October 10, 2014 Interview – Helmuth of Belphegor
Austria’s Belphegor has been one of Extreme Metal music’s most consistent and well-respected bands over the past two plus decades. Steering clear of trends in the scene, the band has stayed true to their brutal approach, rising to broader international success with each passing album. Now celebrating their landmark tenth studio record titled Conjuring the Dead, Belphegor look to wow their fan base once again. Recently we sat down with founder Helmuth for a personal look at the world of Belphegor, staying true to their ideals, love for Metal music, Horror movies, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Belphegor began over two decades ago, and in that time the band has put together ten studio records, toured all over the world, and built a strong following. How would you describe the ride you have been on leading the band?
Helmuth – It is unreal when I look back. I never thought we would be around so long. I got to travel the world a few times, met many great Metal people, and played countless unforgettable shows. I have had the honor to witness impressive sightseeing and capture the spirit of many magical places. It is a pleasure, and I am thankful for it. It is great that many people in this genre still pick up our CDs and support us with that so we can survive and march worldwide with full capacity. There were a lot of sacrifices through this period of time. I remember the first decade, we often did not know what we would eat the next day, everything pumped in the music and the records, it was tough but all worth it.
CrypticRock.com – It seems all the hard work has paid off over the years with the respect Belphegor has earned in the Extreme Metal scene. The band’s style certainly derives from Black and Death Metal roots. Over the course of the years the sound has certainly progressed, while still sounding like Belphegor through it all. What has inspired you as a songwriter to push the boundaries of the sound?
Helmuth – Belphegor has always played the brutal Death Metal. The press often labels us as Black Metal, I never liked that. Death Metal was the main influence, we have tuned guitars lower since the beginning, aiming towards our music becoming more intense, to develop the soundwall, adding new elements, and always using a lot of growls. Also the verse content is about exploring your own mind, walking one’s own path, and to hail freedom. We never kneel down for any god nor to any institution. Topics such as perversion and blasphemy are also an important aspect when it comes to Belphegor’s lyrical content. I describe myself as an Atheist. I use the philosophy about Satan/Lucifer – the Light-bearer in our lyrical content as a proud, exalted, majestic figure who resisted against all influences. A seducer, tempter, one to make his own decisions, walk his own path as a rebel and a mocker against the masses; victorious!!
CrypticRock.com – The band certainly does blaze their own trail. It is important to stand on your own without allowing too much outside influence effect your creative ideas. You have been the driving force of the band since the beginning with a variety of changing members, excluding Serpenth who has worked with you since 2006. Has it been a challenge for you at all to work around the changing lineup of musicians?
Helmuth – Belphegor has been a two piece band since the end 2006, and that probably will not change. You know though, I learned something the last decade, never say never. Well, we always recruit experienced session musicians for stage rituals to guarantee a killer show for the audience.
We do not betray our supporters and do the “all is great” band thing. Many bands talk about how good friends they are, and then you play with them, see them acting backstage, and a bunch even do not talk to each other… ridiculous. I am talking about bands that are in the business ten plus years. Most professional bands nowadays are one or two pieces with hired guns as well, you know. It is not easy to lead a band, such as Belphegor. Democracy does not always work. That is just how we roll. Musicians who play with us must be METAL, understand our vision for the band, and be able to handle the physical intensity of our shows. The core is in command and it is perfect as it is, I just do not see any reason for a change.
CrypticRock.com – Fair enough, if it is working the way the band is configured, then why tamper with it. Now as you mentioned, nowadays bands usually have one to two members and a lot of hired musicians. Through all the changes in Belphegor, you have managed to be extremely consistent over the years and average a studio album every two years, even with regular touring, which is extremely impressive. How do you balance the time to write and record new material as quickly as you do?
Helmuth – Belphegor is still brutal and consistent, rolling in worldwide like a World War tank. I breathe and love Metal, it is my number one passion. Sounds like a cliche, yeah I know…but it is what it is. There is not a day where I am not listening to Rock/Metal, whatever you want to label this music.
I practice playing guitar often, so it all came naturally to me. When I start a project, the songwriting for a new LP, I play eight or more hours a day for months. Total silence, alone, calm in our rehearsal bunker. I create art in total isolation. Sometimes I need months for a track, sometimes years, like for the exalted “Rex Tremendae Majestatis”.
CrypticRock.com – That dedication is extremely commendable. Working as hard as you have over the years, it seems to be that the band really garnished the most mainstream awareness in the Metal scene with 2006’s Pestapokalypse VI, which many would agree is a perfect blackened Death Metal piece. Looking back on that album, what do you think made it so special?
Helmuth – If I look back on Belphegor’s discography, I am proud and have to say we did some good work. Even when the band is gone, the magic of Belphegor will last and stay eternal. It is sort of a “Pactum in Aeternum”.
I do not want to pick out any album. Each LP has something different to offer and was, at the time we released it, “special” to me. Furthermore, we never tried to label ourselves a “blackened whatever” band, that movement nowadays is trendy, I do not want to be part of it really. We have been doing our own thing since the end of 1992, and we survived all those boring trends, saw a shitload of marketing whore bands come and go. They were never important for the Metal scene, it is plastic-music you can listen to while sitting on the toilet, worthless. Belphegor still marches on and on, glorifying extreme music. That is what matters.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and the band certainly does not follow any trends judging by the work of each record you have put out. I know you stated your prefer people not call the band metal, but in your opinion, what do you think about Black Metal, and do you feel perhaps the message in misunderstood in the mainstream?
Helmuth – I do not care about scenes, to be honest, I never did. I support what I like and ignore the rest. Music-wise, we have nothing in common, with the let’s say orthodox Black Metal scene. But do not get me wrong, I dig those bands, mainly the ones hailing from Scandinavia. I appreciate and support bands that practice what they preach, it is very rare nowadays. The brutal, extreme, “fuck you/against everything spirit” went to the dogs a long time ago. The Extreme Metal scene nowadays bores me to death, and I do not feel any rebellion, especially when I listen to newer bands.
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting. It does seem as if the true rebellion in Extreme Metal is perhaps a little stale in recent times. Of course that is not to say there is not still some interesting fresh music being produced. Now Belphegor’s 10th studio record Conjuring The Dead was recently just released. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
Helmuth – We have had the honor to work with many talented people. We always experiment and change things; bring in new blood to keep the spirit alive. The collaboration with Erik Rutan was great. Conjuring The Dead has the best, or lets say tightest, guitars I ever tracked on a Belphegor release. Erik really can motivate you to get the best out of you. Sometimes I thought, fuck man, what does he want from me? It was great, he forced me again and again to try harder, at the end it all was worth it, and all the sacrifices through these three years.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a great working experience. The record does feature a lot of experimentation along with some really great Death Metal guitar work. With all that said, it is also an extremely straight-forward album as well. How important was it to you to continue to introduce new elements while keeping the record straight-forward?
Helmuth – It is sort of a “Best of Belphegor”. You find everything we stand for, all our typical trademarks, and yes we added several new elements. I have to admit, you hear many NWOBHM influences, which to me was one of the best movements when it came to Metal.
Here is a track break down, we tried new elements and experimented within our style, which is important for the evolution:
“Conjuring The Dead” – Speaks for itself. A sound wall forged in hell, exalted and evil!
“In Death” – Is about my return on stage and front my band again, my experience with dancing with the dead. It is a fast forward Death/Thrash Metal track.
“The Eyes” – Is an intermezzo, it calms everything down after the first five brutal sound collages. I played the classic acoustic guitar and over that, you hear a lead guitar screaming.
After “The Eyes”, we start with this technical Death monster entitled “Legions Of Destruction,” with guest appearances from my favorite Death shouter Glen Benton of Deicide and my favorite Black/ Avant-garde vocalist Attila Csihar of Mayhem. I appreciate their vocal styles and what their work brought to the extreme Metal community. It is an honor that they put their magic on this track.
For “Rex Tremendae Majestatis” we added a lot of classical tones in the guitar department. The title is taken from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s last composition, “Requiem”. He wrote it in his deathbed. He knew he would die soon. The song has influences by this composition when it comes to the intensity of the atmosphere. I have to be careful with such statements; I’m not a composer like MOZART, he was a genius. This track is exactly what I felt, which my aim was, as I started creating “Rex Tremendae Majestatis” and when I listen to “Requiem”.
On “Flesh, Bones, and Blood” we also touched a new territory. The track comes with an industrial feeling and Slam Death Metal guitars, with a ritual atmosphere in the chorus.
The outro/epilogue of “Pactum In Aeternum”, all played with nature instruments, most self made, a lot of parts there are played with real bones (humans and animals), menacing and dark! They were created by Kramatach, an archaic cave band from Austria.
While high speed massacres like “Black Winged Torment” and “Gasmask Terror” are typical Belphegor Tracks.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great breakdown of the album. Seeing that you are extremely passionate about music, what are some of your musical influences?
Helmuth – Eddie Van Halen, Gary Moore, Steve Vai, Chuck Schuldiner. Slayer’s Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, Judas Priest’s Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing, and Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle had a huge impact on my playing. My biggest influence was Yngwie Malmsteen when it comes to virtuoso lead guitars. His tone and speed is impressive. Also, Classical composers like Brahms, Mozart, Bach, etc caught my attention. Mozart’s “Requiem” is amazing, one of the most intense pieces of art on this planet.
CrypticRock.com – That is an intense mix of metal and classical music. Many would say Classical music has a similar intensity to that of Metal. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Helmuth – Yes, I dig Horror, movies in general. All that deal with darkness, themes inspired by the devil, or different views that are blasphemy towards the sheep-minded society. The ones which really caught my attention from back in the day besides, Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), were The Evil Dead (1981), The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973). I also want to mention Hellraiser 1-4 (1987-1996), Silence Of The Lambs (1991), and the impressive Name of The Rose (1986). Those changed a lot in my life. Another honorable mention would be Pier Paolo Pasolini´s the 120 Days Of Sodom (1975); a taboo-breaking novel by French writer Marquis De Sade. After I saw the movie, I remember most people didn’t expect such an intense film and ran out of the cinema (laughs). I started reading De Sade, even read several biographies, and was overwhelmed. Since the Blutsabbath (1997) I have used a lot of original poems from De Sade in Belphegor´s lyrical content. Also I need to mention that I enjoy all the zombie stuff as well as the Wrong Turn series ( I-V, I wait on VI) and the two stunning remakes of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977), The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007).
My all-time favorite is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Man, I saw that at least thirty times. I collect memorabilia from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I have at least ten t-shirts by now, an iron shed, and of course a Leatherface mask and sculpture, it is rad. I love that movie, I also enjoyed the re-makes, especially the first one that came out in 2003, it was a good piece of work. I had the chance to see all of these cult movies at the cinema on the big screen. They were shocking and many great scenes come to mind when I think about that era of horror. Some of the most memorable scenes for me from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were when he bashed the hammer on that guy’s head and threw him into the slaughter room,..the one where he put the girl on the butcher’s hook, and of course that über-sick scene where they have the dinner, and old grandpa has to try to slay the girl’s head with the hammer, and he fails because his hands are so shaky! On Belphegor’s Walpurgis Rites – Hexenwahn (2009) I used a sample from the dinner scene for the title track’s outro.
Also, Mr. Rob Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) were also was great. Rob!! Do another part of either of those, it would be great. Also Stephen King’s Under The Dome (2013), the first season was great. I am waiting for the new season to start here in Europe..