadays. For example, I understand Morbid Angel's "Altars of Madness" as a black metal record but most people would say it's a typical death metal album. I personally think about Marduk as a black metal band but, honestly, I don't really care what people call it. It's extreme metal with a strong dedication to all things dark and satanic and that's all what matters.

Your other band Death Wolf (previously known as Devil's Whorehouse) is clearly influenced by Danzig. Taking a look at your tattoo, it is easy to figure out that you are a huge fan of his work. Are the Misfits and Danzig bands which originally got you interested in dark, disturbing music? You also played with Danzig a couple of times…
Originally it was Samhain, his band between the Misfits and Danzig, that got my attention but at the time I was so much more interested in very extreme metal so I only rediscovered and got hooked up with his albums later on. Danzig is a huge inspiration to me. In a way, I see my reflection in him. He never cared what people were saying about his music and never changed because the press was criticizing him. He always kept doing his thing, following his own path. In that sense we are similar. We had an opportunity to tour twice, in 2002 and 2010. I really appreciate that we had a chance to do it, we felt privileged. Being able to see one of your favourite bands every night is amazing.

What's up with the as yet unreleased EP "Portraits Of Dead Children"?
It was a very primitive recording. Done with not the best equipment at a time when Legion and B.War had left the band after "World Funeral". I still have it somewhere and maybe one day I will put it on our website or maybe go back to the studio to restore it but I don't have exact plans for it at the moment.

What message are you sending to the world with your alias Evil?
I don't think evil is a thing you can or should explain, you need to figure it out for yourself. That nickname was strictly connected to what I was doing in Abruptum. I didn't really choose that name. It was given to me by the former band members All and It. With Marduk I never use a nickname, I don't need it, I know who I am.

There is a saying that you should know your enemy to be able to fight it. Does being a radical antichristian and not knowing the Bible and its message make sense to you?
You definitely should know your enemy if you want to fight it right. The Bible inspires me in so many ways. My interest in reading came originally in school. First it was rather in history books, then it was the Bible. Later over the years it developed into something bigger. What really drives me is to represent the exact opposite to what Christianity stands for.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

ESOTERIC - Voices from a Distant Place

There are only a couple of bands as important to the extreme doom metal scene as the English legion Esoteric. Starting their crusade across the oblivion of the darkest of metal arts in 1992, the Birmingham-based band now has six full-lengths under its belt, the last three of which were released by the French label Season of Mist. The newest offering "Paragon of Dissonance" and the previous "The Maniacal Vale" indisputably moved Esoteric to the forefront of the genre. The band's vocalist, guitar player, composer and producer Greg Chandler talked to We Wither about the secrets of the doom rituals.

Like 2008's "The Maniacal Vale", the new album "Paragon of Dissonance" is a double cd effort. Do you feel confident that you can keep the attention of the listener for almost 100 minutes? Or maybe the record is not necessarily meant to be listened in its entirety?

Well, we prefer to release long albums as the song writing is usually quite varied and so the songs can sound and feel rather different from one another. For us it is more interesting to record more material to bridge the gap between each album. The listener can listen to the album as they see fit, whether it’s just a song or two at a time, one disc or even both discs.

What emotions accompany the creative writing process? Are they similar feelings to those the listener experiences, such as alienation, desperation etc?
The emotions that we try to recreate in the music come from the emotions, thoughts and experiences that inspire the creative song-writing process. We write almost always from feel alone rather than set formulas or goals. It’s important for us to write music that has a deep personal meaning, so that it has a firm basis in how it relates to us and our own minds, so that when performing the music we have a strong bond and relation to what we are expressing. The listener will hear the music based on their own interpretation of it and it will vary considerably depending on how well they can relate to the emotional content and feelings within the music.

There is a saying that good literature comes from pain, depression, disappointment, grief. Does that also apply to music somehow?
In some instances, for some forms of music I would say yes. For some, maybe not. It just depends I think. I think strong emotions that have a deep meaning to the author will always feel quite strong to the recipient that can relate to the content the author deals with, whether it is literature, music, visual art and so on.

fot. by James Robinson (
Esoteric has been around for almost 20 years. Did the perception of your music change much in that time, are people more open to such an extreme form of music now that they were in the early ‘90s?
On a general level, I would say yes, certainly. When the band first formed and we released our first demo and then album and were playing a handful of live shows the reaction was very different to what it is now. Many complained that the music was too slow, particularly those listening to a lot of death or black metal, those that listened to traditional or stoner doom seemed to dislike the fact that we were a mixture of different styles and influences and were not “true” doom. We had very little acceptance of what we did in the beginning of the band’s existence and even less people who actually appreciated the music. We always knew that our music would not be popular, and even now, almost 20 years later I think there are still very many who cannot relate to our music or find anything they can appreciate within it. This never deterred us and never will, after all, we write music from the heart and I think that is something that is important for any musician, as it means the music will always have a strong sense of meaning to the writer. By the same token, there always was and probably always will be some level of support from those that want to hear something different to the mainstream and to the more generic forms of music, and I think that no matter what style of music you play or write, bands will always find some people who can relate to and appreciate what you do, it just takes time for those who might be interested to find you. We always seemed to gain more support from music journalists and writers than fans of music and I think this is still the case. And I think this is because those who listen to and review many different bands are perhaps more receptive to appreciate something that is a little different to the norm.

To understand what Esoteric is all about, you need to patiently digest and contemplate your records. It doesn't make any sense to do it some other way because it simply takes time. If only a few people are willing to do so, are you still happy to continue?
Of course, and I touched upon this briefly in the previous answer. I think where music is concerned, it is important to write something that is personal and has a great deal of meaning to the author, because it has a strong relation which is important for something that will be written over time, rehearsed and performed live again and again. Something that is written to appease others will quickly fade in time and not hold a deeper meaning for the artist, but something that is written from the heart will remain close to the artist and maintain a strong level of passion when it is performed.
"Paragon of Dissonance" is a record which makes time stop and transfers the listener to another dimension where the outer world doesn't exist. Is your music meant to offer something else than just tunes to bang your head to?
I think music has many different purposes and different styles of music and even different songs by the same bands or different sections of the same songs will contain different elements, emotions, and evoke different thoughts and emotions in the listener. Our music is written as a transposition of the darker sides of our minds and emotions, thoughts, experiences, observations, philosophies and so on. It is written with a purpose, it is written mostly when we feel inspired to write, to express such emotions that might otherwise be destructive or consuming. For those that can relate to what is contained within the music on a personal level it can offer a vicarious, intense journey through sound. For those that can’t it might offer nothing at all of any worth. It all depends on the disposition and tastes of the listener.

How would you define the genesis of the Esoteric sound?
It was created because we wanted to play very sorrowful, slow, dark, heavy and hateful music. So we tuned the guitars down very low and used extremely heavy sounds and a full spectrum of effects to create a huge wall of sound.

Legends like Black Sabbath and Napalm Death come from Birmingham. Is it an inspiring and unique place that makes people write angry dark music?
Birmingham is a large, dull, grey city in my eyes. It used to be an industrial city, but most manufacturing industries in the UK have now died as everything seems to be imported and government regulation really did nothing to aid its survival. There have been some efforts to modernize the city in recent years and as a result it is a mish mash of old industrial areas mostly falling into decline and modern shopping and service industries that are mainly franchises or chain stores you can find in most major cities. It is the second largest city in England and there is nothing particularly inspiring about the place. Why so many metal bands came from this area I do not know, but in addition to those cited, there was also Judas Priest, Godflesh, Bolt Thrower, and many others. There was an exhibition recently in the museum here created by the organizers of the Supersonic Festival which detailed many of the great bands from Birmingham, titled “Home of Metal”.

You're the only original member of Esoteric now. Is the band your brainchild in the sense that you write the whole thing and you gather people to perform your vision with you in the studio and then live?
Gordon Bicknell is also an original member and is still in the band. He took a break from playing within the band full time between June 2010 and November 2011 due to personal circumstances but he was in the band for most of the writing and rehearsing period for "Paragon of Dissonance" and did contribute one song of the seven found on "Paragon of Dissonance". He has been back in the band full time for the last few months and will be for the foreseeable future. I have always been the one organizing the band and the main contact for interviews and gigs, handling the recordings and production since the late nineties, etc, but in terms of song writing it has always been a group effort and on each album you will find at least 2 or 3 main song writers. To my mind it always offers a greater diversity and output when there are several writers in the band and it is more inspiring to work with like-minded musicians than to work alone or with session musicians. On "Paragon of Dissonance" myself and Jim Nolan were the main song writers, on "The Maniacal Vale", it was myself and Gordon with another 2 songs coming from Mark Bodossian (bass) and Olivier Goyet (keys). But throughout the band’s history we have always at least had a stable core of musicians who have been rehearsing every week to keep the momentum going, even when other members have come and gone or when using session musicians to complete the line up.

As usual you have been recording and producing the new album in your own Priory Recording studio. You seem to be very self-sufficient. Is it because you always know what are you going for or because nobody understands Esoteric better than you?
A bit of both I think. Firstly I only started training and then working as a sound engineer because of being so dissatisfied with working with other engineers on the earlier recordings and straight after the album session for "The Pernicious Enigma" I trained and then started to work full time in studios. This was both so that I could capture the sound of the band as we intended and also so that I had a career and way of earning a living that interested me and I could enjoy. The session for "The Pernicious Enigma" album recording was plagued with problems at the studio, a disinterested sound engineer, etc, and at the time no one seemed to have any idea of how to capture the band’s sound. It was rare to find engineers sympathetic to metal recordings back then, let alone one who could understand and appreciate how an experimental metal band like Esoteric should be recorded. "Metamorphogenesis" was the first album we recorded entirely by ourselves in 1998 and with only a year or so experience in studios it was quite a steep learning curve for me, coupled with an extremely limited budget and equipment. So the album did not turn out too well overall in terms of sound and production, yet it was infinitely closer to what Esoteric actually sounded like compared to previous efforts. By the time we recorded "Subconscious Dissolution..." in 2002 we managed to really start to do justice to the sound of the band and I would say that this was the first album we recorded where the production and mix did the songs proud. We’ve always tried to be self-sufficient where possible, partly due to budget but also due to the fact that we like to have control as we have always had a very clear idea of how we want the music to sound. It was just not having the technical know-how that prevented us from doing this on the early albums.

Do you enjoy listening to bands such as Mournful Congregation, Evoken and Comatose Vigil or as a listener do you prefer completely different sounds and emotions?
I do listen to some extreme doom and I have always had contact with John Paradiso from Evoken over the years and used to be in touch with Damon Good from Mournful Congregation back in the days of snail mail. Comatose Vigil more so in recent years, since befriending Anton, one of the organizers of the Moscow Doom Fest which we’ve played twice, whose last album I mixed and mastered here at the studio. I do listen to some extreme doom and always did, though back when Esoteric started I didn’t really know of any other bands until after we started releasing our music and found bands through fanzines and writing to other bands, etc, like Unholy, Skepticism, etc. Great bands. But it was only Winter that we were aware of and listened to at the time as there was really nothing around back then. When Esoteric started we appreciated the slower parts of death metal bands like Autopsy and then bands like early Cathedral and My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, etc, but we wanted to do something with our own style and be experimental, not just create a band that was heavily influenced by our musical tastes. Extreme doom then and more specifically funeral doom didn’t really exist to most people except in the depths of the underground, and printed DIY fanzines that covered this type of music were generally months and months out of date before they were completed.

Kati Astraeir again created a fantastic piece of art for the cover of "Paragon of Dissonance". How did you meet? Did she listen to the album before working on it or did you just chose one of her previous works?
We worked with Kati before on "The Maniacal Vale". She created the artwork for that album too. We found her through a good friend of ours, Michaela, who discovered her work while we were looking for an artist for that album. She’s an excellent artist and we were confident that she could create something that was fitting for our music and lyrics and she delivered beyond our expectations. So we decided to ask her to do the artwork for "Paragon of Dissonance" too. The layout and graphic design was handled both times by our good friend Mauro from Eibon Records and Italian band Canaan who is extremely talented and experienced with such matters. He was able to take the artwork created by Kati and turn it into a booklet and design that was consistent and visually striking for each album. With both albums we gave Kati working demos of the music and lyrics to draw inspiration and feeling from when creating the artwork and the end result is extremely fitting to the content of the music and lyrics.

Saturday 17 March 2012

WOLVHAMMER - Kult of the Black Abyss

American quartet Wolvhammer made a name for itself with the furious assault of thrashy blackened sludge metal, "Black Marketeers of World War III", which was released in mid-2010. In October 2011 the band dropped the follow-up "The Obsidian Plains" on Profound Lore. The album offered pummeling riffs, a dark atmosphere, crushing hooks and the band's most mature and well-weighed material to date. Guitarist Jeff Wilson talked to We Wither about what is going on in the world ruled by the Wolvhammer.

fot. Samantha Marble
You only started playing together as Wolvhammer in 2008 and since then you have recorded a demo, an EP and two awesome full-lengths. You're quite determined to make a name for yourself as soon as possible, aren't you?
Not necessarily, I think we’re going to take a little bit longer with the next full length.  "The Obsidian Plains" was a little bit different in direction than the previous material, so I think we’re going to take some time and figure out where we’re going to go next. We don’t exactly want to burn ourselves out either. In America especially, the shelf life of a band is so short these days.

Do you intend to keep putting out records so often? Is another album coming in 2012 or early 2013?
The only thing we’re working on currently is a cover of The Cure’s “Burn”. I don’t imagine we’ll start working on the next LP until early 2013. So possibly a new release late next year or early 2014, but who knows, could be sooner.

fot. Carmelo Española
Where would you like Wolvhammer to go in the next couple of years?
I don’t think we’re going to stray too far off of the path we’re already on. We’re always going to be rooted within the black/sludge template, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t push the boundaries or people’s buttons a little. I think in our collective opinion, EPs are more for experimenting, but full lengths should be a focused piece of work. At this point, there hasn’t been much conversation regarding our expectations, next move, etc.

"The Obsidian Plains" at times sounds like Eyehategod and at others like Darkthrone. Are sludge and black metal your favourite styles or you don't necessarily listen to them a lot?
Personally, I’ve been listening to metal for over 15 years. Obviously, there are always bands in those genres that I’m going to listen to and on occasion a newer band will catch my attention as well. For the most part though, I tend to stick to mellower types of music these days. Metal is still the biggest part of my life, but there’s a lot of other music I’d like to catch up on.

How would you explain the slogan from one of your early flyers, "Working class antichristian"?
This was before my time in the band, so you’d have to ask one of the other members for a better explanation. I will say, it’s a very good fit for our ethic inside and outside of the band though.

"Black Marketeers of World War III" had more melodic and catchy hooks than "The Obsidian Plains". Did you go more brutal for a specific purpose?
I think when you finish the first couple songs for a specific record, it sort of sets the pace for where the rest will go. We’ve never really gone into a session saying we’re going to write this or that. The song just works itself out on its own, we each add our style and that’s what you get in the end.  When you change lineups, you change the band’s style, it’s that simple.

Once again your record was produced by Sanford Parker. How much does he boost your studio efforts?
Sanford is obviously famous for what he does for a reason, the guy gets great tones and has great ideas. It’s definitely a relaxed atmosphere working with him, which doesn’t hurt either. I’ve done a lot of recordings with him at this point, so it just makes sense.
fot. Carmelo Española
Is what you're doing with Wolvhammer influenced somehow by your 5 year spell in Nachtmystium? Did you leave to focus on the new band?
Not really, I think some of the newer influences we’re using are just my playing style in general. I write how I write and it’s fairly noticeable if you listen close enough to any of the projects I’ve worked on. The songs for Chrome Waves or Nachtmystium are completely different from those of Wolvhammer, but the style/vibe are easily one and the same, I take that back, Sentinels could’ve gone either way now that I think about it.
I left Nachtmystium for a lot of different reasons, none of which I feel are any of the public’s business, but no, I wasn’t a part of Wolvhammer when leaving that band.

What is that place on the cover of "The Obsidian Plains"?
Our good friend, Jimmy Hubbard took all of the photographs for the record in New York. We basically gave him an advanced copy and just told him to go with it. I think it turned out really well. It looks just like it sounds, black and grey.

How much are lyrics and the image of the band important to you in contrast to focusing mainly on the music itself?
All of these things are important for us, but obviously the most important aspect is still the songwriting. The riffs, the atmosphere, the lyrics, as well as visual presentation are very key in setting the vibe we wish to portray.

fot. Samantha Marble
Do you think extreme hybrids like Wolvhammer, which combine different extreme styles, are the biggest force in the US underground scene at the moment? Lots of bands put together death black thrash and sludge metal elements. Those who play straight up death or thrash seem to be in the minority.
I think it depends on the band. In my opinion, 99% of musicians have no idea how to blend the genres properly. There’s no flow and it all seems forced. That being said, I think there’s definitely a larger market for it here than anywhere.

What albums of 2011 did you find interesting?
Soft Kill "An Open Door", Cold Cave "Cherish the Light Years", The Atlas Moth "An Ache for the Distance", Prurient "Bermuda Drain", Mournful Congregation -"The Book of Kings", Loss "Despond", 40 Watt Sun "The Inside Room", M83 "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming", Girls "Father, Son, Holy Ghost", PJ Harvey "Let England Shake". Honorable mentions: Wolves in the Throne Room "Celestial Lineage" and Leviathan  "True Traitor, True Whore".

Tuesday 21 February 2012

ASPHYX - True Death Metal You Bastards

Bands like Bolt Thrower, Entombed, Grave and Asphyx have written some of the most memorable albums in the history of European death metal. What would the world of extreme be without such timeless old school classics as "Realm of Chaos", "Left Hand Path", "Into the Grave" and "The Rack" by the Dutch masters of brutality who returned in 2007 after some years on hiatus? Reuniting with the original vocalist Martin van Drunen, also now the front man of super group Hail of Bullets, they were able to produce two astonishing records - "Death... the Brutal Way" in 2009 and the latest strike of "Deathhammer", which was released by Century Media in February 2012. Martin talked to We Wither about the newest Asphyx offering but commented on the past too.

After twenty years and eight albums Asphyx is still exactly the same band. Is it hard not to stray from the path for such a long time?
I'm 25 years in this business and my enthusiasm and passion is still the same as in the beginning. I'm a musician but I'm very much a fan, a metal-head too. I started  early and never changed. It's like a dream come true to become a recording and touring artist. I sometimes realize that on stage. I can't believe I made it and am actually doing it. Being surrounded by great people who are my family and friends gives me a lot of  joy from what I do. Death metal is fun but hard work too. People usually don't recognize it but I practise, I write lyrics and some music too, I tour and do interviews. It's not only a hobby on the side. I feel a need to do this and it makes me happy but it's not just as easy as people might think.

Was the success of Hail of Bullets sort of a kick to revive Asphyx from its hiatus?
Stephan Gebedi of Thanatos approached me years ago when I was playing with a smaller band Death by Dawn and asked if I was interested in doing something old school together. It took a while but eventually we started Hail of Bullets. I was in contact with Bob Bagchus, who is the only original Asphyx member and I knew lots of people were asking him to do some festival shows but we didn't want to do it without Eric Daniels because his guitar sound was irreplaceable in our opinion. Later on a drinking night with the Hail of Bullets boys Asphyx was mentioned and our guitarist Paul Baayens, who also plays with Thanatos, had a couple of beers too many and boldly said that he is up for filling the position in Asphyx. The next day he was a bit shocked when he realized what he'd said but I spoke to Bob and he agreed to check how it would sound. When he plugged in and we rehearsed we just knew he suits the slot perfectly. That's how it happened!

You called the “Deathhammer” album “a manual to death metal”. Do you think metal should always stick to its roots and if you want to evolve a lot it’s better to change the band’s name?
More or less I have to agree. I remember being disappointed so many times in the past when the bands I loved recorded some awful albums. For example I'm still not able to get over Celtic Frost's "Cold Lake", which is just an utter piece of shit. I never forgave them. I'm not even going to see Triptykon because I'd need to speak to Tom about how the hell it happened that he wrote such a thing. It's very hard to accept the situation when the band you love so much change drastically. The same happened to me with Kiss. I was a big fan of theirs but once they came up with that crappy disco style I just felt like my heroes had died. I don't listen to death metal every single day but I'd never dare to change the style of Asphyx.

“Deathhammer” is such a straightforward record. Did you write this album as if it were your one last manifesto of brutality?
Interesting that you mention that because it's actually something I was thinking about. After we finished in the studio and the material was ready and when we listened to it I experienced something I never felt before in a similar situation. It was a strange feeling in my gut. I spoke to Bob asking if he felt the same and for some reason he felt weird as well. I never had that before. Maybe it meant this is a record you only do once in a lifetime. On the other hand it was the most relaxed recording session I ever took part in. I was just having fun doing my vocals and I was singing so loud that our producer Harry Wijering told me there was feedback on the headphones and I have to take it easy.

After my first glance at the “Deathhammer” cover art my reaction was that it’s the book of the dead from the “Army of Darkness” movie. How wrong am I?
Fucking hell. That's a good one. I guess you are right. Nobody thought about it before. It was not our intention but it works. I will need to speak to guys about it. They will like it.

Would you ever be able to continue playing such extreme music for so long if not for the pure and loyal love for death metal?
To do this death metal has to be in your bones and your blood. If one day I no longer enjoy being on stage I'm going to quit as soon as possible but at the moment it's out of the question. We have the best atmosphere in the band now and if one of us leaves I think we would just stop doing Asphyx unless that member expresses clearly that he wants to be replaced.

When I listen to your vocals I can almost feel how you tear your throat. Do you often practise? How does it feel after a full live set?
Yes I do practise a lot and take care of my throat. I keep discipline in order to be in good shape on tour. It's like sport. You have to practise to look and perform good. Of course it can be sometimes hard on the stage but usually I'm well-prepared. If we do an extensive club show with a really long set and the gig is about two-hours-long I feel exhausted but when you play festivals the set is most of the time about an hour-long, which is rather easy.

You started Pestilence in 1987 when you were actually still a kid. Now you’re a mature man but your music hasn’t changed much. How do you sustain your interest in death metal?
I like to say that metal keeps you young and I believe in it. Every now and then I feel a little old but it's a natural process. Once in a while I'm more tired than I used to be 15-20 years ago but that's okay. I don't care if my hair goes white. I don't need to dye it. I'm not Type O Negative or Morbid Angel to care about things like that. I still have the strong ambition to do what I do. I always return to the same old records I was listening to as a teenager and I still love them. That's something that simply doesn't change.

Did you ever have a moment when you thought I’ve had enough of recording, touring, playing etc?
There was a moment like that. After I left Bolt Thrower about 1997 I just felt disappointed with everything around me and I didn't want to be in a band anymore. I wasn't musically active for almost five years. I went back to school for some education and found a job. Only later did I regain the eagerness to return to the metal business.

How do you remember your spell with Bolt Thrower. Was playing live with them different that with Asphyx?
Bolt Thrower is an institution. Everyone in England speaks of them very highly so it was a very exciting and rewarding experience. It was a pleasure to meet these people and to become friends with them. I was immediately accepted as a member. Before we performed together for the first time I practised on my own for two months and then before the tour I flew to England and rehearsed for five days. They were astonished with my attitude and abilities. I don't think there is much difference playing with them or Asphyx.

Hail of Bullets drummer Ed Warby said your passion about World War II history is very close to an obsession. Where did it come from? Do you like to visit old battle scenes in Europe?
It all started with a book by Theodor Plievier entitled "Stalingrad" that I read when I was about 18 years-old. Later on I discovered he'd written a war trilogy with "Moscow" and "Berlin" as the other two books. It didn't grab my attention straight away and at the time I was naturally much more into horror novels by Lovecraft and Poe. The history of World War II became more interesting to me when I started meeting members of my German ex-wife's family and some of them remembered the war pretty well. I had a great opportunity to hear about their experiences and memories, which taught me a lot. Wherever I travel I love to visit places connected to the history of the war but I rarely have any spare time when we are touring. Personally I'm much more interested in places such as Berlin or the eastern front than the usual Normandy.

Times are hard, gas and accommodation is expensive. Did you ever consider a European tour consisting of Asphyx, Hail of Bullets and Thanatos? Paul would definitely kill you but maybe it’s worth it!
Hahahaha. It would be too exhausting for me and I would most probably die. So would Paul for sure with three sets every night.