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Forerunners Of The Apocalypse


Архив интервью | Русская версия

The Dutch death metal veterans, who seemed to throw in the towel for good after a lot of tribulations on the edge of this millennium, staged a successful comeback in 2007 and seem to be doing fine ever after. In September the old-timers resurfaced with their third post-reunion album, called “Incoming Death”, which was not impacted even by the departure of drummer Bob Bagchus, who participated in all previous incarnations of the band. We called to account singer Martin Van Drunen, a legend in his genre, whose voice dominates not only the early Asphyx classics, but also recordings of some other Dutch death metal luminaries, including Pestilence and Hail Of Bullets…

Hallo Martin, hoe gaat het? (Eng. “How is it going?”)

Goed! En met jou? (Eng. “Good! How are you?”)

Ook goed, dank je wel. Ik spreek een beetje Nederlands. (Eng. “I’m fine too, thanks. I speak just a little bit Dutch”).

Ja, dat is unverstellbaar vor Russland. (Eng. “This is unbelievable for Russia”).

Yeah, but let’s go on in English. Where are you now? Are you at home?

No, I’m at the office of Century Media in Germany in Dortmund.

Is it hot there?

No, it’s actually August, it’s really cold, end of summer. And in Russia?

We’ve had a bit of a heatwave here recently.

Sorry, am I calling you in Moscow or somewhere else?

No, I’m in Nizhny Novgorod somewhat to the east of Moscow, it’s still Europe, not Siberia.

I don’t know that one.

All right. Let’s get to it. So you are going to have a new album out end of September. How will it be different from the previous ones?

Uh, I think we did a few things that are quite unexpected for us on this album. First of all there are some unusual things present on the record, like tempo changes. It’s not so many fast songs as it used to be on “Deathhammer” (2012) and I think that doom-track solo… So yeah, it is more atmospheric than the previous one, and that’s the main difference, but it’s still very much in the traditional Asphyx style. There are some changes, but in the end we just have to wait to see what our fans will have to say about it. Hopefully they will like it. Yes, it’s a little bit of a change, but not that much either.

You said once that to you death metal is dead, because people are playing the same thing again and again. Does that apply to Asphyx?

Phuh! I think what I meant with it is that there are a lot of things happening that are not interesting for me. Like I said, we are more of a traditional kind of band. We always stick to what we do. Why should you change it and write songs if people won’t like or recognize them afterwards. That was the main problem. When I listen to the bands that I love, there are still songs that stick in my mind, but I don’t want to think when I listen to music really... If I wanted to I’d listen to Chaikovsky, that’s a difficult kind of music, but for death metal… I don’t think it will fit. That has always been my opinion.

Do you like Chaikovsky?

Well, certain things, yes. Not always, not everything, but there are some things that are nice to hear. I think he’s one of the most famous Russian composers, right?

Yes, that’s true. So returning to the “Incoming Death”. How did the recording go?

Actually quite strange, because the recording session was in January, but something went wrong with the drum sound. We couldn’t work with it anymore. And then it took us quite a while to finish the songs, we had to do it somewhere else, in another studio. It’s not really typical for Asphyx. But in the end it worked out nicely. I think, chaos has to be a part of it. So it was a bit of a struggle in the beginning, but in the end it worked out really nicely. Like I said, maybe we needed that bit of chaos to come with this one.

Right. Who’s writing the stuff?

As for the music it’s basically Paul (Baayens, guitars), he comes up with all the guitar parts. He’s been doing it since he’s in Asphyx – he did it on “Death… The Brutal Way” (2009), “Deathhammer” and also “Incoming Death”. And I do all the lyrics.

Does Paul prepare the material by himself at home?

Normally, we are a band that always does it in the practice room. But since Bob (Bagchus) left we have difficulties to do that. Our present drummer Stefan Hüskens lives really far away from us, and we cannot call each other and say, “Right, let’s meet in the practice room and jam a little bit and write some new material”. Unfortunately it doesn’t go that easy anymore, but we do have some time and we meet in the practice room. This time also when working at certain riffs Paul quickly recorded them on his PC and later we could see each other and decide if we could work with it. It happened with a few songs on this one that we finished them in the studio. The riffs were there, but they were not arranged into the songs completely, so we did it in the studio. For us it was really unusual, but fortunately it worked. So in that way it was different from the other times.

What are the topics that you cover in the lyrics?

Oh, there is many things. As usual there are some science fiction songs like “Wardroid”, about a huge war machine, travelling in space, destroying planets, if life is not worth living there. Then there is “Candiru” which is about a fish that nests itself in your genitals and you can’t get it out so you have to amputate. (laughs) There are war song – “Division Brandenburg”, which is about a special unit, “The Grand Denial”, which is about the women that the Japanese captured and made them into prostitutes, “It Came From The Skies”… It’s all about war, death, natural catastrophes, anything – the usual stuff, we always use it.

You seem to be interested in history…

Yes, that’s correct.

You seem to cover both sides of WW2 – both the allies and the Germans. Do you try to stay neutral?

Ehm, I read a lot of literature on the topic. On the Hail of Bullets album “Of Frost And War” (2008) I covered the war on the Eastern front, and another album – ‘On Divine Wings” (2010) – is about the other side of the world with the Japanese fighting the States on the Pacific, and it’s a totally different story, even if the Russians conquered some territory from the Japanese in Manchuria. There are really a lot of aspects of war, and I try to cover it as much as I can by getting the relevant information that I think is interesting or fits the certain kind of music. And on this one there is this song “The Grand Denial” about the women that were kidnapped by the Japanese and used as prostitutes for the army… And it’s still a great taboo in Asia, those women, and the Japanese don’t want to talk about it and face the war crimes that they committed with that. So like I said, there is a whole scale of different aspects of the war that are still interesting to write about, and I try do it from different perspectives.

You said somewhere that you try to bring in some humor in the lyrics. Is that hard to do in a serious death metal band?

(laughs) Let’s put it this way: I think you can track that back to the times when the first zombie and gore movies came out. We went to the cinema to see the classic movies like ‘Evil Dead” or “Zombie Ritual” and most times the cinema was full of metalheads. And every time some brutal scene with like axes and stuff happened, the whole cinema went “Whoaargh!!!”, you know, like roaring because this was cool and stuff. There was always this kind of link between death metal and gore movies with this kind of humor. It might shock you, but it’s still humor. And we try to put it in with the certain riffs and songs, why not do it. I did it two times on this one with “Candiru” and especially with “The Feeder” because those riffs… It’s about a woman that ate so much she just exploded… (laughs) Why not? Life is serious, why make it more serious than it is already?

How did you choose the cover art?

Ehm, it’s not a choice, actually. Axel Hermann has always been part of Asphyx, he did most of the covers for us, he belongs with us. We had an idea of this album, I explained to him what the title was going to be, what I had in mind with this title, and for the rest – you know us, you know Asphyx, you know what the band is all about, so there you go, create whatever you wanna create… The artist is free in his vision. So Axel came up with this picture based on the album title, it is an incredible demon, and he mixed it with the tortured souls of mankind, this was his version of “Incoming Death”. And he did a good job of this, I think, we all think. It matches exactly the music and the whole album and its atmosphere, if I can put it that way. So it’s not us that come up with the cover, it’s always Axel, who comes up with the cover…

Are you going on tour with Asphyx any time soon?

Well, not really on tour, but we do play live. We have a few shows coming and planned for the next year. We are going to play as much as we can live, but it’s not going to be a month on a bus kind of tour playing in every city in Europe, it’s a bit different. The other guys work, so we are going to play mostly on weekends and on holidays. I think we could play 30 or 40 shows next year.

Do you have any plans to come to Russia?

Hopefully we can, yes. Last time we were in Moscow it was amazing and we really enjoyed that time. It was our first one and we really enjoyed being there. And also the way everybody treated us was really kind. Even the people at the airport, at the customs were really nice to us, so… We have heard stories about bands that were refused or people would beat them up, but for us it was perfect and wonderful and we had a great time, it was the best time in my life… (laughs) And now I really want to come back to Russia, and I think the whole band want it too. Let’s hope we can do it.

By the way, speaking of great times - I saw you with Asphyx in Austria in 2012 at the Extreme fest. I really liked the show.

Thanx a lot! I really appreciate that! You are very welcome.

Yeah, thank you! Moving on. How did you discover metal music when you were a kid?

Ehm… My sister was watching a pop music program, then all of a sudden they played “Shout It Out Loud” by Kiss – it’s really an old one. And it blew me away, oh boy. It was loud, a big show… I wanted to know more about this band… And that’s how I started. So I stated with Kiss, and I bought their records. At the time there were no CDs, only records… As time went by I listened to more bands, I listened to AC/DC, Van Halen, then I wanted to hear something more extreme, so I got into Motorhead, then all of a sudden I found Venom… And that’s how it all started, the whole thing – thrash metal, speed metal, death metal, that’s how it started for me.

What was the first band you played in?

My first band? Well, on the record it’s Pestilence, but before that I did some songs in a cover band with no name. But it was only because the singer was too drunk to do something with that band and they said to me, “Ok, Martin, you know the lyrics” and we covered Slayer and that was my unofficial first band. But the official one is Pestilence.

Right. At first you played bass too. Why did you drop it?

Because I felt more comfortable as a vocalist and also in Pestilence they could not find the bass player, so when I was two months in the band they said, “OK, hold out your hands, here is your bass guitar, you’ll learn”. I said, “But I’ve never played before” – and they said, “Doesn’t matter, we can’t find a bass player and you still have your hands free, so give it a try”. And so I was on the stage with the bass guitar and doing vocals… I never was a good bass player. Later I became a bit better, when I did the first Asphyx album, I did play the bass in the studio, but on stage I couldn’t. I think they later asked me to drop the bass and I felt a lot better on stage doing just vocals. I’m a vocalist. That’s how it went. I’m happy with it, I feel good on stage without the bass.

What emotion do you try to put in your vocals? You know, you have a special voice…

Well, all I’m trying to do is to give to the band the required specific dimension. I can sing loud enough, I can say I’ve got a specific voice, I hear it from people like you, and I can only be happy that I’m blessed with it and do have it, and I try with it to give the band an extra, so that people recognize me, and not that I’m just like thousands of other singers. What I try to do is articulate the lyrics very well so that at least you could understand a little bit what I say, and I also try to convey some emotion with my voice, with the lyrics and the music to make them fuse. I don’t know if I succeed, but at least I’m trying.

What do you do for a living?

Right now I live off the band. It’s not making much, but I can live. Music is my life.

Right. Do you have any other hobbies?

I read a lot. History is a kind of a hobby for me. Sometimes movies. Of course, music is the main thing. I think I am just fortunate that I’ve made my profession out of my hobby. In that way I’m very privileged. Most of the day I’m busy with music, listening to new music, to some other bands, maybe, some old bands or to something completely different from the normal stuff to stay curious and too keep a fresh taste. So yeah, pretty much everything that I do is in this area one way or the other. And if I didn’t read then I would have no topics for lyrics, so to answer your question – I read a lot.

So you are listening to music all the time, but is it always heavy and brutal music?

No, of course not all the time. For example, I mentioned Tchaikovsky, and there is another composer called Max Bruch or whatever. I like different music, including punk music, like Discharge, stuff like that, some general rock music. Sometimes I like stuff just with the good lyrics, for example, Johnny Cash – musically he has nothing to do with metal, but his lyrics are really pleasant to listen to, they are brutal and violent, and sometimes I think that Johnny Cash is more brutal than certain black metal bands that I know of… So this kind of things. It depends on the kind of mood I’m in. But certainly I put on a shitload of death metal, I’m still a metalhead in the first place.

Does your family like your music?

Well, my girlfriend likes my music all right, she is not into death metal though, she likes doom metal more. She was really happy with the last album, and that’s cool with me. She has a different opinion.

Do you have kids?

No, unfortunately none that I know of, maybe there are some that I made on tour, but I don’t know about them…

I can’t help but ask this one: what happened with Hail of Bullets, I mean, you not being part of them anymore?

Well, it’s just something that had to happen, I guess. I was not happy with the way how things were going anymore. I think I’ve had one brutal meal too much and then I said, “OK, maybe it will be best if we just split our ways, let’s split up”. That’s what happened in the end, and I’m too busy with Asphyx right now. It’s OK. We did some good records and had a good time, but now it’s better this way. I was not having much fun there anymore, so I resigned.

Right. So, I think this was a nice talk, thank you, Martin! Any last words from you?

Give big fat regards to all our Russian fans that have been supporting us through the ages. Like I said, we really hope to come to Moscow and maybe some other Russian cities, like St. Petersburg…

Nizhny Novgorod! Come to Nizhny Novgorod!

Yes, we will see if we can arrange that. But I would love to see more of the country and play a few more cities, even Vladivistok, which is very far away. Well, who knows?

Goed, dank je wel! Tot ziens!

Thanks, have a nice day!

Asphyx on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/officialasphyx

Special thanks to Birgit Luhmeyer (Century Media Records) for arranging this interview

August 9, 2016
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