Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Transcription by David Groves
The Austrian Blackish death metal squad, Belphegor, recently visited Finland together with the Swedish death metal legends, Unleashed, and newcomers with more familiar faces in their ranks, Devian. Before the Austrian four-piece hit the stage to unleash Bondage Goat Zombie, I had an opportunity of having a chat with the band’s mastermind, Helmuth, and the bassist, Serpenth. Belphegor’s latest studio opus, BONDAGE GOAT ZOMBIE, presents brutally deadly metal, but at the moment, the whole band has started working on the follow-up.
BEING ON THE ROAD
Welcome to Finland.
It’s cool to be here.
It’s your first time in Finland but you played in Tampere last night. But I guess you have heard stuff about Finland from other bands?
We’ve toured with a lot of Finnish bands like Ensiferum and Finntroll. We’ve really been looking forward to touring here for the first time – in the past we’ve had some offers but they always got cancelled so we couldn’t do it. But it’s great, we’re here.
After this tour you will head to North America
Yeah, to the studio for a short session and then we’ll tour again in USA and Canada for 6-7 weeks.
Are you looking forward to touring with more old school bands like Kreator and Exodus and Warbringer?
I don’t care about that. I like Exodus and I like Kreator – for me it’s an honor to be part of this tour. I don’t know the other bands. But I also like the new bands – well, the newer bands like Cannibal Corpse. We’ve toured with them also.
I checked out your website and your tour dates, and I noticed that you’re always on tour, somewhere in Europe or America – you’re touring constantly doing festivals. Is it very important for you to be on the road all the time?
Yeah. We’ve worked a lot to have the opportunity to play so many shows and tour and stuff like that, you know. It’s amazing. So we do at least about 100 shows each year or even more. And the rest is studio, breaks, rehearsal, shit like that. We don’t work, we only do music.
WORKING ON THE FOLLOW-UP
I was about to ask about the studio thing because you have started writing for the follow up to the previous album. How’s the process going right now, because you have done parts of the album ?
We’ve done two sessions with the drums, before this tour we did the guitars and bass, and after tour we’ll do leads and overdubs, start with the vocals and everything. Yeah, what can I say, I’m fucking excited about the new album and it sounds good. Should be a good album.
Do you think it’s a bit of a challenge for you since the previous album got so many positive reviews? Do you feel like you have to top the previous album ?
Yeah, it’s always a challenge. Doesn’t matter if you’re going into the studio to record an album or going on stage, for us it’s always a privilege to do that shit so we always try to get better live-wise and tighter and stuff like that. Also to be better musicians, we practise a lot. That’s always number one for us, it’s a very important thing – a good show for the people who pay money to see us, we want to please them and also ourselves.
Do you think the break from the studio because of this tour will give you new perspective on the recording process?
No no, it’s a fucking stressful process but we can handle that shit. There’s a lot of pressure, you know. As I said we’re excited and it’s a challenge but we don’t say to ourselves ‘oh the last album got good reviews’. We’ve been getting good reviews for years now. We do what we always do, give our best and that’s it.
Andy Classen is a producer that you’ve used before. Have you found that he knows what he’s doing and you could rely on his know how?
Yeah, sure. He’s done a good job so why should we change? He’s a cool guy and he understands the way we want to work. We’re not the kind of band who goes into the studio and drinks coffee and stuff like that. We want it to be primitive – that way we can get the best result out of it. Fight for the shit, you know. That’s important, if you’re not angry you can’t play this sort of music. You always have to be a little bit aggressive, in life or in the studio, get in this mood or otherwise it’s shit. It shouldn’t sound happy, it should sound brutal.
What’s the difference between Andy Classen and Alexander Krull, who you worked with before?
The sound, I would say. Alex is also a good guy, makes a good sound. But I want us to have an organic sound, not so sterile. He’s also a guitar player so he knows how a guitar should sound and stuff like that. But Andy also did a good job with this album. I think the sound is better now that the music is better, that’s what’s important for me, to get better.
Do you think that you are able to be more extreme and brutal on the new album than you were on the last?
It’s not only about extremity and brutality, you know. It’s also about feeling.
So you’re getting more epic?
Yeah, epic, with a lot of cold melodies. New influences – not hardcore and that stuff (laughs) – in a metal way.
What do you mean by new elements?
We always practise a lot between recording sessions so we try to incorporate new stuff. Maybe leads, new sounds, you know. But don’t talk about ‘new’ music or shit like that, it’s always typical Belphegor – evolved, developed, with new harmonies. But always typical.
The cover art on the previous album….
Ralph Manfreda from Vienna.
Is he going to do the art for the new album as well?
No, not this time.
Who’s going to do it?
Um…we will see (laughs). It’s a guy from Brazil and I hope he can do a good job. We always bring ideas to whoever’s doing the art and we always bring our own concept – I never let people decide for me what I hate and what I don’t hate. That was the reason for the Bondage Goat Zombie stuff, you know. It’s interesting for some people, some people said it was shit. But for us it was fucking killer that we did that.
The art is very important thought. It’s a whole package, you know, the art, the music, the lyrics – everything should stick together. I don’t want to have a good cover and sing about gorillas or something like so many assholes.
Even though you’re still writing parts of the new album, could you reveal some song titles?
Well, we only have working titles.
On the previous album, Bondage Goat Zombie (2008) how often do you have to explain to people the album name?
Oh, that happens very often.
Are you fed up with that?
Definitely! But if you want to hear it I can tell you about it. The ‘bondage’ is about sado-masochism stuff, the ‘goat’ has been our trade mark since the end of the 90’s, and ‘zombies’ is – well, for me, many people walk the earth like zombies – like Christians, religion in general. This is why we chose this word game, we always make word games. Many people walk around and do nothing in their life, only working their whole life, doing nothing. But really it’s just ‘zombies’, that’s the title, that’s the meaning. It’s easier. Many people don’t understand it – we won first place for the worst album title of 2008 or something like that (laughs).
The goat is a trademark for you and there’s almost a goat mentioned in every album. Impaled Nazarene often have goats too, have you noticed some kind of connection?
Goats are extreme on their own. But I think we don’t have anything in common musically and yeah, they have a goat and we have a goat but it’s like a black goat and a white goat.
LYRICS OF SEX SATAN FLESH
What kind of effort do you put into your lyric-writing process?
The sex aspect was always important for us – Belphegor was always about Satan and sex and the flesh…the goat. It’s very important.
You have some lyrics in German and Latin, is the reason for this that some parts of your lyrics don’t sound that cool in English?
No, it has nothing to do with that. It’s unique, you know. But German is the language in Austria, and I think it sounds really hard and brutal, like the old shit. Latin is because we use many archaic phrases that you can’t really translate – many words don’t exist. But I think that’s perfect for Belphegor.
Will the new album follow the same language concept?
Yeah we have some Latin and German and English on the new album. I find German is a stronger language to express ourselves in than English, it’s easier for me. In atmosphere and sound it’s very hard. And there are not that many bands that do it but it’s great.
There are some special features on the previous few albums like DVD’s and extra material. Is it so important for the band and the record label to sell more stuff because of downloading? What’s the point of the visual aspects?
It’s definitely to do with the downloading situation, it’s not as easy to sell things these days, especially for bands like us who are not huge – we’re an underground band. The label said it’s not a problem, if you have an idea you can do what you want. So it’s a bonus for the people who buy the album, to give them respect for paying 1 or 2 Euro’s more they get a DVD.
Some people don’t just want to buy a CD, they want something special like DVD and stuff like that.
That’s right, I always like that stuff. It’s the reason why we do it. Because we don’t earn more money from it or anything, it’s for the people who buy the album.
You’ve been around since the early 90’s, and have kept the straight brutality and haven’t slowed down at all. I guess you will stay loyal to the black/death metal aspects?
Yeah, brutal metal in general, the roots. We never switched to hardcore or anything, it was always old music mixed with new stuff. You become better musicians so you always try to make the albums more intense, keep the brutality, make it huge, also sound-wise.
Do you think that being on Nuclear Blast has given you more attention and knowledge from extreme metal people than from the previous label?
Yeah, sure. We get better tours which is also very important. Good distribution is very important to. But you can see we didn’t change anything, it’s a huge label but it’s still the same. A lot of people say that we signed to a huge label and said we sold out, but I think we do the same shit that we did 15 years ago but better, music-wise.
Speaking of good distribution, your album landed on the Austrian and German album charts ?
Yeah, with our sound we never really expected that, fuck! It’s unbelievable.
What kind of following do you have in Austria?
There are not many bands around. But I think we have a good following, we don’t play as many shows in Austria, maybe 2 or 3 times each year, and it’s the same with Germany. ´
NEW FLESH AND BLOOD
Regarding the line-up: you’ve been around since early days and the line-up changes all the time. Do you think when people hear your name, they automatically think of Belphegor?
Well it doesn’t all revolve around me. It was never my intention for it to be that way. I do the management so people think it must be like Kreator with Mille or something like that. But it was never my intention to always change the line-up but what can you do? If people start working and say they can’t go on tour. And as I said, we’re from Austria, it’s really hard to find dedicated musicians who want to tour and make albums all the time. Most want to sit at home, drink beer and have fun, fuck the girls, you know (laughs). Have children and shit. But we’re always on the road. It’s also a challenge for me to get fresh meat in the band. We always get better musicians in the band, it’s important for the band to always grow. As long as we can do that, we can still exist. If we stop growing music-wise and life-wise, then we’ll stop.
When you get a new member, does he bring ideas and fresh air to the band?
Yeah Serpenth, he’s the only new member who brought a lot. A lot of energy, new ideas, drum shit, melodies, stuff like that.
You had Tony Laureano playing in the band some years ago…
Yeah, but he was only a session member. He was supposed to play two tours with us but wanted to cancel because Chris Barnes was doing a tour. So he did two gigs with us in Ireland. The plan was to play 50 dates or something but then it all got cancelled and we went home again. He was pissed, we were pissed, but it was not important for the band. He’s a cool guy and everything, really fucking straight. But he didn’t write or do anything in the studio with us.
I’ve read you’re not a fan of the ‘melodic’ death metal; you’re more into extreme stuff?
No, when it comes to the melodic shit, I prefer the older stuff like Priest and Maiden and Whitesnake…the cold shit. But I’m not a fan of this…I don’t know bands names or anything. We could beat them one-to-one nowadays, I’m not afraid of that but I like the old stuff. I started with KISS they were my first band you know, I still hear this stuff, the NWOBHM, all the bands.
But you were more into Slayer and Morbid Angel and Vader…
Yeah Slayer, sure, Morbid Angel, sure. But I don’t hear this stuff so much anymore. We play it on tour so much and you hear it here and there, you know. When you play 4-5 hours of death metal each day…
Austrian Metal, everybody knows the Distrarous MurMur and Disharmonic Orchestra (which I didn’t like at all)
Well the first time it was cool. They’re still around playing shows in Austria.
There were some power metal bands like Stigmata a while ago but what is Austria bringing to the world of metal?
Don’t ask me, there are so many bands around now, I read here and there but I’m not familiar with them, I don’t have time to hear their music. I get so many promo discs from everywhere. There are some good bands around though. But I don’t know many good new bands though. The only bands I can recommend are **, they’re really good.
What happened to the members of your old band Betrayer?
Well we started in the 90’s, we played more thrash metal at this time…nothing special. The music was very bad, we couldn’t really play (laughs).