Interview by Arto Lehtinen (with additional questions by Jani Koskela)
Death Metal used to rule the earth in the late 80’s and the early 90’s when several brutal bands emerged from the abyss to spread their own lethal stuff. Although bigger names were rolling all over the metal map, the underground scene was huge and vital. Demos were traded and underground magazines published articles and interviews of several brutal death metal bands. One of the underground pioneers of the death metal genre was definitely Asphyx hailing from The Netherlands. The band’s raw, brutal and above all nihilistic music appealed to a number of death metal freaks. The band got more attention when the former Pestilence growler Martin Van Drunen joined for a couple of albums. But the inflamed chemistry and disagreements led to the premature demise of Asphyx. However the core members of Asphyx didn’t give up and went on to form Soulburn by recruiting Wannes Gubbels from the mighty Pentacle. After all the name was chosen to Asphyx. After the last Asphyx disc, ON THE WINGS OF INFERNO, Asphyx was laid to rest. In 2007 Asphyx has returned to crush the cenotaph again. Therefore it was an excellent opportunity to have a chat with both Wannes Gubbels and Bob Bacghus about the reunion and other topics…
Asphyx went on hiatus in the late 90’s when the official “first” but long delayed EMBRACE THE DEATH came out. But in my opinion Soulburn was some kind of reincarnation of Asphyx with the different name. But that’s my opinion. How did Soulburn get started out in the first place and why Eric Daniels and Bob Bagchus weren’t willing to use Asphyx at that time ?
Bob : Eric phoned me in 1997 if I was interested in doing some kind of project so
we started Soulburn. Soulburn does, however, sound alot like Asphyx, but with much less pressure and expectations. It was kinda relaxed to do.
Before the formation of Soulburn, the whole chemistry of Asphyx was kind of inflamed as Bob and Eric had left the band in the different time and played on different albums without each other. Did you try to find the right balance and feeling for the playing with Soulburn by testing if it is possible to work together without insulting the name and legacy of Asphyx ?
Bob :That’s true. There is no chemistry on those albums where neither Eric nor I are playing on. But Soulburn was not a test, but a very serious project. We did, however play some Asphyx tunes as well at that time, and the chemistry was there as well, so we decided to reform Soulburn into Asphyx again, also since the music was exactly the same and so was the feeling.
Did Bob and Eric already ask in the early stage of the formation of Soulburn for you to join the band as a new vocalist? And were you somehow surprised to find out the name of the band would be Soulburn instead of Asphyx ?
Wannes : Yes, I was the first choice for Soulburn. As far as I know they didn’t had anyone else in mind. As Bob and I were in contact from the moment Asphyx released its first demo, we talked many times about creating some music together. In fact, Bob would have joined Pentacle when he left Asphyx for the first time and we (Pentacle) had troubles with our original drummer, but that cooperation wasn’t really blessed, so to say. The travelling distance and Bob’s motivation (in retrospect, he was just fed up with playing in a band at that moment) prevented this line up from getting reality. As our first project Thy Infernal didn’t work out either, we thought it would be cool to try something else again. Enter Soulburn…
Nah, as I still was very much in good contact with Bob when they split up after the “God Cries” release, I was very well informed about what happened and what kind of thoughts Bob had storming in his mind. Soulburn started as a project. To record some cool old school Death Metal on a tape while some maniacs were destroying their instruments. Nothing more, nothing less. No pressure, just to shred some Death Metal…
I remember having read that the original Asphyx vocalist Theo Loomans was involved in Soulburn at some point, correct ?
Bob : Only in the first couple of days, but that didn’t work out.
Wannes : Theo was supposed to play guitar as Eric has a temporary breakdown after the recording of the promo/demo, but that just didn’t work out. Both Bob and I were glad to welcome Eric back into the crypts.
Well, was choosing the name for the band Soulburn well planned because all of a sudden there were quite a few bands named after “Soul”? Where was it taken from by the way ?
Bob : It was taken from a dream I once had at that time. I saw that as a “sign “.This may sound a bit cliche, I know, but it’s true. So I suggested it to Eric and Wannes and they also thought it was a good name which suited our raw Death Metal pretty well.
Frankly how do you personally view the differences between Soulburn and Asphyx ? Music wise, attitude or something else ?
Bob : They totally match on every front. Soulburn and Asphyx are totally the same, musical wise and attitude wise. Only the name differs.
The thing was that nobody expected anything from Soulburn, so we had no pressure whatsoever. If we had reformed Asphyx at that time we had to deal with much more stress, pressure and expectations.
Wannes : Personally I think the music of Soulburn is more primitive. Asphyx never was a technical band, yet Soulburn was to a certain extent stripped of anything else than aggression and brutal power. Very basic. Sometimes even a bit too much in my opinion. For the rest it was just the same band.
One demo was recorded in 1996. As for those songs being on the demo: were those songs on the demo originally planned as well as written for the forthcoming Asphyx album, but ended up to Soulburn after all or entirely new ones for Soulburn ?
Bob :They were written as Soulburn songs.
The one and only Soulburn album called FEEDING ON ANGELS was released by Century Media, was a logical choice to continue the co-operation with them as Asphyx was signed to them previously or did you have to sign a deal with Cm because of two of three members in the Soulburn rank had been involved in Asphyx earlier ?
Bob : Wannes didn’t sign anything. He is “independent” sort of speak. For us it was logical to work with Century Media since we were still under contract.
Wannes : That’s right. I didn’t want to sign any contract as I was (and still am) very much involved with Pentacle at that moment. Signing such papers would have made it impossible for me to record albums with Pentacle, so that was no option for me.
Did you, in your opinion, manage to capture the wanted, brutal and nihilistic soundworld on the album, whereas the demo sounded a little bit more undergroundish and rawer?
Bob : We did for sure. The album sounds brutal and very raw. But I think that during the mastering the album got a bit compressed and sounds a bit less raw than the demo, but still, “Feeding on Angels” sounds very brutal and raw, but that’s the case with most CD releases compared to demo’s.
Wannes : We did use the same recordings of the demo for the album. This session is actually the same. We never re-recorded both “Hellish Entrapment” and “Behold the Funeral Candle” again. If you listen well, you can hear the differences between the sessions quite well.
Soulburn did some shows like visiting the Wacken Open Air which was even aired by the German music channel Viva and even included the hilarious interview. Wasn’t it kind of odd to do an interview for some mainstream music TV channel ?
Bob : I went for a sleep in my car during that interview……..
Wannes : Oh yes, that was fun. We were ready to head back home, when we heard we could obtain a video tape with the recordings of the gig we just did. Of course we wanted to have this as the gig turned out very well (still a personal high light of mine). The only thing we had to do was to answer some questions for Peavy. Well, it turned out to be a rather amusing interview. Peavy did come up with some questions about Asphyx, but as Eric wasn’t really able to reply in German tongue too well, most of the answers were given by me (the whole interview lasted a bit longer than what was broadcasted on TV). When Peavy asked us about our influences, we mentioned Venom and we all went “nuts”, so to speak. Well, that’s was you could see on TV. Great song title by the way: “Crabs of the Black” instead of “Crypts of the Black”… And yes, we got the tape with the recordings.
How many shows did you actually do with Soulburn ?
Bob : 3 or so. Not that many since we quite fast changed our name into Asphyx.
Wannes : It were actually four gigs. The first one was at the Stonehenge Festival, the second was Wacken Open Air (almost a week later), the third was in Tilburg and the last we did was in Arnhem. We were supposed to do another show with Ancient Rites in Hengelo, but it was cancelled because of some problems with the contract. Still, we played more shows than the Swiss gods Hellhammer!
Before calling it quits did you ever demo the new stuff for a possible second Soulburn album ?
Bob : No.Soulburn was a one time only project.
When did you decide to put the period to Soulburn whose existence didn’t last that long. What were the basic reasons for terminating the band ?
Bob : The Asphyx feeling was stronger and since the music was the same it was better to go further with our “child ” called Asphyx. That felt better and we still wanted to do an Asphyx album just once more. We had some unfinished business to take care of, sort of speak!
In hindsight, was it a wise move to form Soulburn with the main core members of Asphyx as people however considered you as Asphyx and it may have caused some confusion at that time ?
Bob : It was the right move ‘coz without Soulburn there wouldn’t be “On the Wings of Inferno”. But yes,”Feeding…” could easily being released under the Asphyx monniker,that’s true.But everything happens for a reason.
The rebirth or comeback of Asphyx definitely came out of blue and was a huge unexpected surprise to several old school death metal maniacs. I for one was pretty much sure the legendary Asphyx would never rise from the beyond back to the living daylights. ow did this happen?
Bob : I also was 100% sure that Asphyx would never rise again since I saw “On the Wings of Inferno” as the final chapter of Asphyx.
But because of the hard persistance of the Party San Festival we thought “Ok, why not do the gig after all”. We still owed it to them since we had to cancel this in 2000. Wannes and me still felt pretty awful about that, so now we can make it up.
Did these festival offers from various European metal festival make the return plans to the stage easier after all ?
Bob : Yes, but we had no plans of a return in the first place.
After Asphyx 2nd demise (and “On the Wings of Inferno” album) it may have felt that some things were left unfinished and musically the line-up could have given still a lot more. Do you think that now is the chance to finish it, or is more like a new thing and a new start, since the line-up has changed a little bit from those days ?
Bob : Well, we kinda finished the Asphyx chapter with “On the Wings of Inferno”.
Today’s the fact that we reformed for the Party San in the first place, but now it feels really good and we take it all at the time. No pressure, the Soulburn feeling one could say. We get many offers, but we do take it easy. We concentrate us on the Party San and see what happens after that. We think we have nothing to prove anymore, so the pressure is off.
As for the current line up being quite interesting, well the most well-known Asphyx growler Martin Van Drunen is definitely the expected one behind the mic, Wannes and of course Bob Bagchus are involved in the resurrected Asphyx, but the Thanatos guitarist Paul Baayens has been recruited to fill the line-up. I can’t help asking about Eric Daniels, did he entirely pull out of the whole metal scene after the last Asphyx last ON THE WINGS OF INFERNO? Was he no longer keen on getting involved in the Asphyx return?! And was it kind of logical to approach Paul Baayens ?
Bob : Eric doesn’t want to take part of the metal scene anymore. He has a totally different lifestyle and is happy with it. He sold quite a lot of his equipment and only cherish the good memories he has of Asphyx. Eric is still a good friend though and he wished us all the best and we have his blessings, sort of speak. Eric says he’s very proud of what he did with Asphyx, but he has to move on……I don’t even think he plays guitar anymore. Anyway, cheers to Eric!
Martin already knew Paul and Paul is very enthusiastic to be with us now. He’s motivated to the bone and very serious. Paul also has the right feeling and roots and we totally connect.
One thing that interests me quite a lot is the difference between Eric’s and Paul Baayens’ playing styles and guitar sounds. Are you trying to keep the classic Asphyx sound, which I believe was largely created by Eric, or is Paul bringing something that might develop the sound further and into a different direction ?
Bob : Of course they have different styles of playing, but it differs not that much.
As far as the typical Asphyx sound goes, we try to keep our classic chainsaw sounding raw guitar sound, but we’ll try to get it even more brutal and heavier. We can’t do for less. But it will sound like Asphyx anyway. We HATE different directions!!
I came across an article where Eric Daniels had given his own blessing to the rebirth of Asphyx ?
Bob : Yes he did! Like said before, we’re still in good contact.
But how will you share vocal duties with Martin Van Drunen as he did the singing on the first two Asphyx albums and you were on the last Asphyx opus and obviously Martin won’t handle the bass now ?
Wannes : Both Martin and I have to work this out. At this moment, we haven’t practiced as a whole band yet, but as we are all seasoned musicians, I’m confident we’ll come up with some cool stuff. I have some ideas which I told Paul and he was very enthusiastic about it. It will be something special for sure, as Asphyx never had two operational vocalists on stage. The one gig with both Martin and Theo I don’t count here. For those who’ll join us at the Party.San, be surprised…
Were any other former Asphyx members approached regarding the comeback or was it just obvious that Wannes, Martin and Bob will be the main core of the band of nowadays ?
Bob : Nobody else was approached. Only Paul will replace Eric.
Was it easy to lure Martin Van Drunen to join Asphyx as his departure from the band in the early 90’s didn’t happen on good terms and how do they get along with each other and he has been doing the vocalist for Death By Dawn nowadays ?
Bob : It was very easy since Martin and me we’re already in good contact again for some years. Martin was very excited right away as he really wanted to play some old school Asphyx Death Metal again! He also was the one who came up with Paul after Eric said no. The issues we had in the past are also buried in the past and that’s the way it should be anyway.
Century Media recently re-issued the first two Asphyx albums with some bonus material added. Putting these reissues out at the same time when the comeback was announced was more than a good timing to promote the band ?
Bob : That’s true, but this is pure coincidental, believe me. Those re-releases were planned anyway since Century Media re-released lot’s of old stuff like Grave, Unleashed, so.
How would you compare the stuff of the first albums between these other Asphyx albums for example GOD CRIES and ASPHYX and finally the last album where Wannes sung?! And do you view the FEEDING ON THE ANGELS album as a whole now afterwards, as I think it definitely stands for the brutal Asphyx sound in the best way ?
Bob : The first two albums, especially “The Rack”, had a really good chemistry. Also the unofficial first album “Embrace the Death” had an excellent chemistry and atmosphere to it. The albums released after “Last One on Earth” were in fact good, but had no chemistry whatsoever since neither me or Eric played on one of them at the same time. That was odd. Those albums “Asphyx” and “God Cries” don’t have the real band feeling we had on the first 3 albums or on the “on the Wings of Inferno” album. The last album with Wannes had almost the same feeling we had on “The Rack”. Great chemistry and total commitment! Also the Soulburn album still is great and has good memories! It has a great feeling and atmosphere and is 100% Asphyx worthy!
Will you do any songs from ASPHYX, GOD CRIES or will you rather focus on the material of the first two and last albums ?
Bob : Just stuff of the first 2 albums, some demo trax from our “Crush the Cenotaph” tape from 1989 and probably tunes from “On the Wings of Inferno”. But we have to make choices since we only can play for one hour at the Party.San.
As far as I know the last long Asphyx tour was carried out in 1992 with Bolt Thrower and Benediction and after that the band has done a gig here and there by selecting very carefully. Obviously you didn’t gig that much after all ?
Bob : No, we didn’t gig that much because that can be harmful to a band. That way you kinda lose the exclusivity.
Is this comeback one / off or have you planned something in the long run for the future ?
Bob : We have plans…we’ll see what happens. After all, it’s Asphyx what we’re talking about here……
In case if you write new material as Asphyx. Do you think that it’s possible to reach the same quality as on the Asphyx classic records, since Eric Daniel is not present in the line-up? I mean, even though he’s not an original member, he was very important person when thinking about the musical soul of Asphyx. “God Cries” album is quite a good prove of how difficult it must be to try to replace him and reach the same class afterwards ?
Bob : Eric is hard to be replaced, we can’t forget that. He had that special sound and typical riffing, although we already had that kind of riffing on the early demo’s. As far as arrangements goes, that was mostly me and Eric doing the thinking. Anyway, there is no speak of a new Asphyx album at all at this point.
The official ASPHYX Myspace :