Perhaps one of the wildest and most revered names in Death Metal is that of ASPHYX, a Dutch band that have been known worldwide for its unique sound and uncompromising views. Since its reincarnation almost 5 years ago, the band made path for future band reunions, while keeping true to its musical roots and working relentlessly to carve its 25-year old name anywhere possible. While hordes of metalheads anticipated the release of “Deathhammer”, we made contact with ASPHYX’s infamous vocalist, Martin Van Drunen, who not just breaths Old-School, but makes sure everyone does the same. Together we not only discussed current events, but also went all the way back to the Middle Ages, through the formation of HAIL OF BULLETS and his days in BOLT THROWER… Fucking hell!
OV: Hail Martin… How is it going?
Hey man! Everything is alright, but it’s freezing here… we have some Russian winds… it’s probably hotter over there, where you are!
OV: Not too much actually… Well, “Deathhammer” is about to be unleashed. Are you still getting excited about new releases? Do you have any expectations from it?
Yeah, definitely! Well, you know, every album has its own unique character. In my opinion, “Deathhammer” is our best album to date, so yeah, I’m expecting quite a lot from it.
OV: I understand that the name “Deathhammer” is based on “Witch Hammer”, which is some sort of guide-book from the Middle Ages, about how to interrogate and punish heretics. Care to explain the connection?
Yeah, you’re right. Well, there wasn’t any real “Witch Hammer” book, it’s more of a treatise that dates back to the Middle Ages, so it’s just the name that we liked. You know, Middle Ages stuff used by an old band… can’t be bad!
I guess you can say that! [Laughs]… In any way, there are two reasons behind the album’s title, the main one is me wanting the word “hammer” in it. The second reason that connects to “Witch Hammer” is that much like that treatise which deals with witches and false heretics, “Deathhammer” is like a guide on how to make real Death Metal, without all this modern “oh, look how complicated we can play” attitude, which comes from all these bands who proclaim to play Death Metal.
OV: Speaking of, ASPHYX is known for its old-school approach to music… I wanted to know what is your opinion about “modern sound” or “overly progressive” Death Metal?
You know, it’s not a problem for Paul [Baayens, Guitar] to show his level of musicianship, but we see no need of it. It’s more about the atmosphere and the general way of the songs. The music does its thing, not the progressiveness or shit like that. When we do a concert, we do it simply to have fun and enjoy the songs, not to mess around with how “complicated” or “extreme” the riffs are.
OV: Do you even consider going into new directions with ASPHYX’s music or will you continue on the “true” path ’till you’re done?
We’re always influenced by different aspects of music but ASPHYX is ASPHYX… it’s not like that one day you’ll get a totally different album from us, because we only experiment in what seems to fit musically.
OV: In your eyes, are there any major differences between “Death… The Brutal Way” and the new album?
Oh, hell yeah, definitely! I mean, they’re really different in their approach and overall atmosphere, and at least according to some people, the new album sounds way more enthusiastic, like we really enjoyed it, even more than on “Death… The Brutal Way”. Moreover, the songs are different from each other as far as the lyrics and general message. I would also add that “Deathhammer” was recorded in a more laid back kind of mood, yet it’s more aggressive than the previous one.
OV: Indeed the album was recorded at the familiar Harrow Studios, where you did your first two albums. Was it any different now, than back when you first recorded there?
It was really different. Back then, we recorded “The Rack” just in 3 days! It was quite intense but that’s what we were back then… we recorded the instruments altogether in the rehearsal room, which forced me to record my vocals on a different occasion, otherwise it would’ve been covered by the guitar’s tone. This time, we were much more relaxed, more confident about ourselves and we knew exactly how we wanted the album to sound.
OV: Speaking of your early years, why did you actually leave ASPHYX back in ’92? What happened when you guys came back from that tour with BENEDICTION and BOLT THROWER?
Ah, that’s a tough one [Laughs]… I don’t know, really. It was basically for… well, for no reason. It was all those little things between us that surfaced every time or we would argue all the time about some stupid things. Actually, when we re-formed the band, we tried to talk about it and figure out the reasons behind that split, but none of us knew why!
OV: At least you didn’t beat each other up…
[Laughs]… It almost got to that point! But, you know, if those problems would have surfaced today, now that we’re adults – we would’ve simply talked about it and reach a solution or let it slide somehow. I’m 45, the lads are all grown-ups with families and jobs… we don’t need that kind of bullshit anymore.
OV: That year when you quit, the band released “Last One On Earth”…. I understand that originally Ron Van Pol [ex-Bass / Vocals] was supposed to do the vocals, but the label specifically requested you. Is it true? What exactly went on back then?
Yep, you’re absolutely right… The label did specifically ask me to record it. I also wanted to do it myself since all the lyrics were mine… it’s a funny story, really… the band had already finished recording the instruments the other day and while they were on the way back to the studio with Ron to record his vocals, I was already finishing up in the studio! I simply preceded them. Just when they entered the studio, I was leaving. They came up to one of the guys over there, and he asked them “what are you doing in the studio?”, since the vocals were already finished, and they didn’t understand what he was talking about! Then, he told them that I just recorded it, alone in the studio, a minute earlier… [Laughs]… they were very pissed!
OV: You were also a member of BOLT THROWER for a while. What can you tell me about your time in that band? Did you enjoy it?
Yeah! We were all in good relations with each other… I really like BOLT THROWER, especially “The IVth Crusade” and “Warmaster”, great fucking records! By the time Karl the vocalist left them, I knew the rest of the band quite well and I was friends with them. You know, when you’re touring with more bands all the time, eventually you get to know their members beyond the shows… they knew me, knew my vocal abilities and threw the offer to the air and told me to practice with one of their albums to get to know the material and the lyrics… Overall I think I was practicing some 300 or so hours of BOLT THROWER material. Eventually I took a flight to London, met with the band and started rehearsing with them, it was really good and they liked what they heard, also, they were quite amazed that I knew all the lyrics by heart already! It was a fun period until I left the band.
Actually it happened more or less at the same time, so not really. Me and Paul were in a bar, along some of the guys that were to be in HAIL OF BULLETS. During that session, I got to know some of the guys better, because nothing makes you familiar with someone unless you drink with him… Eventually, we decided to finally form a war-themed, crushing and straightforward Death Metal act. Because it happened almost in parallel with ASPHYX’s re-formation, it was very good for me to return to the old material and start a flow of writing and rehearsing, with both bands.
OV: So you can say that forming HAIL OF BULLETS was intended to fill-in a musical gap or need?
I guess so. The thing about HAIL OF BULLETS was simple – create a straightforward, no compromising Death Metal war machine. It’s not like ASPHYX in many ways, for example the concepts are different and the music is different for the most part of it. The atmosphere is also not the same.
OV: Speaking of, what is the current situation with HAIL OF BULLETS?
Right now we’re all taking it easy. Last year and the year before were filled with gigs, festivals and recordings. We hope that our next album would be ready by the end of this year, or the beginning of the next one.
OV: Indeed, two years ago you performed in every hole on the globe…
[Laughs]… Yeah man, it was crazy! Last year was also awesome. It’s hard nonetheless, and that’s why we’re taking it all easy this year.
OV: What stood behind the decision to make ASPHYX’s reunion gig at PartySan Open Air in Germany? Why not back home, in Holland, with your local fans?
To tell you the truth, we simply had the most offers from PartySan. I mean, they were requesting us every year… also in each year, there is this poll aimed for the crowd, where they can rate and choose the bands they would like to see next year and guess what – ASPHYX was rated 1st place time and time again! PartySan is an awesome festival, we all like it… it’s the kind of music we like and it’s the kind of audience that fits us! The organization is really good and come on… we couldn’t do it for example, in Wacken! I mean, having ASPHYX besides BLIND GUARDIAN or some shit like that? No way! [Laughs]… Oh, I have another story for you!
OV: …One from the Middle Ages?
No, no! From PartySan in… ehm… last year?
OV: A year before, you mean…
Yes! Exactly! [Laughs]… About two hours before we were supposed to be on stage, the other band members weren’t anywhere to be found. The manager came up to me and asked me where in hell are the rest of the guys?! I was just drinking and having some fun, so I told him that I don’t have the slightest idea… Eventually I called them up with my cell-phone and I found out they were still at the hotel, eating supper and making half of the staff nervous! [Laughs]…
OV: Cell-phones in the Middle Ages? You’re advanced!
[Laughs]… Hah, yeah!
OV: ASPHYX wasn’t the only “old-school” band to re-emerge in recent years, with names such as DESULTORY and MORGOTH soon to follow. What do you think of this phenomenon? Does the Internet have anything to do with it?
I think it’s great! I guess that some people are pretty much sick and tired of these new bands… You can definitely see the affect of the internet on the masses. Today, in contrary to the past, there are a lot more 15-16 year old kids in the crowd! Some years ago, this was a rare sight. You know, to them it’s exactly what they’re looking for and that’s what missing for them in today’s mass of Metal bands. They’re looking for that genuine sound I guess. The internet made it possible to get music pretty easy. Yeah sure, some bands are getting hurt because of this but I think that if a kid downloads an album and then goes to a gig, or buys a t-shirt or even better, saves up to buy the real album – then it’s alright!
When I was a kid, I didn’t have spare money and I understand these kids. I worked as a kid and saved up every penny I had to buy a record. All of my friends did the same, so basically what we would’ve done is get everyone to buy different records which we all wanted, and then we would record them on tapes and give to each other. To me, the whole internet thing is the same only without the “effort” of recording to a tape. You and your friends don’t need to buy an album just to check out a band, you just e-mail a song to each other, or link them to YouTube, or I don’t know what… it’s all easier – but it’s the same.
OV: Would you say that today, in general, the enthusiasm about ASPHYX is bigger, than back in the 90′s?
It’s definitely large, but I wouldn’t say that… For example, when “The Rack” was released it was worshipped! I guess you could say we were at the top. But as I said earlier, with the internet today it’s not a problem to reach out to more listeners, all around the world.
Well, I first started to read a fictional trilogy about the war, and it was told from a German soldier’s point of view. So, at first he’s at the beginning of the war, then he’s in Stalingrad, then in Berlin. That book about his time in Stalingrad had the most impact on me. I read quite a lot, so it’s not a problem for me to finish a book in 2-3 day’s time. As it goes, one thing led to another and I started looking up more events and battles in WWII and read everything I could find about it. The stuff just won’t end. You can spend your whole life reading about it, and there will always be more books and a whole lot more stuff to learn. It’s never-ending and it’s really interesting.
For example, fighting in minus 30 degrees, under the leadership of a lying tyrant that you don’t even believe his words, you can’t feel your legs and you can’t manage to think of anything… You’re Israeli, I don’t think I need to explain to you the impact it had on the world… the single war that brought the British Empire down and turned it into just another country in Europe. It was the whole world participating somehow, that’s why it’s called World War. I like other topics in history as well, but I leave WW1 to BOLT THROWER – that’s their territory!
OV: I’ve seen that on your upcoming tour, Israeli-based band SONNE ADAM, will be supporting. Have you heard them? Do you know any other bands from Israel?
Yeah, I’ve heard them already and I think they sound great! We’re always on the lookout to perform with bands that are either similar to us or that we like. I hope that for SONNE ADAM it would be a good experience, too! I don’t know much about the Israeli scene, come to think of it. SONNE ADAM are very good and I think it’s good that bands know how to create that unique material. Besides them, I also know… Ah, I know SALEM which is another band from the Middle Ages, like us… [Laughs]…
OV: SONNE ADAM, as well as bands like VALLENFYRE and NECROS CHRISTOS are part of this new wave of Old School based Death Metal. What do you think of this type of bands?
Hell yeah, I meant to mention NECROS CHRISTOS! I also think they’re really good. They manage to play in a certain atmosphere, a really dark one but without being dragged to mix in Black Metal influences. I think that the whole wave signals some kind of a positive movement, when the listeners and bands are drawing away from the current “fashions” and are going back to their roots.
OV: Back to “Deathhammer”… How would you describe it to newer and/or older fans of yours?
In short, if you know ASPHYX, you know what you’re going to get! It’s a brutal album, and in my opinion, even more brutal than our previous ones. I’m sure that our old listeners will be glad when they listen to it. As for our newer listeners, they’re in for a brutal ride… I’m also expecting to hear what your opinion is!
OV: Worry not, as I’ve already heard it – and it’s crushing!
[Laughs]… Thanks man! I really appreciate it, and I’m glad you like it! Be sure to tell me that in person, in some festival… if I’m not drunk.
OV: I already did that with “Death… The Brutal Way” and indeed you were a bit drunk…
[Laughs Hard]… Really? Was I? Well, that happens!
OV: Is there any specific song that has a special meaning to you on the new record?
I like all the songs but tracks such as “Minefield” and “Der Landser” bear some more significance to me, since they come from the stuff that I read. As we talked about earlier, I’m very much into WWII, and what I read and connect to – I later on vision it in my mind. These visual sights, or imaginations, connect to words and lyrics. Through the lyrics, I draw my view of the situation, I portray it. The title track is also special to me, simply because it’s one of the best in the album and also because of the fact that I managed to record the vocals in a single take. Other people already told me that the title track is one of the best parts I ever did, but I don’t really know how true it is…
OV: How does one brutal person such as yourself, like to relax? Do you have any non-violent hobbies?
Well, I’m not that violent… so, like I said, I enjoy reading, I can spend a whole weekend just reading my books. I enjoy spending time with my girlfriend from Germany and her kids, or you can often catch me watching a good movie. That’s, of course, besides my interest in music, duh!
OV: Where do you see ASPHYX in 5 or maybe 10 years? Still breaking necks?
To tell you the truth, I don’t know! We’ll keep on doing what we’re doing because it’s fun, because we enjoy it. That’s what it’s all about, no? Having fun and making music that you like.
OV: Finally, I give you the stage, Martin. Is there any important message you’d like to pass on to our excited Israeli Death Metal maniacs?
For starters I’d say that I don’t know much about your scene, but I hope that one day we’ll manage to have a gig in your country. We’ll even make the Palestinians to attend! [Laughs]… To all our fans in Israel, thank you very much for your long lasting support and interest in ASPHYX! It’s highly appreciated!