Interview: Jan Kruitwagen (Sammath)
Sammath rose out of the ashes of post-1997 blackmetal with a flair for classical-inspired architectural riffing within the shorter format of metal songs that were both listenable and radically opposed to the complacent normalcy invading black metal. The A.N.U.S. interview staff were able to intercept J. Kruitwagen’s cell phone from an abandoned ferryboat off the coast of England, and captured this interview by pretending to be investigators looking for clues about al-Qaeda.
What event or idea triggered your desire to release music? It seems like many play instruments, and only some go on to publish or be in bands.
When I first heard Gehenna “angelwings and ravenclaws” I was already writing music but not at all with the intention to release anything. This 7 inch inspired me the most, the atmosphere they created was something I really wanted to do myself. The only problem was that no one I knew wanted to record anything. I even used to play along with Slayer on a acoustic guitar before I had a electric one when I was ten, you have to start somewhere.
Are your songs designed around emotions, visual perceptions or purely musical “shapes”?
A combination of all. Mostly musical shapes, I try not to let emotion get in the way but thats impossible. You can’t write hateful black metal after you just had a great day with your girl. Watching a war movie on tv or old world war two documentaries really is the most inspiring. Reading about Stalingrad and the hell in the midst of war. The songs are all written the same way, I get the lyrical concept and build the music around this.
What things inspire awe in you?
Anything that deserves respect, in any way.
If you patterned your music after anything you found in your outside world, what were these things? Or do you see the patterns of the outside world as stylistic inspiration, and the poetic content of your songs deriving from somewhere else?
The outside world has its influence, even if you dont want it to. I would say that everyday violence, war, despair, hate finds its way into the music. I of course have never been or seen war. I don’t glorify war but the way destruction and chaos always win intrigues me. The content of my songs just appear and naturally find their way into a track. If my music should represent anything from the world outside it would be a falling bomb with the listener sitting on it.
What is the hardest part of songwriting?
The hardest part to songwriting is knowing when a track is finished and should be left alone, I have heard so many great tracks by other bands to that just take too long or have to many riffs jammed into twenty seconds. The thing about black metal is that it is a combination of feeling and music, no one of these should lead. Luckily noone interferes while I write the music. Sammath is just me, I have a great band for live acts but they don’t write any music.
You had a promo tape and a demo before your first album; how did the music of Sammath change across these three releases?
The first demo “zwaardbroeders bij de bergengte” 1996 (brothers of the sword at the mountain pass) was really underground, bad sound, but the ideas for later SAMMATH where there. At that time I had someone else in SAMMATH, due to total lack of interest I kicked him out. The music at that time was heavily inspired by early Emperor and Satyricon, not even close to their level of songwriting but the atmosphere on the tape was good. The second demo/promo tape “de ruines fluisteren (the ruins whisper) was a full length demo with eight tracks varying from fast black metal to old style black metal. Both these tapes are four track recordings. From the first demo to the release of the cd “strijd” their was only a improvement on the sound, the music grew as it should but did not change much in style. The only difference being that it started to sound more original, the SAMMATH sound.
How is the new album different from Strijd?
Verwoesting/devastation is more violent in every way. The keyboard is gone and the music is faster. The tracks are of better quality as is the recording. There are also more death metal influences, after seven years of pure black metal it was time to evolve. I spend two years on this cd, everyday two or three hours. I finally had the opportunity to work with Fridus Klaasen a great producer. He does not have any connection to the metal scene and usually just masters classical music. This way you get a fresh sound, not like all bands who record in well known studios. The lyrics are no longer about dark forests and so on but realistic, war, death, questions upon faith. The whole concept is more brutal, every musician always prefers the latest album, go listen to the tracks and compare yourself. The music has evolved from being a rip off of other bands to a SAMMATH sound.
What do you think of mp3 trading (Napster, WinMX, Kazaa, Audiogalaxy); has it helped or hindered the underground?
I think it helps in one way, everyone can hear your music. Problem is that less people buy albums, the value of a cd is just no longer what it was because of the easy way to copy a cd but the prices remain the same. I am not in it for the money; that’s pretty obvious or I would have been writing pop music but I don’t see why everyone should get everything for free, if you like the album buy it. If noone buys albums there will be no more scene. On the other hand, there are so many releases that are not that good at all that you want to listen to but not buy. Folter records has told me he has had no problems. I believe that the older generation still buys what they want. What I like is vinyl, the best sound for metal.
What things do you love? Hate? Do most things fall in between?
I hate everything that has to do with religion, satanists are just as pathetic as christians, anyone who needs to be part of a group is just weak. I also hate the political talk within the scene. A couple of years ago those right wingers tried to get into the house/ trance scene, those people didnt want it so they thought, lets go and try the black metal underground. Not much falls between. Love is not really much of an inspiration for this music. Hate turns to music.
Is belief, or logic, more powerful to you?
Belief is emotions and not realistic, except if you want a life as a priest so you can get through life without having to face reality and you get to meet al sorts of nice little kids. Feeling though is a big part of SAMMATH, hate, war. Belief stands for weakness and self made comfort to get through life believing heaven is their for you, the truth is you die, get buried and rot. If we are all god’s children then our father is a ruthless bastard. He probably listens to metal.
What do you see as the differences between black metal and rock music?
Probably the state of mind of those involved. I think rock musicians think money earlier. Black metal has more passion. We evolved from rock music to metal to even faster. Rock music is written for a large audience and black metal however you want it to be.
Which were your earliest influences in black and death metal?
The earliest influences are not at all black or death metal, too numerous but Coroner, Mortal Sin, Rose tattoo, Slaughter (Fuck Of Death), Autopsy, early Cannibal Corpse. Mostly local Australian rock/metal bands that I saw live. I still get very pissed off when I hear anything from the mighty Autopsy. The earliest black metal would be Gehenna, Satyricon. Celtic Frost, Hellhammer. Good thing about Celtic Frost and Hellhammer is that you can play along pretty quick and just stand their headbanging to frost tracks, gives you a good boost, “I can play this shit!”, then improvise my own riffs over the originals on the LP. I think I listened to the same bands as everyone who is now near to thirty years old.
You are referring to Sammath’s music (on the site) as being “furious black death metal.” How do you conceive of the unifying factors behind the labels we use for music and other things? is black metal an ideology, a musical style, an attitude or an artistic style only?
We have to label music, even if we don’t agree with the term. Everything needs a name so that people can place it somewhere. It is so damned pathetic but mankind needs labels for everything. I created the furious black death metal mainly for the t-shirt design. I thought it fits the music well. Some people agree some dont, who cares. Black metal is whatever i want it to be. It’s all that you mentioned above and more. Everyone has different ideas about black metal. I try not to get involved in all that discussion about what is true or not. Foremost black metal should be just a artistic style. Some people get so worked up about how it all should be, I don’t give a shit who does what as long as its fast and brutal. A lot of people look very evil but have no idea what they are on about.
It seems to me these days people are negative about nationalism for the most part, but I always think they have patriotism and nationalism confused. After all, nationalism used to mean pride one’s specific tribe or culture, and didn’t have much to do with the flag-waving and Iraq-bombing we see these days. What are your thoughts on this?
Its going to get worse, wait till the USA and Europe split in about ten to fifteen years. Due to the fact that the world is getting smaller and more crowded people are grabbing on to whatever they know and understand. This means that nationalism and patriotism are automatically combined. Here is the danger. Culture is also being overthrown by Nike, Coca Cola and whatever else. So every kid al over the world looks the same in their youth. When they get older they want to reunite with their culture from their own country, not liking what they stood for so the line between patriotism and nationalism fades. The whole Iraq bombing situation is just going to go on until the USA decides to listen to europe or bomb everything. It’s a great place for them to test weapons. In europe the fine line has also disappeared. You cant wear the dutch flag on your jacket because then you must be racist, as you already mentioned people are confused. “the timeless splendour of chaos”
What are your favourite sensations while creating music?
The whole process of writing music. When a track works out well and turns out the way you thought it to be. When you write music like this al is a great sensation, letting your ideas twist into brutal fast metal.
Do you listen to much metal? If so, anything notable of late?
Very much metal, lately I listen to mostly older stuff but some good new bands are Abominator from Australia, not that new but damn good, Trimonium from Germany also on Folter Records, I don’t really follow the scene as fanatically as a couple of years back. There are just too many releases. Older dutch metal bands as Sinister, Pestilence and German thrash is what I mostly listen to these days. I still have great respect for Sadistik Exekution, Destroyer 666 who still have that “fuck you” feeling in the music. The Dutch scene is growing very quickly and some good bands are starting to appear.
Do you think that popular music will ever turn toward being more like classical music?
Ha ha, not in the near future. Their is no way that popular music will evolve to anything worthwhile soon due to the fact that people dont care about the music. If it’s got tits its good. If it looks cool it’s good. Those forms of music are about as far apart as possible.
What bands do you think are most responsible for the black metal sound as we know it today?
Venom, Frost, Hellhammer, for the younger generation is would probably be cradle of filth and dimmu boring. I think the early black metal evolved differently everywhere, with its roots in the mentioned bands. Black metal in Poland has a quite different approach then the Norwegians. Those bands inspired thousands to pick up a guitar, bass or start beating on a drum kit. Mayhem and Darkthrone probably played a big part as well.
What activities do you have outside of music upon which you rely for inspiration?
Outside of music I teach history, not the teaching but history inspires me to write music in many ways. Read any account of a battle during both world wars and that should give many ideas. The vast universe gives enough to think about.
Where do you hope to take the band next? Any future evolution’s of the art form?
The next album will be recorded with a real drummer. Koos Bos is probably the fastest drummer i have ever met. I want to record the album with the band members. I play guitar so I play bass as a guitar player; that’s not good for the sound. Recording everything yourself also has its disadvantages. I want to go on tour sometime next year when i return from australia. I still have a contract for one more cd with Folter records. I am pleased with his work for Sammath and the new tracks that I have written are in the same line as “verwoesting/devastation” I want to master the art of furious black death metal.
Do you think there is an ambient or atmospheric quality to your music?
Definitely, hypnotising riffs. Not for all. It doesn’t have atmosphere as Mortiis does. I create chaos, chaos has its very own atmosphere, more straight forward in your face. Everyone burning candles and listening to ambient would probably disagree.
Please speak on anything I’ve forgotten, and talk about anything you’d like.
Thanks for the interesting questions, metal or die!
Really unreflective people are now inwardly without Christianity, and the more moderate and reflective people of the intellectual middle class now possess only an adapted, that is to say marvelously simplified Christianity. A god who in his love arranges everything in a manner that in the end will be best for us; a god who gives to us and takes from us our virtue and our happiness, so that as a whole all is meet and fit and there is no reason for us to take life sadly, let alone exclaim against it; in short, resignation and modest demands elevated to godhead – that is the best and most vital thing that still remains of Christianity. But one should notice that Christianity has thus crossed over into a gentle moralism: it is not so much ‘God, freedom and immortality’ that have remained, as benevolence and decency of disposition, and the belief that in the whole universe too benevolence and decency of disposition prevail: it is the euthanasia of Christianity.
- F.W. Nietzsche, Daybreak