LEGION OF THE DAMNED – Vocalist Maurice Swinkels
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Questions by Luxi L. & Arto L.
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Transcription by David Groves
The relentless Dutch thrashers, Legion of the Damned, invaded to Finland in the beginning of February 2008, doing a 4-show mini-tour under the "Suomi Invasion 2008" – and showing no mercy towards their crazy and drunken Finnish fans when the band hit the stages in 4 different cities.
Legion of the Damned´s last show out of these 4 shows, was booked to a relatively small, but very cozy-looking metal bar named Nightlife Rock in Helsinki where the band had the opportunity to play with 3 Finnish thrash troops: Hateform, Axegressor and The Scourger (whom all – by the way – did a great job, opening up for L.o.t.D.).
Maurice Swinkels, who rips his lungs out in Legion of the Damned, was in a cheerful and talkative mood, and was kind enough to reveal the band´s both current – as well as future plans for Metal-Rules.com, plus was kinda excited to tell a couple of interesting things about his past bands from Bestial Summoning to Occult, as well.
SUOMI INVASION 2008
You’ve already played 3 shows in Finland – and this is your last gig on this mini-tour here in Helsinki. First off, how has your mini-tour been going on here in Finland so far?
Good, but you know, if you think about it and the time that you invest in it, it’s better to do a big festival like Tuska or something. Because then you’re in one place, you have so many people. I mean, I knew that the places wouldn’t be packed because we’re not big, and it’s just a promotion tour. But so far, the people that came to the concerts were really into it. Yesterday when one of the other bands was playing there were just no people in the audience at all, and we were like “Oh fuck,” – you know. When we came on stage there were lots of people all of a sudden. They weren’t allowed to serve alcohol yesterday, so lots of people went outside, drank and then came back, so it was really fucked up. But yeah, the people really like it and we’re selling some stuff…
It was part of the reason that you came to Finland that the Finnish Stay Heavy Records has licensed FEEL THE BLADE to Finland…
Yeah, we usually don’t do this kind of stuff, I mean we only want to do the big festivals and one big tour; but I think when the record company releases the album officially in their country, we have an obligation to do something for them as well; we can’t tell the guy from Stay Heavy records that we’re not coming. So it’s good to do this kind of thing, and it spreads around – we have a very good performance, we have good songs – so people talk about it. So when we come back to Tuska or whatever, they’ll know about it.
I saw you last year playing at Tuska, how was it for you anyway?
Tuska was super well-organised, very good atmosphere, and we were really surprised about the audience, because when we were backstage this Finnish girl was introducing us and the crowd was screaming: “Legion of the Damned!!!” and we were like – “Woah” – you know, so yeah, that’s really cool.
FEEL THE FUCKIN´ BLADE
Now let’s talk about FEEL THE BLADE (which is actually an early Occult record ELEGY OF THE WEAK), which I must say is indeed a nice slap of furious blackened thrash, and is out now. When the album originally came out on Painkiller Records in 2003, it literally vanished due to some lame promotion, and therefore wasn’t easily available. Was this the reason you gave it another shot and put it out as FEEL THE BLADE?
There are several reasons. The first reason is that we had promotion, but it was just the regular promotion you get from any record company – it’s like one article, and that’s it. That album sold about 1000 copies. People are amazed by that but that’s nothing, even the smaller bands are selling five, six thousand. But it was also the time that there were problems with Plastichead in England who were distributing the CD. It was also the last album for Occult so we changed the name to Legion of the Damned after that album. So when MALEVOLENT RAPTURE and SONS OF THE JACKAL came out we immediately said: “We have to do something with this album [ELEGY…]” – it didn’t sell a lot, people don’t know this album but we still want to play those songs so we decided we needed to re-release it with the Legion of the Damned logo on it. Lots of people are saying we only did it to make money – but if that album had sold ten thousand copies we wouldn’t re-release it; it’s just good to have it out in a new package with new songs on it so people can still buy it and listen to it.
FEEL THE BLADE has three songs as bonus tracks, a different cover artwork and different running order of the songs compared to the original version of the album. What made you to change the order of the songs on FEEL THE BLADE?
When you go into the studio after you do the songs in the rehearsal room, you’ve only heard them briefly, and once you record it you have one day in the studio to decide – okay, what’s the first song going to be? So you have to choose correctly. But after three years, you’ve heard the CD so many times and you think: "Maybe next time…" That’s why we changed the order. And also, the record company had some other ideas, like starting the album with “Nuclear Torment” instead of “Disturbing the Dead”, that’s actually the reason for this.
And now you are signed to the German Massacre Records, is that right?
Yeah, we are actually signed to Boomer Entertainment, which is licensed to Massacre Records. Our bass player was asking yesterday: “Why is Stay Heavy Records releasing the album in Finland when Massacre has a distribution here?” and I was saying: “No, we’re not on Massacre, Boomer Entertainment sold it to Stay Heavy”. Massacre’s doing a lot of things, but it’s also a license.
Do you actually know how many licenses they have for you right now?
There’s Japan which is Spiritual Beast, in the US on Season of Mist, in South America Nuclear Blast, Indie in Norway, Stay Heavy in Finland, and that’s it. We are working on Sweden and England but I think that will be for the next album. It’s a very good list, especially Nuclear Blast in South America. We’re not that happy with Season of Mist in the US but at least it’s out, that’s the main point.
How did you end up doing the Pestilence song “Chronic Infection” for this reissue?
Pestilence is one of our main influences, especially for Richard (Ebisch) our guitar player, he’s a huge fan. Pestilence is just a great, great band; and they were also one of the biggest bands in the late 80’s and 90’s in Holland, they were just this huge death metal band. And we played with (former pestilence vocalist) Martin van Drunen’s new band Death by Dawn; and when the label said we should do a cover of a German thrash band we said: “No, Pestilence is cool”. We didn’t want to do a song that a lot of bands are doing, you know, the typical Pestilence songs. So we asked Martin if he wanted to do it, and it felt like an honor when he came into the studio with us, we were really glad he could come.
FEEL THE BLADE features two brand-new songs, “Last Command” and “Mask of Terror”, as bonus tracks. Do those two particular songs somewhat represent what the material for your upcoming album may sound like?
No, I think the newer stuff will be more straightforward and fast. “Last Command” and “Mask of Terror” are more mid-paced, these songs should belong to ELEGY OF THE WEAK. Lots of people are saying that’s what our new album will sound like, but that’s not true.
There’s also this limited edition of FEEL THE BLADE which contains over 127-minutes of video footage, both on-stage and off-stage. Was it any hard to decide what kind of material you wanted to use for the bonus of this limited edition?
Well, we had lots of stuff, I have my own video company and I always bring my camera and ask people to film us; we always buy stuff… I also started my company years ago with just one camera, so I also want to help other people. So when an 18 year old writes and asks: “I have a camera, can I film you guys for 50 Euro” I say: “Yeah, give me the tapes”; I really like that and I have tonnes of stuff at home – that’s why we have a DVD with so much stuff on it. I don’t think about what I’ll put on it, you know even if it looks shitty or sounds shitty – it’s underground. I like it when it’s not filmed with ten cameras. But there are also people complaining about it, they’re like: “I’m buying this DVD and I’m just seeing lots of pavement”, but that’s how it is and that’s how people see us as well when they’re in the crowd. And there’s one show from Earthshaker where Richard’s girlfriend is filming, she walks up the stairs and you see her feet then she pulls up the camera and you see Legion – I like that kind of stuff. And it’s the same with Tuska, a friend of mine filmed three songs from Tuska and you can see him falling and getting bumped around – I can’t believe people are complaining about it when they get the DVD almost for free with two hours of stuff on it. People need to complain, I think. We put a lot of work into it, it costs 1 Euro extra…
But we’re doing one big show at Party San this year and that will be filmed with a lot of cameras and we’ll do something professional then.
WORKING WITH NEW SONGS
Just read that you’re working on the new material for the next release. Is there anything to report about it – like how many songs you have ready, any working titles for the songs and the album title and so on?
We have three songs done, haven’t done the lyrics yet. I know the title of the album for next year but nothing else is confirmed.
What about song titles? Any of them ready to be revealed yet?
Nothing, just nothing yet. I only know the title of the album. I can’t tell you anything really. We’ve got like seven artists working on the cover art – but the rest – no idea. The songs are killer. Harold (Gielen, bassist) brought them to me on a tape before we went to Finland; there’s some cool riffs again, some cool head-banging stuff.
While you’re working with your new material for your next album, do you overall try to avoid doing any extensive touring or playing at festivals?
Yeah, we need to. Last year with SONS OF THE JACKAL we did so many gigs, and we did a tour with Kreator and Celtic Frost, we did the big festivals, we did Tuska, we did England, we did Norway. And in between we also had to rehearse, do the two new songs, do the cover, we had to go into the studio – and it’s too much. We all have our own houses, we have girlfriends, we have jobs – the band is not a priority. It’s not like we have to do it or we have to make money out of it: if we want to do it, we do it. And we know what it’s like, the girlfriends are like: "They’re gone again"; so we said: "Next year, when FEEL THE BLADE comes out, we’re only doing a few things, like this in Finland, we’re doing Party San, Hellfest in France, and we’re doing MetalCamp, and that’s about it".
HEADING TOWARDS FESTIVALS
Party San will be your only live appearance in Germany this year?
Yes, but it will be big. There’ll be fire and explosions and stuff like that.
Are you supposed to play the Sandstorm festival in Belgium?
I think it will be canceled; they had some trouble with payment.
So it’s gonna be Hellfest, MetalCamp and Party San for you this year – and that´s basically it?
Yeah, I think that’s it. We get lots of offers: Exodus asked us to tour with them, Arch Enemy asked us to do something with them in England. But I mean, it’s a luxury where we’re at; when we were in Occult for fifteen years we never got any tours or got to do any big festivals and now they’re coming from everywhere, it’s a luxury position we’re in.
THE OCCULT YEARS
Now, talking about Occult. Are you surprised that Legion of the Damned is getting more attention than Occult ever did? Basically I think the problem was that even though the music of Occult wasn’t that far removed from what you do now; it was always about how well you’re promoted to get the attention you deserve, and overall to make people know about your band.
Yes, exactly. We always discuss this in the band. I mean, we have seen both parts – in ten years we’ve seen so much about how the business works. When I did Occult I’d always send stuff to festivals like packages and t-shirts and a DVD and everything and I thought: the nicer the package, the sooner they will book us. But that’s not how it works. And I can see it now through the two years I’ve done Legion that the fifteen years with Occult were a waste of time, if you want to accomplish something. I knew that the people would be really into it because we did some tours with Morbid Angel as Occult, and you could see that people liked what we did. But if the CD is not available and you can’t buy anything – we did tours where there was no CDs or whatever – and the people go home thinking: "There was this one certain band that played and they were killer, but what’s their name?". But when the first Legion of the Damned album came out, Boomer Entertainment didn’t expect it either – putting a different name on it was just a shot that we tried, and it worked! It’s selling crazy compared to what Occult did.
As the fact goes, Legion of the Damned´s playing actually is much tighter than Occult´s ever was – more professional and just in a weay more accessible at the same time…
Well, it’s a development. Of course when you start a band, you go into the studio with no experience, so of course in the end you make bad albums. And with Occult we always had a second guitar player who was more into Dream Theater and we didn’t like that kind of style, we wanted to be more aggressive so we kicked him out. Then, we kicked out a female singer. And then we came to ELEGY OF THE WEAK and you get better albums.
You did one extensive tour with Occult in 2003, the “Bonded by Metal Over Europe” tour, with Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Behemoth, Agent Steel and a couple of other bands. What can you still remember from that tour? I read from somewhere that it was financed pretty badly by Metallysee.
You know, every tour we did was a big experience. The only tour which was great was Morbid Angel: it was ten days, every day there were enough people. But on “Bonded By Metal” there were three tour buses, and even though you mention killer bands like Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Agent Steel – there were clubs we played at that had like fifty people, every night. And then how can you pay for three buses? So in Switzerland, some bands had to go, some bands stopped, they told Agent Steel that they could continue the tour but that they weren’t paying them anymore. Bands are asking for money, too, and that’s a thing that I never knew with Occult – I thought these bands played for beer or something, I was just being naïve. But I think Agent Steel got like 500 Euro each day, and if you have only fifty people coming and Exodus and Nuclear Assault have to get paid, how do you do it? So Agent Steel said ‘if we don’t get paid, we’re going home’ so from starting with 8 bands we ended with 4 bands. So they left, then the singer of another band said: "I quit…!" so he stepped out of the bus, two buses had to go and one bus was left, and we said: "Okay if they’re getting out of that bus, we’re hopping in…" – and so we finished that tour.
As far as I know you had a few line-up changes during the days of Occult. Did these line-up hassles cause some uncertainty within the band?
Yeah. We kicked out Leon (Oennigs, guitar) because he was not into the music that we liked. He was also a very dominant person, he came into the studio with a tape and said ‘these are the ten songs we’re going to do – learn them.’ We were like, ‘that’s not how we want to work.’ So that was the main key – when he was out of the band, everything changed. And Rachel (Heyzer, vocals) was a personal thing because I was married to Rachel and she went to sing with Sinister so I said: "Let’s kick her out". I think that’s it’s not such a good thing to have a girl in the band. People are always looking at the girl, and I had to sing with her and even when I was doing the lines they were looking at her, so I thought: "What the hell am I doing here?" Then we kicked her out and I was alone again, and it was like: "Yeah, everybody’s looking at me again! (laughs)" But yeah girls are always trouble.
So you would say you have learned from your mistakes in Occult and you kind of won’t allow these mistakes in Legion of the Damned again?
Of course, yes. But we are sometimes too nice. That was the issue with Twan (Fleuren, bass) because we had him for 7 years – he took pills and he was sleeping on stage; one time he woke up and realized: "Oh, I’m doing a gig!" But we never kicked him out because we were friends. But later I realized we needed to do the business side and if someone’s not working – kick him out. And then on the tour with Kataklysm and Cannibal Corpse something happened to one of his two kids and he’s like: "I’m going home…", halfway through the tour. And we told him: "Alright, if you go now, you don’t need to come back. Think about your family". We handled that in a good way, you know. But sometimes we’re too nice, and that’s not good because you keep working with people that are not doing the things you want them to do and you need to be really strict to them sometimes.
SUMMON THE BESTIAL ONES
Well since we are digging up graves, so to speak, let’s go very deep down in your history to Bestial Summoning. When someone mentions that name to you, do you feel somewhat honored that some people in general remember that band, or do you get cold shivers running down your neck when someone starts asking you about Bestial Summoning?
(laughs) I have mixed feelings about that, I mean, it wasn’t a nice time. There was the time with the black metal shit and the burning churches and all that stuff, and I was really into it; and there were lots of threats, people calling me in the middle of the night saying: "I’m gonna kill you" and "You said this about that band", and there were so many fights. Everyone was saying all this about being Black Metal brothers and unity and all that and later they’d call me and threaten me and… Well, it was a shitty time. And at that time I was also starting Occult, and my friends were like: "That’s thrash metal, it’s not true, and you’re not true". And this all came from all those people who were into Bestial at that time and were playing with me, well they’re out of music now. They were complaining about me, but look who’s still doing metal. And sometimes I see these people now with short hair and normal clothes, and they’ve sold all their metal stuff and I’m like: "What the fuck were you talking about twenty years ago?" But it’s weird that people still remember it because it was just one album.
But I guess it’s achieved some sort of cult status in these underground circles by that album anyway…
Yeah, at that time it was really hated! Everybody hated Bestial, and we had some fights with Euronymous from Mayhem and he’s like: "That’s not black metal, that’s noise" but then when you see the book Lords of Chaos, you see his shop and you see Bestial Summoning – he’s selling it. But everybody hated it, and now everybody likes it. People write me and say: "Hey, Bestial’s kvlt" and you know, time changes and it’s old stuff.
You played drums in that band under the name of Sephiroth. Do you miss playing drums or would you rather stick to vocals?
No, I was really aggressive and intense on the drums and when I did a gig I lost my sticks five times in each song. I needed to use my whole body. But now when I’m singing I can just do whatever with my hands, and that’s what I like. Maybe I’m too lazy too, I’m sometimes behind the drums at rehearsals with Legion and I get tired and get cramped. Eric says when I’m really into it and I do it more, I can play drums, I mean, I have some rhythm. I played drums at that time because, I used to play bass a little as well, but I was always too lazy to learn stuff and drums was easy, it was just like (*makes pounding drum noise*), but nah, singing’s good.
No Fashion released Bestial Summoning´s only album, titled THE DARK WAR HAS BEGUN, which was dedicated to Dead (aka Per Yngve Ohlin) of Mayhem who committed suicide in 1991 as most of us still remember. How well did you know the guy? Did you meet him personally ever?
Not personally no, but I was in contact with Euronymous for a very long time, and also the Count, but still, Dead was one of my favorite singers, and he had a great, great voice, and also his attitude with the cutting and stuff like that. Because I did it too in the early 90’s and just his attitude and the stories that I heard, and his appearance, you know with the corpse paint, I mean; I don’t like the bands that take an hour to do the paint and still look shitty. And Dead did something and it looked great, there’s all these pictures where he’s really tall and he’s got long blonde hair and his face – woah, that’s great. And I never worked with him, but the guy who wrote the lyrics for Bestial Summoning, he was a member of a true Satanist hall in Holland, and he had contact with that, so all the dedication to that came from him. But I was only in contact with Euronymous.
I remember that you were also using corpse paint and it looked slightly like what Dead used to have.
Yeah, you should also remember what the corpse paint is, it’s war paint, you put it on to go to war; you’re not going to sit at the mirror and do it nice. I mean, I like Immortal and Abbath looks nice, and it still looks good but so many bands have all these things and… well, I don’t like that. I like it when it’s raw, when it’s like war. I also think that what you express on your face, it comes from the inside; there are so many black metal bands with corpse paint and, it looks silly – it comes from inside. You can put something on, but the face you pull – it comes from the heart. That way you can see whether somebody’s really into it or not. I made some pictures with corpse paint – lots of people tell me: "Oh you weren’t black metal" because you wore it for just those three years, it was just a trend that you liked and now it’s not. But that’s not true because I even took corpse paint pictures like, two years ago, for myself. I put on corpse paint, took pictures of myself and I have them; and I showed it to someone and he’s like: "That’s you?" But it looked killer and I told them it’s what’s inside. And I still like it, it’s not like I’m doing Legion and black metal’s not popular anymore so I’m not doing it anymore – it’s for myself. And I still like that.
If I remember correctly, Bestial Summoning wasn’t doing too many gigs at all?
We did two gigs; one gig was 1989, I think, which was a total disaster. We got a fight, blood was thrown into the audience – there was a huge fight. We had real rabbit blood, the entrance fee was 1 Euro, and there were like… 10 people? Back in ’89 black metal wasn’t known, we were the only black metal band in Holland; we had spikes and corpse paint and blood and the people who were our neighbours were football people and were like: "What the fuck is this?" And we starting playing – we were doing improvised stuff: you know, nothing rehearsed and just shoot. And everybody wanted their Euro back. So when I was behind the drums I saw people at the back holding tables in the air demanding their money back. Then the singer ran off stage, and I’m looking at the guitarist and he’s like: "Okay, the singer’s gone, let’s do something else" and he just starts improvising. Then the singer came back with this bottle of blood and everybody’s screaming and he’s like [let´s loose]. And then there was a huge fight; we’d played like three songs and the guy at the bar was just telling us to stop so we had to stop playing; and also the drum kit which wasn’t mine, it was from the other band, it was covered in blood. And that was the first gig. And the rumor started like wildfire – I remember the guys from Impaled Nazarene wrote me and said: "We heard about your first gig – killer!" And the second gig really was the same, those were the only gigs we did. That was sold out, because we should have played there with Beherit from Finland, but instead it was Samael – that gig was also the same thing. Those songs were recorded on a 7-inch single, and I think they’re also on the re-release CD from Bestial. But yeah they were shitty too, just improvising and lots of people saying: "What is this crap?" And then they were like: "Yeah, but they have a record company" (laughs). But yeah that’s the only stuff we did with Bestial.
Nowadays there’s Warhammer and a company in Peru, I still have some CDs at home with a slipcase. Those countries like Peru and Brazil write me and ask: "Can we re-release it" and I’m like: "Oh, okay fine" and they send me copies. But the guy from No Fashion emailed me once asking me about a re-release. I think he was always ashamed that he released Bestial – I saw a catalogue of his, and it started with number 2, because Bestial Summoning was his first release and his second was Marduk, it didn’t mention 1. I think he was pretty ashamed – but about a year ago he wrote me about a re-release but I never replied to it, I was like: "Fuck it!".
Anyway, this version that Warhammer released, it was limited to 1000 copies and it comes with all these demo tracks. Was it your idea to put it out on CD?
Well, I don’t care about it anymore, but usually the record companies write me and say ‘we have a killer idea, we want to do this and that’ and when they want to do it, I want to help – when we re-release it I want it to have something good. So I did the layout, there’s also the new picture of me in the corpse paint, I did the lyrics, I think I did the cover art, I gave them the stuff we recorded in my parents basement. But I think they’re sold out – I do have some at home from the Peru label.
Just too bad I’ve never heard any of these rare demo tracks and other shit on it…
Well, you should give me your address, I’ll send you one in a slipcase; I have a case full of this stuff and I always bring it on tour and give them to people, one guy wrote me about Bestial and I gave him one yesterday; I have them at home and give them away.
Are you also aware of the fact that The Unsane tried to start the band again in 2004, I think? Then he changed the name to Caym… Have you been in contact with him lately?
I talked to him on Myspace a little but we were never good friends, he always made me ‘black’ in those days, he hated Occult and didn’t like that we got attention and he didn’t. But he’s not into metal any more. That’s what I mean like – who’s left? He’s like: "I will redo Bestial". He’s always like: "I’m the best singer" – and all that, and he thinks that if he continues Bestial than he is Bestial Summoning. But he if he wants to do it, I don’t care.
We talked about Pestilence earlier, how in the late 80’s and early 90’s Holland had all these known and popular death metal bands bands like Gorefest, Sinister and Asphyx, for example. I’m curious how much time you spend listening to these old bands?
I do like the old stuff; I like Pestilence, Asphyx… Pentacle is a good band, old Sinister is great, old Gorefest is great but I mean there’s so many bands. When I’m still listening to old bands, it’s Pestilence. I also work for Nuclear Blast so I get so much stuff to listen to – so if I listen to metal it’s usually Pestilence or Kreator or Destruction. Holland never did anything for me, it’s a weird country for metal and the people aren’t proud of their own bands. I always had this feeling with Occult that no one wanted to support us. And I still have the feeling of revenge inside, when some club in Holland writes me saying: "We need to book Legion in my club". I’m like: "Hell no…" People are always saying: "You guys never play in Holland…!" but I tried so hard for fifteen years with Occult to do shows in Holland, and everybody basically said: "Fuck you!" Now when Legion is known they want something. So that anger’s still there.
And now almost every festival organiser wants to book Legion of the Damned, you need to make your decisions on where to play wisely.
As I said, it’s a luxury issue. If I tell them no, a week later we can do something else. In Holland I have this feeling that nobody did something for me in those days and now they want to take something from a band that’s known and people come to see us, so they can earn some money; but no, fuck it. It’s the same with the magazines, they have people on the cover and they write 3 page stories about bands that did nothing, bands that were only big in Holland. But if you look at what Legion is doing right now, with every album it’s the CD of the month in Norway and Germany – every album! Even Slayer didn’t do that. But everybody in Holland is like – "Ah, it’s just a Dutch band". And I hate that. And when people come to see Legion it’s just a bit like – who cares? Holland is not proud of its own bands, that’s how I feel about it.
Tonight is your last show in Finland for a while, I mean, the last show of this mini-tour called "Suomi Invasion Tour 2008". I believe the venue is going to be packed this evening because it’s Saturday – and Helsinki is a big city and very renown for its metal and mad, crazy and drunken muthafukkin´ metal people, so what sort of expectations do you have for your last show in Finland?
Anything special? Well, actually nothing that special. It will be hard because there’s a curfew, everything has to be tight because I don’t want to start playing at 11.30 and only have half an hour. The only thing I hope is that my voice will be fine because I’m sick and I’m coughing all the time – yesterday my voice was really fucked up. But yeah if the place is gonna be packed that’s cool, that’s great.
Ok, that´s it. Thank you Maurice sincerely for this chat session with you. I hope you will have a good time tonight.
Thanks to yourself. It was my pleasure doing this. C-ya after the gig.