Hello there! To start things properly: How are you doing?
Hello Roel! Things are going very well here. A bit chilly outside, but one can avoid that by simple staying inside, hehe.
Since this will be your first interview with Lords Of Metal, could you briefly introduce Hemelbestormer to our unaware readers?
Hemelbestormer is an instrumental post/sludge/doom band from Limburg, Belgium. Started out originally as a trio, became a quintet for a while and eventually ended up as the quartet we are today. We have already released a collaboration album (with Italian shoegaze band Vanessa Van Basten) called ‘Portal To The Universe’ and a full length record called ‘Aether’. As you might know, our second and newest album ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’ came out a few days ago. If you like dark, heavy, intense and atmospheric music that takes you on a journey through time and space, you should definitely check it out!
Congratulations with your new album ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’! I thought it was most impressive. How are the general reactions to the album? What are your expectations for the album?
Thank you, that’s very cool to hear. Up ‘till now, the reactions from people who have already heard the album are almost entirely very positive and this is absolutely heart warming. We are very proud of this record and it’s always nice when your hard work gets some appreciation. As for expectations, we haven’t really got any. The fact that the album is finally available is a gift on its own, all the rest is a nice extra. We don’t expect that all the clubs and festivals are going to stand in line to book us now, but we’ll see what happens. One step at a time, right? We made a really good album, so if people dig it, listen to it at home or come to our shows and have a good time, we’d say that ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’ did its job quite well.
Compared to your previous works I noticed a definite improvement in terms of maturity of your music. How do you explain this development?
When we did the previous album ‘Aether’, we developed a sound that we all could relate to. For the next album, it was quite obvious that we would take that sound and expand it further. No point in creating the exact same record over and over again, right? You have to keep it interesting both for yourself and the listener. So the basics remained the same, but we explored ways to take it to the next level. “The next level” doesn’t necessarily mean “more of everything”. It was about giving the music more room to breathe, making everything more dynamic and layered. Sometimes this means that you have to take it down a bit and create more contrasts. Add a little light to the darkness, you could say.
I noticed that ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’ contains more contrasts and dynamics between utterly dark and brooding parts and brighter almost light elements, compared to your earlier works. Is this something you would like to expand on future releases? How would you compare ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’ to your previous work?
I think that is a fairly good description. ‘Aether’ was very dark, heavy and intense, almost from start to finish, while ‘A Ring Of Blue Light is far more diverse and dynamic. It still is very dark, heavy and intense, but like I said in the previous question, there is also room for more melodic, psychedelic and brighter elements. While I still like ‘Aether’ very much and still consider it to be a good album, I think our new one is more interesting to listen to because of this. It would be fair to say that we will try to expand our sound even further on the next record, but right now it’s hard to say how exactly. The only thing we can say for sure right now is that a next record will sound like Hemelbestormer, but not like an exact copy of ‘Aether’ or ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’. Again, it’s pointless the same album over and over again. At least for us it is.
Your music is instrumental, but vocals are not missed, which is hard to accomplish. Song-writing-wise, how do you create songs that can survive without the aid of vocals?
Well, since there are no vocals to actually tell the story of the song with words or vocal lines, the music has to stand out on its own. This means there have to be different layers to create a certain atmosphere and/or setting. Creating these layers takes time. It’s nearly impossible to accomplish this during regular rehearsals, so practically all music is written at home by our guitar player Filip. With little or no distractions, he gets into a certain mood or mindset and tries to translate this to music. He then sends nearly completed songs to the other members so we can all speak our mind. Changes are made very rarely, not because it’s not allowed or anything, but because it’s not necessary. We can all relate to the vison and feel of the songs. Not once we had the feeling vocals were missing. There is one song on ‘A Ring …’ where vocals would have been a nice addition (we even tried to make it happen), but it was written to stand its ground without them. Also, the visual aspect like artwork, live projections and sigils is closely connected to the songs, as the imagery enhances the experience while you listen. Images say more than words ever could.
Your music features elements of different styles and genres such as doom, sludge, post-rock and even black metal, but all seem to convey a sombre or melancholy feeling. I cannot shake the feeling that your music seems to be of a therapeutic nature. In other words: what drives you to make music?
Like said before, it’s mostly Filip who writes the music and he starts form a certain mood or atmosphere. The music that comes out is very dark most of the time, but this doesn’t mean he has to be in a “dark” mood to create. And since we can all relate to the music he writes, it also doesn’t mean we have to be in a dark place to appreciate it. A lot of people think you have to be sad or depressed to make dark music or write melancholic songs, but this is far from the truth. In my eyes, you can be on top of the world and still enjoy the bleakest, grimmest music there is. For us as musicians, it is interesting to explore the darker aspects of the mind, because they fit the music we create. And yes, there is a lot of bad, nasty stuff going on in the world today, and of course we are aware of all this, but to use it as inspiration to write songs? Not really. I’m pretty sure Filip feels very good about himself when he finishes another song, but not because he poured all his bad thoughts into it. I think he feels good because he wrote another fine piece of music.
The production of ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’ suits the music like a glove. Massive and organic yet powerful and defined. I take it you’re satisfied with the sound of the album? How was the recording-process?
Again, your description nails it. And yes, we couldn’t be more happy with the result. The guys of the Blackout studio, Jeremy and Ivan, had a great feel with our music and knew perfectly what we wanted in terms of sound and atmosphere. Apart from their technical skills and expertise, they are great guys to work with. Focussed and passionate, but also relaxed and open minded. Before we entered the studio I had a feeling I was somewhat less prepared than other times, but it really was a smooth recording process without stress. The fact that we put a lot of time in making very detailed pre production demos really helps us a lot to record everything without mentionable problems.
Are there any plans to play live in support of ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’? What would you say makes a Hemelbestormer performance special?
Of course we will play live to support ‘A Ring Of Blue Light’, because our music really enters another dimension when we take it to the stage. We go for sensorial overload and try to enhance the listening experience with epic visuals. Don't expect a show where the band plays their songs and you can all sing along (obviously you can't do this in our case...), but an intense experience for the senses. Some people have described our live show as "being sucked into a black hole" and I think that's a rather good way of putting it. To create this effect, we try to get the circumstances of show as perfect as possible. Can we use visuals? Can we play under cover of darkness? Do the other bands on the bill share the same characteristics? Of course it's not always possible to tick all the boxes of this checklist, but I think it is fair to say that we won't play a show with four punk bands in broad daylight on a stage where you can't project visuals.
Looking at that the artwork of the album, it is very intriguing and atmospheric. And in line with the artwork for ‘Aether’ and ‘Portals’. How should we interpret the artwork in relation to your music?
Well, up 'till now, all the artwork of the records contains mountains (or monolithic rocks) and the sky. The sky (or space) stands for vastness and something we can't fully grasp or understand. From Earth, you look to the sky and almost instantly you feel insignificant and ignorant. I don't think the human brain is capable of "getting" something enormous like the sky or space or the infinite and ever expanding universe, so naturally this is something very appealing. The mountain on the other hand stands for greatness and purity, but in ways we understand. It's a symbol for the exact opposite of the hectic society we live in. A society where the meaning of "real life" has changed. Nowadays, everything has to go fast and everything has to be finished before the deadline. We don't, or can't, take the time to enjoy things anymore because there is always something that has to be done. The mountains stand for the connection with nature, where you can find some peace and quiet, away from it all. Both images tell us how futile and insignificant it all is: no matter how many contracts we close, how many products we manufacture or how many profits we make, in a few years we will all be gone and forgotten, while the mountains will still stand tall, majestically and unaffected and the universe will be just as infinite and mind blowing as it was before.
I wonder what the future has in store for Hemelbestormer. What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
Our main ambition is to have a good time. We feel very fortunate that the members of Hemelbestormer are not just “bandmates” but also really good friends. Playing music, at rehearsals, in the studio or on stage, is fantastic, but it’s even more fantastic if you can do this with like minded people you really care about. This way, almost all aspects of playing in a band become fun things to do. Driving six hours to play one show can be a real pain in the neck, but when the company is good, it quickly becomes an unforgettable road trip. As for the rest, we don’t tend to set a lot of goals for ourselves. Is it our ambition to play a lot of shows or big festivals? If the opportunity arises, that’s cool, but it’s not our top priority. We want to do things our way and if that means we can only play 10 shows instead of 30, that's the way it's going to be.
Thank you very much for your time, I wish you well and as tradition demands it I hereby offer you the final words to our readers?
Thank you very much for your interest in Hemelbestormer, we really appreciate this. Be sure to check out our new record and don't hesitate to tell us your thoughts. If you happen to see us at a show, come say hello at the merch table. Keep supporting underground music!