ARS VENEFICIUM – Damnation of the soul and songs of chaos
About a month ago I received a copy of a truly ferocious and sinister album entitled "The Reign of the Infernal King" by a Belgian black metal horde known as Ars Veneficium, and I was blown away not just by how intense and aggressive it was, but also by how cleverly written and highly atmospheric it was. The songs were catchy and memorable yet pitch black and utterly claustrophobic. Occasionally, some underground jewel is unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses that leaves us crushed and yet begging for more. "The Reign of the Infernal King" is one of those jewels. Eternal Terror Live recently caught up with Ars Veneficium vocalist S. to discuss the birth of the band, the creation of their latest musical assault, and the importance of each and every aspect of a release. Read on, and do not forget to check "The Reign of the Infernal King" out once you are done reading this.
Hails S.! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Could you start out by telling us a bit about the early days of Ars Veneficium and how this blasphemous ensemble came into being? Who approached whom, so to say? Whose idea was it to launch the band?
S: Hey, thanks for asking us. Where to start? I first had another band…well, I had many other bands to be precise, but I was one of the two original members of Eratomania, a two-man band that I started together with Galgrat in 2010. In 2012, we had two drummers joining the line-up. First Sorath, who left the band again after only a few weeks due to personal matters, and then Vorthar who took his place. After several months of rehearsing and changing the whole sound of the band, I recruited a new guitarist, Ronarg, who I came across by accident. However, only a few weeks after Ronarg had joined the line-up both Vorthar and Galgrat decided to leave the band. It was a shitty day I can assure you (hehe), but that same day I called Sorath on the phone and recruited him back on drums. After a few rehearsals, we agreed it was for the best to change our name since our style was completely different from what Eratomania once was. Then after a month or something I was reading a book by Ixaxaar and came up with the name Ars Veneficium, which both Sorath and Ronarg found suitable for this style of music. Therefore, a new band was born under this blasphemous name, so I guess everything came to life through me as I brought everyone together.
Considering the fact that the band is relatively new in that it was vomited forth in 2013, you guys have been pretty active and productive from the start. Apart from your brand new assault entitled "The Reign of the Infernal King", you have released two EPs, a single, and a split EP with Azaghal. Did you write any songs for the full-length album in-between those other releases or did you start from scratch following the completion of the split release and work up that batch of nine vicious tunes that constitute "The Reign…" just before entering the studio?
S: You can say that we are productive, but the two EPs share the same songs. The second EP is basically the first EP on a tape version with the other side containing the live recording of our very first gig with the original first full line-up. It was something that I wanted to get out to make the tape version a bit more special. As to our new album, many of the songs on the full-length album were already written before the split with Azaghal, to be honest. For instance, "Damnation of the Soul" and "Angel of Angels" were written even before "Night Preacher", which was on both our EP "The Abyss" and on the split album with Azaghal. You could say that we wrote the material for the full-length album between 2014 and 2015 and we started the recordings in September 2015, but we had many delays during these years because of line-up changes and also three mini-tours in early 2016.
I love and cherish the morbid atmosphere and inhumanly foul stench that emanate from "The Reign of the Infernal King". To me, it sounds as if nothing was left to chance and that you had a very clear idea of where you wanted to go, not just in terms of the music and lyrics, but also production wise and in relation to the artwork adorning the album. Everything just fits together and each aspect enhances the other. What was the atmosphere in the studio like when recording this most malevolent of opuses? Like I said, it just sounds so driven and focused. Was everything planned in minute detail or did you work quite intuitively on certain things in the studio?
S: For my part, everything was planned out very well. When all the songs had been written and the lyrics were done as well, I could already imagine the artwork for this album, so I had my friend from Opposition Artworks draw the whole thing and he really followed my descriptions to the smallest detail for which I truly thank him. I also had a very clear view on how I wanted the album to sound like, and that is one of the main reasons why we sent it to Wolfthrone Studios in Finland, because I know this guy very well and I knew that he would try to make it sound the way I would like it to be. He did a very great job on the mixing and mastering, and he paid close attention to my notes and opinion. The recording of the album itself was done in pieces; drums were recorded at Mortsella Studios and all the other instruments and vocals were recorded at Archcaust home studio. We each took our time during the recordings and basically did it all alone with only Archcaust around to help with the recordings, so we were not distracted by the others, and I have to say that worked out well.
As I mentioned before, every part of the cryptic puzzle that is "The Reign of the Infernal King" seems to form a part of a much larger whole in which things are all connected and go hand in hand. How important is the idea of the "gesamtkunstwerk" to you?
S: To me, it is very important. I think an album is more interesting when the artwork reflects what the lyrics preach. That is why I had a very clear view of how our front cover and inlay/booklet needed to look. The music, lyrics and the artwork represent the album as whole.
I noticed that Ronarg is in charge of composing the music while you conjure up the poisonous and inspired lyrics. Are the songs then arranged and structured collectively, or do each of you bring more or less complete ideas to the rehearsal room for the others to learn? I was just wondering how the song writing process within Ars Veneficium flows from A to Z.
S: That is correct; Ronarg does compose all the music regarding the instruments. He writes the music and then sends it to me for final approving to see if something needs to be changed or not. Then when we think the song is okay, we send it to the others to learn and practice at home for the next rehearsal. Meanwhile, I write the lyrics to the music so the song is fully finished.
Thematically, Ars Veneficium seems to be rooted in death, darkness, Satanism, chaos, and occultism. You could probably add way more to that list. Could you elaborate a little on the subject matter of the lyrics as well as the importance of them and what they mean to you on a personal and philosophical level? Do they reflect your personal view of the world, so to say?
S: My lyrics are based in those themes, yes, but they are also very personal. I have a great obsession with thoughts about dying and what comes after, so to say. It is hard to explain these feelings/thoughts, but they are reflected in my lyrics. In addition, I do channel many views and thoughts on a personal level about things that I write into the lyrics. I have a very clear mind when it comes to topics that are very personal and it might sound strange to say this, but I would prefer not to unfold myself in full on this matter.
How do you feel about performing live? What have your shows been like so far? I must say, the live recordings that are included on the 2015 cassette version of the "The Abyss" EP are quite intense, aggressive, and sinister. I can imagine that your gigs are somewhat ritualistic in nature, at least from your point of view given that you are the artist exorcising those demons up there on stage. Am I right in this assertion?
S: I like to be on stage very much, I believe there is no greater feeling for an artist. To perform your music through a live ritual in full is truly amazing! Our shows have been good so far. A few bad ones where we barely had no fans because of bad promotion, but we also had a few gigs that stood above all others such as our fly-in show in Tallinn, Estonia, which was probably one of the sickest so far for us. The energy that we got from our fans was simply put insane! I always try to live out my lyrics as much as I can on stage, and when fans go mental during our show that only brings out more of the beast in me (hehe). Speaking about our live recordings, I think we can include this gig among one of our best ones as well. It was our first gig and we were an opening act, but we got such a good feedback that only pushed us forward and now after three years we have finally released our full-length album and played in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia…
Are you involved in any other bands and projects nowadays or merely focusing on Ars Veneficium? Speaking of other bands and side projects, how would you briefly characterize and sum up the black metal scene in Belgium? Is there a lot of camaraderie between different bands, or perhaps rivalry?
S: I am still involved in a few studio projects, one example being Hammerstorm, but I mainly channel all my energy towards Ars Veneficium now. There was a time when I had six or seven bands at the same time, but I no longer have the time for it. I have never been a great fan of the Belgian scene, to be honest, but I do have many friends who also play in black metal bands. I think we pretty much have a neutral vibe going on between the bands, which is good, I think.
I really liked your "The Abyss" EP, which was released by Immortal Frost Productions a couple of years ago. Musically speaking, that is a very strong and solid release. How do you look back at your debut release and are you satisfied with the outcome?
S: I agree, the song writing of the music on our EP is pretty strong and solid, but the recording sound was a bit out of place. When I listen back to our EP (which I rarely do), I find it sounding very raw and not properly mixed and mastered, but I guess every artist has this kind of view on his previous releases when some time has passed. I mean, in the overall perspective, it sounds okay, but it could have sounded so much better.
Now that I mentioned Immortal Frost Productions, perhaps you could tell us what the aim of the label is and what it is that you strive to achieve with it? Is there an ideological and/or a philosophical agenda to the whole thing? I must say, you have released some rather impressive albums so far, and your mail order is pretty well stocked too. It must be a lot of hard work to run a label properly these days.
S: My goal with the record label has always been to support, release and distribute quality underground records. I will not say that I focus on only one kind of black metal. As you can see, there is a lot of variety between my releases ranging from traditional black metal to even atmospheric post- and melodic black metal. I have a very open mind with respect to that point of view, and I also focus more on the greatness and honesty of the music that a band presents me. Immortal Frost Productions is surely growing a lot and we are also expanding very fast, but it does indeed come with a lot of work. I spend between four to eight hours nearly every day on the record label, and in the weekends, I work entire days at it. In addition, having merchandise stands at festivals and smaller shows is a part of the job, which takes me anywhere between a whole day to three-four days away from home sometimes. So yeah, I do not have much free time since I also have a normal day job.
Apart from promoting "The Reign of the Infernal King", what are you guys currently up to in terms of band activities? Are you composing and writing new material these days or rehearsing for future live activities?
S: We are actually doing both, to be honest. We have been rehearsing weekly since August now in order to prepare us for some album release shows coming up in November and some other shows in 2017. In addition, Ronarg and I have started writing some new material for a new release, which shall be entitled "In Sin, We’re Blessed". This will be a split release with the great Ulvdalir from Russia!
Will your upcoming material be in the same vein as those songs that comprise the full-length onslaught? Do you see Ars Veneficium breaking out of the black metal mold and perhaps venturing into different genres and styles of music down the road?
S: I think Ars Veneficium has found its sound and we will probably keep it that way. Of course, as you can hear on the full-length, we have a lot of variety throughout our songs from ongoing blast beats to very melodic phased guitars and further on again to darker and slower-sounding parts. We try to combine many different ways of playing and rhythm in our music, but I do not think we will ever start mixing our music with a post- or symphonic kind of black metal, if that is what you are asking.
One thing that really struck me when I checked out your back catalogue is that there is a red thread present throughout your discography in the sense that some of your trademarks are present in all the songs whether they date from 2013 or 2016. This indicates that you had a clear vision of how you wanted to present Ars Veneficium from its very inception. One can easily hear that Ars Veneficium performs all the songs, but one can also discern a progression and evolution from the "The Abyss" EP to "The Reign of the Infernal King". What are your thoughts on the musical evolution within the band? Is there a conscious decision to continually develop and refine the lethal sound of Ars Veneficium, or is that more of a subconscious thing that comes naturally to you, something that you do not think about and that evolves organically all by itself?
S: It is a bit of both, I believe. Some of the things I think through for a long time where others just seem to follow from where I/we left off. Also, since the band is mainly founded on two members creating all the music and the vision behind the band, it is rather easy to spot similarity in everything that we do. The likeness in all our songs is to be blamed on the fact that it is basically only one person writing all the instrumental parts. If you have more people writing music, you will get a diverse kind of album, I think. And sure, we wanted to develop our music a bit, but more in the sense of recording quality and the sound of the album. You can hear the difference between our EP and full-length regarding this matter very clearly, but this is something we wanted to do as I explained earlier on regarding the EP. Also, the song writing gets more professional as we grow every day as a band but also as individual musicians.
How did you get into metal music in the first place, and was there something or someone in particular that inspired you to become a musician yourself?
S: I have kind of always listened to rock and metal (e.g. bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden…), but also other genres that were played on the radio when I was younger. I think I started to get more into metal around the age of twelve followed by bands like Slipknot of which I still have their live DVD from 2002 when I was twelve years old. This surely pushed me more into the darker sounding kind of music and eventually when I was thirteen-fourteen years old, I was completely sucked into black metal. I started playing electric guitar when I was fourteen years old followed by becoming a vocalist of my very first black metal bands when I was fifteen years old. When I was seventeen years old, I bought myself a drum kit, but I never had the room to practice them until three years later when I started Eratomania. Nowadays, I just focus on vocals again, but that all can change in the future…
Could you list a handful of your favorite albums and tell us what they mean to you and how they have inspired you over the years, both musically and lyrically (and perhaps even visually in terms of album artwork)?
S: To name my favorite albums will be difficult since I have a personal music collection of around 2000 CDs and a couple of hundred vinyls…but I can probably name some of my favorite bands. For example, Elffor and Blaze of Perdition are both some of those bands that I am following for a long time. Elffor is a medieval-inspired atmospheric black metal band that can really take me on a relaxing journey. He has been a great source of inspiration for my studio band with Josh Young called Hammerstorm. As to Blaze of Perdition, I have followed them since their very first full-length album, "Towards the Blaze of Perdition", when no one yet knew this band. I was really blown away by their music; two vocalists singing through each other on the album was really something different, and the second album, "The Hierophant", is probably my most favorite one along with the split with Devathorn! Still to this day where they have already released three full-length albums, a couple of splits, EPs and compilations they still manage to surprise me with every release they put out. A few other bands worth mentioning that I listen to or have listened to a lot perhaps are Erebus Enthroned, Ulvdalir, Pestilential Shadows, Sacrilegious Impalement, Inferno…
Thanks once again for doing this interview. Best of luck to you guys in the bleak future. Any final words, comments, or insults to the fanatical readers of Eternal Terror Live?
S: I would like to thank you and Eternal Terror for the amazing review of our album and also for the interest with this interview towards Ars Veneficium. Also big thanks to all the readers and of course our fans out there who are supporting us – hopefully, we might share a stage close to all of you.