East Frisia, a part of Northern Germany near the dutch border seems to be full of promising extreme Metal acts like ANASARCA, BK 49, DESPONDENCY or SENESCENCE. Two other absolutely killer bands are called GALLERY OF DARKNESS and OF TREES AND ORCHIDS and as guitarist Florian Engelke plays in both outfits it seemed to be a good idea to have a little chat – of course via e-mail (he lives too far from me, almost 5 kilometres!). As OTAO for example deservingly received excellent reviews in mags like LEGACY and HEAVY, ODER WAS!?, reading this interview should be the last couple of minutes for you before contacting Florian for a copy of both CDs. In case you’re into Death Metal there is no way of getting around this! But now I’m gonna stop boring you and leave it up to Florian to sell his products – here we go!

When and how did you get hooked to Heavy Metal and later on to Death Metal, was it a concert, a record or maybe a friend?
"Well, that’s a difficult and critical question. I really don’t recall the moment or point in time when I got hooked to Metal. I can approximately trace back my individual Metal development, I think I’ve been hearing Metal now for about 11 or 12 years. I presume everything started with bands like HELLOWEEN, AC/DC, JUDAS PRIEST, SLAYER, METALLICA, some LED ZEPPELIN and DEEP PURPLE stuff etc. I developed this passion constantly, and virtually I didn’t now anyone who shared this feeling, too. So I had to buy all the material, records, shirts, mags etc. by myself. There wasn’t anybody who could have given me some advice according to information spread by a mag or something. It didn’t last long till I recognized that I preferred the more brutal stuff in this new and young genre. My daddy bought me a SEPULTURA record because of the fact that I improved my maths results at school those days, hahaha. This record ("Morbid Visions") contained a piece of paper on which stood further information concerning other Roadrunner acts like PESTILENCE, OBITUARY, DEATH, CEREBRAL FIX etc. When I saw the cover artworks of these killer outputs I knew that I was condemned to listen to extreme Metal music. And perhaps I even suspected that I would play in a brutal Death Metal act one day, too, hahahaha…"

Do you remember your first Metal record and concert? What was it like?
"I think my first Metal record was something of HELLOWEEN, or was it AC/DC? – I can’t answer this precisely. But I exactly recall my first Metal concert. It was a SCORPIONS show in Oldenburg (Weser-Ems-Halle) – I think it was in 1988 or 89, don’t know. I remember my dim fascination for the Flying V Rudolf Schenker played that evening… what I also remember is a crazy guy who set his shirt on fire, took it onto the top of the crutch he had to walk with and swang this impressive torch from one side to the other – I was deeply moved. That was incredible for a 10 or 11 years old boy who was about to dive into the universe of Metal extremeties …"

Do you still like traditional Heavy Metal, do you follow the ongoings and new outputs there as well or are you through with that style?
"I have to admit that I have never been a big traditional Heavy Metal freak, there are some acts I still like and respect very much (especially acts like CELTIC FROST, HELLHAMMER, BATHORY) (traditional Metal???? – Frank) But it would be a lie if I said that I am still informed properly about this typical scene. Of course, there is the additional problem that many of the old faves have changed and developed into a negative direction… or rather into a direction which doesn’t correspond to my personal taste anymore. I don’t want to judge. I am aware of the fact that many highly skilled musicians and formations are active within the so-called traditional Heavy Metal scene. But I gave priority to other Metal types such as Death Metal, Grind, certain Black and Thrash Metal outputs. I like extreme Metal – that’s it!!! But on the other side it’s definitely no problem for me to admit that I like progressive acts like the incredible PAIN OF SALVATION, DREAM THEATER, WATCHTOWER, RUSH, ROBERT PLANT records or even bands like GAMMA RAY, ACCEPT, IRON MAIDEN or YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, STEVE VAI etc. It wouldn’t be satisfying for me to listen to Death Metal acts exclusively – I like good music, I listen to Arabic music, classical compositions, Jazz, Blues, Pop and so on. And this precondition forms the character of my bands: OF TREES AND ORCHIDS and GALLERY OF DARKNESS… there will always be progression, innovation, development within a certain scope!!!"

What event finally made you grab a guitar, when and how did that happen?
"Yuuuups, another of those questions that require exact answering – not my strong point, hahaha. I have been playing guitar for about 8 years now. Some day I recognized that I wanted to play an instrument. And this instrument was supposed to be a guitar. As many decisions in one’s life this recognition didn’t come abruptly – it was a constant flowing of development. I got an old guitar as a present, I played it and felt a dazzling fascination – I immediately started to compose my own songs, I very seldomly played material of other bands – it’s rather the case today that I play material of other acts such as MORBID ANGEL, CANNIBAL CORPSE, IMMOLATION, SUFFOCATION stuff. After some time of practicing I decided to save money in order to be able to afford better eqipment in the future. I worked for it quite hard – an then I was able to buy a Marshall Valvestate amplifier, an Ibanez STD 6 string guitar, a Laney speaker + a Boss effect processor. Today I play ENGL amps, Marshall speakers, a DigiTech preamp and an Ibanez 7 string RG series guitar."

What does it mean for you to be writing songs, recording them and playing live?
"Playing, recording and performing music has become an essential part of my life. Virtually that’s it. We love to perform our material live on stage, I like to record material, to experiment and improvise in the studio. Writing songs means to create a medium which conveys a significant part of my inner self, it means to compose something that articulates my individual way of observing life."

Can you give us a short history of your two bands, OF TREES AND ORCHIDS and GALLERY OF DARKNESS?
"Well, I formed OF TREES AND ORCHIDS in early ’97, I think it was in the spring or summer time. The original line-up consisted of Marcel (words), Felix (bass), Heinz (drums) and me (vocals / guitars). It was our plan to combine Death Metal tunes with atmospheric elements, we sounded a little Gothic Metal-like in those days (I am terribly sorry for that, hahahaha). In ’98 Marcel and Felix left the band because they couldn’t identify with the sound that got more and more brutal, ’98 was also the year when Karsten – who still is a band member – joined OF TREES (…). We worked on as a trio: Karsten (vocals / guitars), Heinz (bass) and me (vocals guitars). In November ’98 we recorded our first CD "Fragmente aus dem Fließenden" – it contains complex arrangements, semi-technical Death Metal with spheric components, but already with this typcal progressive touch that still is conveyed by our music. The sound got more and more brutal and technical. In early 2000 Heinz left the band and more or less immediately Dirk of brutal DESPONDENCY joined us on drums. He’s a magnificent drummer – very technical, tight and precise. I think he’s one of the best musicians in our scene; check out his skills on our second CD "Thought-Cathedral" or the debut CD of his second band DESPONDENCY ! In September 2000 we recorded "Thought-Cathedral" – our second album. It contains quite technical, complex and progressive Death Metal with a cool sound (Soundlodge studio – OBSCENITY, GALLERY OF DARKNESS, DESPONDENCY ). After that we toured a lot, and finally in 2001 (August / September) we recorded (we are still recording, hahaha) our third CD… or rather our first demo / mini-CD. This time we produce it by ourselves with the great help of some friends of SENESCENE (neurotic Doom / Death) – so no compromises concerning an ultra-brutal sound!!! The working title of this output is "Nothingness", that’s not sure yet, but what is sure is the fact that the material is a logical development of our style: the 4 compositions got more brutal, more technical, but partly even straighter and (important!!!) darker. I think this output will be released in October. It will be released as part of a SENESCENE / OF TREES (…) split CD which is called "Harvest" (according to a portray by Joel-Peter Witkin) and it will form the already mentioned demo CD ("Nothingness"?) – the demo CD which just contains OF TREES material will be used for label-applications only! GALLERY OF DARKNESS was formed back in late ’97. We started with the goal to create brutal and fast Death Metal. The line-up in those days was: Holger (drums), Karsten (guitars), Konstantin (lyrics) and me (guitars). In ’99 we recorded our first CD "Sea Of Silence" – it contains semi-technical, fast Death Metal. In early 2001 Holger – our drummer – left the band because he wasn’t interested in extreme Metal anymore. Now Florian of THE AWAKENING (www.theawakening.de) joined us on drums, he’s also a very talented and motivied drummer. I think we’ll record a demo-CD by ourselves in the following months. It will turn out to be "into your face, brutal and simple high-speed Death Metal" in the vein of acts like DISGORGED, SEVERE TORTURE…!"

Where exactly do you see a difference in the approach of OF TREES… and GALLERY OF DARKNESS – aren’t you afraid that you might mix it up in the end?
"This question is quite simple to answer. I think the previous answer has already suspected this differnce: OF TREES AND ORCHIDS play Death Metal which is pretty complex, technical, brutal and DARK wheras GALLERY OF DARKNESS play uncompromising, violent Death Metal – that’s it. The demandings of both bands are totally different…"

You and Konstantin are responsible for the GALLERY OF DARKNESS lyrics – do you have a similar lyrical background, can we get one of Konstantin’s infamous monologues about his inspirations?
"Yeah, it’s true that we wrote the GALLERY OF DARKNESS lyrics together in ’97 / ’98 or so. Some of the lyrics on "Sea Of Silence" are written by me. Today this isn’t the case anymore! Meanwhile Konstantin writes all the lyrics – that’s why I can’t tell you so much about his intentions – I could give you tons of information with regard to the OF TREES (…) – lyrics but the GALLERY OF DARKNESS lyrics are Konstantin’s business. I think – according to several discussions I had with Konstantin – that his lyrics are kind of social-critical, but not in the sense of those slogan-like Hardcore lyrics that oppose to fatal political conditions, deplorable states of affairs etc. – altough this needn’t be the case concerning Hardcore lyrics, I don’t want to judge this kind of music at all – but you know what I mean. Konstantin’s lyrics are aggressive, angry and revealing (for example concerning human behaviour in a threatened natural surrounding). I think sometimes they are very direct, sometimes quite metaphorical. Unfortunately, he isn’t around at the moment… otherwise you could actually be witness of one of his infamous monologues about his inspirations – but very likely this would expand the scope of this interview and perhaps someone reading this would be harmed – and we don’t wanna risk that, right?!"  (Not really. Once I was lucky enough to witness such a monologue by Kontantin and it was indeed a strange experience – Ramon)

Why did you call one of your bands OF TREES AND ORCHIDS? I would expect a Gothic Metal band behind this name. Isn’t it a bit dangerous not to call his band in the bloody tradition of Death Metal? Death Metal fans might not find out about you…

"That’s a serious concern – I know. We have been existing as a band under this name for about 4 years now. We have played a lot, two (very soon three) CDs have been released under this name – but despite all this we are considering to change our band’s name because of the reasons you mentioned above. I chose the name in a time that was formed and marked by different demandings. Of course, I have already been a Death Metal-freak in those days – but there also was this strong Gothic Metal influence, provoked by bands like ANATHEMA, MY DYING BRIDE, Doom acts like CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETERNUS etc. I still admire these and other similar bands, but we have been playing brutal Death Metal with the characteristics I have been frequently mentioning in the interview for over three-quarters of the time the band is existing now. Our plan is the following: We’re still discussing new names for the band (no information yet until there isn’t something precise) – we think that we are going to change the band’s name as soon as we have got a record-deal. Then we’ll inform the "fans" accordingly via the internet, our website (www.oftreesandorchids.de), other websites, via magazines, webzines etc."

The cover of the new OF TREES… CD is marvelous – but way too small for a CD. But as there is probably no chance of releasing this one on vinyl: what can you tell me about it?
"It’s cool to hear that you like the cover artwork of the "Thought-Cathedral"-CD. I also think it’s brilliant. The cover design has been accomplished by a friend of mine whose name I mustn’t mention here (why not, if he did such a great job??? – Frank). He’s very talented and he understands what kind of imaginations I have with regard to graphical concerns. We have more or less similar demandings, we are working together in other projects, too, our musical taste has also certain parallels. I like the arwork because it’s dark, some kind of sinister, it suggests something catstrophic and disastrous – but without using superficial portrays of brutality and disgust. For me it’s the MORBID ANGEL-effect, hahaha…."

Not only VOICES… discovered OF TREES… – in the German based Legacy magazine "Thought-Cathedral" received a great review, too. Is there more to come?
"Hahaha, I hope that there is more to come! As mentioned above a new OF TREES (…) – CD will be let loose onto feeble mankind in the course of the following months, it will be brutal, sick and dark – yes! I hope that we will attract the attention of interested record labels that might sign us! We desperately are in search of a deal (but we are still critical!) that eventually could give us more options concerning recording our material, touring, advertisement, promotion etc. The same applies for GALLERY OF DARKNESS – we are willing to spread our acoustic malignancy as much as possible because it’s worth it!" (Hell yesss indeed! – Ramon)

What I found a bit strange about the song ‘Nyarlathotep’ is the extensive jazz part in the middle: don’t you think it comes a bit out of the blue? At least it might people turn away from OF TREES… Additionally, you decided to put this particular song on the Legacy compilation! Commercially suicidal tendencies?
"We don’t care about commerce. We are just playing the music we love and which we think is worth to be released – I think the jazz part in ‘Nyarlathotep’ is cool, but that’s my personal musical taste, haha. OF TREES AND ORCHIDS is a progressive band in the sense that we release and produce music which bears development and innovation within itself. Everything within a definite stylistic scope. It’s supposed to be Death Metal, conveying according brutality and technique! I would be happy if a label recognized that one day! We are uncompromising in every respect, we play brutal Death Metal with both bands, OF TREES (…) is more bizarre, quite techical and malignant, GALLERY OF DARKNESS is straighter, just brutal! If there is a change within these scopes it’s a necessary and conscious artistic desicion!"

As an outsider one gets the impression of the East Frisian extreme Metal scene being on the rise: bands like ANASARCA, BK 49, OF TREES…, GALLERY OF DARKNESS, etc. have great potential, plus the quite popular OBSCENITY right at the border to East Frisia. Death Metal moving from Florida to the north of Germany? On the other hand I heard about that particular scene not being united at all, silly rivalries between some bands and such. Can you give us an impression?
"Yes, the extreme Metal scene here in East Frisia and surroundings is quite strong – that’s true. There are some rivalries like – very probably – in every music scene, but I don’t want to refer to this topic here, stupid human relation-concerns regarding selfishness and arrogance shouldn’t be handled here ; -) Furthermore I can state that the pontential of the extreme Metal scene in this region can be traced back to the reduced entertainment-options, hahaha, when you don’t have a car here you’re lost forevermore!!! And because of the fact that most Metal freaks are poor dummies they have to lock themselves in their rehearsal rooms and practice until their fingers and throats are bleeding! I really don’t know if that’s a proper explanation – very likely it’s just an accidental fact as many things are in life."

Do you know other bands you met that are not well known but worth checking out?
"First of all it’s difficult to decide which act is not well known, hahaha. OF TREES AND ORCHIDS and GALLERY OF DARKNESS aren’t well known, either! But I know what you mean… for example, DESPONDENCY who play reaaaallllllyyyy brutal Death Metal (it’s not just the fact that they claim their music is brutal and aggressive like many boring bands in the Metal scene – these guys are fucking brutal!), SENESCENE is a very talented bizarre Doom / Death band with some strange ingredients – I hope that they get rewarded for there efforts someday! There are lots of cool bands that are way too unknown for their potential: further bands would be – of course – acts like OF TREES AND ORCHIDS and GALLERY OF DARKNESS the demanding and extreme Metal fan should become more familiar with, hahahaha…"

People like Count Gothmog from FUNERAL PROCESSION are doing a lot for the extreme Metal scene in your area – was it him who gave you the chance of being the opener at one show for cult act NUNSLAUGHTER? Which of your bands was it? How did that show go for you and what are the guys from NUNSLAUGHTER like? Are you still in touch with them?
"NUNSLAUGHTER are cult – that’s true. The bandmember are cult, too! They like our music, they were even quite enthusiastic about it and proposed to check some American labels with our "Sea Of Silence" – album. Ohhh, we played with GALLERY OF DARKNESS a great show that evening. Other bands that played that evening were INTO DARKNESS and (I am not sure) GARDENS OF GEHENNA. You are right – Count Gothmog does a great job for the Metal scene in our region. He’s very dedicated and organizes lots of shows in different clubs here. He’s a true Metal maniac, hahahaha."

I’m asking because the only thing the Legacy review criticized was your German accent on "Thought-Cathedral" which I didn’t find that disturbing but maybe this would be an opportunity not only to have a native speaker on your record but also a legend. Shouldn’t be a big problem in the age of internet and MP3…
"Yeah, I think if we should plan some spoken passages on an upcoming OF TREES (…) release I would ask a native speaker to do the job, maybe my best friend who’s from England. But in the following half year I will live in England because of studying-matters. I study English linguistics and have to express myself with the fluency of a native speaker – perhaps after this time in England there won’t be the necessity of asking a native speaker to bear responsibility for this job – hopefully my English will have approached the qualities of a native speaker then very closely!"

You’re a big H. P. Lovecraft fan – how much did he influence your concept on the new OF TREES… album – it’s not directly derived from a Lovecraft story, is it?
"Lovecraft has influenced my lyrical concept for exactly 3 times… or rather 4 times? Hahahaha, just kidding, he influences me regarding to my complicated way of expressing the intention of the according text, his bizarre, dark atmospere he creates in his oeuvre influences my style in a very special way. But I don’t take over contents of his genius stories. There’s just a strong influence concerning a diffuse feeling I am forced to express. The lyrics are reality-based, they utter observations which can be trivial, very deep, superficially boring and many things more. I articulate things I want to preserve in lyrical form, it’s extremely important for me to fix impressions which simultaneously are fragments of being."

For both bands you have excellent drummers – aren’t you afraid they might quit the band for a better known act? Good drummers are hard to find and some time ago you already told me that you used to play in a band together with the new OBSCENITY drummer…
"That’s true. I used to play with the topical OBSCENITY drummer in a pretty technical Death Metal act that was called INTO THE MATRIX. Before this guy joined OBSCENITY several other drummers were asked by the OBSCENITY members for audition-checks. Our OF TREES (…) drummer was asked by these guys, too. But he denied because he didn’t want to play this melodic, old-school influenced Death Metal like OBSCENITY does! We have a mission – everyone in the band! The team spirit in the bands is very healthy and strong – nobody will quit just because another bigger band offers more popularity! It’s some time ago now that I have been asked by the DEW-SCENTED guys if I was interested in joining their band. I said "yes, but I won’t neglect my bands – that’s for sure!". We rehearsed a little – but I found out that I didn’t like this kind of neo-thrash Metal they are playing! But these guys are really cool and we’re still in good contact – greetinx!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

You’re playing many self organized gigs – what are your favorite places to hit the stage and why?
"That’s cool and annoying at the same time because it costs a lot of energy to organize such gigs. That’s why we wanna have a record-deal. I hope that a cool record company will support us someday so that we can play more shows. So – record companies, get in touch right now – I’d love to provide you with an extensive promo-package immediately. I think our music is worth being promoted by a brutal Death Metal label, or a music-label in general. What is important is a passionate and dedicated company that is convinced of the bands it works with!!!!!!!! My favourite place to set the stage (on fire)? Hmmmm, I think it’s somewhere in Belgium. So here are my greetinx towards the Belgian Metal scene, all our friends and fans there – a biiiiiig "hello" goes out to Henne and mighty IMPEDIGON, AXAMENTA, OCEANS OF SADNESS, INHUME…"

Do you have a master plan for your bands, are they fun projects or would you give up your future plans for a record deal and a tour supporting MORBID ANGEL?
"Damn! Yes!!!!!!!!!!! The coolest thing that could happen would be a deal with an adequate record label. And of course an extensive tour with the godfathers of malignancy: MORBID ANGEL. They influence me philosophically and musically – hail, Azagthoth, hail, hahahahaha."

Where would you put your priorities in case of "big" success – would you consider to quit GALLERY OF DARKNESS or OF TREES…?
"I’ll try to keep both bands alive as long as possible. They’ve got totally different backgrounds and demandings – I love them both!"

What are your near future plans for both bands: when can we expect new releases and where can we see you live?
"We’ll be playing in Berlin (K17) on the 14th of September 2001 with OF TREES (…), HIDDEN IN THE FOG (Hi guys) and SENESCENE. Other shows with OF TREES (…) will be on the 12th of October (Oldenburg, Werk 2 – with NAGELFAR, HIDDEN IN THE FOG, THE AWAKENING, DEMON’S EMBRACE) and on the 13th of October (location’s not confirmed yet!). With GALLERY OF DARKNESS there will be a little tour with TEARS OF DECAY, PROFANITY and HUMAN WASTE on the 28th and 29th of September, locations are Bielefeld (don’t know yet where exactly) and Trier (same). From October to March / April there will be a little (performance) break because of my England trip! But after that we’ll be back with intensified brutality!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Do you already have a funny story to share with us? With somebody like Konstantin in your band I could imagine so…
"Ohhh, there are tons of funny stories. Especially Konstantin is someone who constantly causes nonsense-situations, hahahaha. I think one of the strangest things he’s done so far is beating up our new GALLERY OF DARKNESS bassist Torsten (ACT OF FATE member) the first time he rehearsed with the band. I presume that’s because he had to mark off his territory as the band’s silverneck (special ape within a Gorilla pack), hahahaha."

Last Words?
"Of course! I thank you very much for the (extensive) interview, Ramon! My fingers are bleeding now. I want to say hell-o to all extreme Metal and music fans in general – check out my bands’ outputs – especially the new material on OF TREES (…)’s "Thought-Cathedral" and the upcoming OF TREES (..) and GALLERY OF DARKNESS demos. The sound kills and the material is fucking brutal and intensive. Labels and all people interested in acoustic grotesquery get in touch via e-mail (thought-cathedral@gmx.de or gallery.of.darkness@gmx.de) or check out our websites at www.oftreesandorchids.de or www.gallery-of-darkness.de , there you can find lots of information about both bands, projects etc. If you want to write letters – my address is: Florian Engelke, Im Timpen 18, 26903 Surwold, Germany – every letter will be answered!!! CD’s can be ordered via the address I have mentioned above by sending 10$ (p&p inclusive) or 18 DM (p&p inclusive) for each CD! Support the underground, stay fucking brutal and take care. By the way – check out cool bands such as DESPONDENCY, ACT OF FATE, SENESCENE, IMPEDIGON, INHUME, AXAMENTA, BK 49, DISINFECT, JACK SLATER, FALLEN YGGDRASIL, CARPE NOCTEM, TEARS OF DECAY, ANASARCA, PROFANITY… thank you for the support, brothers and sisters in conviction!!!!!!!! Cheerz…"

Ramon Claassen

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