“BELPHEGOR” INTERVIEW by Christina Thompson
BELPHEGOR: A Brutal Death Monster band, that takes no prisoners in its uncompromising belief that their music is magic – that their music and message transcends them being a band but more of a legacy in extreme metal. And damn? Who blames them? They have been a metal force to reckon with for nearly a quarter of a century! Unwilling and relentlessly refusing to bow to trends nor popular religious beliefs, with topics such as perversion and blasphemy at the forefront when it comes to their lyrical content, they blaze their own trail and have done so unapologetically for the last 24 years. Fan of their music? Guess what? They don’t care.In fact, they don’t even like the term “fan”, and find it degrading. What they do believe in (among other things), is staying true to their sound, their own message and beliefs, and the true appreciation they have for their loyal supporters. Supporters that they continue to gain with each album they create-garnering them more and more international recognition and now two generations worth of appreciation.
Enter their 11th album,TOTENRITUAL,due out in September, the 15th in fact, and BELPHEGOR-one of the most actively touring bands on the planet-is making some time to answer some of MHF’s questions so that we may get to know them better and see what keeps these guys going strong!
Thanks once again for taking some time out for us. We really appreciate it considering you have an album about to drop and thenanothertour to kick off! I would like to start off with an easy question….How is it going, being a trio, now? Obviously BloodHammer must feel at home considering he had the BELPHEGOR logo tattooed on his stomach; the logo inked by the bass player, Serpenth, himself (is that true?). How has BloodHammer added to the dynamic?
Ave Christina! First off, thanks for the introduction!
The number of people in the band is not what matters. The thing is, we demand a lot and need to be sure the musicians we bring into the lineup are creative, take responsibility and practice consistently. I always stress that we make an effort to always improve our skills. We’ve never had a recording lineup as strong as we do for “TOTENRITUAL”. It feels great and I am very proud of this new LP. It should be noted that I record all of the guitars for the album, but we always recruit an experienced session guitarist for live shows.
Serpenth does tattoo when he is not busy with BELPHEGOR and it is true that he inked the logo. That display of dedication made it more clear we wanted to take on the German monster-drummer Bloodhammer in the band as a permanent member. He’s 100% Metalhead, which is great. He plays a very dynamic and technical style. With him in the band, we were able to bring all aspects of our sound to the next level of extremity. Everything sounds more brutal, more possessed and achieved the Ritualistic vibe we envisioned from the beginning of this project.
Your previous album, Conjuring The Dead, was a result of your being pissed off about the 2011 experience of contracting Typhus after you drank the water from a hotel in Latin America, the subsequent lung infection, open heart surgery, and recovery time you went through.
My lifestyle of constant travel, drugs, and alcohol caused a lot of damage, but I have no regrets. I adored that “suicidal lifestyle” of excess. CONJURING THE DEAD  was my own personal rehab and got me back on track. It helped me survive. Goals are important. Realizing my visions for that LP helped along the healing process.
There is a lot of shit currently going on in this world and that always makes for good inspiration for art and music. Religion is still the base of political power in most countries, and as long as there are sheep, there will be corrupt tyrants intent on leading them. Religion is the most efficient way to control and mold a large number of humans, so I do not see true freedom of expression happening anywhere in the world anytime soon. Some countries are just more brainwashed than others.
I’ve traveled the world for two decades and I dig it. It’s expected to come into contact with shit like that sometimes. It shows me we are doing something right if they take us so seriously. Practice what you preach. We are not here to please everyone, we please ourselves first. If people get it and respect our legacy, we highly appreciate that. Those people are the reason why we are still here and trying to get better and stronger as musicians and performers. It’s fine by me if other people are offended and hate us. To each their own. I don’t waste my time worrying about that.
As far as the situation in Russia goes, I don’t see mýself as a victim. I knew better than to attack him and respond to his provocations. It should go without saying that if it happened on neutral ground it would have been different for those degenerates. Thanks to Mr. Karl Sanders of NILE who stood in the way and blocked him. What a loyal gesture from Karl, I will never forget that. Otherwise, everything could have gotten really out of control. And in this situation didn’t change any part of my life. I just hate and despise their institution even more and we wrote about those kinds of deranged people on the most brutal track on the new album, entitled “SWINEFEVER – REGENT OF PIGS”. Guess the title says it all and speaks for itself. Enjoy, ladies and gentlemen!!
Let’s hope trash like that never get into power, or ART in general, will be more suppressed and censored than it already is. Books, film, music, etc. will be forbidden or burned again. Freedom of speech, especially in art, must be guaranteed. I’m not a sheep, I don’t need anyone to make decisions for me and my life. Anyway, in 2018 we will return to Russia. We’ve already started negotiating with Spika productions.
Following that, you have said in another interview that you start the songwriting process for a new creation by practicing and playing eight or more hours a day for months. Are Serpenth and BloodHammer involved in the process of creation as well?
TOTENRITUAL“ is the perfect representation of BELPHEGOR for 2017. It is the first time we’ve tuned our guitars down to H and A#, which is way lower than we’ve ever done before. When I start a project, I get into the mood for intense practicing. Especially before we enter the studio I practice for weeks and months at a time, sometimes 6-8 hours a day to be well-prepared. I don’t want to practice in the studio or waste time that should be used for the creative process. For the studio recording, I focus all of my energy on my visions to create something dark and outstanding. Of course, prior to recording, we practice songs in the rehearsal room all together as a band. It felt great to write this eleventh offering, the mood all was good, everyone welcomed the challenge. We never stuck to a particular formula and always try working with new studios, new producers, people etc, to keep the fire burning. I hate stagnation. We added new details to our music, some songs you need to hear four or five times to discover all we’ve put into them. I would say this is our most vicious album yet.
Some of your lyrics in the past have consisted of chants, poems, etc., and to protect the integrity of these lyrics, you are known for the unique characteristic of those specific lyrics being in Latin, German, or English. Considering you have stated your verse content is meant to celebrate the freedom of one’s mind and beliefs and path, as well as being obscure, can you tell us why you sometimes decide to use someone else’s works rather than create each lyric yourselves? Also, how do you choose those pieces that you use? What draws you to that particular composition?
I always work with other artists to keep things fresh. This time it was a Norwegian shaman, Mr. Espen Dyngen who lives in the mountains alone and sleeps outside in a wigwam, very inspiring guy. By living among nature, he brought a lot of inspiration into the verses.
Some themes were collected from the Egyptian Book of the Dead [Toth], and also from some magical talismans in the book “The Key of Solomon” [Grand Grimoire]. Aleister Crowley’s works have also been a source for some of the ritual and magickal elements, also need mention Friedrich Nietzsche. Some verses are deeply personal. We do use a lot of poems and chants that would not make sense if translated into English. I dig doing vocals in my native German language, which we have done since 1994. Vocals in Latin is yet another BELPHEGOR trademark. Each of these languages has their own atmosphere with their unique pronunciations. For “APOPHIS – BLACK DRAGON” we also added a 4th language, ancient Egyptian. I’ve been on vacation to Egypt 3 times. I’ve visited the Giza Pyramids [been inside one], also traveled to Valley Of Kings, Luxor, Museum in Cairo where I saw the mummified Tutanchamun and the golden mask etc, so I know what I’m talking about. Those archaic Egyptian and Latin chants inspired me to try and imitate the throat singing monks are known for, so the song got a more Ritualistic vibe, same as I did for our Death/ Black opera titled “EMBRACING A STAR”.
Going back to the new album,TOTENRITUAL: You once did something that was seriously cool when stating about your latest album-you broke down each track with a small synopsis of the lyrical content per track. Would you mind giving us an overall idea of what to expect from the tonality of the album as a whole as well as that synapses- breakdown per track again? Keeping in mind sometimes it is the lyrical content that might resonate with certain listeners with the music?
“THE DEVIL´S SON” deals with the life story of the Italian violinist Niccolo Paganini, written from his point of view. He had very pale skin and always dressed in black His virtuoso violin performance and [demonic] technique of precision and his appearance with his long limbs, 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 classically influenced arrangement. I don’t want to reveal more here so you will have to wait and listen.
“APOHPIS – BLACK DRAGON” the ruler of darkness and chaos, the black dragon, indestructible. He always takes the forms of dragons and serpents. If you look into his eyes for too long you die. He is said to be the oldest enemy of the sun god RA [RE] in Egyptian mythology, born from the saliva from goddess Neth. Vocals on this exalted track are in four different languages.
“SWINEFEVER – REGENT OF PIGS“ is blasphemy against the hypocritical institution of the church.
“BAPHOMET”, the sabbatic Ritual Goat, a divine androgyne, the creator of everything, power absolute. Goat God Dominus!! The arrangement deals with the duality of life. Man – Woman. Death – Life. Fire-Water. Human-Demon, Love – Hate. It is also about discipline, freedom and the will to walk your own way “alone” without letting someone else decide things relating to your life. Its essence is purity in solitude. When two become one, all is silent.
“EMBRACING A STAR” is musically probably the most experimental track on TOTENRITUAL, and I am very proud of this composition. It’s a Death/ Black Metal opera to me with so many varied influences,…an eruption of extreme sounds and goes direct into the track „TOTENRITUAL“. Pure Magick. We tried a lot of new things and incorporated several new elements, such as acoustic guitars, monk choirs, chants etc.
You can hear these ceremonial influences throughout the whole album. It is a lyrical theme on the subject of sex-magick and self-creation. It is very different from the rest, being very philosophical. It celebrates the inner ecstasy and self-empowerment that comes from sex for pleasure. Every sexual act is not meant to create new life and that is as blasphemous and insulting to the Christian ideas of human relations. I relish in this idea and practice. The mood is elevated and holds the spirit of what Nietzsche preached: self-overcoming.
I know you don’t like to compare previous albums so I won’t even ask. What I would like to know is: Has your passion for your creativity changed at all throughout the years? Is it ever-changing? From where is it derived?
I am a musician. My discipline is about improvement. Nowadays, I am very passionate about everything I do. I’ve had to make thousands of sacrifices for BELPHEGOR, but at the end when I have the album in my hands I know why I went through all I had. Great live rituals are also inspirational and give me back energy and the desire to keep going and overcome things. I couldn’t do what I have been for over two decades if I didn’t enjoy it.
Nowadays, I’m a very private, introverted person since I had to stop my excesses since my operation late 2011. Anyways, it’s all about BELPHEGOR. Metal/ Rock/whatever you want to call it, still has a major impact on my life, besides I also dig flamenco guitars and classical composers. I’m interested in many different things, but music, BELPHEGOR, playing guitar, and traveling the world is my main focus.
You have said that you’ll do what you have always done and steer BELPHEGOR “against all trends and other worthless overnight sensation tricks”….In your view, what are ‘overnight sensation tricks’?
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about things I don’t like. What I mean to say is that many extreme bands fade away and put out meaningless albums just to make sales. I don’t appreciate the use of creativity just to please the mob.
With BELPHEGOR, we still do what we always have, we create what we want to and piss in the mainstream. No manager, no marketing influences. There never will be. That isn’t for me. We are 100% in charge of our own creations and control what we put out there. I don’t care what other artists do or even consider the opinions of others. I live in my own world with my own rules. Anything outside doesn’t really matter much, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here anymore if we would have listened to others. There are not so many bands left from back in the day who stay true to their signature sound.
You went in a different direction for the album cover this time around. A new artist and a new look. What was the overall thought behind this?
I disagree that the artwork took a different direction and I must make a correction: we did not work with a new artist. Seth has done the art for three projects now. The first was in 2006 for “PESTAPOKALYPSE VI”, followed by our previous monster, “CONJURING THE DEAD ”.
The artwork for “TOTENRITUAL” was created with the same method as the others, but of course, each new project demands much more time and different sacrifices. I always have a strong visual concept in mind and give direction to Seth as he makes the image. Seth contributes many of his own ideas as well, and nowadays he knows how I roll. Like the process of making music, it must develop until perfection is achieved. I consider album artwork part of the whole LP package, it all must fit together. Music, verses, artwork.
You don’t strike me as the type to kick back with his boots up and watch T.V at all. So what do you do in your downtime? You know, when you’re not touring or practicing and just being a regular “Joe”?
I stopped watching TV almost a decade ago. I’m not interested in that brainwashing propaganda medium. It’s bad for people, they can get so easily influenced through TV. Many believe everything they see. I have a lot of better things to do in my spare time. I do enjoy movies here and there.
Besides the anger of what happened in Latin America, and understanding you are an Atheist, most near-death experiences bring a person closer to a religious belief. What did it do for you as far as personal beliefs went? I guess what I am basically asking is that aside from the anger, did it affect you in any other way, spiritually?
6 weeks hospital, 8 weeks rehab, and forced to take a break from life for eight months – that’s what happened to me in October 2011, plus an open heart surgery.
It’s been six years since my personal dance with death. This was the hardest ride I ever had to experience. I had to restart a lot and learn from the beginning, like breathing without a machine and talking. Sure, if you’re weak, you believe in this crap after falling into a black hole, I was dead and couldn’t do anything for months – not even walk. It didn’t change me or give me some spiritual awakening. I just thought I’d die, that it was all over for me. Three times the hospital sent over a Catholic priest [always a different one], honestly, I didn’t say fukk off to them demand they leave my room, but I let them know I was not interested in speaking with them. I am still impressed by myself, by my strong will, because I really was at the end and on strong medication and in a lot of pain, fever and fear. The fact that I became an alcoholic hadn’t made anything easier, but I’m still here. I learned what I am and my body is not invincible. I’m mostly clean since that time, so I’m so much more focused when it comes to BELPHEGOR’s legacy and art.
Change of subject, you are a major Horror fan, as well as a bone collector, and used bone-made instruments on “Pactum in Aeternum”. What brought you to this thought process? Are any of these instruments on TOTENRITUAL? Also? What are your top five horror movies from this past twenty years. And this list can include remakes as well. Also again? Please tell me The Devil’s Rejects is on it! The music alone makes it…
How can you get more authentic than using real human bones? I collect human and animal bones and skulls for over fifteen years, so it was a bizarre and interesting experiment.
Yeah, I enjoyed “The Devil´s Rejects“ and “House of 1000 Corpses” but, my top always will be “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Just heard that Tobe Hooper died days ago, thanks to him for all the pleasure and impact this movie had on me. I also think the remakes are really intense. Of course “Hellraiser” is excellent as well, the first three parts are genius. “The Exorcist”, “The Ring“, “The Omen“ trilogy need get mentioned here and “The Silence Of The Lambs“. The list is endless.
Next to last question: For people that have not been able to experience a Ritual of yours, can you please give our readers what it takes for you to present them with a genuine BELPHEGOR live Ritual? What impression can they expect after having such an experience? What are you hoping they walk away with after seeing and hearing you?
As soon as I hear the intro and smell the incense, my mind switches to another dimension of reality and I descend into another realm. I revel in leaving my body for more than one hour during a BELPHEGOR stage performance, letting the demons take over and submitting into total possession with the music, it’s a pleasure. I almost cum if the ceremony is great and the audience gets wild while glorifying death musick. Often it is Magick between the band and the people, those are the most intense ceremonies if you feel the sweat the obscurity while we fire our tracks into the horde.
When you get to see a live show, you will see what I’m talking about.. I have to admit, we always have a preference for the fast songs on stage. It really takes a toll on your body and ears, activating your inner demons that are hovering above you. BELPHEGOR is the blood in my veins and a live performance is the true example of that.
Hails to all the demons who support us by listening to our sounds, attending our ceremonies, getting merch and spreading the plague!
You did a cover of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. How did this become a song you wanted to cover? Anymore covers in the future?
I adore BLACK SABBATH, still do and always will. It came naturally to me to pay homage to them in 1994. Back in the day we also did MOTÖRHEAD´s “We Are The Road Crew“ and from SODOM “Outbreak Of Evil”. Of course all way faster than the ingenious original songs. I have not planned to do any more covers. Never say never, though, life offers many strange and unexpected gifts sometimes.
Lastly? Tell us all about your “Kick-off Tour” to promote TOTENRITUAL anything else you would like to add at this point. Cheers, and thanks again for your time!
Thank you, Christina, for the interesting chat and the space in Metalheads Forever Magazine. Something important I want to mention: The digipak version of the album comes with two bonus live tracks, both recorded in April this year at Inferno festival in Oslo, Norway with the titles “GASMASK TERROR” from the “CONJURING THE DEAD” LP and “STIGMA DIABOLICUM” from “BONDAGE GOAT ZOMBIE”. Extreme Music is not here to calm you down, it must get the blood pumping, heart racing, provoke rebellion and perhaps shock the mind. This is what BELPHEGOR stands for. I hope people can’t wait to get the new offering, titled “TOTENRITUAL”, and support us, so that we can continue marching with maximum strength worldwide! Hope people run to get the new offering, titled “TOTENRITUAL”. Mark the 15th of September on your calendars and be prepared for this overdose of “Diabolical Death/ Black METAL” sound collages! Hail!!
Christina Thompson/MHF Magazine