The Belgian Black / Thrash Metal band SLAUGHTER MESSIAH has been around for twelve years and is no stranger to the international underground scene. After the strong EP “Putrid Invocation”, the band managed to impress again with their EP “Morbid Re-Incantations” and earlier this year, their debutalbum “Cursed To The Pyre” was finally released. What you’re about to read now are two interviews with the band. The first one was done with drummer John Berry when “Morbid Re-Incantations” was released and the second one at the beginning of this year when “Cursed To The Pyre” was released. In the last interview, John Berry was accompanied by their frontman Franck ‘Lord Sabathan’ Lorent…
“Morbid Re-Incantations” – your latest EP – opens with the very strong song ‘Blasphemous Exhumation’. It is a song that shows you from a rather fresh side: a melodic and strong guitar riff to open the track and then take off in your well-known blackened Thrash Metal style.
John: “That song actually dates back to 2011. Our original idea was to record the song for the demo “Deathlike Invasion”. But we eventually re-worked it. The song has been part of our live set for a long time. But we had never included it until now because we kept changing our minds.”
What also really stands out on the EP is how well you managed to capture the atmosphere of BATHORY. Both ‘Crypt Of The Undead’ and ‘Bells Of Damnation’ totally breathe the atmosphere of the early days of BATHORY.
John: “That’s a nice compliment! BATHORY is almost the ultimate source of inspiration when it comes to Black Metal for our frontman Sabathan. That was already the case when he was still in ENTHRONED. BATHORY is also the reason why our guitarist Rod started making music. Our cover of the BATHORY song ‘Die In Fire’ – which is also featured on “Morbid Re-Incantations” – can therefore be regarded as our personal tribute.”
“Morbid Re-Incantations” is without a doubt your best work yet. You also seem to have found your own sound more than ever.
John: “We have certainly evolved in the way we play. But in the end “Morbid Re-Incantations” is an EP with old songs that already date from around 2011 when Sabathan joined the band. The purpose of the EP was mainly to record the songs that we have been playing live for so long and to make them available to our audience. We will present our new material on our debut album which we are currently finishing.”
There has been talk of that album for quite some time.
John: “We have indeed been working on it for some time now. Everything is pretty much finished, except for a few details. We will soon be entering the studio for two months. There will be eight new songs on the record, all of which have been written with the new line-up in the past twelve months. At the moment we don’t know exactly who will release our album. But all kinds of parties are very interested in us. The contacts are there, but we have not made a final decision yet.”
You have held the release-party of “Morbid Re-Incantations” in the club Elpee in Deinze (Belgium). How do you look back on that event?
John: “It was a fantastic evening, also thanks to EXTIRPATION and BÜTCHER… two very promising bands that play fantastic Thrash / Speed Metal. The club was packed with people. We have rarely sold as much merchandise as that night. Unfortunately, there were some minor technical problems such as our smoke machine which triggered the fire alarm (laughs).”
During the preparation for this interview, I noticed that you can hardly find any interviews with SLAUGHTER MESSIAH on the internet. Is that done consciously? Or do you feel that the media is ignoring you?
John: “To be honest, we are absolutely not fishing to get promotion. The fact that we haven’t made any real albums yet and don’t have a well-known label behind us doesn’t make us that attractive for magazines, I think. We don’t have a big promotion machine behind us, nor do we have a decent distribution. But we’re going to try to set that straight with our album.”
You have already played with SLAUGHTER MESSIAH in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Poland. As an underground band that is quite an achievement.
John: “It is true that we have already given quite a few concerts in foreign countries for a ‘demo band’. We have never lacked interest in getting booked for a mini-tour and good festivals. We have always liked being on the road. It’s only on stage that the intensity of SLAUGHTER MESSIAH comes to light. In recent years, we have been able to make interesting contacts in many countries and have gained the necessary experiences. In Sweden, the audience was completely on board from the first song. We sold all our shirts there. The response to our show at North Of The Wall in Scotland was also great. And we must not forget Poland either. The people were really excited over there, we should definitely return! We always have a great audience at our shows in Belgium and France. We can absolutely not complain, because we have been received wonderfully everywhere.”
Sabathan was the frontman of ENTHRONED from 1995 to 2000. How does he look back on his period with that band today?
John: “The years with ENTHRONED will always remain the most important period in his life for him. Because he achieved everything with that band he dreamed of as a child… performing on stages all over the world and getting in contact with the most diverse cultures. Hopefully we can do that again with SLAUGHTER MESSIAH.”
John: “More than three years have passed since our mini-album “Morbid Re-Incantations”. We played a lot of cool shows since the release of the EP. That was also the main reason why it took so long to finish the album. We had to put the requests for concerts on hold and even had to refuse some of them. “Morbid Re-Incantations” has done very well, the album is currently also out of print.”
You worked on your debut album “Cursed To The Pyre” for over a year. How would you describe the evolution of how the album came together?
John: “The record was actually finished a year ago. But we just didn’t get around to record the songs properly. In the end, that turned out to be a good thing. Because before we moved to the studio, we had a look again at all the songs and we adapted them a little or worked on them some more where it was necessary. Our guitarists come up with the music. That can be a rough sketch of a song, fragments of a chorus or even a concept without specific riffs. Everything gets processed later on during rehearsals and then forged into a song. Variation is important, monotony is something we absolutely try to avoid. But otherwise anything is possible… as long as it is pure Metal (laughs)!”
What stands out on “Cursed To The Pyre” is the infectious drive on the album. Right from the opening track ‘From The Tomb… Into The Void’, you really play furiously.
John: “We think that this drive you are talking about is very important. The pace doesn’t even have to be very fast. I see it more as a kind of catchiness that keeps the music interesting and even makes the listener curious. That is why it is so important to let all the different parts flow into each other nicely and smoothly.”
Franck, you said in an interview that “Cursed To The Pyre” is the album you are most proud of since ENTHRONED’s “Towards The Skullthrone Of Satan”.
Franck: “That’s right. I have the impression – as I had before with “Towards The Skullthrone Of Satan” – that this album is a sort of breath of fresh air in a scene where bands are continuously coming up with something you’ve heard before or try to copy certain bands from the eighties and nineties. I also find the production of “Cursed To The Pyre” overwhelming. The guitars sound really massive, the bass sounds as it should be and the drums are loud. The order of the songs is also perfect. The comparison with “Towards The Skullthrone Of Satan” immediately occurred to me, because the material touches me in the same way that “Towards The Skullthrone Of Satan” did back then.” John: “We recorded “Cursed To The Pyre” completely in our rehearsal room in my street. The owner has built a studio there and we have been able to test it extensively. Nguaroth was behind the control buttons. He made sure that everything was recorded in a good way. We took the necessary time for this and spread the whole recording session over a couple of weekends. Mersus then mixed and mastered all the recordings. He was the perfect man for the job. We didn’t have to explain anything to him, he knows our music and our genre through and through. If you have the luxury to have enough time to make an album, there really isn’t too much that can go wrong.”
The artwork of “Cursed To The Pyre” was created by ROK from the band SADISTIK EXECUTION. ROK was also responsible for the artwork of the ENTHRONED album “Armored Bestial Hell”.
Franck: “Indeed. I have not kept in touch with him over the years. But when I contacted him, he immediately knew who I was. I really wanted to work with ROK again because his extreme artwork fits our music and lyrics perfectly. We gave him beforehand the idea of a country devastated by fire and flames. When he sent us his design, it was just the way I had it in mind. ROK also did the entire layout of the album.”
“Cursed To The Pyre” is released by High Roller Records, a label mainly known for classic Heavy Metal and re-issues of old Metal albums from bands like DESTRUCTION, RAZOR, EXUMER and similar bands. High Roller seems like a rather unusual label for a Black Metal band.
John: “In my opinion, High Roller has always been an old school Metal label. Even more a traditional Heavy Metal label. They do indeed a lot of re-issues of classics, but also a lot of new releases. During our tour with VOMITOR last May, the guys from High Roller saw us play in Krölpa (Germany). There was some contact afterwards regarding live recordings of the show itself. And very soon we also talked about the release of the new record. They knew enough after seeing us on stage. Lately they have been releasing more extreme Thrash Metal and Black Metal. For example, the new and great album from DIABOLIC NIGHT.”
Franck, besides SLAUGHTER MESSIAH you have also been performing under the name SABATHAN for some time now, performing songs from the first albums of ENTHRONED. What was your main reason to start this project?
Franck: “I had the idea for SABATHAN since 2009 / 2010 because I really missed playing those old songs. The first ENTHRONED albums will always be close to my heart. But since I didn’t have a line-up, I abandoned that idea at the time and concentrated on the bands I played in at the time, DAWN OF CRUCIFIXION and HORACLE. At the end of 2016, a good French friend started to get me enthusiastic with the idea of starting a band with which I would play songs from the first three albums of ENTHRONED. At the same time, the organization of the No Compromise festival wanted to do something special for the twentieth anniversary of the death of Dan ‘Cernunnos’ Vandeplas with whom I founded ENTHRONED in 1993. I wanted to pay a tribute as best I could to my best friend who died way too soon. I have contacted some of the former members of ENTHRONED back then to see if they wanted to help to get this project started. The concert at No Compromise was supposed to be something unique and a one-off experience. But afterwards I received many requests that I simply could not refuse. I had a lot of support from friends who were also enthusiastic. I thought about it for a long time… whether I should continue this project and how I would do it. And then, as a courtesy, I reached out to all current members of ENTHRONED to see if this would be an issue for them. Luckily we were able to come to an arrangement. And so I was able to continue this adventure.”
John, besides SLAUGHTER MESSIAH you also play drums in the German Thrash Metal band NOCTURNAL. How did they end up with you?
John: “Avenger and I have been good friends for a long time. They already asked me a few years ago, but their drummer at the time, who I was supposed to replace, stayed in the band in the end. However, they came knocking on my door again in October 2018. And of course I didn’t have to think very long about it. I think NOCTURNAL is a great band. My favorite album of theirs is “Violent Revenge” because that album has the songs with the most variety. That album also has the best sound in my opinion – dirty and yet not chaotic – and sounds very tight. We live a long way from each other, but that is not such a problem. To practice, I have recordings that Daniel makes and that I can work on at home. And when we rehearse in Germany, I go there on Friday. We always have a kind of party then with the necessary food and drinks and rehearse on Saturday (laughs). And on Sunday I return to Belgium. The drive back takes about four hours, so that’s not the end of the world.”
What are your plans for the future once “Cursed To The Pyre” is released?
John: “First and foremost, celebrate the release of the record. And after that, play a lot of shows to promote the album and in the meantime start working on the successor, something we are already working on. Furthermore, we have some special ideas that we need to develop further. So I can’t say anything about that yet with absolute certainty. A ‘new’ release that will definitely see the light is a compilation of all our EPs and demos as they are all sold out. That will certainly be something worthwhile. But I cannot give further details about that for the time being.”