Martin van Drunen may be out of Hail of Bullets, but he still apparently has time to dedicate to Asphyx. After releasing a demo compilation on compact cassette earlier this year (Embrace the Death) and touring throughout South America (see the silly attached video), the band is now working on a new studio album. The band’s Facebook page claims the band will spend January 2016 working on the new album’s material, and furthermore that this will be their first album to feature Stefan ‘Tormentor’ Hueskens on percussion. No official release date has been set yet, and the band’s previous album (Deathhammer) didn’t go over well on the DMU forums back in its day, but that this upcoming album is planned is at least relevant to our interests.
Article by David Rosales
In ancient times, a transcendental and reverential cosmological vision made of the hardships of reality a way to elevate intellectual life to the status of the divine. The power to speculate, explore and decode reality around us was considered a gift.The time given to pursue such enterprises was considered invaluable.
What we now call history is the constant decaying of civilizations, an ebbing of true understanding, followed by a wave of revolutions, one after the other in relatively rapid succession as a drowning man desperately clutching for air. Scrapping whatever he could, man acquired dominion over the material while all sense of meaning was gradually lost.
“…for the powerful children of natural emotion will be replaced by the miserable creatures of financial expediency.”
The following is a list of four artworks of the greatest refinement, be it formal or otherwise, achieved through experience or birthed by the innerworkings of an innate calling. The first three are metal and of a minimalist stripe. The third is a Baroque religious vocal work. These are the echoes of what once was.
However, if there ever was an art for the elite, this is it. It will challenge each of the shortcomings of the fickle man. The first will call into question the superficial appreciation of aesthetics and will render the disavowal of prejudices compulsory. The second will require self-internment and the ability to perceive higher truths. The third will furthermore force those with a mind for the complex and an aversion to clear, straight lines to look beyond these and settle down in an openness to the expression. Finally, the last and most ancient will bring to bear the capacity of imaginatively layered music to quickly wear down the animal mind. This will be the bane of the simple-minded.
Disdained by most metalheads and followed with unthinking loyalty by kvlt fanatics, Ildjarn has achieved an infamous reputation in one way or another. Either of these camps considers the project to be non-music, with polarized opinions divided between “far from filling the requirements of music” and “simply beyond music”. The former point of view assumes a position of authority on technique whence it presumes to judge what music is. The latter is the inexcusable blindness of spineless and undiscerning individuals who place image before content.
While one could easily disarm the first argument on philosophical grounds, an unbiased judgement of the performance itself leaves any knowledgeable instrumentalist with no option but to accept that this is certainly not the weakness of the music. If issue were taken directly with the arrangement — the composition — of the music, there could be a worthwhile side to these attacks. More often than not, though, these critics arise from the new funderground camp, who have a notorious obsession with sheer standard behemoth-sounding production values, and so the argument usually runs along the lines of Ildjarn’s music being buried too deep in noise to have any value to speak of.
However, Ildjarn at its peak is far more than the jumbled improvisations the early recordings let through. The extreme punk channeling raw energy that this music consists of took some time to be harnessed. Det Frysende Nordariket (“The Frozen Northern-Kingdom”) shows us a refinement and redirecting of these ideas. While the self-titled was barely more than a collection of scattered ideas, intuitive impulses and visceral cadences, it is in this release that Ildjarn develops these ideas into mature extensions which make efficient use of the strengths of the original riffs, thereby burying the relevance of their shortcomings.
Coming to an aural absorption or a gnosis, so to speak, of Ildjarn’s rougher side necessitates not only the listener’s amiability towards ultra-minimalist and long-winded ambient music, but also a positive familiarity with low-fi punk and metal production and its use of what are normally considered sound artifacts as tones and colors on the palette of the artist. Once this is understood and the raw texture is successfully digested, one can start to appreciate the unique ideas presented in each track. The genius of Ildjarn lies in the masterful ultra-minimalist manipulation of the original ideas that can be likened to a stretching and contracting, which is occasionally accompanied by a seamless expansion that is so shy it is barely noticeable if the listener is not attentive.
1994 marks the turning point in metal history when innovation stops and a gradual degeneration starts to take place. This year is also the highest point in black metal, seeing the release of what we can consider the quintessential genre masterpieces. First among them is Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.
The meteoric ascent of Vikernes’ previous works from varied yet focused ideas to the purest synthesis of elements in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss could only have one possible outcome. The groundbreaking impact this had on the genre can only be compared to that of albums like Onward to Golgotha or Legion on death metal. While some argue that Vikernes single-handedly “developed” or “defined” black metal, the truth is that he brought it to an end in this album. It is the kind of album that has the words “THIS IS IT” written all over it. There is nothing for us, mortals, beyond the incognizable infinite.
While there is much dark beauty in other works in the genre, works that may serve as veritable portals to hidden corridors of existence, when it comes to the art of composition, there is no other that brings this black romanticism to a more perfect incarnation. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss addresses all facets of black metal and gives them an equally important place in a masterfully balanced music.
The often-used descriptor “ambient black metal” falls criminally short of what this album has to offer. That this “atmospheric” feeling is the only thing blind men can perceive is empiric evidence of its extant layers penetrable to their last consequence only by esoteric means. The least trained will only hear repetition (variation details are lost on them), while those into ambient music will sense the fog around them. He who decries structures and can, to some extent, understand their relations, will be able to delineate muscle fibers and bones — an objective confirmation of content. Further and higher lie realms to be walked but never shared.
Navigating the waters of this ocean, we see indomitable and gargantuan waves slowly rise before us, we experience the placid breeze under a dark-grey sky streaked by clouds mutilated by the rays of a moribund sun, and we face the wrathful tempest. Battered and sucked into a timeless maelstrom, all that remains at the very end is the essence, the ultimate undifferentiated mother of creation.
On The Rack
Asphyx’s debut garners “historical” respect, but is often deemed to be the preparative stage before more refined ones. This argument appears to be supported on two pillars. The first is that a later Asphyx was more technically outspoken, and the second, that the band managed to narrow down their style into a more focused expression. Both of these are true, yet they did not result in higher artistic merit as later works became increasingly sterile. The fact that people get “a feeling” from them is besides the point. Yet, when it comes to art and especially to music, some might confuse these visceral reactions with effective communication through the intuitive.
The Rack presents a style that is both minimalist in its building blocks but displays a progressive tendency in the overall arrangement of parts. Here, Asphyx goes beyond style fetishization and instead uses characteristic phrases and riffs as symbols standing for moods and points in a storyline. This vision places it alongside classic albums that work at a higher level than the merely technical or the grossly emotional. However, it is important to keep in mind that all this intellectual dissection is only a way to uncover this work’s secrets and must not be confused with the end.
The color palette with which Asphyx plays has a narrow enough range that its extreme opposites are not as contrasting that they incur in an incoherent string of topic changes, yet the individual strokes that riffs represent are distinctive enough that they form clear statements and unambiguously show the way. The triumph of The Rack lies, furthermore, in that it not only signals these inclinations but actually follows them to their last consequence without derailing.
These progressions may seem too clear-cut, leading to them being perceived as ‘blocky’. But when inspected closely, they are shown to be not so much as separate stones in alignment, but as rock-hewn steps in a massive staircase of which each stage is birthed from the underskin of the last. Other ‘brutal’ albums constitute a string of emotions, but here we find an ancient megalithic maze that dwarves petty human creations.
Switching between thematic solos and motific riffs, grindlike attack and doomlike arrest, this first Asphyx takes us through savage plains and forbidden peaks in a barbarian’s world. Now we hear the rage of souls crushed, the karmic cruelty thence resulting, now the ecstatic state following the release of unrestrained fury as we claw our way through this arid wasteland of unmercy.
A baroque religious work might at first seem like an odd addition to a metal compendium, especially one featuring such corrosive albums. A sympathetic relation may nonetheless be found in deeper metaphysical recesses. This hidden concept being the most relevant connection that merits mention does not stop us from discussing other outer traits that surface from that common source, even though their materialized natures lie at antagonizing angles.
The homogeneous, cloudy exterior of Schütz’s offering to the highest being is a continuous exaltation in which each moment is as much a unique apparition as it is an illusory shadow in a sequence of conditioned stages. A flow through condensation, solidification and dispersion let the listener on to the infinite possibilities arising from the two, who are themselves from the one.
Dense, saturated and appreciable only as a mass, Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi will only reflect a clear image if the listener is standing in the right place (at the right time?). This same is true of the Ildjarn, the Burzum and the Asphyx as well. They represent mental spaces within which they are as palpable and engulfing as daylight itself. But places must be traveled to, gates must be unlocked and the decision to step through them is a voluntary one.
Seeds being planted,
guarded by the old ones below.
Against the sky they lay roots,
Once to bloom with signs.
Dutch underground metal band Soulburn — formed from the ashes of Asphyx and related acts — carries on in a new direction with new track “Under the Rise of a Red Moon” released in advance of forthcoming November release The Suffocating Darkness.
This track shows more of a black metal vibe and trope to this band, eschewing the percussive feel (and left-hand-mute sheeting distortion guitar technique) of Asphyx in favor of a dark atmosphere with melodic continuations driving the song, which was the style of black metal that exhibited the last gasp of an underground through bands like Deathspell Omega and Inquisition. However, the band cites first-generation proto-underground bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory as well as NWOBHM band Venom as inspiration, although Soulburn exhibits technique from later black metal.
Soulburn features Asphyx anchor and drum talent Bob Bagchus but also Eric Daniels, who wrote some of the more interesting guitar on early works up through the self-titled album, although by that point he had exited the band. Added to the list are Remco Kreft on guitar, who played with Daniels in Grand Supreme Blood Court, and Twan van Geel on bass. Notably missing is Wannes Gubbels of Pentacle who may be responsible for the melodic direction that Death… The Brutal Way took which was missing from the more mechanistic Deathhammer. However, Daniels and Gubbels serve similar roles in creating the melodic understructure of songs.
Billing themselves as “blackened death metal,” Soulburn clearly seek to distinguish their music from the choppy explosive death metal that Asphyx and related acts like Hail of Bullets are currently producing. “Under the Rise of a Red Moon” features a dark and lush ambiance with song structure mutations in unexpected places, leading to a sense of destabilization and ambiguity. This contrasts the style of Asphyx, which increasingly sounds like a reduction of the world into discrete and concrete statements, and embraces a future of dystopia and confusion.
Drummer Bob Bagchus, who left Asphyx at some point after they started to sound like Hail of Bullets, leaves us with this summary: “This track shows well what Soulburn is all about: cold, dark and grim blackened doom/death metal. ‘Under the Rise of a Red Moon’ is furious and contains all the elements we love the most about metal. This song also shows that one does not need many riffs to create a grim atmosphere…this is a mid-paced assault with a pure and heavy 80s feel, just how we wanted it!”
Including former Asphyx drummer Bob Bagchus and original Asphyx guitarist Eric Daniels, Soulburn — known to many as the “off-brand” version of Asphyx during personnel shakeups — returns with a 2014 album entitled The Suffocating Darkness to be released via Century Media on November 17th in Europe and November 18th in North America.
As Asphyx continues its drive in parallel with Hail of Bullets to make a modernized form of its pounding abrasive death metal, those who are less committed to playing as a professional band have shifted to Soulburn where they can keep normal lives and still produce music. For Asphyx fans, this move provides two benefits, namely the more commercial version of Asphyx dominating the airwaves while the more underground version can more flexibly explore its style.
Bagchus and Daniels add Twan van Geel (Flesh Made Sin, Legion of the Damned) as vocalist/bassist and Remco Kreft (Grand Supreme Blood Court, Nailgun Massacre, Xenomorph) as a second guitarist. The album was recorded with Harry Wijering (Harrow Productions), mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö (Unisound Recordings) with artwork from Timo Ketola and Roberto Toderico.
“Bringing Soulburn back to life was a natural thing to do since the inspiration was huge, more than ever before. Playing the old songs as well as the new incantations is a blessing. The riffs and thus the songs kept coming and coming and we knew we were on the right track. The new deal with our longtime label Century Media Records was the next logical step,” said Bagchus.
Twan van Geel – vocals/bass
Remco Kreft – guitar
Eric Daniels – guitar
Bob Bagchus – drums
21.09.2014 – Bremen (Germany) – Schlachthof *sold out*
22.09.2014 – Essen (Germany) – Weststadthalle *sold out*
23.09.2014 – Berlin (Germany) – SO36 *sold out*
17-19.04.2015 – Tilburg (The Netherlands) – 013 / Neurotic Deathfest
Hail of Bullets formed when Martin van Drunen joined ex-Thanatos, Gorefest and Asphyx personnel to make a modern metal project with the intensity of old school death metal. Drawing heavily from related act Houwitser, the band specialized in pounding chorus-emphatic songs that used the simpler song structures of grindcore to accentuate the abrasive riffing of old school death metal applied with a modern metal sense of rhythm and production.
The band launched their third effort in 2013 with III: The Rommel Chronicles. This album more closely resembles late hardcore bands like Terror than death metal. The bouncy nature of the riffs and rhythms along with the metalcore-esque melodies present to us a more fun and friendly flavor of death metal in complete contrast to the death metal lexicon.
Reading the lyrics makes one feel as if they focused entirely on the lyrical aspect and assembled songs as a vehicle for those lyrics. Emphasis on riffs declines with the need to present vocals foremost. Slower riffs sound like they drifted over from a Whitechapel song. Martin van Drunen’s vocals sound as vicious as ever but that does not save the underlying problem: a lack of emphasis on riffs and song structure to fit them as has been the hallmark of quality death metal since its inception.
III: The Rommel Chronicles disguises metalcore as grinding death metal like Asphyx at the time of The Rack, creating death metal by style, not spirit. While there is much to like about this all-star lineup and many of its aesthetic choices, the underlying music cannot back up that promise and so the album feels hollow and expedient. Leave the trenches, because nothing is happening.
ASPHYX – Unveil cover artwork for new studio album; Announce release dates for “Deathhammer”;
Confirmed to play ExtremeFest and Obscene Extreme Festival in 2012!
Following up on the extreme success of their latest studio album release “Death…The Brutal Way” and its “Live Death Doom” DVD/Live-CD successor, Dutch Doom Death Metal legends ASPHYX have now finished work on their newest studio album effort, programmatically entitled “Deathhammer”. A release date of February 27th, 2012 (Europe) and February 28th, 2012 (North America) via Century Media Records has now been confirmed too.
The time has now come to unveil the stunning artwork for “Deathhammer”, crafted by longtime parther in designs, Axel Hermann (http://www.axel-illustrator.de/). Hermann has not only worked on all of the early ASPHYX artworks and most recently on their “Live Death Doom” release, but is also responsible for many of the classic Century Media artworks by bands like Morgoth, Unleashed, Samael or Grave. Here is how both parties comment on their newest co-operation:
“ASPHYX and Axel Hermann is a fusion that has always functioned perfectly…from the days of ‘The Rack’ back in 1991, ‘til ‘Deathhammer’ in 2012. Like others such as Dan Swanö, Axel may be considered as an external member of the band and when we asked him to do the ‘Deathhammer’ cover – and as usual we would leave him free in his expression – we were very pleased to hear he was willing to take it on.
…And the man has exceeded himself! To the perfect death metal album comes the perfect cover that still leaves enough to everyone’s imagination. We hope he is as proud as we are on the final result. It seems all falls into place for this deathdozer of an album. I guess Axel can expect an offer from Le Louvre any time now.”
Martin van Drunen / ASPHYX
“A cover is the visual extension of an album that translates music and emotional intentions (or should I say aggression) into a clear statement of what to expect before taking the record off the shelf. In seldom cases you’re ending up with two perfect sides of the same coin. With ASPHYX and myself it has always and luckily been that case. And I am really proud of that! Show ’em Death and hit them with a hammer…visually and musically! Guess, we flipped the coin once more!?”
Recorded at The Mörser Studio as well as at Harrow Studio with their longtime engineer Harry Wijering, “Deathhammer” was mixed and mastered in Sweden by Dan Swanö, who previously worked with the band on “Death…The Brutal Way” as well as on the “Live Death Doom” release.
Prior to the upcoming album’s release date, ASPHYX will still perform a very special “full album setlist” concert at this year’s Eindhoven Metal Meeting on December 16th, at the Effenaar club in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, where the band will be playing their complete “The Rack” album for its 20th anniversary of release. Additionally, ASPHYX have already been confirmed for the 2012 editions of the ExtremeFest, July 5th to 7th in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as the coming edition of the legendary Obscene Extreme festival in Czech Republic on July 14th. Here are all the band’s upcoming confirmed shows:
16.12.2011 Eindhoven Metal Meeting – Eindhoven (The Netherlands) * Special 20 years “The Rack” show!
05. – 07.07.2012 ExtremeFest Deutschland – Hünxe (Germany) http://www.extremefest.eu/
05. – 07.07.2012 ExtremeFest Österreich – Salzburg (Austria) http://www.extremefest.eu/
05. – 07.07.2012 ExtremeFest Schweiz – TBA (Switzerland) – http://www.extremefest.eu/
14.07.2012 Obscene Extreme Festival – Trutnov (Czech Republic) http://www.obsceneextreme.cz/