The death metal bulldozer from the Netherlands is back! Asphyx, are coming back with a brand new album “Incoming Death” and Metalpaths wasted no time, and caught up with one of the best voices in European death metal, Martin Van Drunen to ask him lots of things concerning the band, the scene and so much more in a half-an-hour interview. Death is incoming, beware…
Good afternoon Martin! Your brand new album “Incoming Death” comes out on 7th of October via Century Media. The album cover looks as old school as one could ever expect it to be! What do you think now that the record is done, and where would you spot the differences between this one and “Deathhammer”?
Wow, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell! “Deathhammer” was a bit of a different album from the one that we do now. But still, It’s in the typical traditional Asphyx style. I think “Deathhammer” had a little bit more faster songs than “Incoming Death” had, and maybe on this one the doom tracks are more dominant than on “Deathhammer”. But still, it’s a better album than “Deathhammer”, every band would say that when it makes a new album. But I think we’re able to improve the sound very much. “Deathhammer” was a little bit more high-pitched, this one is warmer, more full, more bombastic, more total. I think the boys have spent a lot more time mixing this, it took them a few weeks to come up with a final one. “Deathhammer” was an album that worked pretty well for us, it was very successful, so it was kind of a pressure on our shoulders to try and at least make one that would have kind of the same band feel that “Deathhammer” had. Or not even improve it, but I think in the end with the whole variety that there is on the album, I think it’s one of the most various albums ever Asphyx made. We were able to top it, to be honest.
This is the first album not to feature the legendary Bob Bagchus behind the kit. What led to his departure and how did you guys deal with it? Are Asphyx used to member changes?
Well, first of all the reason he had to leave, is that Asphyx was getting a bit too popular for him and it meant for him that he couldn’t combine it anymore with his work and especially not with his family. By the time he had a weekend off from work, he had to go out with the band and do a show. He said “Look, I don’t want my boys and my work to never see me. Guys I have to make a decision and I definitely want to spent more time with my family, they deserve that” and of course we respected it. But yeah, we all thought that “Bob, you are a founding member, if you leave, this is the end. There’s no point in continuing”. But then he said “No, it was not my intention to destroy it for all of you, because I know how popular the band is, especially after “Deathhammer”. And I don’t wanna ruin it for the fans either, so I definitely want you to continue”. But then we had the problem of “OK, we need someone to replace you”. And Bob was a very special metalhead figure, and it had to be a replacement who’s just a little bit like him from heart and soul. And the only person we could think of, was Stephan Husky from Desaster. And then we had a problem, cause we didn’t want to take the drummer from Desaster, cause we’re really good friends with them. But then we knew that the guitar player of Desaster was having kids too, and he wanted to take it a little bit easy with the band. So that left room for us, I thought of playing drums, but I just want to be in the band and stand on the stage, not watch their backs from the drumkit, so I prefer not to do. Bob contacted him and said “Husky, if there’s one person that I trust my sticks to, that’s you” and then he said “OK, then I won’t refuse and I’ll do it”. He was the only one that could fit in to be honest, and luckily we found him, luckily everything worked out, he knew the songs. Asphyx is one of his favorite bands ever, and also the way that he was feeling the pulse for composing songs and his anticipation was the same that Bob had. So he was the absolute one and only replacement.
The fact that you changed members in the mid-90s yet you stayed strong recording-wise, is an indicator of the “full-speed-ahead non-stop” attitude of Asphyx?
Yeah, definitely. That’s what Asphyx is all about. The stranger thing is that with all the line up changes and everything that happened in Asphyx in the past few years, and even the worst line up change imaginable, that the founding member actually had to leave the band, they’d still be alive and they’d still be able to deliver an album like “Incoming Death” with members that not even one of us was on the original line up. If you think about it, it’s quite a weird thing. So I think we kept the spirit alive, what Asphyx always has been, a specific style, and also the tradition that we have, the loyalty that we have in the band. We cherish that thing, we don’t know exactly what it is and what it means, cause we don’t do it consciously, but because we feel that belongs to Asphyx. Asphyx has always been a live band in the first place, metal should be live music. I think this the most important thing and also, the reason why we are still what we are.
On the first 2 post-reunion albums, you’ve always had songs about the very nature of death metal (“Death…The Brutal Way”, “Deathhammer”, “We Doom You To Death”) and how it should stay that way. Will we have a song like that in the new album?
No, unfortunately no. In fact, I had planned to do that with “Incoming Death” but then I realized “Look Martin, you’ve already wrote lyrics on that on the two previous albums! Why repeat that?”. So I kept the songs the way they are, I didn’t a copy of “Deathhammer” so I left it for what it was. You shouldn’t be repeating yourself too much anyway.
Asphyx for the most part, have dealt with military issues and referred to lots of historic events in their lyrics. You seem to draw lots of pleasure from studying war history of humankind, is that so? And what are you usually trying to get across through your lyrics?
The thing is that I’ve been reading about war, since I was an adolescent. So I have really kind of a library in the back of my mind, you know. There’s all kinds of things I still think I would write a song about. But it just depends on the music that’s been delivered before. For example, when I came up with the first tones of “Brandenburg”, I just saw a commando trooper advancing in twilight and also the tone it’s like when the sun comes up in about an hour. It just depends on the music, and it depends on the topic that I’m about to use. But yeah, Asphyx always has been, on every album I guess there’s a few songs that deal about war. But there’s also songs that deal with general history or natural disaster or death in general. Also, the typical gore and horror stuff that belongs to old school death metal, or even science fiction, it doesn’t even matter. I just write whatever comes into my mind whenever I hear the songs. My inspiration comes from, mainly books, and maybe the title of the subject and also sometimes some passages in the book about certain topic and I go “wow that’s fucking interesting”. And then I start digging and doing research on it. And if I like it, then I’m going to use it. Sometimes it’s even like something you’d use, like “Wildland Fire” is about the forest fires. I actually saw a horrible one in Tenodyre a long time ago. it’s really dreadful stuff, why not use it for a song? So that’s how I write lyrics, if you know the topic, you just write them out and do the rhymes.
During the post-reunion albums, the band has gained lots of new fans, going through one of its best phases in many years! Did you expect that when you came back in 2008?
No, not at all. Everything that happened after the Party San show, was nothing as we expected at all. And the plan was just to do that show and not do anything else after. It was kind of a rollercoaster we got into, which was going non-stop we couldn’t find the break (laughs). It’s one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced in my life. I was on that stage and you can feel the tension from the crowd. I was like “whoa, what’s happening here?”. Even I, and I’m not getting nervous easily, before that show was completely nervous. Nowadays I just go on stage and theres’ 50,000 people and say “OK let’s have some great time, and play some fuckin’ metal”. But then, oh it was a different thing. Then things happen that we did not plan, like we never imagined we would come up with an album like “Death…The Brutal Way”. And once that happened, we thought “OK, so we are able with this line up to write a good album”. And then you come up with “Deathhammer”, you do shows and shows and shows you go half around the world and you say “Wow this is amazing!”. So many people like us, the fans travel around the world just to watch us, they’re very dedicated, you see younger kids showing up at shows and not just the old school bunch. So yeah, it’s really fantastic. Yeah, I’m bloody grateful for that. What else can a band wish for? Even though we don’t have the intention to write popular music. I mean we do what we like to do, we want to be a brutal intense band, that’s not actually meant to become very popular. But in a way, we see a lot of people like it, and it’s such a pleasure.
As one of the oldest Dutch death metal bands in the scene, what are your thoughts on the scene today?
It’s growing, bloody positive. There was a time, not long ago, when the scene of old school death metal was completely forgotten and was non-existent. It was either black metal or brutal death metal, both genres I don’t like. So all of a sudden, and I don’t know where it came from really, there was all these young bands from Germany, from the Netherlands, Canada, US and Australia also that are doing the things that the Swedes were doing back in the days, that we were doing back in the days and these kids have exactly the same attitude that we had back in the day. So it’s a bit like a flashback, where sometimes you meet yourself like 30 years ago. And, damn, they’re so enthusiastic and so excited, they just wanna get out there and play metal, drink, party, watch the bands that they like. I think it’s a very positive development. And they have their legs on the ground and not walking around big headed, they just want to enjoy everything that comes over them. They may not be original, but who can be nowadays? To me it is “I like the music that you play, I like the attitude that you have”. That’s how it was meant to be really. So first I totally support the movement, and second I totally enjoy it. I sit and watch the bands and then talk to them backstage afterwards, and they’re like “Wow!” without me mentioning my name they say “It’s Martin walking in! Can we take a picture? Wanna drink a beer with us?”. And it is absolutely nice and I love it.
Taking into account that you did a split with Hooded Menace from Finland, are there any bands that set themselves apart from the rest?
Well, there’s a few German ones, like Revel In Flesh that I really like. There’s a band from Germany called Wound. I don’t really call this a younger band but I do like Entrails a lot. From Canada we just discovered a band called Outre-Tombe, they’re from French Canada, from Quebec, I really like that band. In the Netherlands, Funeral Whore just came out with a great album, of course. In US there’s Skeletal Remains. It’s all over the continent. And it’s also a pleasure when we play in South America, like almost every support act playing there had this good vibe and good mentality to death metal. We met some young kids, and I was just watching them, they were just a pleasure to watch. In Brazil we even met more guys. It really seems to be all over the world. So yeah, those are a few names that I can give. I have a whole pack of albums I have to listen. But I do it, and if there’s a cool band that I like, they get my support, there’s no doubt about that.
Asphyx, Houwitser, Sinister, Pestilence, Thanatos etc. Through thick and thin the old school of Netherlands has kept strong to this day, with the only exception being the recently disbanded Pestilence. Was the strong bond between the members of the Dutch scene what kept you guys alive or is it something more than that?
Well, it’s hard to tell. I mean, back in those days, especially with Thanatos and Pestilence there wasn’t really friendship. In fact, there was like hostility that we never knew where it came from, and still don’t know what was all about. So the environment wasn’t really friendly. When we started along with Pestilence, we were on a very different level, all the other bands have kept it small and they envied us because we had a bit more international success. It’s hard to tell the answer on the question that you ask, because I don’t see it that way. It became of course later, the whole atmosphere changed a little bit for the good, you know.
Yeah, but even with Pestilence, you sang on the first two records, I thought there would be some kind of connection with this band.
No, all I did was actually record really. We didn’t have a lot of contacts with Pestilence but with international bands like Autopsy, Nocturnus, Sadus, Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death. Inside the Netherlands’ not as much. Even in Denmark with a band called Deadflesh we had a great time, or even Belgian bands like Typhoon. So, back in the day, when we started with Pestilence and Thanatos, those were the extreme bands. Sinister came a few years later. But that’s just something, I never saw coming, it wasn’t really there.
So what kept you guys alive, apart from the love for the music? What kept you guys going? That was actually the core of the question.
The love of music, of course. And then I guess, the strong will to survive in the end. Look, if you really are a metalhead, you know what it’s all about, that has to be your cause. Cause sometimes I talk to people and they say “by the time you get to that age, I’m sure you’re not going to listen to that anymore”. And there is a big difference between someone that has that by instinct or by guts and someone who thinks “ah it’s cool to visit some festivals and meet different kinds of people”. Then seeing someone who really has it in himself. You really need to have it in your blood. If you don’t have it, then there’s no use in trying to get it, because you will never get it. If you have that inside you, and I know a lot of people of my age that still have it, it also makes you really young for some strange reason. I don’t look 50 years old, but a lot of people of my age who listen to metal, don’t look 50 either. But sometimes I think “Hey it might work revitalizing too!”. All the other people seem to have lived their life and when they come from work they put the television on and watch a football match for the rest of the fuckin’ day.
After the loss of the legendary Lemmy of Motorhead, you did a single for the April issue of Decibel magazine called “Deathibel” in his memory. Also the first one to include Husky behind the drumkit. Could you tell us more about it?
It’s the first recording with Husky. Honestly, I must say, it’s a bit of a step outwards from our normal style. That was because, first, Decibel asked us to do a special song and second it was only a while after Lemmys’ passing away, so one can maybe hear that in the Asphyx style, but of course Motorhead influenced us all back in the days, the loudness, the aggression, the punk attitude, rock n roll attitude, however you want to call it. We thought it would be nice to do a double bass, a kind of “Burner” song and be an ode from us to Lemmy, that he inspired so many people, maybe the living legend of heavy metal or rock n roll in general. And yeah we combined that with the lyrics dedication for the people of Decibel, who were really pleased with it. They’re trying to make something original. Afterwards, apparently people didn’t understand the thing about it, like “what the fuck is Asphyx doing now?”, but they didn’t understand what we were doing. It was never meant to be on this album.
It was more of a Motorhead jam with you on vocals (laughs)
Yeah, but that’s what it was meant to be (laughs). And I was just having fun. Some screams are completely like Cronos of Venom or whatever because there were a mild influence.
What are your memories from your recent visit to Thessaloniki in March as well as in Athens 4 years ago?
So fuckin’ good. Thessaloniki was really good pleasure to play. It was the first time we played in Greece outside of Athens. Compared to the mayhem and the chaos in Athens, Thessaloniki was a quiet place. The best thing is that we could ease outside and have a beer. The locals invited us to a really good restaurant, with original Greek food and that was really good. Later on, it was a really great show. We remember, also, the other band opening for us, The Psalm. They’re a really good band and nice guys. You know a band that covers Discharge will always have a close place in my heart. We had a great time, we always have good experiences with Greece. Warm-blooded, hot tempered people in a positive way, also very generous and very hospital. It’s very inherited to Greece in general. There’s no point in not going and not returning. We always do that with pleasure, we always have really good memories from Greece, always.
What are the future plans for Asphyx?
First it’s the two release shows that we do, during the first weekend of October. And those shows are really special, cause we want to focus on playing songs only from the last album. We can just do those shows the way we wanted to. We’re going to play a lot of shows next year, we’re going to book a lot of stuff. Sometimes you enter the festivals, and they say “OK you’ve got only 50 minutes”, so we have to do a mixed set of old songs and new songs, because people want to hear the old material too. We don’t get the opportunity to do a lot of new songs on festivals, so we do the release shows to be able to do so. So if some people want to come and listen to the new Asphyx stuff live, that’s the opportunity to do it. Yeah, if we do headline shows when we play 90 minutes or 2 hours, then you can say “OK play a shitload of the new album, cause we like it and cause a lot of people want to hear it and they can hear that”. So yeah, playing live as much as we can for the next year to promote the album.
Any plans for coming back to Greece like you said before?
I haven’t checked anything yet. If they book us for a show we take the first flight and we’re gonna come.
That was about it Martin! Thanks a lot for your time, it’s been a huge honor! The final words are yours!
First of all, thanks John for the interview and for the interest. We want to play as much as we can and hopefully they’re going to be one or two Greek shows. Because like I said before, we have very loyal and dedicated fans in Greece, who were supporting us even when the times in Greece were very hard, and they kept on supporting us through that. Hopefully we’ll make it, have a few drinks and ouzos with everybody and have a good time so thanks a lot!