Not too long ago you played at Roadburn, for the second time in your career. How was that experience?
Well, it was awesome! We played in a very small, crowded venue. The response was very positive, despite some technical difficulties that occurred about five minutes into the set; the bass amp perished. Fortunately we brought an identical amp, so we could continue after a minimal delay. Therefore, I am pretty sure that most people had forgotten about it by the time we completed our set. Later we were shown pictures of the queue in front of the venue, Cul De Sac. It must have been at least 30 meters long. During our set we had no idea there were so many people waiting to get in. It’s very unfortunate for those people, but at the same time we feel very flattered. In retrospect it would have been better to play in a larger venue, but it would be very inappropriate to complain, as it is an honour to play at Roadburn.
I was about to ask if you knew about the queue. It was a bizarre sight.
About fifteen minutes before show time I tried to head over to the bar, to bring a CD with a sample that is played during one of our songs. It was impossible, because it was simply too crowded. The only way to reach the bar was by leaving the venue through the back door and walking to the front, but initially I wasn’t allowed in, until I made clear I’m in Alkerdeel. The queue was incredibly long… it was mental.
I made it inside, together with colleague William, but we were squeezed into a back corner, so it was still impossible to see a thing.
Those things are unfortunate. On the other hand, it’s really cool to play such a small, crowded venue. Recently we had the opportunity to play in the Ancienne Belgique, in Brussels, opening for Deafheaven. It’s nice to play in front of 800 people, but when I do, I really miss the intimacy of playing small shacks.
I agree, absolutely. Then again, I was so far in the back that I couldn’t even see whether the announced collaboration with Gnaw Their Tongues actually happened. Was Mories even there?
Haha, yes, he was, but he was kind of crammed into a small corner at the side of the stage.
How was it to play together with him?
It’s a lot of fun. He used to be this guy from the far north in our eyes, and we only talked with him over online chat. Since that time, we met in real life on quite a few occasions, and we shared the stage three times. It’s always a pleasure to see him and to play together. We never rehearse though. Well, we rehearsed together once, at the eve of our show in Ancienne Belgique, 2 years ago. Since then, we never really needed to. We have full confidence in Mories. At Roadburn, it went well once again. There are some vids on YouTube, so you can see for yourself.
Having him as a fifth band member adds an extra dimension to our live shows. Nevertheless, this was the last time we did it. We went as far as we could with ‘Dyodyo Asema’, and although it’s fun to work together, we do not want to create an impression of this being the future direction of our music. It seems that many people think that we’re evolving into an ever more electronic and experimental direction, and perhaps we will continue exploring this facet in the future, but right now we have take a semi-deliberate decision to head into more or less the opposite direction.
Moreover, we don’t want to overdo it. We get many offers to do similar shows, but Mories in particular isn’t that interested anymore in doing it. He said that even prior to Roadburn. Then again, you don’t say no to Walter when he makes such an offer, hehe.
Mories has contributed to the new record though. He provided the last song, which also appeared on our split with Nihill, with some background soundscapes. We decided to work very differently than we did on the collaborative EP; back then he basically added layers on top and beneath our music. Now his parts are basically in between. We may decide to try doing this live, but if we do, that will definitely be the last time. Meanwhile, he has become a close friend, so we might do some other things together in the future, but that will be very different. Then again, we haven’t written a single song since releasing ‘Lede’, so perhaps the next record will feature Mories all around, haha!
It’s not strange you haven’t written any new material, since you have just released a new record, called ‘Lede’. It has been 4 years since the previous album, ‘Morinde’. In that time span you released a couple of splits, and it seems that interest in Alkerdeel has only increased, but how were those years from your perspective?
It was a very eventful time, especially because of family life. It might sound a little strange to mention it in an interview, but many children were born. This has considerable effect on the band, since it leads to things going rather slowly. We do get together every week, and when we do, we are productive; we don’t spend all our rehearsal time drinking beer. Nevertheless, we’re not very fast right now. We try out some new ideas, and we prepare for upcoming shows, but it takes a long time to write songs. Hence the long time span between albums. I don’t think it would have gone any faster had we come together 2 or 3 times a week, though. This is our pace. You’d think we would play more shows and grow at a faster rate, but our characters and our family situations do not allow this. There are bands that have so much ambition that they give it 200%, but that’s not the case in Alkerdeel. The band has always been a hobby. We never expected to get as far as we have right now, but this is about as far as it goes. Of course we are getting a bit more recognition now that we have released the new record, but we will continue to develop at a similar pace: 1 or 2 shows a month, if not less. Usually we play about 6 times a year. Last year we only played twice. We would like to have more shows, but it has to stay within our possibilities. Perhaps this is not as ambitious as some people would like us to be, but it is what it is. Steven, our bass player, used to play in Serpentcult and Thee Plague Of Gentlemen. He has seen it all, touring all over Europe and even in The U.S., but I’m quite sure he would quit Alkerdeel should we expect more effort and dedication; ‘been there, done that’. Of course I cannot speak for him, but he is a close friend, and this is my interpretation of his attitude to the band. It’s a good thing. We simply do what we do, without having too many expectations, and we enjoy everything we’re able to do right now. Sure, it would be nice to play live a bit more regularly. We’re working on it, so let’s see how it goes.
Let’s talk about the music on ‘Lede’. It seems you have stepped away from the slow, sludgy elements that were present on ‘Morinde’. Is that correct?
The sludge has disappeared for now, but perhaps not forever. We might return to such a sound. Who knows, the next album might be a full-on sludge record, without any black metal. With ‘Morinde’, however, we were pigeonholed as suicidal, doomy black metal. Sometimes we were even compared to Amenra. There certainly is somewhat of a link with such music; we listen to sludge records, and we know the guys in Amenra. They’re from the Gent area. This doesn’t mean, though, that we have a direct link with the music. It was more or less a conscious decision to distance ourselves from sludge on ‘Lede’. At the same time, that is not entirely true, because we didn’t really have a band meeting and said ‘right, let’s stop playing sludge’. Some music just resonates with you, if you know what I mean. In black metal, the things that captivate me the most… it’s kind of difficult to explain this… are the more aggressive, punky elements. That’s not quite what I am trying to say, but let’s say I sometimes miss the rock ‘n roll in doom. I can relate much better to old school black and death metal, crust. It’s more pure. As I get older, I keep finding myself being drawn to it. On the other hand, a band such as My Dying Bride, to make quite a big jump here, perhaps my favourite band when I was 15 or 16, really doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I can barely stand them nowadays. There is simply too much pathos in those melodies. I’m not saying they are not sincere, but I’m not feeling it anymore. Only the demo and the death metal songs from the first album continue to make sense. All those melodies appear to restrict my imagination. Music that is more noisy gives room for interpretation. This should more or less explain the direction we have taken with Alkerdeel. It is much more interesting to explore the direct aggression than the atmospheric, doomy side. The atmosphere tends to get on our nerves.
I think I understand. Sometimes it’s just great to play some good old-fashioned black metal. I share this sentiment; lately I keep getting back to the classics. Recently I read something on Abigor’s website. They intend to keep their next album really straightforward, more in vein of Ulver’s ‘Nattens Madrigal’, because the whole dissonant black metal thing is getting kind of old since everyone is trying so hard to sound like Deathspell Omega. That Ulver record is really simple and noisy, but very atmospheric.
At the same time I get the impression, from reading the reviews, that not everyone understands that we replaced the doomy elements by something more psychedelic on ‘Lede’. We haven’t necessarily become a psychedelic rock band, but some of the details definitely are: bass lines, certain riffs. The approach is entirely different. Nevertheless it remains atmospheric. It shows in the slow parts, the delay effects, etcetera. Personally I think it’s less superficial now. Perhaps some people might have an impression that, by playing faster and heavier, we became more superficial, but I couldn’t disagree more. The first song, ‘Regardez Ses Yeux’ consists of 3 parts. We call the third part our krautrock parts. We sometimes get compared to Oranssi Pazuzu because of that. We weren’t really conscious about it when we wrote the album, but I understand the comparison. I’m happy the common ground is seen, in sound, in bass parts. Because of these elements we have managed to keep the atmosphere, but it’s coming from another source nowadays. I used to like the really theatrical stuff, but now I prefer krautrock, or Ethiopian desert jazz, like Mulatu Astatke or Mahmoud Ahmed. Such music strikes a similar chord than My Dying Bride or Anathema used to, but it’s better, more beautiful, and it resonates more with me. We don’t intend to start playing ethio-jazz all of a sudden, but maybe… haha. Some things might sneak in.
You’re making me curious… You talk about psychedelic music, but that’s extremely hard to define. Can you tell me how you define it?
That’s a difficult question! Musically… (long pause) Music becomes psychedelic when it has a certain degree of repetition. I would call Burzum’s ‘Filosofem’ psychedelic. Obviously, Pink Floyd’s ‘Ummagumma’ is one of the most blatantly psychedelic records, and a multitude of bands experimented with such sounds in the seventies, but we’re more in line with what Burzum did. Repetition matters. Just look at the typical posters from the seventies: they contain clusters that are being repeated. We would never use such imagery, but the repetition and the rhythmicity are strongly reminiscent of it. It’s all about the tiny little details in the sounds. Have you ever tried magic mushrooms?
Heard a lot about it, and I cannot say I’m not curious, but I have never tried so far.
I tried it a few times, years ago. Now I’m not interested in it anymore. What I remember from it, apart from the visual element –indeed, symmetry, patterns everywhere, so those posters are accurate- is that certain sounds or sound fragments can be strongly emphasised, like impulses. You can compare it to standing on a slope, and feeling like one foot is in the Himalaya, while the other one stands next to the North Sea. It’s like that for all the senses. It can be just a fraction of a second, but there is this strong emphasis. Music can contain similar elements; it’s clearly present in noise. That is what I would describe as psychedelic. It’s difficult to explain, because I hadn’t really thought about it before. Perhaps it’s better suited for the pub. I’m afraid this is as close to the real thing as it gets though, hehe.
It reminds me of something. A few months ago I was listening to some music with a friend. He is into psychedelic seventies music. We ended up listening to ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, while being very stoned.
A wonderful experience!
Absolutely! My friend understood the album completely.
We agreed that it’s a very psychedelic record.
You’re right. The guitar parts are very interesting. It seems that mainly Snorre’s riffs are very jagged, with some interesting impulses appearing beneath the fast picking, similar to what I mentioned before. Those are by far the most psychedelic moments of the album. Again, certain details appear to be highlighted.
Let’s move on to the sound on ‘Lede’: production-wise, the album seems a considerable step forwards. How did you achieve that?
We decided to work with the same producer as on the split with Nihill and the collaboration with Gnaw Their Tongues. His name is Frederik Segers. He has a studio not too far from here. Frederik is a friend, who is active in the Gent alternative rock/pop scene. He is active in several bands, including Stadt, which is kind of a krautpop band. The other members are also involved in jazz outfits. We work with him not so much because he is a friend, but because his studio is well-known for live recordings. Additionally, his knowledge of psychedelic, pop, and seventies music is vast. This is very interesting for our sound; it means we’re working with someone who is not necessarily familiar with the metal scene, but who works with sound in a way that is very similar to ours: analog recordings, with a minimal number of takes. We are completely in line with that approach. He finds it a great relief to work with us, because we arrive, we set up our gear, do a quick soundcheck, and then we record everything in 1 take, or 2 at most. That’s it. He loves it. His equipment is fully prepared for such an approach. I recorded the vocals while the rest of the band were playing, all of us being in the same room. The mic we used this time allowed us to work this way. Previously, I had to be in a vocal booth, separated from the band. It feels much more natural to be in the room with the band, since it’s much more similar to rehearsals. It’s a considerable leap forwards. Because this was the second time he worked with us, he also knew much better what we wanted to achieve.
Other than that, Rik (Martens, guitar) bought a new amp since the previous recording sessions, which has a considerable effect on our sound. Those things together resulted in an improved sound. We haven’t really tried anything new, in terms of settings or recording time. The progress comes down to the details, such as microphone choices, and sheer experience as well. I expect us to work with him again next time, because it’s a wonderful cooperation. Mixing ‘Lede’ made quite the difference. Previously, we hadn’t been 100% satisfied with the bass sound, so we put a lot of effort into making sure none of the subtle details in the bass parts got lost in the mix. Similarly, we improved the drum sound, especially the snare drum. I think we can make even more progress on that front in the future though. All in all mixing took considerable longer. We usually record the longer songs in 1 or 2 takes, combining the best parts of both takes in the latter case. Other than that, all is usually done in 1 take. That’s it!
That must mean that you have to be very well-rehearsed before you hit the studio.
Well, not necessarily, haha! We try to rehearse weekly, or at the very least every other week, for about 3 hours. That’s not that much. We are very lucky to have Steven in the band, as he is an excellent bass player. Rik and (drummer) Nieke have been playing together since they were 12 years old, which has considerable impact on how we sound. We do tend to spend a long time honing our songs. It took us a year to write the title track, for example. If you were to compare the first version with the final recording, you would barely recognise the song. We work hard on getting the right feeling of the song, but rehearsing the hell out of our material would not work for us. We simply don’t have the patience.
Rehearsing a song to death is usually far from beneficial for the final result, I would say.
We wouldn’t even be able to. Nieke, our drummer, is not a drummer, which means that we accept his mistakes, and work from there. Similarly, I am not a trained vocalist. Everything is full of mistakes, but those mistakes make it what it is. We have learned to deal with that, and that’s a part of our natural sound. As long as we’re not off-beat, our music gains force. Then again… Sodom tend to be off-beat most of the time, and it’s awesome!
This reminds me of a conversation I had with Dave Hunt from Anaal Nathrakh. He finds a band like Cannibal Corpse extremely boring, because they over-rehearse. Extreme music thrives on the edge of chaos. Do you agree?
Absolutely! You end up being some sort of monkey, pulling off its trick. That’s hell for me! I could never do that. Family life plays a big part in not playing live too often, but it’s also a choice; I would hate doing the same thing over and over again, every weekend. That’s boring. Extreme music, and the emotions that come with it, are only one aspect of my personality. Let me stress that those emotions are far from negative, by the way. It would be impossible to bring those feelings forward every time, should we play that often. I am quite sure I can say this on behalf of the entire band. It would make no sense.
The differences in vocal style are considerable between ‘Morinde’ and ‘Lede’. You sound more powerful now. What did you do to achieve this?
I am still the same lousy vocalist, haha. I often wonder how other vocalists manage to keep doing this all the time. After 2 or 3 consecutive shows, I’m knackered, and I can barely speak for 2 weeks. This means that I only have 1 or 2 takes to record everything. Otherwise I cannot continue. Apparently I lack technique, or my voice simply cannot handle the strain. I’m man enough to admit this. What happened between those records? My technique must have improved through the years. Also, I have been influenced by a few other bands. On ‘Morinde’ the emotional aspect is very clearly present, whereas nowadays some bands, even death metal bands, inspired me to practice a more forceful approach. This led to an increase in power and rhythm. It translates to ‘Lede’. ‘Morinde’ was heavily inspired by Burzum; screaming, immersing myself into the music, the unexpected outbursts. Other than that… the emo shit… I’m sick of it!
Let’s talk about the lyrics. There’s a lot to digest: French song titles, dialect… it’s all over the place. Please elaborate!
Brace yourself. This will be a long story! A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Rock Tribune. This was my first opportunity to discuss the lyrics at length. We usually do interviews by email, and although we try our very best to answer the questions, there is no possibility to get an actual dialogue going. Other than that, I don’t always have the time to write an entire book. Besides, you might agree with me that sometimes it’s simply very hard to structure your thoughts well enough to phrase an eloquent answer. This interview, a few weeks ago, allowed me to structure my thoughts, which means that now I can finally discuss the lyrics in detail.
To start with the French song title: it sort of happened by accident. Rik came with a sample from the movie ‘Martyrs’, which he likes a lot. It’s a French movie, and the sample is about ‘Regardez Ses Yeux’, the title of the song. The sample wasn’t meant to end up in this particular song, but I discovered a link with the comic on the inside of the album sleeve: the eyes. The themes behind the comic have been present since ‘Morinde’. Of course I will not explain everything, since it’s great if people get the opportunity to make their own connections. When you look at the comic, however, you might discover a connection with the video we made for ‘Dyodyo Asema’. Both feature mosquitoes and a heroine user that is injecting. The mosquito in the comic bites this demon, and sucks his blood. It’s a reference to the mosquito biting the heroine addict, which results in the mosquito freaking out. Of course we seem some psychedelic influences here as well. The topic can be derived to ‘Hessepikn’, of which there are printed lyrics, but I never released them. The song is about the state between waking and falling asleep. I interpreted this, in my imagination, as a moment of extreme vulnerability to external threats that are trying to take possession of you. The portal is opened, so to speak. Typically, the body jerks and convulses while you fall asleep. This song is about that particular, brief moment, and someone going insane because of it. I continued working on that theme during ‘Dyodyo Asema’, which is a Surinam, vampire-like creature. Mories would be able to tell you all about it. I explained what I did on ‘Hessepikn’ and we started working from there. Hence the mosquito larva on the cover. Again, this relates to the mosquito bite.
It continued in the same vein on the new record, which is also clearly visible in the comic. This demon gets bitten by a mosquito, which subsequently freaks out. There is a connection with drugs, but also, it ends up being an almost Grimm-like fairy tale, with a tree growing out of the bite mark, tearing out the blood vessels. Then, not dissimilar from De La Fontaine’s tale about the fox and the raven, ravens fight over the blood vessels, until the rat, also present on ‘Morinde’, runs off with them. It’s not necessarily a story in the sense of being fully structured, but it’s filled with elements that fascinate me. I love foxes and wolves that walk upright. This might be a leftover from (Dutch amusement park) Efteling or something. The wolves also make an appearance in the video we did for ‘Regardez Ses Yeux’. All of this together forms the essence of the record. I sing about the imagery I see when I think about it.
The lyrics are not set in stone; there’s a framework, but I can depart from it. Sometimes I sing in Dutch, sometimes in English. Occasionally I work from a certain part of the story. Another time it might be something entirely different. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but it’s more or less comparable to what happens in jazz; there is a theme, and a certain fixed set of things, but it is never the same thing twice. It’s a leftover from the early days, when we were constantly jamming. The music was purely improvised back then. This is who we wrote ‘Luizig’. Again, I would never be able to repeat myself. This way, I allow myself some space, which feels great.
Once again, it has to be right from an emotional perspective. A perspective that is far from negative, as you mentioned before.
Indeed. I steer clear of negativity. Perhaps this will be surprising, coming from someone playing in a black metal band, haha. We’re adults. I don’t see the point in trying to search for the negative. Alkerdeel was founded when we were adolescents. Everything is difficult and negative when you’re that young. You end up cultivating this pessimism into the music. As we grow up, the negativity makes way for something positive. I’m not talking about hippie positivity, or positivity in the Christian sense. It’s about a certain positive energy. Some people climb mountains to get a kick. Others drive their cars really fast. For us, it’s the music. Of course we all have our frustrations, for instance after a tough day at work, and of course this finds its way into the music, but we are far removed from the child-like negativity of many bands.
Isn’t all music essentially positive? It’s a way to let off steam, a temporary escape from reality.
Not everybody would admit it, but it’s true. Why would you even make music otherwise? It’s about creating something, building it from the ground up. In that sense, it’s literally uplifting, ergo positive. I doubt many ‘negative’ bands would agree with this though.
Personally, I don’t really believe in the myth of the tortured artist. Truly depressed people end up doing nothing at all, let alone create something.
Absolutely! I completely agree. Someone who is utterly fucked up depressed, cannot be helped out of this depression. Of course I can be very miserable from time to time, but you put up a fight. Someone who wants to step out of life, will do it, no matter what. They want out. Perhaps some people make music when they actually want to end their lives. That guy from Sweden’s Shining might disagree though, haha. I read that his self mutilation and all has been misinterpreted as an expression, while his actually goal is to ruin as many lives as possible.
To each their own hobby, right? It’s actually interesting that your lyrics deal with allegories, tales, fables, and other recurring themes. Some of those elements are not dissimilar from archetypes. What do they mean to you?
They have been present since my childhood. We all have our dreams and fears. I’ve heard of people who used to be afraid of thieves in the night, when they were home alone in their childhood. I have never had such fears, but those distinct wolf heads (shows one proudly) always terrified me. They appeared to me in my dreams, and whenever I had to go to my room in the night, I was afraid I would see them staring through the windows. I could hear my heartbeat resonating through my pillow, thinking it was the sound of footsteps, wolves’ footsteps. Not the real wolves, but wolves walking upright. The fascination remained, and gradually became part of Alkerdeel. It’s not a conscious thing, but it keeps returning. The artwork originally intended for ‘Lede’ was something completely different. I made this set of abstract drawings that are based on the enochian key. I am taking classes in graphic design, and made those drawings. I completed the entire artwork, but then we decided it wasn’t quite right for the album, so something else sort of snuck in.
I have to say that we might do something entirely different next time. I wouldn’t like Alkerdeel to be seen as ‘the band influenced by fairy tales’, or some kind of fantasy band. There is much more to Alkerdeel. We’re not Finntroll. Also, we’re not farmers’ black metal, as some claim since we had a manure cart on the cover of our demo. People just like to put labels on music. We tend to respond by doing something that defies the label. There is a clear evolution in our artwork, but it might be time for something different, especially since I completed the comic, thereby coming full circle.
Many of the themes in Alkerdeel have been present since we were young. They age with us. There is not that much social observation in our lyrics. It might change it the future. Who knows.
What are your plans now that the record has been released?
We are organizing a small tour in Germany with Witch Trail. They also played at Roadburn this year. They’re a young band from Antwerp, all in their early twenties, and we got to know them a bit. Witch Trail is a very promising band. I’d love to find out what they sound like in a year of five. Right now we have an offer for a joint show in Prague, and we’re trying to get a few dates in Germany, along the route. Other than that, some one-off shows are being planned. That’s the focus for the near future. When those shows are done, it’s probably time to start working on the new record. We might start writing before that time, but probably very slowly. Right now my head is simply too full with the current album. It would be too much input to start writing new songs immediately.
Prague… not bad!
Someone who saw us as Roadburn, asked if we would be interested in playing there, should we be in the area. Well, a couple of months ago we were trying to set up something together with Lugubrum and Malokarpatan, a Slovakian band. Unfortunately the shows never materialised. We did a mini-tour in the UK before, and that was awesome. We don’t have the possibility to do very long tours, but being on the road for a couple of days is always great, especially with bands we’re friends with. Therefore, we decided to take the offer and play in Prague, together with Witch Trail. Those guys are young and they’re burning with ambition, so they immediately loved the idea. Also, I think the two bands make sense as a package, musically. We will see how it pans out. I hope we will receive a few more of such wonderful offers.
Especially if it enables you to play in such wonderful cities as Prague!
Absolutely! That’s exactly the kind of opportunity we’re doing this for. I’m looking forward to finding out how it is to play there.