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Excruciation

Excruciation from Switzerland has quite a history. In their first period between 1984 and 1991 they played thrash metal. Since their 2005 reunion they have shifted more into the direction of death/doom. Excruciation recently delivered the album ‘[g]host’ through their own Auric Records, which is a reason enough to ask guitarist Hannes some questions.

By: Pim B. | Archive under doom metal

Hey guys. I don’t want to delve too much into your past as most information can be found on your website anyway. Besides that your music has changed quite a bit since you got back together in 2005. So, let’s start with the new album ‘[g]host’. You have released this on the band’s own Auric Records. Can you tell a bit more on the decision to release the album on your own label?
When our former label Twilight went bankrupt we decided to try it on our own: Most people think a record label pays everything: “drugs, sex and every sort of filth”. But most labels I heard about are paying the pressing of your record and do some promotion for you: That’s their job in today’s business. It’s rare that a label pays for your recordings (unless you’re a top shot), which are the most expensive part in doing a record. So, as we always paid the recording costs by ourselves and had some good connections in the underground we founded Auric Records.

Besides releasing our own stuff, we want to re-release some old gems on tape – at this moment we plan to do the first Bloodstar Record and Caustic – both not available any more. Another advantage of releasing on your own label is the full control on everything. We all like high quality vinyl with well printed sleeves and digipack-CDs with booklets. If you’re not a big seller, a label will spend only a small amount of money on this – or even worse: they do ridiculous “die hard”-editions or “strictly limited” crap to rip off their customers and gain money. We’re against such marketing methods. People should pay a fair price for the best possible product. So as we had enough money by selling the older records and earning some money playing shows it was possible for us to pay the costs for ‘[g]host’ all by ourselves and make exactly the product we wanted. Eugenio is a professional graphic designer so we were even capable to control the layout.

So, how has the feedback been on ‘[g]host’ so far? I guess it is hard work to get the album noticed when doing everything by yourselves?
As we are used to it, the reviews we’re strictly positive… No, seriously, most of the people out there like our record. It worked out pretty well in Switzerland with our partners Gadget Records and Phonag and currently we’re looking for distributors in some other countries. As you say it’s not an easy job – many distros and labels don’t even answer your mails but I think that’s business nowadays and as there are incredible many bands today I understand this completely. It’s a gift to have enough time and energy to play in a band so we don’t want to cry about it and enjoy the freedom to do what we want the time we want. Excruciation and Auric Records as well is our hobby on semi-professional status. We stay on track and slowly expand our network. We got a good connection to a PR agency in the UK and hope to get a big international distribution company someday. But I like the “personal touch”, when you’re heading to the post office with a pile of packets, everyone going to another country.

Opposed to the previous albums most material has been written by you it seems. I think on the previous albums your former guitarist José wrote most of the material. Can you tell us a bit more on the song writing procedure within the band and do you feel your style has changed much because of these changes in the line-up?
That’s correct but even José did not write complete songs at home and presented them to the others who had just to learn them: we always work as a band with one or two persons bringing ideas or riffs. Actually we almost finished ‘[g]host’ when José was still in the band but as he decided to leave, we didn’t want to use this material. Not because it wasn’t good enough or we didn’t like it, it just felt not right to use songs of a person who’s not longer part of the band. So we only kept ‘Mother South’ as a connection from the old to the new line up, because this song consists of ideas by José and me as well.

After José’s leaving Marcel and me wrote some riffs jamming around in our rehearsal room and the rest of the band brought in their two cents and we worked out the arrangement together rehearsing the tracks over and over again and forging them to a final version. Eugenio is our “producer” being an objective listener and honest critic and gives us good input. After the music is in its definitive form he writes the lyrics finalizing the vocal patterns he jammed with us during the rehearsals. We often have a certain image in our heads what kind of song we want to write and then try to transfer the images into music.

The music style has slightly changed because of my love for oriental sounding melodies, 70’s hard rock as well as “riff oriented” black metal like Craft, Satyricon or old Darkthrone or Mayhem. José was more into Heavy Metal and Paradise Lost or Candlemass and other bands with strong melodies. So yes, I think our style has slightly changed. But as the other four members always contribute their part, even in only playing their instrument differently than I would do, there’s still a logical connection to the older records. Nobody comes in with a finished song, we always write the songs as a band, so even if one has a complete new input the others “boil it” to the band sound. In my opinion the musical direction got straighter and slightly disharmonic with my preference for melodies with semi-tones. José had his trademark three-tone-harmonics which are still their but not that often. It’s cool that I had the opportunity to play some leads and Marcel and I did even a “ping-pong”-guitar solo on ‘The Devil Wears Christ’, which is a novelty, too. We always had some lead melodies but real solos haven’t been in Excruciation’s sound since the late 80s. It just fitted in because the riffs are a bit simpler with less guitar layers as there were on ‘[t]horns’.

I would classify Excruciation as doom/death metal but it is quite hard to pinpoint what you actually sound like. This is a good thing of course as you can’t say you copy other bands. Your influences seem to be quite varied. I mean, I can hear Paradise Lost and Saint Vitus to name just 2 bands. So can you tell a bit more about your inspiration?
Thank you very much for this compliments. I agree, it’s not easy to classify our music. But that’s a good thing – as you mentioned it – we didn’t want to fulfil the expectations on a certain genre or do a second “name-of-a-classic-metal-record”. We don’t want to repeat ourselves. So we worked together on the new songs as we always do. The band members’ taste of music changes and develops constantly with Eugenio’s love of obscure and extreme stuff, Wave and experimental music as well as Crust and Hardcore. Speaking for myself I adore Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, Cirith Ungol and Runemagick as well as old Scorpions or Rainbow - and the already mentioned Black Metal. Marcel is still into Thrash Metal, 80s Wave as well as contemporary rock bands like 30 Seconds To Mars or Rammstein. DD loves Bolt Thrower and Saint Vitus and Andy is into Blues Rock and Alice In Chains. So we try to bring all of that under one roof, haha. Of course we all worship the prime fathers of Metal: The mighty Black Sabbath. In fact I wanted to do a record like the classic Sabbath did: 9 songs, every one of them slightly different than the others containing one shorter instrumental track.

Of course Saint Vitus influenced us, too. We’re all huge fans. We even wrote a tribute song (‘Sacrum Quod Vivit’, as a homage we first wanted to call it ‘Sanctus Vitus Est’ which is completely wrong Latin as we found out) first only meant to be a joke but we liked it that much that we decided to do a few adjustments and put it on the record. We like the old Paradise Lost stuff you mentioned but we don’t listen to them very often.

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Since you guys reformed you have always had three guitarists, yet you haven’t replaced José. If I’m correct you did work with a third guitarist for a while though, Mario Hahn who some might know from his involvement in My Shameful. So, can you tell us a bit more about deciding to work with 2 guitarists and what this has meant for the song writing? Will there be any problem with the older songs when you play ‘m live?
Exactly. First of all the reason for three guitarists was to have all former Excruciation members together again. Marcel was always part of the band, he founded it with DD. First there was José, too. After his leaving Marcel was the only guitarist for a while until George came in. When they (I joined the band six years ago) reunited they didn’t want to exclude one of the guys so they wrote songs for three guitars. Most of the material was playable with two guitars but it was cool to have a rhythm guitar under a twin guitar melody. Like this we could play everything live the same way as it was on the records – there weren’t any “holes” in the sound or something missing.

José’s leaving was a surprise and we wanted to continue without a lot of rearrangements because we scheduled some shows in the near future. Mario asked us if we need a replacement – we knew him since years already. Being in bands since decades he learned José’s parts quickly and we were able to do the planned shows. Unfortunately he just wanted to play shows and wasn’t interested in doing any new material at all and more interested in rewarming the Thrash-past of Excruciation. After Mario’s leaving we sat down and talked about everything and then decided to continue with two guitarists. As you wrote, we were forced to change the instrument parts of some songs slightly and they are now more direct and “rock” what we like. There are some songs containing triple guitar harmonics that are a little harder to play with our actual line-up for example ‘Black’ or ‘Raptus’ but we’re working on it. Some of the “3-guitar-tracks” like ‘December 12’ or ‘Arise’ work well on stage with two guitars “only”. Every instrument has to do a little more but that’s a good challenge and keeps us practicing which is a good thing, haha.

So to finally answer your question: In fact there is no such change in the song writing process: We write the songs the way we will play them live with a minimum of overdubs in the studio. Now the songs are written for two guitars instead of three as it was before.

Is there anything to tell about the fact that you used a Theremin on the album?
Haha, yes of course. First we wanted to use it on more of the songs but it didn’t work out as planned. Eugenio and me are huge fans of 70s electronics. And as the whole record is supposed to be eerie and gloomy I thought a Theremin would fit in perfectly as a “ghost appearance” in the song. One of the inspirations was ‘Echoes In The Dark’ by Uriah Heep, a song I listened over and over again because of its great atmosphere. Eugenio and I even plan an experimental/ambient project where we will use analogue synthesisers as well as some Indian instruments. And the Theremin will be there of course.

You don’t seem to play live that often. Is there any reason for that? You are coming over to Holland though?
We’d love to play more often. When I got in the band, we had ten-twelve shows a year. Nowadays it’s not even half of it. Time by time we get offered a slot in pay-to-play tours what we completely refuse. During the time when Mario was in the band we had a booking agency but they failed completely. We played four shows that year and three of them had been booked by me. To organize something on your own became more and more difficult because many clubs close and many bookers lost their money on “risky” bands. We are very happy to be a part of this year’s edition of legendary Dutch Doom Days in Rotterdam with amazing bands like Procession, Victims Of Creation, The Wounded Kings or Dreadful Sovereign.

A further problem is that many bookers seem not to know where to put us – we’re not “orthodox” enough for the doom bands and don’t play music as many other bands in general. Although it’s now nearly ten years with our “new” musical direction many people consider us as a Thrash band. But we had some great shows sharing stage with a lot of different bands from Hard Rock to Brutal Death. I think, we work very well with Black Metal bands and at least in Switzerland we played more often with bands of this genre than “our” own genre. Touring is very difficult for us because of our day jobs and some of us have families with children, too. So we prefer to do single shows. So, bookers out there: Contact us – we are friendly and uncomplicated and don’t stink too much.

Talking about Holland. Your previous album was released on vinyl by The Ritual Productions. They also released a cassette with old live recordings. Can you tell a bit more about this cooperation and will you we working together in the future as well?
We are happy working with The Ritual Productions, they do a great job! They contacted us, if we allow them to release that old live recordings you mentioned what we of course did – we didn’t even had the recordings ourselves. And then they asked us about ‘[t]horns’ on vinyl. As we already wanted to do some vinyl when the record was released but our label refused to do so we were totally in. We split the pressing costs for the vinyl and they are distributing ‘[g]host’ as well. So we hope we can continue working with them as everything goes friendly and uncomplicated. And we look forward to meet TRPs boss Jasper the first time in person at the Dutch Doom Days. He did a lot for us and is very professional and friendly. If every label was like The Ritual Productions the music business would be a much better world, haha.

So, what will the future actually bring for Excruciation? I hear you have already started on an EP that might be called ‘(c)rust’? Spill the beans please.
Yeah! Rumours! So you’re right – we already finished the writing process. We wanted to continue the way of ‘[g]host’ and be even straighter and a bit harsher than our former records. We always liked Amebix and 80s Crust Core in general and this time we let it be the main influence on the songs combining it with our “regular” sound. We currently have four finished songs containing even a D-Beat-track and we plan to do two covers, one by Roky Erickson and one by Joy Division. I think all of it will be more “direct” and more aggressive than ‘[g]host’ and the production will be rawer. We thought even about doing a Crust-side-project called Christhammer where we would release a 12-track describing the passion of Christ – in D-Beat. But first we concentrate on ‘(c])rust’, the EP is scheduled to be recorded early 2015. On October 24 and 25 we do a special 30 anniversary double show in Zurich: Friday we play an “old-school” set with material written in the 80s and on Saturday we do an extended set with contemporary songs. We’re looking strongly forward to this.

Okay, I guess that’s it from my side. Anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you for your well prepared questions and your interest in our band. We’re looking forward to our trip to the Dutch Doom Days. See you there!

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