Interview: Berial of Betrayer

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Back in the hazy 1990s, many of us encountered a band from Poland who in the wake of Vader had been signed to Nuclear Blast and distributed in the United States. This band was Betrayer and the album Calamity, a work of high-speed metal in the Slayer-influenced style of Vader but also going in its own direction including a prescient use of melody, anticipating where death metal would go in the next decade. After two decades, Betrayer has returned with a split 7″ that is turning some heads for its aggressive integration of old school speed metal and death metal styles. We were fortunate to be able to sit down with mastermind Berial over a cup of hot blood and discuss Betrayer and the exciting possibility of new material…

When was Betrayer formed? How many demos did you put out? How did you get signed to Nuclear Blast?

Betrayer was formed in 1989 as a thrash metal quartet and as such, in 1990, recorded its first demo “Forbidden Personality.”

The same year there was a change in the line-up. I joined the band as a new bass guitar player shortly after splitting with my previous band Slaughter. I also took over the space behind a microphone. Since then Betrayer started drifting towards stronger and more extreme sounds. That was a turning-point and the beginning of a new era for the band.

Consequently in 1991 Betrayer released their second demo “Necronomical Exmortis”. It happened to be the real killer those days. One of the biggest metal magazines of that time in Poland, Thrash’em All,ranked it second in the category “Album of the Year.” Betrayer hit #4 in “Band of the Year” category. To this day the release is regarded as one of the milestones for Polish death metal music. This is how, I guess, we got signed to Nuclear Blast… Hard work, great gigs, loads of enthusiasm and energy with remarkable music art on top…

Where was “Calamity” recorded, and were these new songs or songs from the demos? What were your musical influences at the time?

Our debut full album Calamity was recorded at Modern Sound Studio in Gdynia, Poland. It was the best option at that time. Really modern and open for new trends in music so most of the reputable bands in Poland cooperated with them. “Necronomical Exmortis” was made in CCS Studio in Warsaw, which was the choice of many Polish stars, not only those in the metal stream. That was the first experience of working with a professional studio and the first official release for Betrayer. “Forbidden Personality” was different, more of amateur and self-made production.

Influences? Everyone had their own and not all were strictly death metal ones. All of them put together, however, made us what we happened to be…

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Was it difficult to record and release at that time, just a few years after the political changes in Poland?

I don’t know if that was more difficult than today. I do not even know if political changes had anything to do with those difficulties. Those were different times, times of rebellion and discovering new options and possibilities. Metal underground, and actually all music underground in general, was strong and buoyant in Poland at that time. With Calamity which turned to be a milestone in Polish death metal history, were lucky to be on the top of the ladder, arm in arm with another polish legend, Vader, when the changes turned to be in favor of the musical revolution which opened new horizons and roads of going worldwide.

Finally we were able to spread the power of Polish extreme music all over the world. This also gave us the opportunity to share stages with bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Death and too many others to count… Fantastic times!!!

Has Betrayer been on hold since that time, and are there are any other recordings people outside of Poland have missed out on?

We split up in 1994 shortly after releasing our debut album. It was nothing but a huge disappointment for us and the crowd of metalheads devoted to Betrayer. Only years later we learned that Betrayer had been well noticed in so many corners of the world. Instead of going on tour promoting such a great album as Calamity really was and pushing forward, we fucked it up. What a waste… Personal shit, you know… but it’s too late to moan now, isn’t it? I was so pissed off and consequently totally dispirited that I decided to stay away from the stage. In 2012, after nearly eighteen years of non-existence, demons of my inner self decided to remind me who I am and what I live for. There was no other option… Betrayer had to come back to life… and no, you didn’t miss any new recordings, except the split you know of.

You recently released a split with Neolith. What was it like recording this? Why release now?

From the very beginning we didn’t want to built our resurrection on the old stuff so instead of brushing up the songs from the past we decided to concentrate on making completely new material and release a new album. We didn’t want to, however, wait too long to announce to the world that we are back on the road. That’s why we decided to release one of the new tracks on the split. Same was with live appeariances. Initially we planned to do so after releasing the new album but for aforementioned reasons as well as unstoppable craving for going onstage we had to change the assumptions. In summer 2013, Betrayer appeared at Ragnarock Open Air Festival in Germany followed by a series of gigs around Poland. Obviously next to the new songs we performed some of the old ones too. The feedback was so great that in 2014 we were invited to play as a main support for a death metal legend Obituary in the only concert in Poland. Really good feeling and immense motivation, you know.

The Betrayer track on the Neolith split, “Beware,” shows more of an aggressive style and speed metal influence, with less death metal of the fast strumming variety. What motivated this change? Does this show a new direction in your music?

I wouldn’t say that there is a distinct change in Betrayer’s music in general. “Beware” is a song I would put somewhere between Calamity and the earlier “Necronomical Exmortis” demo, and I agree it’s kinda melodic at moments. The split features “Beware” just because this was the only song that we had ready to go at time the opportunity to release came. You might notice that it was not even finally mastered. Be forewarned that this song does not give justice to the whole new stuff …so do not be misled! Betrayer definitely stayed faithful to the death metal genre! You will see it yourself soon!

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The question everyone is dying to know… (a) Will there be another Betrayer album? (b) are there any negotiations to re-release Calamity so a new generation can discover it?

Sure it will! I’m proud to announce that our new album Infernum In Terra will be released on March 18th, 2015! The music was mastered in Hertz Studio which cooperated with such bands as Vader, Behemoth, Decapitated or Hate in the past… and I tell you, this is a real good piece of death metal, no doubt about it! We are exteremely satisfied and hope you will be too… and yes, Calamity will also be re-released, just a little bit later! Sounds good, doesn’t it? It looks like it’s gonna be a good year for Betrayer.

How do you describe the music of Betrayer? When you write music, what ideas do you aim for?

Well, it’s the same old Betrayer I reckon. Maybe a bit heavier but still drifting on the old school death metal wave. This is deeply rooted in our mentality and our hearts and truly defines the way we live, think, feel and create at the moment.

Ideas? Hmm, pretty same as before. Music, you know, is the way to express yourself with some kind of ecstasy which you try to give away and infect others with it. When it comes to lyrics and the message, it’s kind of my personal thoughts and feelings about the systems that our existence is implicated in. Especially the religious one, full of contradictions and hypocrisy… you might say “nothing new” but in that context Polish society is deeply premised on that. All this blind glorification of the institution of the Catholic Church as well as other creeds makes me sick and contemptuous. This is what I mainly speak out against.

It seems that everyone knows Poland these days with Vader, Graveland and Behemoth having become popular. What else are we missing out on? You can include both musical and non-musical items!

Oh,yes… Vader… indisputable pillar of the Polish death metal scene! I happened to be the part of the crew for a short period of time back in the 90s. Behemoth… yes, no doubt about it… true gods on the firmament of black metal music world! I’m not too familiar with Graveland, but talking about the extreme music stuff you missed out at least astonishing Decapitated to start with or Hate…

How should people learn more about Betrayer and your own personal (Berial) musical projects? Where do they go to hear the music and keep track of news from the band?

Definitely by reaching our albums and staying tuned to all oncoming news on our web page or facebook profile. There are no other projects in my life at the moment. Betrayer is the only and one that gives me strength and makes me survive in this world of misery.

I’m pleased to hear that in the past we were noticed and are still remembered in the United States with the real hope that we will keep it this way and be honoured to visit your vast lands in future!

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Fallen Temple Records compilation includes Betrayer single

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This small label sent over a few of their releases in compilation format. Fallen Temple Records releases tapes and vinyls of rather obscure acts with specific audiences and put a range of stuff together for this compilation, which shows how wide the tastes of this label and its audiences are.

Betrayer/Neolith – Split

Long-time readers may be familiar with our obsession with Polish band Betrayer, whose 1990s debut Calamity remains an excellent but mostly overlooked piece of melodic death metal with speed metal influences. Betrayer return with a single track, “Beware,” which shows more of a late Morbid Angel (Covenant era) influence, specifically in vocals and rhythms “The Lion’s Den,” as well of more of a reliance on the more aggressive mid-paced speed metal rhythms to emerge in the 1990s. The musicality that allows melody to unite disparate elements into a single experience remains and so despite initial concern over style, listeners will find this track hard-hitting and rewarding after multiple listens. The noodly solo does little for it and the Pantera-ish influences slow down the power of this song, but the quality songwriting remains as does the ability to leave the listener transported after listening. We will be fortunate if we hear more from this under-noticed but intelligent band.

Neolith on the other hand sounds like Krisiun and Impiety had a spawn but balanced it with the second album from Grave. The result emerges as charging death metal with atmospheric use of keyboards. Unlike many bands, these guys seem to understand at least the rudiments of harmony and so it fits together both rhythmically and tonally but the constant drilling rhythm and high degree of repetition without variation of the structural loop within the song makes this somewhat repetitive. A late-song break to a Slayer-style riff then leads to more keyboards mixing poorly with the guitars by creating a competition between sounds instead of supporting atmosphere, which causes clashing influences in the song and sabotages mood. Then it all repeats. This band has a great deal of talent and if they chill out and apply it without worrying what people will think about them, they’ll do great.

Behelal – Satanic Propaganda

Behelal suffer from being too adept, which leads to them deciding to adopt multiple styles into the same musical persona, with the result of achieving stylistic anonymity. Fundamentally of a blackened death approach with post-metal style chord progressions and mixed in primal black metal, industrial and other influences, this song plus an intro conveys a lot of potential but not really any specific direction. It concludes much as it began, with a sense of darkness and possible beauty never realized. Compares to Pyogenesis.

Blackwhole – Another Starless Night

The world might be happier if bands abandoned pun names, if that is what this is. The listener will first notice that and either be thrilled by it because they are a moron who delights in the trivial, or avoid it because they are disgusted by the flood of mundane morons delighted by the trivial. But assuming that the name is not a pun, consider how you would feel about an album at the pace of early Samael with some of the influences of later. The result requires the kind of mentality that doom metal fans have while listening, but incorporates some electronic influences but basically just drones. Its simple chord progressions are not unpleasant and its riffs somewhat unique, but the main problem most of us have with this is that well-composed or not, it is somewhat boring. The pace allows for little change and the plodding riffs wear us into the ground. Like early Samael, it has a certain charm as mood music since it sounds like demons practicing dirge music in the basement of an ancient house on haunted land.

Devil Lee Rot/Ajatus – Split

Devil Lee Rot is extremely predictable but catchy hard rock dressed up as some kind of Dissection-formatted heavy metal band with occasional death metal vocals. If you really adore middle-period AC/DC, this might stir your cauldron, but generally this has nostalgia appeal and is dripping in cheese without managing to be fun or entertaining. It is hard to write off this band because of their obvious musical skill, but it does not save the end result from being a warm-over of the past. Ajatus aim for the late days of the 1980s with a fast speed metal/death metal combination that uses fast riffs and death metal vocals but the riff patterns of speed metal. These riffs are predictable but use a bit of melody and songs come together well, which marks this as eternal B-level death metal that compares to Fleshcrawl and Dismember but never quite achieves those heights.

Eternal Rot – Grave Grooves

Much as you might expect, this band undertakes a fusion of morbid metal and dark grooves. The result sounds like Fleshcrawl covering Autopsy at the pace of early Sleep material, and this delivers a listening experience that is pleasant. Morbid vocals burble up from the background as bass-intense guitar tracks rumble through the front and songs fit together well. Riffs are a bit too asymmetrical and songs too much cut from the same wallpaper, but this release only has two tracks. A full length album might show more. Eternal Rot struggles against contradictory impulses to set up a groove and to use simple riffs, which creates the unfortunate result of droning power chords ad nauseam. If this band could work in more death metal style riffing it might inject some energy into this otherwise fairly plodding sound. Then again, those who like groove tend to get excited by predictability.

Hin Hale – Beyond

This band attempts early style black metal with distorted vocals but music influenced by the speed metal years, much like early Sodom or some of the many South American bands who have undertaken this style. Hin Hale keeps up the energy and throws in some good riffs but the background of this release somewhat swallows it in similarity. Finding a voice in this style proves very difficult because of so many riff patterns and song patterns known from the past, so revivalists such as this face an uphill battle. They complicate this with a named unrecognized by most and an unfortunate thin guitar production.

Malum in Se – …Of Death…of Lurid Soul

Malum in Se blends three generations of Swedish death metal into a single melodic death metal voice that avoids being as random as the post-metal and “tek-deaf” material tends to be. Unfortunately it also avoids being distinctive and so comes across as a well-articulated style in need of direction. Some excellent riffs in here show not only promise, but an ability to stagger riffs for contrast and achieve mood, but the overall energy charges too far ahead and not enough into depth, and many of these patterns seem too symmetrical to be memorable. The insistence on nearly constant vocal rhythms and frequent high speed pummeling make it hard for listeners to stay tuned in to the inevitable conclusion, which is usually able done and worth the wait. This band have made a good job of analyzing their style, but now need to find a sense of making it more of an aesthetic experience of beauty and with that, a larger purpose than the style itself.

Necromantical Screams – Deadly Frost

This band approach Funeral Doom much like old school doom in the style of Saint Vitus with heavy downstroke repetitive strumming guided by the croaking distorted vocals. On the one original song included here, much of the riff-writing approximates the speed/death metal years and while it incorporates a good amount of melody, ends up being driven by rhythmic expectation in the sense of a cadence ending on an offbeat. Many Autopsy influences color this and they result in a somewhat boring song. The second track is a slightly slowed but mostly faithful cover of the Celtic Frost song from which this band takes its name. They successfully execute it but put more emphasis in varying the vocals with each phrase to give it a new atmosphere, but this loses the austere calm and sense of dread to the original. While there is nothing to dislike here, the simple outlook approach to riffs plus slowdown generally equals a type of funeral doom best reserved for going to sleep after funerals.

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