Insanity Reigns Supreme is the longest existing extreme metal band from Belgium! 25 years of doomination! In 1989 naturally the scène (and the world) was different. To start with: tell me about the climate in which the band idea came into being and what was an inspiration at that moment?
Scene wise, we started out in the age of tape trading. You would record your favourite music (or the demo of your band) on a tape and send it by mail to like minded individuals over the world. This underground network was a tight community and was a very different setting from where we are nowadays. Musically it was a time when a lot of new styles where born, as before that, genre labels like death metal weren’t in use. We were at the birth of that and it was quite exciting as bands were pushing the boundaries all the time. When it comes to influences, we always had a wide range of influences, as besides music, it could also easily be books, movies or art that had an impact on us. This combined with the “experimental” mindset that we described above, resulted in, already from the very first demo, us trying to go further than anything that had been done in Belgium before. From that point onward, the gates were open!
Through the years IRS became a true cult band in the doom metal scène, present at many festivals. Can you tell about the milestones that happened in the 25 years career? Moments of surprising moments of recognition or things you will never forget?
I think that the first milestone was the recording of the ‘Our Path Is Dark And Lonely...’-demo back in 1995. This has several reasons. Band-wise, this is the point where we formed a new core with band members who still are in the band today. From that line-up Edward, Tes Re Oth & Ron are still active. Musically, this was the real blue print of our own identity and forms the basis of the sound as we know it today. We still play some of those songs live! Production wise, this was our first collaboration with an established studio and produced, Beaufort Studio (Gorefest, the first The Gathering album, etc) ensuring that we had the sound that matched the music. Regarding the artwork, we recruited a young and promising Kris Verwimp to do an exclusive cover-art for us and we saturated the whole package in occult symbolism and hidden messages, exactly like we do it today. One could state that the Insanity Reigns Supreme that we know today was born with this release. Another milestone was the release of that first full album ‘...and Darkness Drowned The Land Divine’ in 1998. We are very proud that this album has become a cult-album within the worldwide doom-scene. The third milestone, as far as releases go, was the ‘Occultus Insanus Damnatus’ album. Our first cooperation with Andy Classen and Seth Siro Anton, where we opened doors that were closed for us up until then. On that album we raised the standards to a new level and it made us grow above ourselves. Obviously, we have tried to create the next milestone with ‘Unorthodox’, but that is something that only time will tell. The true milestones, however, are within the band, as every member brings a new dimension. Thus Roel joining in 2000, started to take our music in a generally darker direction and we started embracing different influences. With J then joining in 2013, our Cult is complete again. He brings a deeper and richer vibrancy to our sound which you can witness on our latest CD ‘Unorthodox’. Whenever somebody joins, it is not an upgraded version of the band but rather a complete new entity. Hence they form the milestones, as the rest flows from that.
IRS always takes the time to work hard on every new album. One reason for the long hiatuses between the album is the fact that you all have a day job (and family I guess) probably, but are there other reasons why you prefer this quality over quantity production?
We see the conception of a new album as a path and hence we savour the entire journey and not just the end goal. Musically this means that every band member is involved in the creation of the new album. With five strong individuals, this means it naturally takes longer for the music to grow. It is not written by one hand over some weeks, rather it is honed at every rehearsal by every member until every song matures like a fine wine. We work this way, as we don´t want to “force” music. It should be an extension of your soul and be allowed to flow naturally. We also really invest a lot of details into every release and hence this takes a lot of time, since every piece has to be in its right place. Since we are not financially dependant on the band, we can afford to take this “no compromise” approach. To give you an idea, our cooperation with Seth over the artwork took eighteen months from start to finish! We also had four different versions of the album made (different order of songs, slightly different mix, etc) before we decided which one was going to be released. So although the process of writing the songs is very organic, when we come to capture it as a tangible product, we are very meticulous about all aspects. For us, this combination is the only way we can guarantee you get “real” music, presented in its best possible format.
The previous album ‘Occultus Insanus Damnatus’ was released late 2009. What happened after that? Did you play many gigs? Also abroad? You live close to Germany, isn’t that a possible way to expand territory?
Yes indeed, we did quite some interesting gigs. We had the opportunity to do our first mini-tour in the UK, we played Germany, The Netherlands and of course here at home in Belgium. There were also some opportunities for more extensive touring and a gig in Norway, but these were not compatible with our personal agendas. It may sound strange, but this is also something we decided for ourselves long time ago ... if things are impossible to do even for only one of us, than we will not do them. This attitude also kept us together for so long.
When did you start writing the new album ‘Unorthodox’ and can you tell a bit more about the writing process this time?
We waited quite some time after the release of the ‘Occultus Insanus Damnatus’ album before we let the first creative sparks ignite the writing process for the ‘Unorthodox’ album. But once we got started one song followed another with a, for us, incredible speed. Normally it takes us a long time to get all ideas together but now it just seemed to come in bundles. This is also why, for us, the songs on this album seem more intertwined with one another than on the previous albums. There is an atmosphere on this album that is more consistent. The songs were all written in a period where we felt the same about all things that we wrote about. On previous albums some songs are so much older than other ones that one can almost taste the difference in attitude during the writing. We had some healthy discussions during the writing process, as usual, but now the common sense quickly made us take the right decisions. So on ‘Unorthodox’ there was the overarching idea to embrace everything that felt right to turn the album into one giant avalanche of molten metal that submerges the listener.
We should not describe IRS music as proper doom, since fervent accelerations with influences from black and death often occur. I think the band can appeal to a larger crowd than doom only, do you agree with that? Do you see signs of that statement?
Well, the doom-label is something that indeed stuck with us since the ‘...and Darkness Drowned The Land Divine’ album, but it's not something that we've cultivated with intent. In our own opinion we've always been more comfortable with the term slow death metal, or just plain old school death metal, since, when you look back at the time when we started playing, death metal wasn´t fast at all. In general though we try to avoid any restriction on our music and add any spices to the mix that we feel comfortable with. Hence in the new album you can also find some black metal spices in the cauldron in which we melt our metal. But even that is not with intent. We just like to do things the way we feel. It makes up for a quite unique recipe that is very much ... us! As the music is the result of five people creating it, it is only natural that you will find a variety of ingredients. In the end, we put it all together and give it our own twist.
’Unorthodox’ has a fascinating and multiple conceptual approach. Can you dig a bit deeper into that lyrical matter?
The central theme is the duality of mankind. Within ourselves we can find both creative and destructive forces, the rebel and the loyal follower, day and night. It is however essential to embrace both, since how could you know what light is, if you have never experienced dark? As most people shy away from the more obscure parts of their being, we encourage them to do the opposite and embrace them to the fullest, even develop them. In the end you can then see that these qualities do not stand in opposition to each other, but rather form a balance. From that moment onward, you do not need to choose the Day- or the Nightside, but rather walk in eternal twilight. This symbolism can be found in the lyrics, the artwork and even in the music itself.
One of the things that leap to the eye is the symbolism about the track ‘Ov Fire’ at the beginning and as closure of the album (‘Serpent Ov Fire’ with additional female vocals). Please tell us about that intriguing dual versions?
These two songs are the musical interpretation of that duality theme. The album kicks off with ‘Ov Fire’, representing the male, brutal and destructive force. It symbolizes us starting with tearing down all that we have done before this CD. Then every song that follows is a step towards building something new. This ultimately ends in ‘Serpent Ov Fire’, representing the female, inspiring and creative force, giving birth to our new identity. Together they represent two sides of the same coin and keep the album in balance, like we aim to keep ourselves in balance. Also note that there is no spelling mistake in the title. Since this is the first album with these five members, the V in Ov actually refers to the roman numerical 5, not the letter v.
Latin has always played an important role in your titles/lyrics. In ‘Satanas Rex Inferis’ you can give us some special symbolism, isn’t it?
Besides Latin being an occult (hidden) language as it is hardly spoken anymore, and its sound fits this genre perfectly, it is also the language upon which most of Western Culture has taken root. However there is an ever deeper meaning behind this title in particular. If you look at the tray-card, at the back of the CD where the titles of the songs are written, you will see that the "S", the "R" and the "I" of Satanas Rex Inferis are inverted. So that makes the initials S.R.I. in fact I.R.S. if you also invert your reading from right to left. This gives this title an unnatural twist that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, each fitting to the reader’s intent. Musically it also has a slightly different vibe than the songs leading up to it and we wanted to underline this with the title itself. In effect it shows a different side of the band that we have decided to embrace. It is still Insanity Reigns Supreme, but the obscure side of our entity.
Now that we are in mystical, occult themes… the artwork was done by famous artist Seth of Septicflesh fame. Can you go deeper a bit into the creation and details and symbols?
The slipcase is the main representation of this as it shows those two sides again. Sometimes the Beast has the upperhand, and in other times something far more depraved. It is made in such a way that as the listener you get to choose which side you want to be the front. It is also fitting to the title, as it is very “unorthodox”, not just for the “normal” world, but even within the metal world. If you look at it carefully, it is more reminiscent of the art of the Flemish classic painters, a still life, than of a regular metal cover. It also carries a multitude of different symbols hidden in plain sight. It shows several predators, as most of the lyrics call upon the listener to break free from the herd mentality and embrace the predator within oneself. The crocodile was picked as one of those predators for its very unorthodox way of killing its prey. Then there are the Scarab, the Serpent and the Apple. All about life and the choices we have to make. A final bit that I will reveal is the duality between the obvious flesh on display and the outstretched wing. This symbolizes the goal of transcending the fleshy bonds.
For the second time you worked with famous producer Andy Classen. What about the experience of working with him? How did you feel when entering the studio again after a pretty long time? What was different compared to the former recordings?
Working with Andy is very intense and there is no “downtime”. You are there to work. During our first visit we had to learn that the hard way, although Andy took his time once he realised we were open for suggestions and that we were quick to learn. So when we met again this time it was like old friends coming together. The atmosphere was much more relaxed but this also meant that Andy felt even more at ease to push us to try and step over our own boundaries, however this time in a totally different setting, one of trust on both sides. It also helped that we were forced to push back the recording by three months, due to some private issues on Andy´s side. This meant we had the time to really invest in getting the songs down to perfection just before we entered the studio, resulting in much smoother recording process. You can hear it on the sound of the two albums that were recorded there. The first one sounds very tight, almost tense whilst this one has a more vivacious sound. They both are excellent in sound and production, but it is the spirit that makes the difference.
In my review I referred to some bands as a kind of hint for the reader to place the music. Were there comparisons you did not agree with or came over as quite surprising?
It is always interesting to see what other people hear in our music. To be honest though, it quite often says more about the people than about the music. If you go in expecting to hear a doom band, you will hear doomy references. If you go in whilst thinking about the fact that the latest member to join the band has been playing fast melodic black metal for the last twenty years, you will hear black metal references. The human mind is a wonderful thing, as we create our own reality. Either way, we are never offended, as we realize it helps people to put it in a frame.
Female singer Claudia has helped you out several times, so you can tell a bit more about her long time guest appearances in the band.
We have known Claudia for a very long time and this has helped make her contribution stronger than ever before. Although we experimented with female vocals on top of extreme music as far back as our first demo in 1991, it never had the impact that it does on this CD. Sure enough it always added another dimension but up until now was always more ethereal in nature. This time round we decided to involve her long before we entered the studio and really bring her powerful voice to the table instead of a more opera like background edition. This has lead to the fact that the version of ‘Ov Fire’ with her performing as well, makes it a totally different song. Obviously very fitting to our overall theme for the album as it shows us embracing that side to the fullest, where she is allowed to put her soul into the performance, thus making it stand out even more. It also meant that she was at ease with trying things that were totally out of her comfort zone. Be it the curse that she spits out at the beginning of the CD, the spoken word in ‘Cursed Be The Faithful’ or the haunting scream in ‘Satanas Rex Inferis’.
The live gigs from IRS have always been very captivating, a kind of ritual, a ceremony. So please tell us a bit more about the efforts you put in requisites or stage presentation?
The live setting is indeed very important to us and it is a moment where we invite the audience to take part, more in a Mass conducted by us than anything else. Over time these performances have given us the name as the Insane Cult of Doom, since we take the audience to a different plane. We try to involve as many senses as we can, so apart from music, you will see a lot of symbolism, smell like you have entered a church and maybe get to feel one thing or another. It also helps us to get in the right frame of mind and give part of ourselves in the performance instead of just playing the music live. Since this album sees a new version of us, we have also decided to redo all of our gear that we use in live shows. We had several artists work on it and the result is amazing. Instead of trying to describe it here however, I urge you to come visit one of our upcoming live rituals and experience it for yourself.
What are the plans for gigs in the near future (I see some exciting upcoming gigs…)
By the time this will be published we will have participated at the triple Burgfest show in Holland. These three gigs will also be the launch of the ‘Unorthodox’ album. It is nice that we can do a triple-launch for this album. Furthermore we will do the Tongeren Metalfest at the second of May, alongside Enslaved and other great bands. Then there is the Souls of Ancient Warriors Fest in Genk on the 30th of May which will also be great with the return of Ancient Rites.
We should also mention the enchanting (lyric) video you have created for the single, so this is the moment to make any publicity for it…
It is safe to say that the two videos show how serious we are about delivering quality to the fans. The first lyric for ‘Ov Fire’ uses the artwork by Seth Siro Anton and was created by Cloud Music Typography (Caliban and Arch Enemy among others). The second one, ‘Opposer’, features artwork by Néstor Avalos (Rotting Christ, Bloodbath) that he made exclusively for our new merchandise and is nothing short of breathtaking.
If there is anything I forgot to cover or something you want to add, feel free to do it here…
We thank you for giving us the opportunity to lay bare the deeper symbolism of our latest creation. We hope that were able to convey the passion that we have invested in making this something truly magickal. If this interview has made you curious, go check our videos for ‘Ov Fire’ here or ‘Opposer’ here. If you want to support us, go visit our shop and get our music or exclusively created merchandise. Join the Insane Cult of Doom!