BELPHEGOR – Spells of Reflection
The pulverizing black/death metal horde from Austria known as Belphegor recently placed yet another sinister musical curse on us by means of the highly engaging and captivating album that is “Totenritual”. The band has been spreading its violent plague for decades now and is better and stronger than ever before. There is very little not to like about the brand new album and so naturally Eternal Terror Live (via our collaboato Jens Nepper) simply had to have a chat with the great man himself, Helmuth (guitars, vocals), about the theme of the album, different sources of inspiration, life on the road, and just how brainwashing TV truly is. Read on, folks, and do not forget to check “Totenritual” out as it stands tall and proud as a brilliant and cohesive piece of work that will satisfy any bestial desire and craving you can possibly think of.
Greetings, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions of mine. Much appreciated. First of all, how are you doing?
H: Everything is under control. TOTENRITUAL just came out on the 15th, and there is a lot to do in connection with promotion such as interviews etc. I guess I have done 80+ interviews already. We will soon kick off extensive touring and are pleased so far with the responses to this album. Everything is great and we are ready to march on the road to hell and glorify diabolical Death/Black Musick with the hordes.
What is the atmosphere within the Belphegor camp like these days now that your new bombardment entitled “Totenritual” out? I can imagine that there is a lot of excitement within the band but that your schedule is pretty hectic as well. Could you elaborate a bit on its theme, idea and/or concept, musically and lyrically speaking?
H: It is still BELPHEGOR to the bone, don’t expect that we follow a trend or sell out like many wastes of oxygen and spineless bands. We are still anti-god and anti-life, that’s what we are at present and always. We have been using a lot of original poems for decades, from old books and various obscure sources. These consist of spells/poems/chants and so on, mostly in the original language in order to not deface the intended meaning…that’s why our lyrical content comes in English, Latin, and the German language as well. Latin, the church speech…it’s utter blasphemy to mock them in their own language. German verses also sound very harsh in pronunciation and give the overall feeling a brutal approach and atmosphere. It’s also a kind of unique trademark that we use three languages since 1997. “THE DEVIL´S SON” deals with the life story of the Italian violinist Niccolo Paganini, written from his point of view. He had very pale skin and always dressed in black. His virtuoso violin performance and [demonic] technique of precision and his appearance with his long limbs, nimble fingers, and joints led people to the idea that he must have been possessed and had a pact with the devil. Very interesting indeed. The song is blasting with ultra-fast shredding guitars and a classically influenced arrangement. I don’t want to reveal more here so you will have to wait and listen.
“APOHPIS – BLACK DRAGON” the ruler of darkness and chaos – incarnated by evil, the black dragon, indestructible. He always takes the forms of dragons and serpents. If you look into his eyes for too long, you die. He is said to be the oldest enemy of the sun god RA [RE] in Egyptian mythology, born from the saliva from goddess Neth. Vocals on this exalted track are in four different languages.
For this exalted brutal hymn we also added a 4th language; ancient Egyptian from an archaic book of the dead [Toth]. I’ve been on vacation to Egypt three times. I’ve visited the Giza Pyramids (been inside a Pyramid, über-impressive, same as I stood on top of the sun Pyramid in Mexico, an honor that I had the chance to travel to such magickal places), also traveled to the Valley Of Kings, Luxor, Museum in Cairo where I saw the mummified Tutankhamun and the golden mask etc., so I know what I’m talking about. “BAPHOMET”, the song is both a chant and a metaphorical description of the ancient Baphomet deity. The church considered it an enemy and a demonic character, so naturally we enjoy using it against them to mock their ignorance and witless fears. The sabbatic Ritual Goat, a divine androgyne, the creator. Power absolute. Goat God Dominus! The arrangement deals with the duality of life. Man – Woman. Death – Life. Fire – Water. Human – Demon, Love – Hate. It is also about discipline, freedom, and the will to walk your own way “alone” without letting someone else deciding things relating to your life. Its essence is purity in solitude. When two become one, all is silent. There have been many old rituals for understanding the Baphomet since it is not a deity to be summoned, but rather one to become. There are influences from these rituals in the text. That is the reason why it is written in the first person “I AM” style.
To me, “Totenritual” is probably your most cohesive and coherent record to date. I love the variety of it and the way in which it encompasses and covers everything from the violent and disgusting to the bombastic and even beautiful. Mind-blowing stuff! “The Devil’s Son”, “Swinefever – Regent of Pigs” and the title track are two of your best compositions to date. As I said, there is a lot of diversity on display. Was there a certain approach to writing and recording this album that differed from what you had done previously? Was there a desire or need to experiment more this time around?
H: Yeah. It’s our most diverse LP so far. Thank you for your appreciation. I’m really proud, each song has its own moments. In addition, we tried not to include too many melodies this time, so everything is colder and grim. We set out with the intention to and achieved the goal of making every element fit together and work as a whole, while being compelling on its own. Our main idea in mind was to create the most brutal heavy offering we have consecrated so far. The drums are uttermost blasting and very technical with loads of breaks/fills and tempo changes. The bass is like a panzer tank rumbling through the terrain. The four rhythm guitars aggressive and with a demonic obscure tone. Also, think this is my most varied and best vocal performance so far. I have growls, grunts, screams, spoken words, chants, even monk choirs. I’m really proud on this album, everything pushes the limits of anything we have done before. On “SWINEFEVER – REGENT OF PIGS” and “TOTENKULT – EXGESIS OF DETERIORATION” there all also shrieks form bass player Serpenth. He also does live vocals a lot, to try to produce this high/low vocal together also on stage.
The fact that many of your tunes have an almost nihilistic vibe to them and provoke, inspire, and excite me as a listener is one of the main reasons I keep coming back to your albums. To me, there has always been a sense and a spirit of rebellion and resistance running through your song material, kind of like a constant musical and lyrical evolution that seems to exist in a sphere of its own. I have no idea whether that makes sense of not, but is that fiery trail of rebellion something that is of vital importance when it comes to Belphegor and its growth as a band and an art form? It seems to me that you have never compromised and given a fuck as to what is popular or trendy. From my perspective, you have carved your own path. Would you agree?
H: That’s what we do, to grow, develop, and overcome obstacles, which is only possible if you leave your comfort zone. I am an Atheist with some Nihilistic views and am hermetical against the so-called mass consumer society. People get more and more degenerated, it’s painful to see how the human race goes downhill, brainwashed by TV etc. and dig their own graves in the name of greed and power. That’s why I stopped watching TV years ago. It’s a terrible propaganda medium. I travel the world so I don’t need that. I make my own opinion about it when I am in this or that country. We’ve never cared to follow any trend or to even bother mostly with what other people have been doing. I’m inspired from all kinds of sources that I come by on a daily basis, be it books or sometimes experiences on the road while I travel the world. I have my eyes open for magick when traveling to new places and meeting the Metal community worldwide. Anyways, the devil is a powerful fictional figure. I use the myths of for example Lucifer, the Light-bearer in our lyrical content as a proud, majestic figure who resisted against all outside influences. It is not a religion to me, a religion involves superstition and worship of something outside of oneself and that is just pathetic, no matter what religion or deity it is. Satan is the Christian’s own invention, and they see him as their enemy. So the old saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” works here. Christianity is a terrible and vile religion, and I have always been opposed to it, full of disgust and fury towards this oppressive institution. It feels natural to use their own antagonist against them. I don’t kneel down, nor pray or crawl to any god.
The “Totenritual” cover artwork is stunning. A superb piece of work. Is there a certain symbolism or meaning behind it and how does it relate to the actual music and lyrics? What are some of your thoughts on it, or your interpretation of it, if you will?
H: Well, first time we worked with Seth from Greece for “PESTAPOKALYPSE VI” album 2006, followed by “CONJURING THE DEAD” in 2014, and now we collaborated with him again. And it was the right decision, together we created a “cold, obscure homage to the dead” artwork. I was dead for 6 hours hanging on machines and brought a lot of bizarre visions back from the twilight zone I was in at this time. I remember still how it felt like months to me, so I guess I know what I’m talking about here.
I’m very selective when it comes to cover artwork. It’s important to me that the album’s musickal and lyrical concepts are represented in the cover art. Each artist and I work together, starting from scratch to formulate the main concept all the way to the fine details until its kinda perfect in my opinion. Dead and decaying is everywhere, and that is what “TOTENRITUAL” represents.
You recently performed live at the Inferno Festival in Oslo and the two bonus cuts on “Totenritual” were even recorded there. Was it one of those shows were everything came together and just clicked? How did you like the festival, by the way?
H: It was the third time we were invited. It’s definitely very special to us, the spirit, the people that are around this kult festival, and it was just great and we did an obscure, ritual for you Scandinavian demons. It was a pleasure to shred our evil incarnated sound collages in the hordes. For BELPHEGOR, and hopefully for the people as well, a night to remember. Magickal!
When composing and writing songs, are you quite spontaneous and intuitive, or the other way around? What about when working and recording in the studio, do you like to experiment a lot while there or is everything more or less set in stone before you start recording?
H: We sought to leave our comfort zone and yes, we are spontaneous and intuitive, but also put a lot of planning and rehearsing into creating an organic but deathly tight arrangement. Therefore, we combine these elements during the composing and arranging process. We rehearse for weeks as a group in the rehearsal bunker, to let the pieces become flesh and grow into a monster. Yes, we experiment always within our trademark sound. The main changes are definitely in the drum department. Bloodhammer has been in the band since 2014 and the best drummer we have had so far. He’s very technical and adds a lot of fills and details. That made it easy to reach a new level of extremity for us. In addition, we decided that we needed a new fresh guitar end tone, so we tuned guitars even lower than before, way lower, so everything sounds more obscure and fukking heavy, exactly as we wanted it to. I’m so pleased with this guitar sounds, so that inspired us and it was a challenge for all three of us.
Given that your discography is quite impressive, I can imagine that it must be quite challenging to compile a set list whenever you are about to tour. Does every member of Belphegor come up with suggestions when it comes to putting the set list together and do you ever feel that you have to compromise whenever you are about to tour given that many fans want to hear some of the classics and yet you have a new album out that you want and need to promote?
H: From the new LP we add “SWINEFEVER – REGENT OF PIGS”, the single “BAPHOMET”, “TOTENKULT – EXEGESIS OF DETERIORATION”, “THE DEVIL´S SON”, and “TOTENBESCHWÖRER” to the main set. Yes, after 11 LPs it’s not so easy anymore, but we try to please ourselves first, you know, and go for the faster tracks in a live situation. We aren’t about groove and other commercial bullshit, we are representing a hell-blasting Death/Black commando, one of the most extreme bands in a live situation on this planet, and that’s the essence of BELPHEGOR. To go on stage, plug in, and crush the Holy Spirit with our evil-incarnated sound walls.
Could you briefly tell us where you met the other two members of Belphegor? Do you guys go way back?
H: The drummer has been in the band since 2014, Serpenth (bass) inked a huge BELPHEGOR logo on his stomach, so that was the point where we said we wanted to recruit Bloodhammer (drums) as a permanent member, that’s dedication and showed us he’s the right man, of course a very talented drummer. Serpenth joined already in 2006 as Sigurd (former guitar player) left the band after 13 years because of health and private issues but again wrote lyrics for the track “SWINEFEVER – REGENT OF PIGS”. The title speaks for itself. I guess it’s the most brutal, attacking track on “TOTENRITUAL”.
What does the title Totenritual connote or refer to? Does it refer to something historical and/or occult? Obviously, one can read different things into it, but I was just wondering if it had a specific meaning to it or if there were different ways of interpreting it? Does it summarize the content of the entire album or is each track to be viewed as a separate musical entity? Is there a red thread running through Totenritual?
H: First of all, this title means "ritual of the dead" in German. It represents for us how we see the progression of society. Human beings are the most self-destructive species on this planet and invests incredible amounts of time and money on the invention and production of homicidal instruments. Just look around you, they are killing each other and poisoning each other every day, finding new ways to ruin our health and landscapes. The craving for modern luxury and convenient pleasurable living is now a debilitating sickness and addiction. You know, it has a lot of meanings to me. People should make up their own mind. It represents also the lyrical content of our anti-god – anti-life attitude, which is absolute darkness, isolation, and all that is obscure and non-conformity.
How do you like performing at more intimate venues compared to large festivals and arenas? I watched you perform at a rather intimate venue in Copenhagen once and that was simply pulverizing and crushing. There was something special about watcing you guys perform up close and personal like that. Any preferences yourself?
H: Both have their moments. I wouldn’t like to miss small shows nor huge open airs, both are great and appreciated as long as people are into it. I don’t care about how many people are standing in front of t the stage. It doesn’t matter if we play in a sweaty small club for 100 people and crush, or an open air for 20000 people and crush them too. The goal is always to try to give our best and celebrate an outstanding ritual with the audience where everyone, i.e. audience and musicians, fall into a trance and bring forth forces from another realm or dimension, stemming from the musick and the bizarre atmosphere.
I would love it if you released a new live album containing songs from the last few studio albums. There is a lot of good material there. Would you consider releasing another live record at some point? It has been a while since the “Infernal Live Orgasm” record.
H: No, that’s done; nobody is interested in those things anymore. People ask for a live DVD since years. If we do something of that nature then this will be our next project.
Just out of curiosity, how do you feel about meeting fans on the road and at venues and so on? Is it ever draining and tiresome or do you still get a kick out of staging your insane and chaotic rituals on stage in front of a maddening crowd consisting of sick bastards?
H: That always depends, you know. What I adore, like let’s say Inferno Festival for example; we have played there 3 times now, it’s like coming home. We have hundreds of venues on this planet like that. I read it and know, “Great, I love this shithole,” and we return there…or have good memories of course as we played there before. It’s also exciting to march into new territories, there are a few left to be destroyed by our sound, we are ready and loaded. In addition, we hope we are invited again and can return in 2018 to Norway and do some festivals over there again. European booking contact: Belphegor@aon.at<mailto:Belphegor@aon.at>
You have been recording and performing music for decades now. Is it ever not fun to be a working musician? Where do you find the inspiration to keep going and still deliver great shows and so on?
H: We have been at it for 24 years. 2018 marks 25 years where we will re-release a 3-album set via Season of Mist. The important thing is to keep the inspiration, to stay excited, and put passion into everything the band releases. You know, it’s a fight to survive. But still, when we do a great Ritual and the audience adores it, the band adores it – it gives you so much energy back and it’s easier when you think of it when in a situation where you struggle, it’s like overcoming things and let the inner demons out to dance and hovering above you. It’s a passion; it’s everything to play a great Ritual.
Speaking of inspiration, what inspires you in terms of writing lyrics? Life in general and people that you encounter, or perhaps books, paintings, photographs, and/or movies?
H: I adore all types of books on the occult, strange things, necromantic, cannibalism, serial killers, but also horror topics in movies. Everything that is dark, anti, and non-conformist grabs my attention. I had many chances during my life to learn and know that real life is way stranger than any fiction. Visual components are as important as everything else to BELPHEGOR, the Musick, the verses; all must fit together and be represented by the title and the artworx. Of course, the musick thrones above all. The first time I created verses with Mr. Dyngen Espen, a shaman as I would describe him from Norway – a real Viking, blond hair, blue eyes – he was very important for the lyrical content and influenced the whole album with his fresh ideas and visions. He also contributed many amazing lyrical content and we worked together for months for the best verses we ever had so far. He is a fascinating character who lives in the mountains, often alone with just natural surroundings, the elements. Life traveling on the road inspires me as well and visiting magickal places. Do not let anyone break your will nor let anyone get in your way and your ideas your visions, never easily give up until you are 100% sure it’s not doable, then try again. If it’s still not working, then fukk it…March on and try to make the next visions come true, never give up, overcome things; you will otherwise regret it when you get older. Amen!
What are some of your thoughts on how the music industry has changed since the turn of the millennium? Nobody seems to pay any attention to the album format anymore. People pick single tracks and then compile playlists as opposed to listening to an album from beginning to end. What are your thoughts on all of this?
H: You know, we do what we are best at. I try not care too much about it all. I’m not a preacher to tell people what they have to do, I just show ways and possibilities to be an outcast and walk your own way and not feeling depending on the masses. Oh well, it makes no difference. We have been here for 24 years, we survived all these trendy movements and disgusting spineless sell-out bands, and we are still here, stronger than ever before. We’re unstoppable. That’s what I believe in, in willpower and strength to fight for your ideals and do your own thing in your own Reich, walk your own way and decide for yourself.
Any final words to the scummy readers of Eternal Terror Live?
H: Thank you for this interesting chat and space in ETERNAL TERROR. I’d like to mention that the digipak version of the album comes with two bonus live tracks, both recorded in April at Inferno festival in Oslo 2017, with the titles “GASMASK TERROR” from the “CONJURING THE DEAD” LP and “STIGMA DIABOLICUM” from “BONDAGE GOAT ZOMBIE”. Scandinavian hordes, check out the new album titled, “TOTENRITUAL”. Hail Death! Hail Magick!