Heart of Steel: Interviews


Congress

Interview with guitarist Joost Noyelle (AKA: Josh)

Interview by MetalGeorge

For many newer fans of the metalcore stylings of bands like Killswitch Engage, Heaven Shall Burn, and Caliban, the name Congress might not ring a bell. There was a time before it was cool for xHCx bands to incorporate Slayer riffs and Heavy Metal imagery, however, and Belgium's Congress were there spearheading the Edgemetal cause. Some of us remember these days, and look back on LPs like "Blackened Persistance" and "The Other Cheek" as classics of the Metal/Hardcore crossover style popularized by what eventually became known as the "H8000 Scene" (a term describing the area code where a lot of the bands, like Congress, Liar, and Arkangel hail from). Unfortunately, the band never seemed to get the recognition it deserved, while band after band latched onto the sound that Congress pioneered in the mid 90s. So what ever happened to Congress, you ask? They're still alive and well, thank you very much, and have returned with a kick ass LP entitled "Resurrection". I caught up with main axemaster Josh to see how things were doing in the land of the perfect waffle..


What's up, man? I'm fucking stoked to finally be able to interview you guys! I've been a huge fan since "Blackened Persistance", and I think your newest record is the best one since then! Congrats! What are your thoughts on it, and how have the reactions been so far?

We're also pretty proud of the new record, all minor flaws ignored...Lots of people say it's the best since "Blackened..." or "The Other Cheek", so I'm glad to hear that! Reactions have been a mixed bag, mostly very positive, some new kids think it's shit...too bad. I'm getting used to the stupid views of those uptight nerds!

 

 

Congress are the forerunners of the H8000 Edgemetal sound that so many bands embrace these days. How does it feel to have created something that so many kids have latched on to? What do you feel makes Congress special and stand out?

No idea, I just write the music I like best and like playing best. What makes us stand out is the fact that we've never been "big", or that we never followed any trend or compromised to be "cool". We've been around for so long now, only the older people into HC remember what we meant in the early days. Some trendhoppers ignore us blindly and think Arkangel invented Edgemetal. Too bad. We know where we come from, and what we still want to achieve with the new record, or the band overall...

 

 

Of course, the band has been known to embrace a thrashing, blackened death metal sound blended in with your brand of hardcore, complete with tons of double bass (like in the killer track, "Dogma") and guitar solos. Did you experience any resistance to this idea at first when you were first coming up, and what made you stick to your guns all these years?

Well, when we started out, emo and old school was still the thing to do; so yes, we had some problems at first. To me, though, I never aimed to please with my band, I just wanted to play what I liked to play or listen to. I didn't care too much about bands like Youth of Today or Gorilla Biscuits...although I grew up with them, I never wanted to sound like any of those bands. I liked early NYHC, Clevo HC, and black/thrash/deathmetal, and tried to combine these styled in Congress. All of a sudden, after "Euridium" (the first 7 inch-mg), everyone played the metal style, and we were "hot", but a lot of sincerity got lost in the HC scene. Kids who didn't care about the ethics of HC just played their Slayer-riffs, and thought they were about to make it, whereas the old school kids hated the metalcore thing even more. Hard times for unity...now it's still not improved that much, but now I can cope with all this, and think that this is the way it'll always be. Unity is utopia, image is everything, respect and tolerance are hard to find in HC anyway...

 

 

Speaking of "Dogma", you have Dwid from Integrity screaming on this track, which only adds to it's intensity. How did you come to work with him, and how did it go? How did you get in touch with him?

Well, Integrity toured for the "To Die For" record shortly before we were about to hit the studio, and I asked Dwid at one of their shows if he could do some guest vocals, which he was really into. I think Dwid sung everything in 3 tries, he's a natural! He's done our first videoclip now for "Fever Rising", and is living in Kortrijjk, trying to make a living off of doing clips for bands.

 

 

What to you keeps things fresh for the band album after album? Does the whole band contribute to the songwriting, and how do you compare the "Resurrection" material to your past material? Is there any significance to the title, do you see this album as a "resurrection" of the band?

Well, the new record is lower tuned, because we wanted to sound heavier than before. Also, the new songs are focused on groove and slow, heavy, chunky riffs, rather than the speed/thrash riffs we used to make songs of. I write mainly all the songs. Some adaptations were made for the rhythms, so mainly it's me and Ill J who put the songs together. As for the title: after our previous record, "Stake Through the Heart", the band kinda fell apart, and for most people we were history, although we still played out a lot. It was when we found our current singer, "Tim", that we started writing songs again, and got the chance to record a new album. So it's kinda like the resurrection of Congress, if you like to put it that way.

 

 

Continuing on the topic of lyrical significance, you've been known to have explanations after each song, but you've decided to forgo them this record. Do you prefer for the listener to interpret them for his/her self?

I used to add lyrical explanations with every song, but I don't feel the need anymore. I'd rather see people trying to figure out themselves what the songs are about, or [let them] use their imaginations. The new lyrics are way more personal and not so in-your-face anymore, too. Anyone can relate to them.

 

 

While definitely metallic, no one can deny that your core roots have always been there. How important is keeping these roots strong to you and the band? Have you had a lot of response to your music from people like myself in the metal world? Has your fan base changed at all from when you started, or do you think your fans have grown along with you?

I certainly think some of our fans have grown with us. I mean, when we started, there wasn't much of a metalcore scene. Everything was either metal or hardcore. I'm glad to hear that typical HC listeners realized how great metal really is after they discovered our band, or that metalheads start listening to HC when they see us live. That's a great compliment, and a very big motivation. I don't like the scene to be divided, but it's a matter of attitude rather than musical taste, in my opinion. Metal has a different attitude than HC, definitely. That's where the difference lies.

 

 

Is promoting the edge message to the metal world something Congress might want to do? While not edge myself, I'm pretty close, and I think a lot of metal kids would both benefit and be open to it. Hell, almost half of my metal band happens to be edge! Perhaps a sign of the times?

Congress quit the SXE lifestyle/image after "The Other Cheek". That was in 1996...We decided to focus on other aspects and issues, because we saw the SXE movement crumbling because of all the fake-ass wannabees bringing shitty music, wearing the cool SXE shirts, promoting the vegan/SXE message without having a clue. These idiots destroyed the SXE scene for me, and are now 'wiggers" or teKKKnoheads. Don't get me wrong, SXE is a great lifestyle if you keep it personal instead of being cooler than those who are not. I've seen it's best sides and worst sides, and decided it's not for me anymore. I have no other priorities right now...

 

 

On the opposing end of the argument, do you feel that being edge is more of a personal thing? What do you feel the main differences are between the core and metal scenes these days? Do you think there's more unity these days, or do you feel more of a separation? Do you see Congress as a band blurring the line between both?

Let's quit the arguing on SXE...maybe there's more unity than before between metal and hardcore, because nowadays, if you purely listen to the music, there's no difference anymore between these genres. It's all about the attitude and image. Metalheads/bands want to get as big as possible most of the time, HC bands tend to stick to their local scene more, and are way more active if it comes to organizing shows/zines/labels, I think. The DIY principle is more present than in metal in my eyes. Congress is a metalcore band that tries to get the best of both scenes and genres, but there never was a metal band that asked us to open for them, so that's a shame, now isn't it?

 

 

The production and music is balls out heavy this time around, really in your face and energetic, probably the best sounding Congress record, in my opinion. It sounds meant to be played live, for sure. How was the recording in Zulte with Kris?

Well, the recordings went great! From the moment I set a foot in the studio, I was comfortable and self-secure. There was no stress or pressure at all(at first...!). No, the way of recording was totally different and new to us compared to previous recordings, and Kris also tried to get the best of every musician all the time, which motivated us even more. Let's put it this way: CCR is the new Congress recording home!

 

 

What's life in the H8000 like? It's funny how the Belgian scene has blown up to Gothenburg like proportions with old schoolers like yourselves, Liar, Family of Dog, Length of Time, and Arkangel, and the new breed of Belgian metal like Aborted and In Quest. What's the secret? Do all of you guys get along and gig together often? I've heard so many stories about how hard H8000 shows can be, how crazy do the gigs get?

Yep, it happens that Aborted/Liar/Congress share stages together, but not very often. It's only on festivals that we're on the same bill. Sure, we get along pretty well. Why not? This is a small, but busy country concerning heavy music, so we meet quite a lot. The H8000 scene, or how you call it nowadays, is picking up fast lately with awesome new bands like Rise and Fall, Morda, Severence, Retaliate, Core of Anger, Forced Hate(ex Vitality), my sideband Kingpin...playing out quite a lot. Yeah, the pit can get quite wild sometimes, but it's no emo we're playing, you know? I'm glad to say that shows have over 200 attendants again, with small club shows having 100-150 paying kids, and the release party/bigger events getting over 500 people sometimes, but now I'm very positive! Overall, I have a good feeling about the Belgian/West Flemish scene. Superb new bands pop up every time, and the motivation/inspiration lies high with old, as well as the new breed.

 

 

Are we ever gonna see you here in the States? I've been waiting for what seems like forever! Who would you love to play with here, and what have been some of your best gigs so far?

Well, we'd love to tour the US, but no one seems to ask us, so we wait and see. With the great reviews/sales I got, I'm stoked to tour over there, but I'm not the man to set up tours. If anyone is serious enough to offer us a tour with great conditions, drop me a line!

 

 

You've been with Goodlife since Day 1. Would you say they've been important to your success? How is your relationship with them been, and do you ever see yourselves signing to anyone else?

Our success is very relative, mind; but our relationship has gone strong with Goodlife since Day One. We grew with each other. Congress helped Goodlife out as a label, and vice versa, I guess. It's nice to visit the office, since it's only a 20 minute drive for us, and we have good control over our merchandise/CD sales, etc...If we were on a foreign label, I wouldn't put my trust in them, I'm afraid.

 

 

What are some of your favorite metal and hardcore records, new and old? What do you think is the best example of how metalcore should be played(besides Congress, of course, haha!)? For me, it's a toss up between "Age of Quarrel" and "Humanity is the Devil". How about pure hardcore? For me, once again, it's gotta be "Age of Quarrel". Where do you see straight up, punk rock inspired hardcore going these days? How about the modern metal scene?

Fave metalrecords:
Carcass: Heartwork
Metallica: Master of Puppets
Prong: Cleansing
Celtic Frost: To Mega Therion
Exodus: Bonded By Blood

Fave HC records:
Bad Brains: Rock For Light
Cro Mags: Best Wishes, really! (nothing wrong with that, man! That album's underrated!-mg)
Agnostic Front: Liberty and Justice
Sick of it All: Blood, Sweat, and No Tears
Gorilla Biscuits: Start Today

Metalcore nowadays: Hatebreed, Ringworm, All Out War, Born From Pain, Sworn Enemy...Fave metalcore? Integrity, always! Straight up, punk rock hardcore is getting mainstream in my eyes. Look at Hazen Street, they're gonna be huge! Modern Metal is the Gothenburg sound, a la In Flames, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquility...but also the bombastic modern blackmetal like Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth. These bands have a monster fanbase, despite their extreme music/image. Another proof that in metal, image is very important to reach the top.

 

 

What's your setlist look like these days? Songs like the aforementioned "Dogma", "Seven Works of Art", "Sin and Punishment", "Burnout", and the title track seem destined for crazy live sets. Do you guys still play a lot of the "Blackened Persistance" stuff?

Haha, come check us live, man! Our new set list contains songs from pretty much all of our records, a greatest hits set, if you wish! Here's the common list: 1)The Release 2)Under Pressure 3)Stompbox 4)Worst Case Scenario(intro)/Dogma 5)Resurrection 6)What we need 7)Mainstream 8)Grief 9)One more Attempt 10)Sinking in Sin 11)In bad Blood 12)Acoustic Life 13)Lifting the Ban

 

 

That particular album seemed to break wide open that entire metal-influenced style. What are your memories from that early period of the band's career and the response you received from that album?

Well, the media wasn't as evolved as now, so if we wanted to read US or Australian reviews, we had to get the magazine to read the review. We got some by mail, but never got the chance to check them all, of course. Now with the internet, you can just type "Congress Resurrection", and you'll find tons of reviews, which is awesome! Memories fom the "Blackened" period"? We got tremendous reviews in Metal Magazines, points given were really over the top. HC magazines were nagging about the fact that we sounded too metal, haha, and that our image was negative, instead of being posi/SXE. It's strange, I only realizedd how important this record was after a few years. I always thought that record sounded empty, and not heavy enough. Now, I'm very aware of the fact that we wrote classic metalcore songs on that album, and that we spawned a whole new generation.

 

 

How about your newest lineup? How is everything working out with new singer, Tim? Would you say this is the strongest Congress lineup thus far, and do you have any contact with ex members like U.J.?

Wel, all Congress members are very close lately. It's never been like this in the past. Most just went their own ways, and met when there was a show or rehearsal. In the past, most members never really hung out together. Now that's definitely the case. That's why we want to hit the road on tour as soon as possible! Yes, now and then I see U J at one of our gigs, or when we play together...always nice to chat about music with him. As for Pierre, I haven't seen him in years. Latest gossip was that he was institutionalized after wanting to set his neighbor on fire...

 

 

What's up for the future, guys? Please fill us in!

Well, we just did our first videoclip for "Fever Rising", edited by Dwid! Check our site: www.congresshc.be, and watch it! We plan a tour in Japan/Australia this summer that is as good as organized, and we play most underground HC fests this summer. No US shows though...Too Bad....

 

 

THANKS a LOT for your time and this interview! It's my total pleasure, and I hope you dig the questions! Hopefully I'll see you live someday, but in the meantime, congrats and best of luck!

Thanx for the opportunity! Props to the metal/HC kids who took time and effort to check us out, and hopefully till we tour the States! Anger and Distortion 2K4!!