When most people come to face the term ”European death metal”, they think immediately of bands like Bolt Thrower, Benediction and the Swedish bands. But the hardcore fans of old-school death metal scene count the Dutch, too. One of the oldest bands (alongside Pestilence and Thanatos) were Asphyx. Undoubtedly, Asphyx are one of the bands that changed death metal. Having to deal with very hard stuff during their career, three times getting disbanded and facing the death of the former member, Theo Loomans , Asphyx survived due to the stubbornness and tenacity of the current band members, and made a reunion initially for a show in Party San Open Air.
Without them, death metal would probably be poor. Generally, the band’s history is very complicated. All the band members changed bands and one committed suicide in those 25 years. Bob Bagchus made Soulburn with Eric Daniels and Wannes Gubbels after the disbanding of Asphyx, Martin van Drunen was in Pestilence and later participated in many Dutch bands, he also participated in “…For Victory” tour with Bolt Thrower, he has still Hail Of Bullets and in his biography we can add an album with the German band Death By Dawn, plus the album ”Converging Conspiracies” with Comecon. The last change was in 2010 with Wannes Gubbels, who left the band eventually and now his attention is on Pentacle. He is, also session vocalist in Bunkur.
Finally, we should be mentioning the tragic history of Theo Loomans. It was after the canceled “God Cries” tour, in a period when Theo had many problems. Bitter with himself and not really knowing what he really wanted, on the 15th of August in 1998, his car got stuck on the rails of a train (probably a suicide attempt, but no one is 100% sure) and the legendary singer of the band from the ”Crush The Cenotaph” demo days, passed away. But, all these negative facts belong to the past. Asphyx are alive and still produce albums without any changes in their intransigent death/doom metal style.
It all started in 1987 when a group of youngsters gathered together to play covers of Celtic Frost and Mayhem and immediately released an instrumental tape “Carnage Remains”. Later that year, the founding members, Bob Bagchus and Tony Brookhuis, found a capable vocalist/bass player, Chuck Colli and released “Enter the Domain”. They were one step closer to conquer the death metal scene. The first serious work came out in 1989. Chuck was replaced by Theo Loomans and Eric Daniels participated as a second guitarist. With this line-up, the band recorded “Crush the Cenotaph”, a demo tape that got excellent responses and left an incredible mark on the death metal scene. Demo tapes were followed by the single “Mutilating Process” and meanwhile the band started their first shows. Asphyx can easily be characterized as the continuation of Possessed and Death, since these colossal bands were their inspiration, as long as Venom, Hellhammer and Messiah. On the ’90s they achieved universal recognition within the underground especially for their everlasting praise of the original death meta spirit.
The Rack – 1991
Theo Loomans was in trouble with the band, so his departing was pretty natural. Asphyx found quickly his successor, it was Martin van Drunen an old classmate of Bob Bagchius, who had just left Pestilence. The line-up now was: Martin van Drunen – vocals and bass, Eric Daniels – guitars and Bob Bagchus – drums. Those three guys were meant to record one of the most classic albums in death metal music and Century Media immediately was interested for Asphyx. “The Rack” was released in this death metal bloom period, when most bands were looking for something more technical and less dark. But Asphyx never left their death/doom metal style, and they were absolutely right. Martin’s voice sounds more hoarse than on Pestilence’s albums, the guitar compositions are stunning and Bob smashes his drums perfectly. But even if it lacks a good production, “The Rack” is a death metal masterpiece, with such an evident horror atmosphere due to the heavy death/doom riffage. It was such a big success that when they did a tour with Bolt Thrower and Benediction in 1992, Asphyx sold more merchandise. “The Rack” is the definition of an old-school death metal album. So much primitive and simply asphyxiating.
Last One On Earth – 1992
How many chances are there for a band to release two killer albums in the row? Well, Asphyx simply did it. “Last One On Earth” was released a year later and continued the band’s blasting beginning. For a death metal fan, it is another masterpiece, but for the band members it could be better. From 1992, cracks already appeared in Martin’s relations with his band. As Bob Bagchus says: “Eric and me recorded the music, Ron van Pol did the bass parts, and Martin did the vocals, but we actually never met in the studio”. Ron van Pol was supposed to do the vocals, but Martin came a little before the other members and eventually “Last One On Earth” was recorded with the voice of Martin van Drunen. But what was meant to happen finally happened and Martin’s harsh growls fit perfectly in the songs and terrify the listener. An other black spot in this album’s history is that Martin’s lyrics gave a political touch to “Last One On Earth” and Bob was quite annoyed. Martin admitted his mistake and mentioned that Asphyx is just not the right band for that. Anyway, the album sounds a level highter from anything that the band had written in the past and has clearly better quality and excellent sound. The doomy and thrashy riffs keep the band’s identity and generally the album is brutal and extremely heavy. “M.S. Bismark”, “The Krusher” and “Streams Of Ancient Wisdom” (originally on “Embrace The Death”) are classic death metal songs and “Last One On Earth” has its own place to the death metal Hall of Fame. But it could be better, if they still were united back then, according to Bob Bagchius.
The Lack of unity that brought some kind of decay
From 1993 and onwards, there are frequent rearrangements on the line-up. Asphyx disbanded three times in this period ( in 1994, in 1996 and finally in 2000) and the lack of feeling is dominant in the band. Bob Bagchus leaves Asphyx because of this and he comes back in 1995, Theo Loomans also re-enters the band in 1995, but he dies three years later and the only one from the original line-up is Eric Daniels. Finally, the band becomes dormant during the new millennium for 9 years. Although there is instability in the Dutch titans, there are no mediocre albums to disappoint the fans.
Asphyx – 1994
Martin is definitely off the band and so was Bob Bagchus, who let Ron van Pol in the band as the vocalist/bass player before he finally left. The successor drummer was Sander van Hoof. It is true that Ron became arrogant because he was playing in Asphyx and his rockstar behavior annoyed many fans, except from the maniacs. People started to lose a bit of their interest for the band. But let’s stay in the music part. Broadly, “Asphyx” album sounds the same. Death and doom elements are clear in songs like “Depths of Eternity”, “Emperors of Salvation”, “Incarcerated Chimaeras” and “Back Into Eternity” (where Eric literally blows the fingerboard) while ” ‘Till Death Do Us Apart ” and “Thoughts Of an Atheist” with their thrashy riffs and solos are the compendiums of old-school death metal. The truth is that death/doom metal is an underrated music genre with few albums but many great ones, like “Asphyx”. Daniels seems to have done great work here and probably he is responsible for the album’s success. One good reason to justify it, is that death/doom metal isn’t based on complex drumming or something like that. It’s based on guitar riffs. To tell the truth, Sander van Hoof is a worthy drummer and he contributed here, too. Also, the vocals are very good, on songs like “Initiation Into The Ossuary” and “Valleys In Oblivion” they create a very occult atmosphere. But let’s not fool ourselves, nobody could replace Martin van Drunen as a frontman. Especially in the hearts of Asphyx die-hards.
Embrace The Death – 1996
But what if maybe Theo Loomans could? “Embrace The Death” was planned to be released in 1990 and it’s originally the first Asphyx album. In the spring of 1990 Tony Brookhuis left the band, because he wanted something more technical and the other members were not interested to change the Asphyx style. So, Bagchus, Daniels and Loomans recorded in the summer “Embrace The Death”. The record company then got into troubles and the band had to leave the studio having the album in a tape unmixed. Thanks to Century Media, the album eventually got mixed and was released in 1996. “Embrace The Death” is one of the most dark and obscure Asphyx albums. This is explained by the mystic vocals of Theo Loomans. “Embrace The Death” surely is one of the highlight albums and many people agree that Theo did a fantastic work here with his barbaric voice. The classic doom heaviness is revealed in many songs, such as the title song and “The Sickened Dwell” which show a morbid side of Asphyx. Since it’s the band’s first completed work, the Hellhammer, Messiah, Death and Possessed influences are more clear than ever (“Denying The Goat”, “Circle Of The Secluded”, “Vault Of The Vailing Souls” etc). Also, it contains older Asphyx songs as the epic “Crush The Cenotaph” and the death metal hymn “Mutilating Process”. A really sick masterpiece that it shouldn’t be lost in oblivion.
God Cries – 1996
In 1995 Bob Bagchius and Theo Loomans re-united but it was Eric’s turn to quite the band. Bob and Theo recorded “God Cries” with Theo in charge of the compositions, but they split-up again in 1996 because the lack of feeling. Well, “God Cries” is a difficult album. Many fans didn’t like it, because it was not a typical Asphyx album, but it is an honest attempt for Bob and Theo to keep Asphyx active. The usual doom metal style is missing but the thrashy riffs and the fast drumming dominate “God Cries” and make it a remarkable pure death metal album. Theo’s vocals sound still dark as in “Embrace The Death” and the music compositions somehow give cause for headbanging and mosh pits. Yes, it’s true that it sounds different, but who doesn’t like furious songs like “It Awaits”, “Died Yesterday” and “Slaughtered in Sodom” ? But, there are a few residues of the old Asphyx style, especially in “My Beloved Enemy” with its slow tempo and its catchy riff. Although it’s an underrated album, the crowd’s negative reaction is justified by the lack of chemistry in the band. I don’t think that Asphyx have bad albums, but it’s true that “God Cries” is a level lower from any other work and the sound’s quality doesn’t help the listener at all. The credits here belong to Theo Loomans, who has a share of album’s success. It was his last presence in the metal scene. Rest in peace…
On The Wings Of Inferno – 2000
In the meantime, Bob and Eric founded Soulburn together with Wannes Gubbels from Pentacle as a vocalist/bass player and released the album ”Feeding On Angels” in 1998. The next year, they renamed Soulburn into Asphyx and with the same line-up, they recorded “On The Wings Of Inferno”. It all seemed that Asphyx were going to do a stable come-back, since they returned to their old-school style. “On The Wings Of Inferno” is definitely a killer album (maybe the best after “Last One On Earth”) and Gubbels stood up to the challenge. It’s an album that hardly can someone find defects. Eric Daniels shows once more his talent, Bob Bagchus never forgot how to play drums and Gubbels’ vocals give the illusion that no time passed from the early ’90s. “Summoning The Storm”, “The Scent Of Obscurity”, “Chaos In The Flesh”, “Indulge In Frenzy” and the title song are some of the best old-school death metal songs. There is a perfect combination of death, doom and thrash elements here, and this is what makes “On The Wings Of Inferno” epic. But the third split-up was something more than sure because of the known reason. Also, Eric Daniels had more stuff going in his personal life, so he couldn’t be part of the band anymore. Since then, Asphyx were put to the ice for almost 7 years.
Asphyx reunion was at first for a live show in Party San Open Air Festival in Germany. This was not supposed to happen, but the insistence from the organizers convinced the band. It was planned to be the original line-up there, but unfortunately Daniels couldn’t make it since he lost his feeling to the music, therefore he started a new life. But the band found quickly a solution: One evening Martin van Drunen was sitting together with the current guitarist, Paul Baayens, after a rehearsal with their other band, Hail Of Bullets. Paul, told that he probably could play Asphyx material, so Martin started thinking about a reunion. Firstly, Bagchus didn’t want to hear about a reunion, but one day, they all gathered together for a rehearsal. It turned out surprisingly well and Asphyx reunited again. Asphyx didn’t stay only in one live show and several others followed. They were so thirsty from all those years of deactivation, that they released in 2008 a single with two songs “Death…The Brutal Way” and “Os Abysmi Vel Daath” which is a Celtic Frost cover from their 2006 album ”Monotheist”. It was pretty natural that only a single was not enough to satisfy both the band members and the fans. After a while, they were back in the studio to record an other full-length album. The chemistry was finally found.
Death…The Brutal Way – 2009
The album came out with much expectation. With Wannes Gubbels still on the line-up as a bass player and backing vocalist (besides he deserved that, because he did many things, when Martin was off the band ), “Death…The Brutal Way” was a perfect come-back, with the magic touch of Dan Swanö in mastering and mixing. Its music is very close to the first two albums, the rabid death metal meets the austere doom metal again. According to Gubbels in one of his interviews, the album came as the answer to the question “How the band would handle new material” and they handled it very well. Martin excels again as a vocalist, after those years with the music composition without compromising on anything. “Scorbutics” is a very rough death metal song with smashing drumming, the heavy riffs with the sick vocals in “Bloodswamp” crash down the listener and the title song is a classic Asphyx piece, an old-school death metal song at its finest. Generally, “Death…The Brutal Way” is a crusher album and gave many smiles in the fans’ faces. All the credits go to Paul Baayens, because he was the one who was working the new material and wrote the self titled track, but all the band members surpassed themselves. The nine years waiting were totally worth it! “Death by fucking Asphyx, ultra loud we slay”!
After the success of ”Death…The Brutal Way”, gigs came and go and Asphyx re-established themselves as one of the best live death metal bands in the history. The ferocious performances they were giving all these years, were making clear the fact that the next album would be a killer one. ”Deathhammer” is not only better than its predecessor, it is also maybe the best album of the band the last two decades. All members in top shape, even Alwin Zuur who replaced Wannes Gubbels on bass has given an extra boost to the band. The rhythm section kicks ass, the guitars sound like tanks marching onwards to the opponents’ final decimation and Martin Van Drunen’s venomous lyrics and motos (”This is true death metal you bastards”… ”Kneel, you dogs!”) on the title track show that Asphyx is not only here to stay but finally conquer and take all they deserved all these years. It is more than certain that this hammer of death metal will crush many spines in its way. You have been forewarned, which side will you choose to fight by?
Aftermath and possible future
Asphyx is the perfect example of a band that no mater what problems will occur, there’s always a way for them to solve and surpass any obstacles. It would be a pity for a band who has members like Martin van Drunen (one of the best and friendliest frontmen in the metal scene) and Bob Bagchus to split-up forever. Asphyx are still alive, they died three times, but they resurrected and now are offering again their old-school stuff to the fans. Who could imagine that a bunch of youngsters, who were living only for their band back in 1987, would become death metal legends? Nobody ever gave something to them, they achieved everything on their own, under the hardest of ways, facing dispute, controversy, rejection, blood, death and ressurection on their way. But they never quit and they sound more fresh and threatening than ever. None should take Asphyx as a retro case, for he will smash his face on the military attack of the band. Armed and dangerous, Asphyx march on to one more decade which this time, promises more than ever a bright future for the Dutch death metal machine. These veterans have rightfully gained followers and many bands to teach how to become pioneering soldiers of the future. At the moment, all we have to do is smile and await for even better stuff. The Krushers are still among us.
Stathis “Sethianus” Ntailianas