Welcome to Lords of Metal Henri. I assume there are the expected questions you’ve had to answer countless times already, about chord progression and composition and so on, instead I have chosen a much more original approach (sorry, have to ask): what made you decide to pick up again, was it because the trilogy wasn’t completed?
Not really. When I decided to end the band in early 2011 I wanted to promote our album 'Under the Sign of the Iron Cross' for another year and make it our farewell year at the same time. The show on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise early 2012 would be a great ending of many years of playing with the band. At first I really enjoyed my time off from the music industry, at least as a musician because i founded my guitar company around that time as well. Then i got the news that our former label boss from Metal Blade Europe had passed away. I went to his funeral and there I met several friends of mine from bands like Amon Amarth and many others. That day I realized how much I had missed it and decided it couldn't be the end. It then took almost another year before I had reformed a band and prepared for new live shows, but early 2015 we were so lucky to start again where we ended, at the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise for the second time. The audience couldn't give us a warmer welcome. When we entered the stage we were welcomed as if Iron Maiden entered the stage. At first I only wanted to play live shows. I wasn't prepared for a new album yet, but at a certain moment it became obvious that we would have to do another album and since I once had said that we would do a trilogy about WWI it was obvious that the new album would be its final part.
Could you describe what it was like for you to walk out on that stage again after such a long time?
I was nervous as fuck, but as I described earlier, it was a great experience and I never felt happier.
Am I right in saying you look more relaxed out on that stage these days? And if so, how come?
There have been some major changes in my life on a personal level. I won't bore you with the details, but I actually am a different person than the guy I was for a long time. And only for the better.
You have consumed a great deal of amazing guitarists. I must say, you now have the guitarist who I always said would end up in God Dethroned, Mike Ferguson. He really fit is perfectly I think. How much space did you give him?
True, he fits in perfectly. Not only is he a superb guitar player, he has a great personality too. I gave him a lot of space, but he's great to work with in general. I have really specific ideas about how our music should sound and what type of leads I want in our songs. So he would send me his leads and I would tell him which direction he should go with that. It resulted in him playing the best stuff he ever did in my opinion. When it came down to songwriting he, but also Jeroen delivered quite a lot of ideas. They said, just take out what you think will work for a GD song and just skip the rest. It works perfectly well like that. No discussions about ideas, no ego's in the way, just positive attitudes that helped us make a tremendous album.
As I mentioned earlier on, the album is the third in the Great War trilogy. These songs really fit the craziness and the ambiguity of aggression and melancholy perfectly, I think. Would you say that the music has matured with you?
That's a difficult question. At a certain point I lose objectivity completely. Until recently I couldn't tell anymore if this was a good album at all. I work best under pressure, but it also means that for a time period of about six months all I do is work on songs, record them and do interviews. Hardly any time to take a distance and reflect on them. On the other hand, I like the whole process to be spontaneous. I don't believe in working on songs for a long time. You will always get doubts about the fact if they're good enough or not, but trying to improve them usually won't make them better. Now I see how good the reviews are I know that we did the right thing.
Your vocals are also much more, for the lack of a better word, in control. Not just aggressive for the sake of it, but well-though out and deliberate. Maybe that is the word. Is the break beneficiary to that, you think?
In all honesty, I was fed up with the over the top aggressive vocals. Already on 'Under the Sign of the Iron Cross' my vocals went in a bit of a different direction. For this album I did all the recordings by myself. No pressure from a time schedule, only record when I was in the right mood to do so. I think it worked out well. And yes it's more in control and I just like it better this way.
There is plenty of fast parts and plenty of slow parts, as there have always been in your music. Did you think of this balance, or is that just how it came out?
It's partly how it came out, but I gave it more thought this time. Playing fast all the time gets boring to an audience when you play live. Some heavy grooves and headbang parts in a song make it much more dynamic and diverse. I wanted it that way. Some people will think it's not as brutal anymore, but this balance has already proved itself during our live shows where we also try to find this balance. All the songs on this album will be suitable for a live show. Now it's a matter of finding out which songs are best liked by the audience and which ones are for the album only.
I am way too friendly with my questions so far, I will think of something nasty, I am sure. Is God Dethroned also a means to promote your other activities, your expanding guitar factory Serpent King Guitars?
It definitely helps and I'm not against that of course, but the main reason for playing in GD is because I need it. Playing guitar empties my mind and relieves stress. As my guitar hero David Gilmour once said: Playing live is good for the soul. I couldn't agree more. And it's a lot of fun too.
With Serpent King Guitars in mind, will there be enough space to promote this new record, or did you and your co-worker Robert (of Visionary666) make clear enough agreements on that?
It should work out fine. It's a matter of planning, since we're not on tour for months on end.
Back to the album, could you tell us a little bit about the artwork?
The artwork is based on a picture of soldiers in action during an attack. Our designer Hrodger expanded it by adding all kinds of stuff like the huge explosion in the back. It's great how he made it look like all the things you see actually happened in that very moment.
As for the lyrics, you have now completed the trilogy of World War I. Does that mean you will leave the topic behind you?
The WWI topic is definitely finished now. It wasn't easy to write songs about one single topic for three albums in a row. Nevertheless I'm proud of it. Now it's time to find something else. Many people have asked me already which direction I would want to go for the next album. Weird, since this isn't even out yet and we will promote this album extensively before even thinking about doing a new album. And even then I will probably only know during the recording process what the lyrics will be like.
Is there a way back to your previous topics, as ‘Art Of Immolation’ and ‘Hating Life’?
No idea. I will probably come up with something completely different again next time.
Are you ready for a stupid question? You’ve always shown an interest in history in your lyrics. If there was one historic event that you could have prevented from happening, would you do that and if so, which one would that be? I’ll give some hints: 'the filesharing of entire albums on the internet', 'World War I, which did provide you three albums', 'the birth of one particular prophet', 'the discovery of the drum machine', or anything else you would like to get undone.
I couldn't think of anything I would like to prevent from happening. Not because it wouldn't be good, but simply because something else maybe even far worse would come into its place instead. We cope with the situation as it is now, would we be able to do the same with something else, something far grander than what we have now?
Which particular song on the album is your personal favourite and will make it to the live set for sure?
I don't have one particular song that's my favourite. One of the songs of which we initially thought it would be too far off our typical songs is 'Escape Across The Ice'. We doubted that song very much, but we decided to go ahead with it anyway. Once it was recorded we were all amazed by how good it turned out. Many people who interviewed me told me how much they liked that song and for many it is their favourite song of the album. That was a nice surprise and we will definitely play that one live.
Are there any songs a bit too hard to play live?
Not on this album. We kept things a lot more basic this time. All songs have all the GD ingredients, but we didn't add too much stuff on the songs like keyboards or clean vocals. It's very pure with only the basic instruments and therefore all songs should be no problem to play live.
I saw you will be promoting the album heavily in Holland and Germany, are there any bigger plans ahead of you for ‘The World Ablaze’ too?
Yes we have some more album release shows than usual this time around. After that some really cool festivals like With Full Force and Party-San and right now we are looking into the possibilities of doing a European tour in the fall. Japan is in the works too. Nothing is definitive so far, so we'll keep you posted.
This was the album that had to be made, I congratulate you on the way it came out, but is this it, or are you already working on a follow-up in the back of your head?
I have some ideas in mind for new songs, but it is a bit too early to be thinking of a new album already. Let's see how this one is received and then we'll take it from there.
I wish you and the band the best of luck with the album, may it get all the praises and recognition it deserves. I’ll give you the honour to close the interview down. Thanks for your time!
I hope so too. We've done all we could to make it the best comeback album possible. We're also doing three videos to promote the album. We felt it was necessary since it's been seven years since our last album. Time will tell if it gets the appraisal it deserves, but we are proud of it that's for sure!