What nobody really still expected to happen after the break-up several years ago is anno 2008 a fact: ASPHYX is back on track and sounds stronger than ever! When you see the liveshows they performed recently, you can easily tell that live, ASPHYX is still a killing-machine to be reckoned with. With a very strong album under their belt (“On The Wings Of Inferno”), ASPHYX seemed to go through a promising ‘second youth’ seven years ago until the totally unexpected departure of guitarist Eric Daniels suddenly changed it all. ASPHYX originally re-united last year for a single reunion-show. For this concert, the old members Martin van Drunen and Bob Bagchus recruited Paul Baayens (guitar) and Wannes Gubbels (bass) to complete the new line-up. The chemistry was there and the cooperation turned out so well that very soon more shows followed. A few hours before their first gig on Belgian ground in over fifteen years at the beginning of February, I had a nice chat about the past and the future with Martin and Wannes.
Martin, after your departure from BOLT THROWER, you’ve been out of the picture for a rather long time. Afterwards, you were active in SUBMISSION and DEATH BY DAWN but the really bigger audience probably didn’t even get that. When did the ball start to roll again for you and ASPHYX?
Martin: “That’s actually quite a long story. The thing is, we got a proposal from the organisation of the Party San festival. One evening, I was sitting together with Paul after a rehearsal with my other band HAIL OF BULLETS (who have just released their debutalbum “Of Frost And War” in the meantime – Steven). He told me that he thought that he could play the ASPHYX-material also which made me start to think. At first, Bob didn’t want to hear anything about it. But then, one evening, we went to the rehearsalroom together with the four of us and just tried it out. And it turned out surprisingly well (laughs). It seemed like a good idea to me to get Wannes in the band also as he did a lot for ASPHYX during the time when I was not a bandmember anymore.”
I understood that the original plan was to play one show only. In the meantime, you already played several shows in Germany and England and there are more shows scheduled in the Netherlands and Norway.
Martin: “That’s correct. For me, it definitely was the intention to re-unite in order to play just one show. The thing is that I’m just having a great time with this resurrection of ASPHYX. Not only during the gigs but also during the rehearsals. The chemistry between the four of us is really good and works really well.”
Wannes: “The Party San-show was more like a ‘Wiedergutmachung’ as they say in German. ASPHYX normally would have played at that festival in the year 2000 but a few days before that show, the band fell apart as Eric quit (around that time, ASPHYX were also supposed to play as a headliner on a festival in Belgium with PRIMORDIAL and ANCIENT RITES, they got replaced by DEADHEAD in the end – Steven). This was like a big shock for the organisation of Party San. And for me, this ASPHYX-reunion was like the ideal occasion to set the record straight again and to make up for what went wrong in the past. But, as Martin already said, the chemistry between the four of us is definitely there. Personally, I have the feeling that the band gets better and tighter with every gig. We also learn to get to know each other better on stage with every gig.”
During your recent gigs, you play almost only material from the albums “The Rack” and “Last One On Earth” – the two first ASPHYX records. This makes sense in a way as these are the only records the band recorded with Martin. But I was actually quite surprised to see so many songs from “Last One On Earth” pop up in the setlist. Because I can remember very well that Bob thought that the material on that album was dealing way too much with politics. And that politics had nothing to do in a band like ASPHYX.
Martin: “That’s correct and that’s completely my fault. It was I who gave “Last One On Earth” a political touch and I shouldn’t have done that. That was wrong of me. I was able to touch these topics in DEATH BY DAWN and SUBMISSION and I shouldn’t have done that on that album. ASPHYX is just not the right band for that. Luckily enough, most of the songs on “Last One On Earth” still have a sort of doom-character which suits ASPHYX. So, all in all, it’s not that bad. But that was indeed a mistake of me and I’m not afraid to admit that.”
With Wannes back in the band, one would somehow expect that you would also start to play songs of the “On The Wings Of Inferno” album again.
Wannes: “You never know what’s going to happen in the future. But you also have to be realistic. The first two ASPHYX albums with Martin are absolutely the most popular ASPHYX records. And when you play a set of an hour, you tend to play the songs that fans would like to hear and which they know by heart.”
Martin: “Personally, I would love to play and perform those songs. We are really open to everything. But it’s actually a bit the same story as MOTÖRHEAD. Each gig, they play ‘Ace Of Spades’ and this already for over thirty years. They always get comments for that. But you can be one hundred percent sure that from the moment they wouldn’t play that song anymore, they would get tons of criticism.”
You recently recorded two new songs: a coverversion of CELTIC FROST’s ‘Os Abysmi Vel Daath’ and a new song called ‘Death… The Brutal Way’. Wannes is rather wellknown for his CELTIC FROST-worshipping. So I guess the idea to cover ‘Os Abysmi Vel Daath’ was coming from him?
Martin: “Indeed (laughs). The story is this: Century Media is planning a compilation where Century Media-bands cover songs from one another. At first, we wanted to record a cover of GRAVE but they were already picked by another band. So, I had something like: ‘What now?’. Until Wannes came up with the idea to cover CELTIC FROST as they also have a link with Century Media. We gave that song a very own touch. It sounds very brutal and at the same time totally ASPHYX.”
Wannes: “The song ‘Os Abysmi Vel Daath’ seemed to me like an ideal track to work on. It’s also a song which we could really give an own touch. It’s a bit more slow which suits the doom-atmosphere of ASPHYX really well. Martin’s vocals also sound totally different when you compare them to those of Tom Warrior. In a couple of days we’re going to finish the endmix. I’m also going to add a few vocals. But I think we really managed to create a very strong and original version of that song.”
Martin: “The other track, ‘Death… The Brutal Way’ is a very classic ASPHYX-piece. It has the same atmosphere as ‘Serenade In Lead’. We fooled around a little bit with the idea of VENOM’s ‘Too Loud For The Crowd’. Which you don’t have to take literally (laughs). The spirit of ASPHYX is totally back because I wrote the lyrics in about half an hour. When we were in the studio to record the CELTIC FROST track, we were asking ourselves like ‘Why not record one more?’. We will put the song on our myspace-page real soon (which happened in the meantime – Steven) so people can listen to it and judge for themselves.”
Wannes: “We did ‘Death… The Brutal Way’ also a little bit for ourselves. We all know the old songs and we can also play them without any problems. But the question remained how we would handle new material. We really wanted to try that out. You don’t have to expect anything bizarre from ‘Death… The Brutal Way’. It sounds exactly as ASPHYX has always sounded. The credits go to Paul by the way, he’s the one who’s working the most on new material and who also wrote that track. If ASPHYX will ever record a new album, it should really have the ASPHYX-trademark all over (laughs). ASPHYX is a very traditional band. ‘Death… The Brutal Way’ was an ideal testcase for us. There’s no pressure whatsoever, we’ll just see how everything goes. ASPHYX still has a contract with Century Media. So, if we ever record a new album, it will probably be released through them again. But as I said, there’s no pressure from the record-company to record a new album as soon as possible.”
Martin, together with LEGION OF THE DAMNED, you recently recorded a cover of the PESTILENCE-classic ‘Chronic Infection’ for their new album. Did you have to think about that for a long time before you decided to go for it?
Martin: “No, not at all. LEGION OF THE DAMNED are very big fans of the old PESTILENCE-records. They told me that they would feel really honored if I would do the vocals on their version and I immediately had something like ‘No problem’. I’m not very difficult anyway when it comes to working together with other bands. LEGION OF THE DAMNED have been around for a very long time and they really worked very hard throughout their career. So I’m really happy for them that they finally start to get the recognition which they deserve. I also think that – especially in the Netherlands – it’s about time that we leave all the jealousy and envy which there was in the past behind us for once and for all and become one big family where everybody gets along with each other.”
There’s no doubt that you also heard that Patrick Mameli resurrected PESTILENCE together with Tony Choy and Peter Wildoer. What’s your opinion about this?
Martin: “I just hope that Patrick will be able to bring the spirit and the enthusiasm which he once had for PESTILENCE back in the band. There are no bad feelings between me and Patrick but I am a bit afraid that he will disappoint a lot of old PESTILENCE-fans. But hey, that’s the risk he’s taking. What I do think that is a bit strange is the fact that he just released an album with C-187 and has been telling for years that there will never be a PESTILENCE-reunion. In 2000, there was some contact between me and Patrick about a possible reunion. But I turned the offer down as Patrick refused to play the old songs. Under those circumstances I’m not going on stage because of course people want to hear songs from “Malleus Maleficarum” and “Consuming Impulse”. I would really find it terrible if the good name which PESTILENCE had in the past would go down the drain again. I hope Patrick will not experiment with Jazz-influences again. If he really feels the urge to do that, he should release the album under a different name I think. It seems like the PESTILENCE-story is apparently not over yet. But I wish him all the best and much success!”
Text and all pictures: Steven Willems