Interview: Asphyx

I think it's even more bombastic than its predecessors. The guys, they grow every time we make a new album so they're more experienced in refining the sound.

Asphyx have a long history when it comes to making the most vital death metal on the planet and with their monstrous new album Necroceros, they show absolutely no signs of stopping. Gavin Brown had a chat with Asphyx vocalist Martin van Drunen to discuss all things Necroceros and Asphyx including their new video, livestream, tentative touring plans and playing live in a pandemic as well as his time in fellow death metal bands Pestilence and Bolt Thrower.

E&D: The new Asphyx album Necroceros is out now. How did the experience of creating and recording the album go?

Martin: The whole creative process before, took quite a while. First of all, obviously, you have to have enough material to compose the tracks and then you just start to arrange them, so that took quite a long time, like a year before Paul started to write intensely about things before the pandemic. Then we did a few recordings in November, 2019, I think about five or six, it was kind of like jams in the studio, but the songs were not strong enough yet, we still had to work and shape them and then all of a sudden, the pandemic came in and we were like, no shows anymore so we might as well make the best out of it and see if we are allowed to hit the studio and start jamming and finish everything off. It took us actually only two weekends of jamming to have the drum tracks and once you have the drum tracks and the arrangements of the songs then the guitarists can do whatever they want and I could start writing my lyrics during the lockdown. That’s it in a nutshell, how we did the album and how we made it but yeah, it took, like everything, a lot longer than I just explained.

E&D: Do you think the pandemic and the situation that unfolded helped, if that’s the right word, rather than hindered the band when you were making the album?

Martin: For us and for me, it was a help. Like I said, when the drum tracks were ready and I knew the rough guitar lines and of course, I knew this because I helped arrange them so I know roughly where the vocal parts will be so I immediately know where I’m going to do the vocals on it. When the boys were recording the guitars at home, I was at home writing all the lyrics and we were in the middle of the first lockdown in the Netherlands and outside it was almost apocalyptic, there were no cars, there was no one outside. I was like, to write lyrics with, this is a perfect thing because no one was bothering me. I didn’t get any disturbance, no distraction, nothing. I think I wrote it in a couple of weeks and I was even like finished with my lyrics before the guitar parts were done. I was like, wow, that’s unique. That never happened before. Usually I was always too late, people were waiting for me.

E&D: Would you work like that again in the future, as strange as that sounds?

Martin: It sounds really silly but I was about to say that, for me, it was perfect purely to write the songs with. If it was said to me, we are going to record the album and the material is there, give us two months of lockdown and it’ll be done haha! We don’t want that of course!

E&D: What is the Necroceros that the album title refers to?

Martin: It’s a self-made fantasy monster, a huge entity. I guess if I imagined it myself, it’s like as big as a planet and it consumes celestial bodies no matter what, it can be stars, it can be planets or the universe itself, not only destroyed, but it consumes all that live of it, the energy and it has no mortality the way that we have it, so in a way it cannot even die. It’s part of universes but It’s a fantasy thing, but yeah, it is it is an atrocity of course.

E&D: You’ve just brought out the video for the single ‘The Nameless Elite’. What was the song about and how much fun was it making the video in front of the tanks?

Martin: That was great fun. I mean, honestly, I personally, and I think the boys too, we don’t like recording videos because you’ve got all this playback rubbish, and it’s basically like, put us on a stage and record us the way we are, that would be the most honest thing. I don’t know who it was, but one of the guys in the band came up with contacting this war museum. I go, what, yeah! It was the Overloon War Museum, not far from Arnhem where, of course, the big battle was and Market Garden Operation market was there. The Sherman Tank took part of it really, it was used, so they dragged it outside of the museum so, yeah, that was great fun, and they were really operative. Fantastic. Then they gave us a guide afterwards so we could see all the things in the museum themselves, and they got us a cup of coffee or to warm up a little bit because it was November! Normally we have the same weather as in England, you know, rain, rain, rain but it was really a wonderful weekend. The temperature was mild so we weren’t freezing in our t-shirts. It was good fun, you know, standing in front of the tank and putting the smoke machines up and all that stuff was absolutely great. The video clip was great, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with the content of the song except itself apart from the fact it is a bit war related. It has to do with soldiers, people may think it only will refer to the SAS, which is of course a UK unit, but it deals with more than that. Basically the whole song is about all these special trained units, from fighting behind enemy lines and special tasks that they had in times of war that changed a little bit into becoming anti-terrorist units nowadays. Of course, the SAS was the first special forces unit there was, started I think it was to assassinate Rommel, the Desert Fox. Afterwards, all the other armies worldwide, followed it up, like the Americans with the Navy SEALS and the Delta Force and the Germans now have I the GSG9, the Israelis, of course, have fantastic special forces as well. This one was basically about those men and women fighting, basically, for you and me because no one wants to get involved in some terrorist attack, like the ones that happened in France or in London or Berlin, there’s just terrible, so if they can avoid that happening, well, then they’re doing a fine job.


E&D: Do you feel that the new album is the heaviest Asphyx album yet?

Martin: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s the heaviest, because soundwise, I think it’s even more bombastic than its predecessors. The guys, they grow every time we make a new album so they’re more experienced in refining the sound. Now together with Sebastian, the new, mixer, they really had a great time together even while doing so everybody seemed to have enjoyed themselves while setting the sound up. Afterwards, they only send me the mix when the guitar players, Alwin and Paul, when they’re happy with their sounds, and then they go, okay, leave Martin out if we’re still experimenting with all kinds of stuff, but send him something when it’s concrete, so then I get that stuff and I go fucking hell fellas, this sounds bloody marvellous! I’m really chuffed with it.

E&D: This is the 10th Asphyx album and 30 years since your debut album The Rack.  How does it feel to be making such vital and extreme music this far into your career?

Martin: I don’t really stand still about how it was. I mean, we just enjoy what we do, all these years of performing live and the concerts that we do and going all over the world and playing everywhere and then still being able to make albums like Necroceros. Yeah, we just enjoy what we do and I’m just grateful for it and I just cherish it as long as I’m able to do that, because unfortunately I already lost a lot of friends and colleagues along the way, That happens of course, when you grow older but that makes you really aware of the fact that you do grow older and you’re not a kid anymore. I mean, I’m 54 years old now, and I can still go and onstage and rage and go crazy, of course I feel completely knackered afterwards and it takes me one or two days to recover from it, but I’m still able to do so! As long as I can do that, I will because yeah, this is a passion, this is in my gut since I was a little boy and bought and heard my first Kiss album when I seven or eight years old and that hasn’t changed, so I’m just really glad and grateful for it.

E&D: You’re doing a live stream show for the release of the album. Are you looking forward to that?

Martin: Yes, but it’s not that I look forward to playing without an audience. Not that I’m not looking forward to it but what I do look forward to is to be able to see the guys again and go on stage with them and play the songs from this album. Three thing with us is that traditionally, we always do a so-called release show where we play the whole new album, because you don’t get much opportunity just to that so, usually when you play somewhere, people want to hear the old material as well, so you have to shift what you’re going to play over the last album. It’s going to be great but unfortunately it’s without audience, but we thought, okay we still want to do that. We still really want to play these songs live for one time because we may never get another experience of a show like this, a livestream. In a way it’s also a challenge, I mean, no matter what we are going to enjoy it, but If I could choose between this and like tomorrow playing to a crowd. I would definitely prefer the latter. Definitely. I guess it was a little discussion in the band. Yes or no and in the end we did decide, okay, let’s go for it. We’ll have a good time, a couple of beers and see if people enjoy it.

E&D: Will you be playing the album in full at the show?

Martin: We’re not sure really. I mean, let’s say at least 80% of it, but we’re going to practice this coming weekend and then we will see because Paul told me that there are certain songs, especially with the guitars and melody parts of which he is not certain. He had to work that out live and if it’s possible, yes, we will play the whole album. My plan is that it’s just simply from song one till the end, even in the same order and if we have time extra left afterwards, play maybe a few classics afterwards, but yes, the intention is the whole album or I can promise like 80% at least.

E&D: What are you live plans once gigs can start happening again?

Martin: To play live as much as we can!

E&D: Have you got any tentative plans or is it just a wait and see scenario?

Martin: No, I mean, we are self-managed except for the fact that we do have a booking agency D19 which is run by really good friends of ours with a passion for metal. They just keep on booking because you have to be there and you have to be ready once the situation is changing for the positive. We do keep on booking, and I just heard from someone that there is a UK show for London in October, I think, on a festival. I think by that time we should be okay but one can never tell because that’s what we said last year in April and I could never imagine now. We were recording the album, starting at the end of March and we were quite sure that we would be able to do a normal release and then look where we are now, we have to do the stream, but yes, we keep on booking and make sure that we’re ready to go if things change for the good. I don’t see it happening in the first couple of months but yeah, maybe a slight chance, maybe at the end of Spring or Summer and even then maybe we can do the same as we did in Germany in November, where they had special kind of COVID shows with a limited amount of people or visitors allowed and they had to sit,

E&D: How did it feel to play in that environment?

Martin: At first, we were really skeptical, to see if it would be the same actually but it was a pleasant surprise afterwards because you see the people and they go completely crazy while sitting, just banging heads and screaming along and throwing a fist! It’s not as it should be, but at least they were having fun and that’s what it’s all about and then afterwards they came up to me and they were so damn grateful for it, like, Oh, we need this, we just can’t go anywhere, thank you very much guys for doing this and all that. Then you get the gratitude and so much positive feedback from them. That’s what makes it all worth it in the end, I mean, if you give us a stage, no matter where, no matter how, we go for it, that’s just how it is. It was special. It’s an experience that will probably never happen again, at least then we knew what to expect. If I’m honest, it was very positive in retrospect, absolutely. I would do it again if they were to say to me, okay, tomorrow you’re able to do another show like that in Germany, I would go for it, you know?

E&D: It must have been a unique experience!

Martin: Exactly, we actually had three of them. Two were where people were sitting and the other one was where they were separated in smaller groups by fences, but they were able to stand so at least you had the German authorities, they gave a goal for promoters. The last one was weird because they really wanted us to have a negative test result, which was really hard to get in the Netherlands but it was okay and it’s something you’ll never forget that’s for sure.

E&D: Going back to yourself as an artist, who would you say that your biggest influences are on yourself as a vocalist?

Martin: Well, there’s Lemmy, Cronos from Venom, then there’s Jeff from Possessed and of course not forgetting Chuck Schuldiner with his fantastic voice. John Tandy came after when I was already involved in the music so he’s not really an influence but someone I admire. I think those are the main ones, I mean, Lemmy was the first to do loud music without having a melodic voice. Everybody just considered Motörhead as a pile of noise because of that. That was kind of new and very loud, and Venom, Cronos was the first to come like an over the top Lemmy! That completely blew me away when ‘Welcome To Hell’ came out and that’s something I remember, I had the lyrics in my head after two weeks of having the the album as a kid.

E&D: It was a long time ago now but do you look back on your time with Pestilence with fondness?

Martin: Nowadays, yes. I mean, the thing is of course, like everything that happens, you everybody only talks about the negative things, but yeah, I can think of lots of good things that we did and I can dig up a lot of good memories. A lot happened with Pestilence, believe me, and just to mention one thing, but we set up and we did the whole thing whole ourselves, we set up the first real death metal package in Europe with Bolt Thrower and Autopsy, the three of us going through Europe and nowadays that’s just unimaginable doing that. That experience was bloody worth it, us, Autopsy and Bolt Thrower just having a bloody good time every evening. It was amazing, so yeah, I can dig up so many good memories. I like to to keep the good ones in mind instead of the negative or the bitter aftertaste that came after my departure of course but it doesn’t mean that that I not want to see the fine things that we did.

E&D: You mentioned Bolt Thrower there, obviously you sang with them on a couple of tours, did you enjoy your time with the band and was that a good experience as well?

Martin: It was a bloody honour, especially because I’m a Dutchman, so here I come into a full 100% English band and I’m the bloody cheese head! We had the same kind of humour you know, slagging each other off all the time and everyday was, it was a feast. It was an honour and I think it will be an honour for everybody to go on stage with a band like that. I’m still really sad about the tragic loss of Martin because people forget that, him and me, I mean we are both called Martin, but we entered the band at the same time. He replaced Whale and I replaced Karl but we met each other for the first time in the practice room when to Birmingham to practice with them. So when we first hit the stage, it was for the first time together, on that stage, and it was really special. When I heard of his departure, it’s still deep, you know, I mean way too young and way too good of a man. All the people they gave me all the hospitality and a fantastic time when I was in England practicing with them for the first time, that was brilliant. Only wonderful memories now.

E&D: What have been some the ultimate highlights for you in your career in metal so far?

Martin: Tons of them! there’s so many! I just mentioned the shows with Bolt Thrower. There was also the first Party San show with Asphyx back in 2007, when we reformed again. The thirty years anniversary we did a couple of years ago with all the old members hitting the stage. The adventure is South America. The list is too long. It’s just a never ending tour of pleasure really. Now, it’s drawn a bit to a halt but believe me, we will continue once this crap is over! I just cherish everything and everything is a special experience really.

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