Interview conducted July 02 2009
Interview published July 07 2009
It says Passendale on the street
sign in the little village with its huge Tyne Cot cemetery and memorial
centre. He's passed it many times on the way to Isaac's for their notorious
drinking sessions in Ypres, not far from the French border
God Dethroned have done it again
- three years after the release of the monstrous The Toxic Touch, they've
returned in 2009 with Passiondale, a colossally heavy return to form,
harkening to the days of Bloody Blasphemy, one of my favorite albums of
all time. So, I'm sure you can imagine how I felt when I was asked to
do an e-mail interview with the band's founder, The Serpent King, Henri
JuuKun: Hey Henri, first off let me say
thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Might as well just
jump right into it, then, and start at the beginning. Was there any particular
moment in your life, a particular album you heard, or performance you
witnessed, that made you realize this is what you wanted to do?
Henri: Yeah, I heard some songs off the 'Leprosy'
album by Death on the radio ! It totally blew me away. From that moment
on, there was only one thing I wanted to do. I was determined to play
guitar in a Death Metal band. I was also a big fan of Paradise Lost,
Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel and Entombed. Those bands gave me loads
of inspiration back then.
You formed God Dethroned in 1990. It is now almost two decades later,
and you are still standing after a brief split in the early years, and
numerous member changes. Did you expect it to last as long as it did?
Henri: I guess not, but then again, what can
you expect? It was pretty rare for a Dutch band to get a record deal
anyway, in those days. I'm pretty fanatic when it comes to playing
in a band, and I sacrificed a lot; but I never regretted it. The numerous
line-up changes did not happen actually. I mean, if you don't count
the split, then we have our second bass player now, and our third
guitar player. I think that's not too bad, considering.
JuuKun: If you had not become involved in
music, what do you think you would be doing right now?
JuuKun: I was able to catch your set at
the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival in 2007, and it was great,
though as I recall you only had the time to play five or six songs. Do
you have any songs that are your favorites to perform during a live set?
Henri: It changes over the years. Some songs
I have played so many times already, that I hate them by now. The
good thing is that we vary our live set from time to time. So, sometimes
we put a song back into the set that we haven't played for a number
of years. That way we keep it interesting. Right now I'm happy to
play songs off of 'Passiondale' live.
JuuKun: On a similar note, are there any
older God Dethroned songs that have not been played in a long time that
you would like to play again?
Henri: Yes, for example "Poison Apple",
"Firebreath", or "Grand Grimoire". Sometimes a
song gets ditched because we feel it's not good enough anymore, or
it doesn't do that well live. Then some time later you try it out
again, and one song can be surprisingly good; while some others just
dissappear completely. It's funny to see that some songs do better
in certain countries than others.
JuuKun: Looking back, can you think of what
gig sticks out as your favorite God Dethroned show?
Henri: No, there is not one typical favorite
show, but there are many highlights like playing big festivals such
as: Dynamo Open Air, Wacken Open Air, etc. I've always enjoyed touring
too. We toured with many great Death and Black Metal bands such as
Cannibal Corpse, Immortal, Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, etc. I have
really good memories of those tours as well.
Was there anything that made it like that?
Henri: The festivals were great because you
play for thousands of people, like 20,000 to 30,000 people sometimes.
When they start screaming your lyrics you think you're dreaming or
something. It's almost surreal...
JuuKun: If you could choose to tour with
any two or three bands, past or present, who would you pick?
JuuKun: One of the biggest music-related
issues these days is illegal downloading. Some say it's going to kill
the music industry, some say it's the best way for people; especially
when it comes to more underground bands, to find your music in the first
place. What's your stance on it?
Henri: I think when it comes down to promotion,
the internet is a perfect medium, but when downloading is killing
the music industry, then I don't know what will be left. Labels need
money to invest in bands so they can come up with quality albums,
and they need to promote them. Losing money will maybe destroy the
quality of it all.
JuuKun: After only the release of your debut
album - 'The Christhunt', the band broke up until you reactivated it a
few years later. Do you care to elaborate on that at all?
Henri: I forgot most of it already. It was
just very difficult to find musicians with the right attitude. In
the years after we got back together, I'm pleased that I never gave
up, otherwise there wouldn't have been a band anymore, at all.
JuuKun: A few of your releases have been
accompanied by live CDs and DVDs from various God Dethroned performances.
Are there any plans, or have there been any discussions for a proper live
CD to be recorded?
Let's talk about 'Passiondale' for a bit. It features the return of the
'Bloody Blasphemy' era drummer: Roel Sanders. How did that come about?
After Ariën chose to make Epica a full time band, did you contact
Roel, or did he get in touch with the band?
Henri: We played a big festival in Holland
late 2007. It was already clear that Ariën would stay in Epica
permanently. He tried to combine both bands in the beginning, but
that didn't work. I bumped into Roel that day, and we talked about
the past. It became clear that he would like to return to God Dethroned,
so I talked to Arien about this idea. He actually loved the idea and
gave his drum seat up for Roel.
JuuKun: With the return of Roel on drums,
'Passiondale' is, understandably, a very heavy album. Was the return to
the older sound a conscious decision?
Henri: Yes definitely. The concept story behind
'Passiondale' is a harsh and brutal one. I decided to go back to the
roots, because I felt this way the music would represent the concept
better. Also, I felt that the previous effort - 'Toxic Touch' had
become an album which was too melodic and clean. We just needed to
do the opposite on 'Passiondale'.
JuuKun: Another change in the lineup is
the addition of guitarist Susan Gerl after the recording of the album.
Explain to me how this happened?
Henri: During the recordings of 'Passiondale',
some people found out that Isaac Delahaye wasn't in the band anymore
and contacted us about auditions. One of them being Susan. We all
knew her for some years, and we knew that she was fanatic, professional,
and also a really good guitar player. So we invited her for an audition,
and there she showed us that she's actually capable of playing Isaac's
leads very well. So having to choose between a person you know and
a bunch of people you don't know became very easy. You have to keep
in mind that there's 23 hours left in the day after you played on
stage for an hour. It's very important to be on tour with people with
whom you can get along very well, otherwise touring can become really
JuuKun: The new album is something of a
concept album about World War I. How, for you, does the writing process
for an album focused on one concept compare to a regular album?
Henri: In the beginning it was quite difficult,
because I wasn't used to writing eight songs that deal with the same
topic. However, once I got a few songs finished, it actually made
the whole process of song writing a lot more interesting, and I think
that's why I managed to write some of the best songs I ever wrote
in my life.
Did you have to do a lot of research during the writing process?
Henri: Yes I did a lot of research, but Isaac
helped me a lot with that. He lives in the city Ypres, where a lot
of the main battles of World War One took place. Passiondale is actually
the nickname of a village called Passchendaele near Ypres. Together
with Ypres, this is one of the main battle grounds in WWI. Since the
English speaking armies couldn't pronounce it, they nicknamed it Passiondale.
It was a war that merely took place in the trenches. Soldiers fought
with their feet in the mud, but nothing to drink or eat. The pools
around them would be filled with corpses, excrement, and remains of
mustard gas. Their friends would die soon, so they started friendships
with rats or things. Due to the lack of women, they fucked each other
up the ass. You can say that World War One was a pretty harsh war...
JuuKun: Wow! That is shocking, and gross!
I've noticed that your lyrics are very neutral, when you look at it -
they don't really take a particular standpoint. Was it your intention
to avoid any suggestive political messages?
Henri: Yes. I wrote all the lyrics from a neutral
point of view. We are not a political band, and we are respected by
fans in many countries and we want to keep it that way, since we respect
our fans in those countries too. Besides that, what's the point in
blaming a certain country for that war? The soldiers who fought had
nothing to win anyway. I was just so impressed by the things I read
that I wanted to write a concept story about it. No other metal band
had ever done that until now...
JuuKun: Iron Maiden did write a song about
this battle. Your nickname is "The Serpent King", and I personally
think your vocals are quite serpentine-sounding. Was that the origin of
the nickname, or did it start somewhere else?
Henri: It was more a joke of one of my friends.
He was actually the producer of the albums: 'The Christhunt', 'Grand
Grimoire', 'Bloody Blasphemy' and 'Ravenous'. On 'Bloody Blasphemy'
there is a song called the "Serpent King". He has called
me that, ever since we wrote the song.
JuuKun: Well, that is all I've got. I'll
see you in October in New York! Any last words?
also: review of
the album Passiondale