Could you tell us something about the history of the band since, I think, almost none of our readers will have heard about River Of Souls before the release of ‘The Well Of Urd’?
Benjamin: The band started to form about two and a half years ago. Paul came to me and explained he wanted to form a band and asked me if I wanted to play the bass. For me it was a great opportunity to start playing in a band (I had no band experience at all). After listening to his ideas I said yes right away. Next logical step for us was asking Ingmar to join River Of Souls. Logical choice for us because he’s a great friend and plays the guitar as if the instrument was the only woman on this planet. He told us he wouldn't have enough time to join us as a full time band member, but he agreed to help us out with the recording of the album. After that, Paul and I started the search for the right vocalist. Luckily it didn’t take long until we found Bart. With him joining the band we had the possibility to try out different things on the already existing songs that had been floating in Paul’s head for years and years. At that time a drummer wasn’t needed because the first thing we wanted to do was write the songs to perfection. During the rehearsals for our first album it was enough for us to just play the drums through the MP3 player and play along. After we finished up our debut album we were ready to complete our band and started the search for a drummer. It wasn’t easy, but finally we did find Mike. And damn, not only are we surrounded by great musicians, we also have a great vibe in the band which I think is the most important!
Just like everyone else in bands I am sure you all have your influences musically and also from outside the music world. What are your (both personally and as a band) influences?
Paul: Musically, I'm influenced by about everything I hear. Usually all kinds of metal and hard rock, but also things outside of the metal genre, which can be leaders of TV series, pop music, classical music, pop rock. I'm listening more to the ideas behind the music than the specific style itself. And, of course, I let the guitar inspire me as well. But arrangement wise, it can be anything. Outside the music world? Well, silence can be inspiring of course, haha. That's also the reason why I compose at night.
Bart: Musically, I’m inspired by anything that sets a right atmosphere, preferably dark, brooding and with some underlying menace. Mostly I find this in black metal, (funeral) doom metal and in deep forests and mountainous regions. When surrounded with such a right mood, themes and shards of lyrics come floating up which are later molded into the songs or vice versa.
Judging by the album title and the song titles, I guess, it is safe to say that ‘The Well Of Urd’ is more or less a concept album. What is the concept about?
Bart: The lyrical concept for this album is mostly spiritual, in which I stayed as far away as possible from institutionalised concepts of religions which don’t mean anything at all to me. Instead I read up on Norse and Greek mythology which are more grounded to the earth and the inner self. Many similarities are to be found there and they all boil down to the cyclic nature of things. Death and life, light and darkness, beauty and horror, often all intertwined at the same time. The concept of a fate or destiny always intrigued me as well as the opposing forces of chaos which together also form a whole. The lyrics revolve around this and describe a journey from one’s birth out of the soil of the earth, through the maelstrom of life and towards the inevitable darkness and beauty of death. Thus, coming full circle to be born again (I hope…). But what do we know… Maybe our “intelligence” is the real curse, so let me quote from the track ‘Soilsorcerer: “Knowledge is nothing when confronted with the purity of animals.”
The recording line-up of the album is a four piece with Paul handling both guitar and drum duties. Recently you added Mike Klaassen as a drummer. Why opt for the addition of a drummer instead of a guitarist when you have Paul in the band? He is generally known for his drumming (in bands such as Judgement Day, Sinister, Infinited Hate, Supreme Pain and many more) and not for his guitar playing.
Paul: Well, actually there are too many reasons to sum them all up here, but the main reason is simply because I felt the time was right to switch to guitar. It saves a lot of hassle in regards to writing songs and I wanted to evolve as a guitar player, which wasn't happening while I was playing drums in bands. Before Mike joined there still was the possibility we would opt for a 2nd guitar player though. And, I didn't want a mediocre drummer in the band. Not saying that I'm such a great drummer, but I only wanted a drummer with a specific groove or swing or how you'd want to call it. We're very, very lucky that Mike joined. He was actually the only drummer I have asked to join River Of Souls.
Given the musical (band) background of Paul, why start a band that is way more doom oriented than the bands he played in before? Those were almost all pure death metal bands.
Paul: Hahaha, well, first of all, I don't really consider us playing “Doom metal” in the truest sense of the word. We're playing “guitar” metal with grunts and clean vocals, fairly melodic, melancholic, etcetera. I must admit that for ‘The Well Of Urd’, I've been avoiding typical fast death metal and thrash though, but that aside, we play any kind of metal. We seriously asked ourselves in what kind of “box” our music would fit and the result was that “death doom” would be best fitting. In regards to the death metal I played before: most of the bands I played drums in, were already death metal bands before I joined them. Even Judgement Day, for which I wrote a lot of the material, had the goal to play death metal. When I was writing music for Judgement Day, I always kept in mind “How would Theo (Minotaur Head, ex-Hail Of Bullets, ex-Grand Supreme Blood Court, ex-Houwitser, ex-Thanatos) and Wim respond?“. And it's actually a bit strange, Wim and I weren't even such death metal worshippers. Surely, we liked Cannibal Corpse's ‘Butchered At Birth’, Carcass, Suffocation, Sinister and the other usual suspects, but we were usually listening to other styles of metal ourselves (with Mercyful Fate, Katatonia's ‘Brave Murder Day’, Slayer, Satyricon and Diabolical Masquerade being our mutual favourites).
For Sinister, Infinited Hate, Supreme Pain, Weapons To Hunt; I didn't contribute any music for these bands, I just played what they asked me to. It was fun to do and I'm still proud of being part of these projects and bands. Being part of Sinister was also fantastic, but at that time I was already longing to start my own band to be able to compose and create again. Actually, the first songs I wrote for River Of Souls were already written before I was playing in Judgement Day. The track ‘March Of The Apocalypse’ was originally a River Of Souls track. The same goes for ‘Black’, that appeared on the 2nd demo of the band Passion.
Oh, and to continue about death metal versus metal in general: One of the first bands that I played in, and for which I also wrote the majority of the music, was the band Passion, which I've founded together with Joost de Boer (Cremation). I think this was one of the first bands that combined death and black, but we also had some atmospheric parts incorporated as well as some doom metal parts. With that band we wanted to play death metal, but incorporate all that we thought was cool, as long as it sounded aggressive or added something to enhance the aggression. And with River Of Souls, it's not that different: we play metal, and we incorporate just about everything that we feel is cool, as long as it sounds heavy, melancholic, sad, doomy, or angry, or adds something to enhance the overall feeling. I mean, you can play a heavy riff, and a heavy riff before it. But if you play a smooth sounding acoustic piece just before the heavy riff, the riff will sound twice as heavy! So, in that respect, it's not something entirely new to me. The overall style may be different, but the general approach to writing music is just about the same.
Okay, I just called River Of Souls a doom band. Of course musically it is way more than that. Melodic death metal and even some folk and Guitar Masters (as I like to call it, dating back to the Guitar Masters series that was released in the Eighties) can also be discerned. What way will you be progressing in the future? Or will you keep to this sort of mix of styles?
Paul: This is very difficult to answer... On the one hand, we have a style that surely is a mix of existing styles and influences. Yes, it will stay that way. But will it sound the same? Could be, could be not, and I think it also depends on how each individual experiences our music. The music isn't a pre-determined recipe, the mix of ingredients differ from song to song.
For the new full length, there are absolutely a few differences. First of all, most of the material of ‘The Well Of Urd’ was written before Bart joined, with lyrics and all. He wrote his own lyrics, and after that I started re-arranging one and another because vocal lines changed, some parts had to be filled up differently, etcetera. Most of the material for the new full length is written with Bart's preferences in mind, so these tracks have another approach. Another difference is that I've expanded the boundaries a bit on the new material. I avoided typical death metal on the first record, amongst the new material there are a few songs that contain a few more up tempo death metal parts. But just a few. Also a few other “spices and herbs” are added… Another change is that some of the new songs have shorter song structures, while others have fairly complex structures. One track is twenty minutes, a story on its own.
Besides that, I aim to give each track I write a unique feature, an own personality, or whatever you like to call it. That's something that's audible on ‘The Well Of Urd’ as well. So, even though the mix of ingredients will differ a bit, in general the style won't change. But, we still need to add about ten to fifteen minutes of material though, maybe we come up with something totally unexpected… There are surely a few influences that I'd like to incorporate of which I didn't manage to put these in before….. But, that's all about the new full length album… We're currently finishing up a new EP as well, which is entitled ‘The Nihilist’. It contains four tracks of which two were initially recorded for ‘The Well Of Urd’, be it in a slightly different version. The two other tracks are a cover song, and a track titled ‘Unmanifest’, which was written for the next full length album. This song has more of a Seventies/early Eighties rock hit vibe and riffs.
Bart: During the recording of ‘The Well Of Urd’ we put the track ‘The Nihilist’ in the freezer at my request. I couldn’t get it to fit in the album lyric wise and thought some rearranging had to be done first. Now that it would be put on the EP I could approach it as if it was a new song, without the context of ‘The Well Of Urd’, and this was just what I needed to be able to appreciate and finish it. Now it’s even one of my favorite songs. This was initially the same for ‘The Norn’s Chant’, which did make it on the album because the rearranging and getting the right feel and vocal lines were done just in time. These two songs are just so diverse they take some time to settle in.
’The Well Of Urd’ sounds great. Powerful, with emphasis on the instruments and vocals at the right moment, clear, yet not slick. Where did you record it and was the man fiddling with the knobs? Will you be recording in the same studio and with the same person in the future as well?
Paul: Thank you for the compliments! We recorded and mixed this album in my home studio, with the exception of one guitar lead which was recorded in Ingmar's home studio. For the new EP, we recorded the drums in an unused room of a business premise of a friend in Nijmegen with my equipment. The rest is done in my home studio. Not sure who is going to do the mastering though, if any. Regarding the next full length: we haven't yet decided where to record, and who's going to do the engineering and/or mixing. It all depends on the available budget. But it certainly would be nice to let somebody else do it... This has multiple advantages. First one is that it saves me an enormous amount of work/time, another is that the recording will have a steady schedule: The production is ready when all money is spent. Also, I'm not really good at mixing, I always keep hearing things I don't want to hear, and when I dig into the details too much, I'm losing focus on the total picture. Without budget limitations, it's easy to keep working on a mix forever. And then I'd probably ruin the mix, hahaha ! On the other hand, working on a mix in a computer is much and much easier than working with worn out semi pro analogue equipment with average mix monitors, so….. It has got much easier to do a good mix nowadays. But there are very good producers for rock and metal here in the Netherlands which I'd consider above internationally highly regarded producers. To name a few: Erwin Hermsen, JB van der Wal, Freek Philippi, and I also always liked the productions of Berthus Westerhuis of Franky's Recording Kitchen.
The album’s been out for almost two months now. How has it been received both nationally and internationally?
Bart: We’ve had some very positive reviews so far from the Netherlands, Belgium and Asia. Personally, I’m pleased to hear that our (undeliberate) mix of genres and vocal styles has been received well so far. We hope and expect there are more reviews still to come. Reactions on social media have been very nice too. Somehow the album also created some ripples in places we didn’t expect, like Russia, Lithuania and Brazil, which is cool.
Paul: We also got cool responses from various internet radio stations in the US, UK, and The Netherlands that played a few tracks of ‘The Well Of Urd’.
Since you have a complete line-up now will you be playing live any time soon?
Benjamin: Well, unfortunately we have to tell you guys that Ingmar had to stop playing in the band for good reasons. He has two other great bands; Codex and Skeletor, and needs to put his energy into those bands. Naturally, we wish him all the best, but this puts us on a short on-hold until we find someone suitable who can replace him. We have good hopes we’ll find someone soon though.
With this in mind I think it’s realistic that we can start with live shows around the Spring of 2018.
Where we are going to play depends on who wants to book us of course. Where we would like to play; the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to start with. Of course, we’ll keep you all updated on our website www.riverofsouls.nl and on our Facebook page.
Are there any plans in the pipeline to record any new material any time soon?
Paul: Besides the EP ‘The Nihilist’ which will be released in January 2018, we expect to record and release the 2nd full length somewhere in 2018 but we don't have a schedule set as of yet. Most of the music has already been composed so we will start the preproduction for it soon.
’The Well Of Urd’ is a self-released effort which sounds and looks great. Many a band with a label contract could learn a thing or two from your release. Have any labels shown any interest in the band? And have you been shopping the album around?
Paul: We haven't been shopping at all, haha! The only label we had contact with, was with Roel of Vic Records, and that was mainly to ask him for advice regarding a couple of things like how to set up a news submission and stuff like that. We felt it would be better to release the first album ourselves, and hopefully get some attention, prove ourselves as a good live band and maybe shop for a record deal later on.
Since this is more or less an introductory interview with you guys, this wraps it up for now. Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Hope to see you live sometime soon and awaiting new material with great anticipation. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Paul: Thank you for the interview and your support!