21 Nov 2021 - Knut
This interview is the end of a perfect Post-Metal-weekend for some select people who attended the record release party for Hemelbestormer’s powerful new album Collide & Merge which took place in Belgium until Saturday evening. Those people now have the triple-billing - Friday release, Saturday show, Sunday interview! For all the others, this is a detailed interview with one of the tightest Post-Metal bands around. Enjoy!
Talking to the Hemelbestormer-guys is always a lot of fun, for they love to talk music, NASA, artwork, the Belgian Metal-scene and lots more. Plus and most important for us: their records always deliver! Knut loved their newest record Collide & Merge a lot, which he also showed in this this review. And thus it’s no surprise that he was happy to conduct an interview with their drummer Frederik about the band and everything related to it!
Hemelbestormer is a band name that gives us some expectations. We have the same term in Norway – here meaning “a person reaching for goals out of reach of ordinary people” or “fighting to bring down barricades”. How did you come up with the name for the band and what does it mean to you in terms of a vision for your music?
Fredrik: Well, more or less exactly how you describe it! A “Hemelbestormer” is some sort of an idealist, someone who goes against the stream and thinks outside of the box. Musically, we try to do just that. It’s not that we want to reinvent the wheel or something, but we try to deliver just a tad more than “just” Post Rock/Metal by incorporating all kinds of influences, going from Black and Doom/Sludge Metal to Ambient and more atmospheric, gaze-like stuff. The “hemel”, which translates as “the sky” or “the heavens” is also a metaphor for endless possibilities and the sheer limitlessness of creative thoughts. Filip (Dupont, guitars) came up with the name when he was composing some tracks as an experiment. He thought it was quite fitting at the time and after a while, when things became more and more concrete, it became our final name. I have to admit I was not to keen on using a Dutch word for a band name, but slowly it grew on me and now I’m glad we made this decision.
The members in the band have played in many bands on the Belgian scene, with styles like Black Metal, Doom, Thrash, Sludge. How did you come together as a band and who took the initiative to start the band?
Actually, it was Jo (Driesmans, guitars) who took the first steps. Coming from more Alternative Rock background, he discovered the more heavy side of music at a later age and at one point, I guess somewhere around 2012, he was looking for musicians to start a band/project in the vein of Ghost Brigade, Isis, Cult Of Luna and the likes. He met our former bass player Kevin and me through an online add and we ended up jamming together for a while. In all honesty, it was quite fun but it didn’t really go anywhere. We felt limited and we weren’t moving forward. The idea grew to attract some extra members to expand our sound and so I suggested my good friend of many years Filip, who was just discovering this style of music and was interested in doing a project like this. Filip himself brought our former keyboard player/sample wizard Joris to the fold. With this line-up we wrote and recorded our first song “Portal To The Universe”, which became a part of our collaboration album with the Italian band Vanessa Van Basten.
Metal music is not for everyone, but when one breaks the code one never leaves this music. What was the first album you remember that got you into metal music? What inspired you guys to become metal musicians?
Bands like Guns n’ Roses, Metallica, AC/DC and Nirvana got me into rock and metal music at the age of 12. I was immediately hooked and quickly became obsessed with the genre. Looking back now, I guess I was a living cliché. (laughs) I grew my hair long, had a room full of posters, wore band shirts all the time and listened to copied tapes almost non-stop. The first album I bought myself on CD was Appetite For Destruction (Guns ‘N Roses). Soon after that, some older kids at school introduced me to more extreme stuff. They got me a tape with Vader’s The Ultimate Incantation on one side and Nocturnus’ The Key on the other. What a revelation! My love for the drums goes even further back. As a little kid I was already fascinated by drums and percussion and I constructed my own kits from pots, pans and other kitchen utilities. (laughs) When rock and metal became my thing, one love collided with the other. Music became my whole world and the thing I wanted most was playing in a band myself. My choice of instrument was a no-brainer, of course. (laughs)
What was the reason behind the decision to be an instrumental band?
Well, when we started out we simply didn’t have a vocalist because we couldn’t find one at the time of formation. As vocals are often the final layer of a song, we decided to cross the vocalist-bridge when we eventually got there and just started to write music. Turned out the instrumental songs had already so many layers that vocals seemed unnecessary so we didn’t bother to look for a vocalist. Never say never, but I guess we will never have a permanent vocalist. We’re perfectly happy being an instrumental band. However, this doesn’t mean that some experiments with vocals are out of the question. Just listen to the title track of our new album, for example.
On the new album, on the title track, you have incorporated vocals in a beautiful way. It is not singing words, I think it is more vocalizing. Who does the voice belong to and why did you decide to have vocals?
One day, we were driving to a show, I can’t remember when or where, and we were listening to the title track of Russian Circles’ Memorial. It features guest vocals from Chelsea Wolfe, an artist we all like, and the song really struck us. We thought this could really work for Hemelbestormer and so the idea for Collide & Merge was born. Michelle Nocon of Of Blood And Mercury does the vocals. We have known her for many years and I even played with her in both SerpentCult and Death Penalty. For a very short time, Filip was also member of Bathsheba, another one of her bands, so you could say we have a connection, hehe.
Through your three previous albums you have delved into Post-Metal soundscape, but as many bands in this genre you seamless incorporate many other styles and often with long and expansive tracks built around a melodic theme. How must we envision the composing of your tracks?
Almost all of our songs are composed by Filip. He has a small home studio in which he isolates himself to write and experiment. His creativity when it comes to writing music is inexhaustible, there is no other way to describe this. He gets inspired by different things, like music he hears, specific vibes he gets or things he sees or experiences and he translates it to music. Bit by bit, layer after layer the songs come to life and yes, quite often they are very long. He takes his time to tell the story and so far he needs a minimum of ten minutes to do so! (laughs) There are almost constantly ideas in his head and very often an entire album is written several years before we record it. This was also the case with Collide & Merge, by the way.
You come out as a collective, but do you have a main composer, an initiator for the tracks?
As I mentioned above, “Portal To The Universe” was the first and only song composed as a group. Afterwards, Filip brought along some finished tracks he wrote for a side project he was doing besides his work with his black metal band Gorath. A project he named “Hemelbestormer”. These tracks were completely finished and embodied everything we had in mind for this band, so it was like being handed over a treasure chest. They were perfect and so they ended up on our first full album Aether. Re-recorded as a band, of course. For the next records, it was again Filip, who is like a bottomless well when it comes to writing songs, who composed nearly all of the music from A to Z. It’s not the most conventional way of working and I can imagine that this doesn’t work for several bands, but it does for us. Of course, we all have a say about the final result and if someone’s not happy about something, it can be adapted, but this rarely happens…
For me it feels like the synths have gained a more prominent role on the new album, expanding the massive soundscape that you create with the guitars, bass and drums. Is that a correct feeling?
Haha, who am I to say your feeling is wrong? It’s great that you experience it this way, it proves that music can be very personal. I myself wouldn’t call it “more prominent”, though. Some of the themes are a bit more highlighted by some extra synth melodies and here and there, there is a more “electronic” feel, but still in an organic way. So a bit more accents in an otherwise massive wall of sound, like you said yourself.
It seems like all your albums have a basic narrative, a kind of vision for each album. First it was the indefinable, but imaginative album name Portals, then the mythic non-existent (in a scientific meaning) Aether and, after that, the narrative on A Ring of Blue Light was based on Hoag’s Object with imaginative song titles about a ring of billions of stars. Now, on this new one, Collide & Merge it is also about outer space, but now it is collisions, black holes, collapsing stars. First of all, who and how do you come up with those wonderful narratives?
There’s a lot of dynamics in our music. This duality in music is part of everyday life. There good, there’s bad and there’s everything in between. There’s light and there’s darkness. Our music seems to get more dark with every new album. The darkest places that exist are black holes. And the most bright places are violent shining stars. So there’s the link between the music and the cosmic concept. The name Hemelbestormer also literally refers to the sky and heaven as written earlier in this interview. Furthermore, Filip, who takes care of the song titles, sigils and symbolism has got a massive interest in space, the infinite and all its quietness, far away from this earthly world. Also on Collide & Merge the songs refer to vast black holes that collide and merge into a super black hole. Titles like “Quasar” and “Collapsar” are quite obvious, but “Decoding the Light Vault” needs a bit more explanation, though it’s all quite easy. Think of a vault that holds all light. In real life this will be the sun. And when you decode the sun, you reverse light into darkness and create a black hole.
And how do you approach these narratives when you compose? What comes first, the narrative or the theme of the songs?
First the music, than the content. Always.
And that brings us to your covers. It is always mountains rising over a desolate landscape and a starry sky over the landscape, on Portals it was a monolith or a meteorite over a desolate landscape, on A Ring of Blue Light a mountain hovering over an icy landscape. It suits the music very well and also the narrative of each album. On the new album there is also a mountain, or a mountain range. But this time there is dark clouds over the desolate landscape. Is there an underlying meaning in this cover, a comment on our times?
First and foremost, it’s important to mention that the cover of Collide & Merge depicts a real place, while the previous covers/landscapes were fictional. The picture you see shows a part of the Romanian Rodna Mountains and it was taken by the very talented Arthur Kornovics, an artist we have known for several years. Although the place is very real, it somehow feels a bit unworldly, as if it is a landscape from another planet. This is a hint at the vastness and desolate infinity of space, a theme that comes back in most of our songs. On the other hand, mountains are the ultimate metaphor for our connection with planet Earth. They were here a long time before us, and they will still be here when mankind will be long gone. The dark clouds indeed indicate an impending darkness, light that is literally blocked out, but what this darkness actually stands for, that is something everyone has to decide for himself.
Very often your covers have a sparkling element – is that meant to symbolize hope?
In a way, yes. With Hemelbestormer, there is always this duality of light and darkness. It’s in our music, in our artwork and even in our live shows where the band members stand in darkness and all is focused on our sigils and visuals. The element of light, or hope, is important, because without it, life itself is futile and pointless. There must be a glimpse of light at the end of a tunnel, because what is the point of moving on if there isn’t some sort of goal? We always try to translate this to the artwork and music. The atmosphere can be very bleak, crushing and suffocating, but you never get the feeling that it’s hopeless or that all is lost, because there is also beauty and tranquility.
The color on the cover of the new album also form the same color theme as NASA´s pictures of galaxies merging, I guess that is not a coincidence?
I guess this is a coincidence, because I for one wasn’t really aware of this.
Corona has had, and in many places still has, a deep impact on the musical scene. How did you manage to rehearse, compose and record in the times of corona?
Like I said, composing is mostly done by Filip at home, so that was not really a problem. The entire album was already completely written before Corona took the world hostage, by the way. Rehearsing the songs in order to record them, now that was something else. Since we rehearse in a public rehearsal space, we weren’t able to practice for several months in a row. Again, we already had several sessions before the first lockdown, but as our recording date drew near, we started to fear that we wouldn’t be ready in time. Luckily, after some months some opportunities to rehearse arose and together with some vigorous studying at home, we managed to pull it off! The recording itself went very smoothly with no real issues.
The song released with the video, “Void”, is very heavy and the bass plays the slow melody over the heavy arpeggio style riffing guitars and also solo guitar. It is a track which has both – a kind of static and dynamic drives. How did you compose this song, impressively describing a void with your music? I think I would have thought about empty vast spaces even without the help of the title.
Thank you. This means you totally feel what we feel. Filip often makes a blueprint of a song in his head when walking, running or at night, when laying in bed. There’s aren’t always pure riffs, but overall more ideas and certain atmospheres. So, for “Void” in particular, he knew he wanted to start with a simple guitar melody (it’s not bass) and then kick in heavily. While recording those ideas in his home studio, inspiration follows and the song get shaped until it’s finished and all details are all cleared out. Small fact here: in “Void” you can hear a sample of the noise Saturn produces.
You have played many festivals. If you could curate your own festival, who would we see in the line-up?
Oh, if I could really have a go at this without any restrictions regarding the budget, I could easily go for a three day event with four stages a day (laughs) However, if it would be one single day with one indoor stage so every band can have maximum atmosphere, I would go for quite an eclectic line up with something for everybody. Oranssi Pazuzu should be there for sure with their absolutely unique and equally fantastic mix of Black Metal and Psychedelia. I saw them a few years back and my mind was literally blown. Best trip ever! Crippled Black Phoenix is another must have. They are without a doubt the Pink Floyd of today. Their main guy Justin is a truly beautiful person. Heart in right place, musical genius and completely living by his own rules and values. CBP always delivers, never compromises, like it should be! To put in some Death Metal, I would go for Musmahhu (I don’t know if they play live, actually) and Burial. Both bands are more recent discoveries of mine and they both capture the essence of Death Metal perfectly. For the Post Rock lovers, I’d book Year Of No Light and Caspian. The first one, because their combination of pure heaviness and tons of atmosphere is one of the main reasons Hemelbestormer came into existence. The second one, because it would make Jo extremely happy (they are very close friends of his) and in terms of pure post rock, there simply is no better act. For some moments of beauty and rest between all the storms, I’d go for Chelsea Wolfe with an acoustic set and Jonathan Hulten, the former guitarist of Tribulation. Their songs contain an eerie and almost haunting beauty and have an impact that almost cannot be matched by the heaviest doom or drone metal out there. Final two acts: Perturbator and Mysticum. Perturbator, because why the hell wouldn’t you book Perturbator? And Mysticum, because everything should be fucked up in the end! (laughs)
Now that concerts are possible again, will there be a tour throughout Europe?
Well, there will be several shows for sure, maybe even some smaller tours. Bigger tours of several weeks are rather difficult for us because of we all have steady jobs and families to support. Also, both Filip and me are teachers, so taking days off is not that easy. We have a lot of holidays, obviously, but we can’t choose the dates ourselves. So the planets should really be aligned if we want to do a bigger tour. (laughs) But we’ll see what happens. We have a few confirmations already and some other stuff is pending, so keep an eye on our social media pages for updates!
Going on a tour is much more for a band than just playing on a stage. When you are planning tours who does the merch, the bookings, the arrangements?
Merch is an internal affair as our guitarist Jo takes care of it. Not only does he have the talent and patience for it, he also really enjoys the social aspect of it. So if you see him behind the merch table at one of our shows, don’t hesitate to have a little talk with him! For a long time, we also did all the arrangements and bookings ourselves, but as you can imagine it’s very time consuming and it can also be very stressful from time to time. I think we did a great job, but eventually you reach the boundary of what you can do yourself. In order to take the next step, we went looking for a suitable partner for bookings, so we now work together with an agency called Heart Of Music. Needless to say that we are very looking forward to this collaboration!
The Belgian metal scene is a vibrant one, which bands do you think we and our readers should check out other than the bands you are part of?
Apart from the obvious ones like Amenra and Wolvennest, both are household names by now, I really have to mention Alkerdeel here. Very good friends of ours and their bassist Steven and I were even in a band together (SerpentCult, in which Michelle did vocals, so we’re all connected, hehe). Their unique blend of raw black metal and sludge is something you really need to hear and their album Slonk [read Thorsten’s review here] is one of the absolute highlights this year. Another hidden gem is Wyatt E. The name might suggest some country band or something, but it’s actually a very cool and atmospheric mix of instrumental Doom, Drone and oriental influences. Top notch stuff! Next up: Briqueville! Quite an overwhelming experience when you witness these masked dudes live. Honorable mentions for Serpents Oath, Paragon Impure, Bütcher, Emptiness, Voidian, Mordkaul and Goat Torment, all very good in their own styles!
So, for our infamous quickfire round, please chose one.
Tour with Ghost Brigade or Russian Circles?
Russian Circles, hands down! Simply one of the greatest instrumental bands out there and, as mentioned above, an inspiration for us. Funnily enough, Ghost Brigade was one of the reasons Jo started this project in the first place, but I wouldn’t say they were a real influence when it comes to the actual music.
Enslaved or Behemoth?
Ah, this is a bit more difficult. The old Enslaved-albums are top notch, but their newer stuff doesn’t always do the trick for me. With Behemoth it’s the other way around. Their old stuff is far from bad, but the later records, especially The Satanist, truly slay. That being said, I guess their latest, I Loved You At Your Darkest, was a bit of a letdown, so Enslaved wins this one!
The woods, the see or mountains?
I like all three, depending on my mood, but I have a special place in my heart for the sea. It’s the ultimate paradox: so full of life and beautiful, yet so destructive and unforgiving.
Going to space with Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic or SpaceX? Or none?
Since I am no elitist billionaire and chances are small that I’ll ever become one, none!
Post metal or Blackgaze?
Post Metal, since I’m not that familiar with Blackgaze. Of course I know Deafheaven, and I even can appreciate some of their older records to some extent, but in general I’m not too fond of it, to be honest.
Vinyl or streaming?
I’m no vinyl collector myself, but I don’t enjoy streaming music at all. I’m all about the physical product you can hold in your hands and admire. The artwork, the production, the hours of work that were needed to create an album, it all gets sort of minimized when you stream music. But apparently this is the future so at one point I’ll have to give in. (laughs)
Festivals or concerts?
Concerts. Festivals are a lot of fun and great to see a lot of cool bands in short period of time, but when you really want to see a specific act, it’s always better to check them out in a venue. The sound quality is a lot better most of the time, setlists are usually longer and the atmosphere is often better because you don’t have to worry about the rain, extreme heat or bright light. I once saw Cult Of Luna in broad daylight. Not bad, but zero atmosphere!
Touring or recording?
Touring! I don’t really mind being in the studio, but nothing beats traveling from place to place to present your music to new people every night. Apart from the actual show, I also really enjoy the “being on the road with friends”-part. Making great records is one thing, but having fun with friends while doing this is equally important!
Be sure to check back in the next couple of weeks for we might have more Hemelbestormer-related stuff for you in store!
Here you can watch the aforementioned video for “Void”