Over five years after the previous “real deal” studio album there is finally, on July 16th, a new release called 'A Forlorn Throne'. Do you consider this a comeback album or more like a fresh start, especially since you closed the past in a way by releasing 'An Era Of Bloodshed' earlier on this year?
In the past five years we have performed every now and then, so we don't really consider it to be a comeback album. More like a new start or a reboot. If it had been up to us, of course there would have been a new album earlier, yet about a year after the release of our previous studio album 'At The Dawn Of War' the first signs came up of Fear Dark, the label we had so far released all our previous album son, was to stop as a label So we had to look for a new label. Our label mates Eluveitie had found some other label pretty fast and were launched by their new label pretty good, so at first we had high hopes for ourselves as well. Yet it proved that it would be harder for us; we happen to make less accessible music and in times of economical downfall big(ger) labels are very picky as to which bands they sign and the labels thought we were, on a commercial basis, not interesting enough. On the other hands, we were too big a fish for the smaller labels, kind of caught in between...
So, the new album 'A Forlorn Throne': I must say that I think it to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Dutch pagan metal abums ever. How long have you been working on the songs?
A couple of the songs go back to 2007, like 'Desolate', 'Towards The Dawn' and 'Vengeance Of A Scorned King'. Many other songs were written in between 2008 and early 2009. Early 2009 we had a considerable number of songs ready and some that had to be finished yet. We then took a good look at which nine songs we wanted to record for the new CD and put the rest aside, so that we could totally focus on the songs we were about to record. Since we were to work with the best from the genre, we wanted to come up with a good presence ourselves and to perform our songs into the very detail before we went into the studio, in stead of totally getting into them not until you start working on the promotional concert series. I myself am quite and totally critical about the songs we write, which causes a lot of them to end on the “not this time-pile” in the end. I think that on average we come up with six songs a year that can withstand my personal exam. And it differs per song what time it takes to finish an album to the end. If we are in the right flow, then a song can be done with pretty fast, like 'Tamers Of The Seas', 'Bewailed', 'Vengeance Of A Scorned King', 'Desolate' and 'Towards The Dawn'. Yet there are also songs that were put on ice for a year or so because we got stuck in a specific spot. Like with 'Forsaken', that stagnated halfway the song, until a year later all of a sudden the right insight came for what has now become the epic clean vocal riff, and the rest of the song followed soon after. Or what about the song 'Enthroned', which has been on the shells for over a year and finally was reconstructed all over: in the end all that remained from the original version was the intro!
I myself has expected quite a significant change, also base don the remastered 'An Era Of Bloodshed' and our short talks at concerts. Now that I have heard the album for several times, it is not as drastic as thought in advance: okay, the style has changed compared to 'At The Dawn Of War'. Yet there is still the typical Slechtvalk-sound in production wit hits typical guitar melodies, Grimbold's way of drumming and some other elements. In the review I describe that it still does fit to 'At The Dawn Of War', yet less bombastic and more aggressive, something that goes a bit more to what might be described as technical black metal, like Old Man's Child. Does this come close to the way you see it or do you have a better description?
Well, the big difference to earlier releases is that we do not use female vocals any more, the balance between guitars and keys is now much more towards the guitars and we have embraced death metal as a source of inspiration: that has made our music more technical and varying. Because of this, it all sounds more aggressive and rawer and it makes it clear that our previous albums all had still something loveable in it. Our personal ways of playing, like the running guitar riffs and high-speed bassdrum passages are still present, which gives 'A Forlorn Throne' something recognizable along wit hit and as such still appeals to the “old” Slechtvalk fans. 'A Forlorn Throne' has the contemporary aspect of an 'All Shall Fall', the balls of Amon Amarth (in a high speed version), the epic side of our earlier material and the more technical aspect of Opeth: the latter is a great source of inspiration to Grimbold and Seraph. I myself have monitored Old Man's Child not so much lately. In the old days I thought of them like a kind of Dimmu Borgir and since then I paid little attention to that band. 'For All Tid' and 'Stormblast' by Dimmu Borgir have been albums which I always thought to be very spherical, yet since 'Enthrone Darkness Triumphant' I think there is too much frills to the music. As a fan of Simen “ICS Vortex” Hestnæs I did hear later material from that band, but that was not as a source of inspiration. Even as some others in our band are very fond of the later Dimmu-albums…
An item which I talk about with you guys as little as possible is your personal life conviction, which is in no way reflected on stage. Nevertheless there are, in my opinion, some losers that take that subject in a rather narrow-minded way. The reason I do bring this up is the fact that because of such a bunch of slanderers Enslaved pulled you out of their support on the show at “De Kade” for October 20th 2010. On the basis of some narrow-minded and subjective messages to Enslaved the band decided to skip you, since they want no politically or religious motivated bands as supports. Did I miss something about you guys, since I have never witnessed any of these messages among you guys on stage…
Slechtvalk got a Christian mark because of some lyrics on 'Falconry' and an interview directly after that release in Dutch Aardschok-magazine, which looked more like a interrogation by the Spanish inquisition than an interview on a musical base. Even as we went into a different course after that album, it became a story on its own and there are many people that formed their opinion of band and music on that early period, in stead of following what we have been doing since then. Some people stick to the motto “once a thief, always a thief” or, in this matter “once Christian propaganda, always Christian propaganda”. These are the people that need to point out this to everybody they know, and as a result others don't want to touch it to avoid potential escalation and as a result play dead or let things go into obstruction. As a result of the Enslaved-incident I put out a blog in which I tried to explain what Slechtvalk stands and doesn't stand for, hoping that organizers and promoters in the future will use the technique of hear and react and make a decision on their own account, without taking the crap of intimidation or lies by some right wing extremists. Besides, we already informed people that we would play with Enslaved and we did not want this to happen without anyone being informed without any sound from our side.
Okay, but the core of the question: did Enslaved – after receiving probably some anonymous messages – contact you as well, or did they blindly follow the messages from those internet warriors without any critical aspect as to the reliability of that source?
On behalf of an e-mail received by the management of Enslaved, the management of Enslaved sent a message to the Dutch promoter and venue (“De Kade”) stating that, “if what was in the message they received about Slechtvalk was true, they did not think it to be a good idea since they don't want to play with bands that have religious or political intentions.”. De Kade took this as a cancellation. When we later approached the management of Enslaved they were not aware of any evil done by them and all of a sudden they claimed not to know anything from a cancellation or so. When consequently we said that their first mail could be explained as an indication to skip us it became rather silent. We decided to leave it right there, hopefully we will meet Enslaved on a festival somewhere and can talk it over a bit better…
We have spoken about this earlier on in the interview: no matter how the songs may sound and on which album, it is always to be recognized as Slechtvalk. I think such is a good thing in these times where many bands all sound alike. Since I am not a technician, and I can't even play on a single stringed guitar: what do you think is it about your way of playing that makes the riffs so recognizable as Slechtvalk: certain techniques, grips or effects you cling to?
The type of riff that you will run into on all of our albums are the so-called running melody lines on guitar. I myself am rather melody-orientated and always love the lengthy riffs that are both epic and melancholic at the same time. Swedish Dawn have always been masters in this technique, yet in the meanwhile it has become a trademark of Slechtvalk just as well. Combined with the fast double bass work by Grimbold those often grow into hugely epic riffs, that make you almost dream of epic battles or the consequences of such battles. Many bands use the same techniques and especially when talking about the rhythm bands take the inspiration from the same corner, unless you are called Meshuggah and write riffs by using a calculating machine. When dealing with music that is strongly attached to the melodies used, like with us, it always comes up first if something has been copied or feels too much like a known melody. We are extremely keen on the fact that our riffs are all rather unique and so we put up a lot of work and attention into that one. All riffs should be rather unique, but also be able to take you along. And by alternating these epic riffs with some more venomous riffs and counter rhythms, you prevent the listener from dreaming away too much and end up in a literary state of dreaming. Another typical example of our style is that we often use of what we call “hybrid” riffs: those are not genuine melodic lines or a series of chords, yet more a combination of the both of them. A basic tune on the one snare and a kind of melody on the high snare which you fastpick at the same time. Sometimes we do try to do something differently, like the rock 'n roll –like opening of 'Allegiance': because we do not fill our songs with one specific kind of riffs yet vary a lot and do bring back certain playing techniques, I think we have managed in creating an own recognizable identity, in stead of sounding like the other hundreds of bands around.
I happen to know that you are working with Redback Promotion, which resulted in the fact that I could see you supporting Vreid (along with Kadavrik) in 's-Hertogenbosch in April. At the end of summer I see shows like Fleco festival (August 20th), Occultfest (september 4th) and a show on September 25th in Barneveld. All Dutch shows: since Redback and Michael are from Germany, are there also foreign shows coming up?
In the meanwhile, Redback went into Blast Corpse Promotion and we move along with that, even if both parties have to adjust their websites. We hope to obtain many foreign shows from this development, even if we understood that our reputation traveled abroad in head of us. Apart from that, there is a huge number of choice of bands in Germany especially, and many times bookers prefer a local band in stead of unknown foreign bands. Yet in view of the many positive reviews that our new album got from big international magazines and e-zines we expect the tide to turn in our favor.
A festival at which the average metal fan is a bit awkward about is the Flevo festival. I know that you played there before: how is it to be there as a metal band among the less extreme acts and, not unimportant either; how does this audience react to a pure metal bands which is not exactly known to be a “converting” band?
The Fleco festival is slightly Christian-orientated tat wishes to bring something to everyone's taste, a bit similar to what Lowlands tries to achieve, Metal is however the small party over there, which causes a lot of metalheads to stay away and at home, but it is funny to witness that as an extreme metal band, we are always in a tent with over a thousand people of audience, an audience that does not run after we have played our first tunes. Maybe we may have converted some people to being a metalhead, haha. It is always a bit peculiar to perform over there: on the one hand it is not metal enough to be interesting, but on the other hand there is a spot for this style to have some metal over there, and the metalfans present go crazy, so…. As soon as a band has one or more Christian members in its line-up, Flevo thinks it is already interesting to book them, which you can see by bands like Morphia, Seventh Angel and other names I never heard of. Actually, they should take some more risks by booking acts like U2, or else Megadeth, Alice Cooper or Iron Maiden (all bands with at least one prominent Christian musician – Neithan), but hey…
What are the band's ambitions, apart from of course the fact that every fan of dark, loud pagan metal should listen to and buy 'A Forlorn Throne'?
We would like to get some more influence on an international ground and prove ourselves as a worthy, extreme subtop metal band (we know that we are not Emperor) with al that should come along with that: interesting tours, slots on big festivals, a deal with a bigger label for our albums to come, the whole package. We are not rookies anymore and most of us have a family to provide for, so there are limits as to how much we can do, yet until we meet those borders the sky is the limit in a way of speaking.
Any final words to the readers of Lords of Metal for this interview?