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Belphegor

De Oostenrijkse band Belphegor geldt al twintig jaar als één van de gevestigde waarden in de extreme metalscene. Ondanks enkele zware tegenslagen zijn ze hun idealen altijd trouw gebleven. Met iedere plaat werd de schare fans wat groter en met het verschijnen van hun nieuwste album ‘Totenritual’ zal dit een blijvende trend zijn. Oprichter en frontman Helmuth ‘Hellmuth’ Lehrer liet deze keer zijn diepe grunt en onheilspellende krijsstem achterwege en stond ons uiterst vriendelijk te woord.

Door: Koen W. | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

‘Totenritual’ is your eleventh album. Where does the main inspiration of the album comes from?
Like always. We develop everything: our sound, our attitude, our souls, the riffs and all the stuff and that is the main inspiration that we have. We always want to go more extreme and more intense. This is not a concept album like we did a few years ago. But there is a red wire and that is dead. Dead is all around us. It is about the occult and obscure and all that topics. Our main goal was to create the most brutal heavy offering we have consecrated so far. The drums are uttermost blasting and very technical with loads of breaks/ fills and tempo changes. The bass is like a panzer tank rumbling through the terrain. The four rhythm guitars aggressive and with a demonic obscure tone. Also think this is my most varied and best vocal performance so far. I have growls, grunts, screams, spoken words, chants even monk choirs. I’m really proud on this album and can’t wait till it get unleashed. Everything pushes the limits of anything we have done before. Also the lower tuned guitars are a new challenge and an interesting experiment. It was a great decision and it opened a new guitar world in my playing, it is another state of extremities sound wise. I despise restriction or stagnation. We always try to challenge ourselves you know. We do this by changing up the recording/ writing process/ studios/ producer etc…so everything remains or becomes even more of a punch in the face.

What is a “Totenritual” for you? I looked for the term but only founded a little information about some historic burial rites in Germany, Poland and Scandinavia.
That is the reason why we have chosen for this title. It is not so easy for the people to look for it. I see our shows these days more as rituals then a metal show. The title is just perfect for this album. We always use word games. It goes about an obscure German ritual and in our songs we always want to go as quick as possible in the ritual mood. So it fitted perfectly in the ethnical sphere of the album. But not all the songs are about the ritual. Like opener ‘Baphomet’. Baphomet is the creator of everything, the goat god Dominus. The brutal song deals with the duality of life. Man against Woman. Fire against Water. Human against Demon. Black against White etc. It’s about will, discipline to develop as human, sex magic and self-creation. Read the lyrics, I mean people should make up their own mind about it, it’s worth it, I guess this are the best verses we ever had. Apophis is the ruler of darkness and chaos, the black dragon, un-destroyable, if u look him to long in his eyes you die. His oldest enemy is the God of sun: Ra.

Totenritual sounds to me a fraction more aggressive and raw that ‘Conjuring The Dead’. Was this a natural evolution or something you were looking for?
No, we were looking for doing something more brutal and extreme. It again like a ritual were everything is pushing against its limits. ‘Totenritual’ is harder and faster than we ever did something before. It was a lot of work and we had to practice a lot. The lineup is really good these days. The drummer is way better than on the album before. So we play new stuff that we could never done before. We even went in a more technical direction. I tuned the guitar even more down. I tuned the guitar sound since 2003 always a little bit down. But this times we pulled it a full step more below. So it opened a whole new world. That from the guitar till the atmosphere. The guitar tone is really obscure. But on the other hand really clear. You can hear everything, you can hear the basic, the guitar and the drums. I really can’t wait till the release of the album. It was a great sacrifice on the way. I think it is the best sounding album we released so far.

While I was listening to ‘Apophis - Black Dragon’ is seemed like the temperature descended till the freezing point and I was standing in the middle of a demonized conjuring. Do you have a ‘mission accomplished’ feeling when you hear something like that?
Yes, definitely. I am always happy when I see and hear people that understand what we are doing and who have respect for what we are doing. That is great. I really appreciate it off course. But on the other hand there will be always negative critics. But as long are people are talking about it it’s cool. But for sure, if people like what we are dining, it is really appreciated and it makes me proud. We worked very hard for it. The band is there for 24 years and we are still going strong.

When did you start working on this album and how long was the process taken from the first step till the final product?
‘It was really a long time. We really said: let’s cool down for a moment. There was an operation and stuff that makes it more slow and easy. I think it was in October 2016 we released the first song live. After ‘Conjuring The Dead’ we said to have a break and concentrate more on live shows. That is like we always do and that is the sense of the band. We didn’t feel any pressure. We said let’s do it and start easy but we worked our ass off with it. But the sound, the songwriting and the lyrics took a lot of time but it’s now the best we ever did. Everything is way better than before. At the end people have to decide what they find about it. If they say good and they like it, it is ok. But if they don’t like it, it’s their loss not mine. I did everything to develop the music.’

Anti-religious lyrics have always been a trademark for Belphegor. Are you studying some obscure books and texts for the lyrics?
I got the inspiration from everything. We travel around the planet all the time and we see so many things. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that life is so much stranger than any fiction story or book you ever read. But I read a lot and I work a lot together with people with a lot of knowledge. Then we sit together and write the lyrics. We are always in learning modus. The Unholy God blessing song on this album is probably ‘Swinefever - Regent Of Pigs’, it is probably the most intense track on the new album when it came to sheer Death Metal brutality. We mock the church, it is 666% blasphemy and hate against this hypocritical institution.

But it is not always about blasphemy. We have way more to offer but it is important to me and we not want to change that. It is a trademark. I’ve always used the philosophy about Satan/Lucifer - the Light-bearer in our lyrical content as a proud, exalted, majestic figure who resisted against all influences. One to make his own decisions, walk his own path as a rebel, a mockery of the masses. I describe myself as an atheist with tendencies towards nihilism. I mean, there is a lot of obscurity and possession in Belphegor, still is, and always was. You know, I'm inspired by everything I see and experience. I adore all types of books on the occult, strange things, necromantic, cannibalism, serial killers, and also horror topics in books and films. Everything that is dark, anti and non-conformist grabs my attention. I had many chances during my life to learn and know that real life is way stranger than any fiction. We have been using a lot of original poems for decades from old books etc. These consist of spells/ poems/ chants and so on, mostly in the original language in order to not deface the intended meaning. That's why our lyrical content comes in English, Latin and the German language as well. Latin, the church speech… it's utter blasphemy to mock them in their own language. German verses also sound very harsh in pronunciation and give the overall feeling a brutal approach and atmosphere. It's also a kind of unique trademark that we use three languages since 1997.

You can hear many layers and with every spin you discover something new. It’s death metal with some black but the artistic feeling is really there. Is the album completely the thing that you wanted as a result?
We always played the metal of death for sure, with blasting black metal influences. But I write riffs, we are a riff band, and compose soundscapes according to what comes to me. But this time it was our main goal to make the most brutal and we did it. The drums are amazing. The new drummer is like a machine. And then there is the song writing. It is way better than before. It our most important album till so far. It is unreal that we are there for 24 years and we are stronger than ever.

The album was mixed by Jason Suecof and mastered by Mark Lewis. Both of them worked in a great variety of divers metal genres. Made their contribution to the finishing sound of the album a great difference?
It’s new stuff and they keep everything fresh and keep it challenging. So we said let’s try this guys. The sound is very aggressive and brutal but also very clear and that was the main goal. You can hear the bass, the drums the guitars the vocals, you can hear everything and that was a great job.
So yes, they did an excellent job.

In the songs like ‘The Devils Song’, ‘Schwinefever’, ‘Regent Of Pigs’ and ‘Exegesis Of Deterioration’ you hear a sample as intro. Are they from existing horror movies?
We use a lot of samples. Most of them are from movies but don’t ask me which one. We do it with outros and intros. It has to fit perfect. The samples have to be similar to the lyrics. And that is the main goal. It is not like: Hey this is nice: let’s use it. So the song ‘The Devil's Son’ deals with the life story of Niccolo Paganini, written from his point of view. He was an Italian classical violist who died in 1840. His virtuoso inhuman playing, unusual long limbs and nimble fingers and joints led people to the idea that he must have been possessed and had a pact with the devil. Very interesting indeed,. The song is blasting with ultra-fast shredding guitars and a classical influenced arrangement. I don’t want to reveal more here. I’m from Austria and Salzburg. Mozart lived in my home city. So I love those classic flamenco guitars and all those shit from Brahms and a bit Mozart. It’s very intense. So there is a lot influence of classical music.

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Have you already achieved some response from the press about the album?
Not that many. This is the first English interview I do for the album. I didn’t expect the interviews to start for last week. But to be honest, I don’t care if people like the album or not. I don’t want to waste my energy about it.

The artwork is from the hand from Seth Siro Anton, also known as Spiros Antoniou from the Greek SepticFlesh. You are both extreme bands. Does Seth understand you from the beginning what you want from him? By the way, he has done a fantastic job.
I think so. We worked together the first time in I think 2005. He created the ‘Pestapokalypse VI’ cover and he also created the last album cover work. He always knows what I want. We are working very close together. I am not like those artist who say make something that the fuck looks cool.
So we work together for eight years. It is very important to me also because I write the lyrics. Our work has to be reflect in the artwork. I wouldn’t take a cover just because it looks cool. For me it is really important to work with this artist. There has to be a mutual respect and we have to understand each other. Seth is really good in what he does and so this is the third time we worked together. If you compare it with the old cover from 2005, you will see that he developed a lot.

On the coming tour, you have the support from Deströyer 666, Enthroned, NervoChaos and Nordjevel. Will that be the heaviest tour in Europe this year?
I hope so, like always. It is a really great bill. There are no mainstream bands. All the bands are very interesting and work in the underground.

Quality music is important but in shows, the audience wants to be entertained also by a visual show. Did you work hard to find some good show elements and bring something original?
It is not about working hard. It is about how big is the band. By example ten years the band was small. And I could not bring all the stuff on stage like we have these days. Now I have a light guy. Huge backdrops and all that stuff and things from my personal collection. But we are still growing. And we make part of an extreme metal scene. Shows nowadays are much real. A Belphegor Ritual is like letting demons out to dance. Yes. We do everything authentically: the blood is real, the bones, the feeling is real, the intensity is real. It's a Ritual more so than a typical metal concert. As soon as I hear the intro, smell the incense, my mind switches to another zone or reality and I descend into another realm. I adore leaving spiritually my body for plus one hour during a Belphegor stage presence, letting the demons take over and get into total possession with the music, it’s a pleasure, I almost cum if the ceremony is great and the audience get crazy and wild, and glorifying Lucifer with you, it is magic… Still one of the best most interesting things to me. It is even better then sex. No matter of you play for 200 people or for 10.000 people. Each show is challenging for us and we try to be authentic and get more intense. That is what we try to achieve. Always developing the band.

You are a dedicated touring band and in autumn starts a tour in Europe. Will Russia still be on the list? Or are you tired of the country after which happened on 19/04/2016 when you were attacked by that extreme orthodox christen?
You mean that religion fanatic? But we go back to Russia. That is for sure. We are just waiting for a new offer. The problem was that we had to play five shows. And three were cancelled so we lost a lot of money. Like in Moscow, they turned off my microphone and I couldn’t sing anymore. And there were some guys with machine guns and all that shit. We got really treated like some terrorists. But it was not like everything went that bad. I don’t see us as a victim, to the opposite, the world saw how dangerous these people are and how hypocritical they act. If they get power, every non-conforming book, all that is art/ freedom of speech will burn again. Under all circumstances we have to avoid people like that getting in power. I mean Belphegor is not just a band, it’s a legacy a way of life, I made an ‘Pactum In Aeternum’. And we can't let these deranged minds get us down. You know I absolutely dig what I'm doing here travelling the world, bringing the devils music and creating arrangements. Some people dig it, some hate it, some are offended. I'm here for our supporters, no time to care about people that talk shit, spread lies and know everything better. Fuck them. Hail Chaos! Hail Death!

Are there except Russia other countries where you have the feeling that Belphegor isn’t really welcome?
It is not only in Russia. We played in India and in China we also got some issues. It don’t care that much because it is all about the show and people enjoying themselves. Extreme metal has to become fast and brutal. But we are used to the censorship. It's nothing new you know, LP covers get banned, we've also been banned from playing certain places, there has always been controversy, and that isn’t going to change, on the contrary. We are enemies to the cross and don't pray, kneel nor crawl before any god. Moralizers that want to tell you what you have to do, I can decide for myself I don’t need hypocrites deciding my life, they are nothing but a waste of oxygen. It's important when it comes to art, rebellion, resistance. We don't let anything nor anyone stop us.

If you ever started talking with somebody who isn’t familiar with the work of Belphegor, what album would you recommend as the most reprehensive work for the band?
I do not recommend anything to people. But if they really ask me... It is hard to choose for me you know. But if I have to say anything, it is the new album off course. It is always the new album. But I think we have many good albums. I don’t watch television of read papers. I just get focused on metal and the band.

Belphegor was always a hard working band and earned a lot of respect in the extreme metal scene. Are you happy with the things that you achieved after all those years? Are you able to life from your music these days?
Yes sure. We always were a hard working band and there were a lot of sacrifices. Still now there are. But they are important when you make art. If you are happy, you cannot make any good music. You have to be a bit like an outlaw. I never saw it as a career. But that is that I am not happy of what we have achieved with the band. I still do what I am doing and I am proud of that and of what I have achieved from myself. At the other hand, sometimes it is really tough. But I really love to play live. That’s just great. What do you understand under living from your music? It is my number one and that is the band and my guitar. I almost spend it all my time on it. I don’t have my own house, I don’t have a car. That is not all that important to me. But I travel the whole world and play music to people. That is what I’m doing and I am good in it and that counts for my.

You and Serpenth were always the heart of Belphegor. The rest of the band were always some guest musicians and even now there is an advertisement and the bands site for a tour guitarist player. Has it been a challenge for you at all to work around the changing lineup of musicians?
It is not all that much changing for us. For an example, the guitar player that last tour played with us, was there since the beginning. He lived and played with us for three years. The drummer Simon Bloodhammer is also with us for two years. He is from Germany and plays very technical. He is like a fucking machine. He is the best drummer we had in the band till so far. He brought everything to a next level with is. So yes, he is a permanent member and 100% metal head approved, that’s important to me. He also inked the Belphegor logo in huge letters on his stomach, to show his support: which means a lot to the bands legacy. He's one of the best drummers we've ever played. It’s great to have him in our ranks and as I said we could push our sound to the next level with this technical, precise drumming style. So we stay like that for the next years. Let see what happens. His style is really contributing to our sound. But when there is a new member in the band, we demand a lot and there is a lot of pressure. It not so easy. Some people can deal with it but for some people it is really hard. And I don’t want people in the band who are not happy. That is the main reason: be happy and excited. When you are in the band. So everything is great like it is.

It is known that you are a great fan of horror flicks. Do you have any tips for a good horror movie from 2017 or 2016?
I stopped looking television for a long time. I only watch on tour but it is a small TV screen and I don’t like it very much. I think I saw everything what is imported till 25 years ago. It’s not that important for me. My life changed a lot till my heart operation. I was dead for six hours and my point of view changed a lot since then. So I don’t want to waste my time on movies and so. Who know what happens in a few years. I enjoy life much more. It’s not like an am a great Christian. More an inquiry in life. I can play guitar. After my operation, I could do nothing for eight months. I had to learning to move again. But I have a strong will and I did everything what I did. I drank alcohol but now not anymore. And then there was a lot of other funny stuff. But all that is finished by now. I had to. Life is very important. It is not that funny anymore when you are dead. I had so much pains for months and could not sleep. It was a terrible time. I always thought that nothing could kill me. But I learned my lesson.

So I thank you for your time and for the interview. Do you have any last unholy words for our readers?
I’m just proud of the loyalty from our fans and trust in our legacy, all I can say. Thank you to all the people that support us, stay loyal on our site, get our merchandise/ LP´s, listen our sound collages and attend the rituals.

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