TOTTEN KORPS is one of the oldest and darkest Death Metal acts from Chile, but they’re not that known around the globe yet. However, their new album "Supreme Commanders Of Darkness" has what it takes to raise their reputation and it seems they’re ready to conquer a larger range of fans. The following interview was answered by guitarists Francisco Torres and Cristián Soto…
Hi there! Can you tell us your story? I know that you formed in 1989 before a first disbandment in 1994. So you lived the golden era of Death Metal. Can you tell us a bit more about your activities in Santiago during those years?
Francisco: "That’s quite a long story… even if you summarize it. At first, in mid 1989, Gerardo Valenzuela (vocals) and Fernando Toro (guitar) joined, who already had the band name in mind, but still lacked in members. They met with Claudio Illanes (guitar), Pablo Clares (drums) and Patricio Garcia (bass). After a couple of months they fired Patricio and then Oscar Jorquera and myself both joined on guitar, because Fernando and Claudio had left for personal reasons and the desire to do another project. Orcar Gonzalo’s cousin played bass for a couple of months, but he left again after the recordings of the second demo. The band went through several bass players in general, but they’re not really worth mentioning because they didn’t really contribute anything. With this line-up (Gerardo – vocals, Oscar – guitar, Gonzalo – bass, Pablo – drums and myself – guitar) the second demo "For The Infernal Insurrection" was recorded at Procor Studios in 1991, with guitars of the worst quality you can imagine. That’s why it sounds so raw. With the support of Toxic Records (Chile) the first EP "Our Almighty Lords" was recorded in 1992. This time a little bit more money was invested on guitars and Mesa Boogie amps which resulted in that particular guitar sound. On this EP all guitars were recorded by myself and the bass was recorded by Oscar Jorquera. After a 5-year break, Fernando and Gerardo decided to contact Francisco Torres to reform the band and to record the first album "Tharnheim Athi-Land-Nhi: Cyclopean Crypts Of Citadels" with new members Sergio Aravena (drums) and Cristian Ortiz (bass). "Tharnheim…" was recorded in mid 1998 and due to its poor sound quality it was rejected by Repulse Records, who had already proposed us to be part of the label for 5 years. It was unsuccessfully re-mixed at Studio Smile. Only the intro (which was created by me) was rescued. At that time I decided to leave, because I disagreed with some ideologies and Cristián Soto joined on guitar. In 2000 Gerardo was fired and Cristian Ortiz took over the vocals so that the first album could finally be recorded. After the recordings of "Tharnheim Athi-Land-Nhi: Cyclopean Crypts Of Citadels" I returned to the band. Cristian and Ricardo Reyes (who had been the vocalist for a while) both left, Fernando Toro played bass and also drummer Sergio Aravena left. You can probably imagine that all those member changes only resulted in a further delay of the band’s second album. In 2010 Fernando Toro was replaced by Andrés "SadaX" Peña on vocals and Alejandro Arce joined the band on drums. On bass Pablo Vera came in, who would only be in the band for about a year. So, Cristián Soto recorded all the bass until Karol Tapia finally joined the band’s definitive and current line-up (Cristián Soto – guitars, Alejandro Arce – drums, Karol Tapia – bass, Sadax – vocals and myself – guitar)."
TOTTEN KORPS is a very special moniker, what does it mean? Can you tell us why you chose it as the band’s name back in ’89?
Francisco: "TOTTEN KORPS is a derivation of "Totenkopf", a military symbol used in the 3rd Division of the SS. We don’t exactly know why Gerardo chose that name, but what we do know is that at that time there was a lot going on around the Berlin wall, which later was destroyed. Gerardo was reading a lot about the German culture and that is the reason why he came up with this name. It should also be mentioned that we never agreed with Nazism and we have never been involved either."
In the late ’90s / early 2000 you came back with your first full-length, "Tharnheim: Athi-Land-Nhi, Ciclopean Crypts Of Citadels", released by Dave Rotten’s Repulse Records (now Xtreem Music as you may know). What was the condition of the band at the point? Were you in touch with Dave and AVULSED from years before? Tell us more about that deal and the feedback you got after that release.
Francisco: "We got in touch with Dave through a Chilean producer who was traveling through Europe. He played Dave a tape of the band and he loved it. Dave suggested that we should work together and at the time we agreed to record 3 albums for Repulse Records. We only managed to record one, so for our part we do not demand anything. Dave treated us very well. He even invited us to play in Europe, but we could not go because we recorded "Tharnheim…" again. This delay really hurted us."
From the early years to nowadays, you had many line-up changes. Only you two, Cristián Soto and Francisco Torres, were in the line-up of the first album, and it seems that none of you played on the the first demo tape "The King Of Hell Reclaims His Throne". How has this affected the band?
Francisco: "The demo "The King Of Hell Reclaims His Throne" was recorded by Fernando Toro (guitars) and Claudio Illanes (guitars, UNDERCOFT), the two founders of the band. Then I joined in on bass. For a short time Claudio left the band and then I switched to guitar and also took over the songwriting. In 1991 the "For The Infernal Isurrection" demo and subsequently the "Our Almighty Lords" EP was recorded. Cristián Ortiz joined in 1998 in order to record the "Tharnheim…" album. Although I wasn’t involved in the recordings of this album, I have always been writing songs. So, even though I mam not the founder of the band, I always contributed to the musical development of the band."
"Supreme Commanders Of Darkness", your new album, is really great in my opinion. Your instrumental skills are surely better than in the past and I believe this is your best material ever. How long has been the songwriting process? Musically and lyrically, what did influence you mainly?
Cristián: "Since we finished recording "Tharnheim…", we immediately began to compose new songs and in 2007 we had eight songs finished and recorded them. But unfortunately that album didn’t turn out as we wanted, so it was discarded. Some musicians simply failed to meet our expectations. Torres, SadaX and I left the band and in 2010 Alejandro Arce joined in on drums with the aim of recording the album in 2013. The recording of "Supreme Commanders Of Darkness" was a long and thorough process. The recordings of the drums took 16 hours, the guitars and bass approximately 3 months, the vocals 9 months. Later, the mixing and mastering took another 3 months. Our influences have always been the same: MORBID ANGEL, CARCASS, AUTOPSY, MAYHEM, EMPEROR and TOTTEN KORPS. We use feedback as a resource. Lyrically we are influenced by the writings of Lovecraft, Occultism and Anti-Christianity."
Can you tell us something about the technical aspects of the album? I see that you, Cristián, produced it yourself. I think that this is an easier way to work, and many bands do the same nowadays. Did you have a specific idea of how "Supreme Commanders Of Darkness" had to sound?
Cristián: "Only the drums were recorded in a professional studio. I recorded the instruments and vocals with a Mac Book Pro. We recorded each guitar five times, in total 100 guitar tracks throughout the album, and that was just the rhythm guitars. For the leads we used more tracks. We recorded all this in our own rehearsal room. The bass was recorded direct to the computer and then reamped in study. The mix of the album was done in Cubase and as musical references IMMOLATION, DESTROYER 666 and PESTILENCE were used."
What about the artwork by Luis Martínez? Why did you choose to work with him for the realization of the cover artwork and illustrations?
Cristián: "I was visiting an art gallery in Valparaiso and saw the work of this artist. I contacted him and proposed him to work for TOTTEN KORPS. He agreed and sent us a sketch drawing of the cover of our album, plus many more pieces that ended up inside the booklet. The idea is to raise awareness of another high level artist in Chile through our work. You can check out more of his work at the following links: betomartinez.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/beto.martinezsalas."
H.P. Lovecraft is a common influence for Heavy Metal bands since the early ’80s, and of course you worship him as well. Did you have a deep knowledge of occultism, mythology and Satanism? What is your ideological relationship with death?
Francisco: "Not only HP Lovecraft has invaded our minds for years, but also August Derleth, who followed the footsteps of HP, based on his "beliefs" or ideologies or myths, whatever you wanna call it. I think it reflects the other side of evil which man could never understand. The evil expressed in the stories of Lovecraft and Derleth hardly can be assimilated by a human being. Metal is emotion, rage, energy, darkness and everything that Christianity denies. The primordial deities do not show a good and a bad side like all other mythologies, they are the most evil of all. We believe that’s why many of us enjoy these tales of horror and we partly use them as inspirations for our songs. We’re not into Satanism, but some of us still consider Christianity as the biggest lie of this planet. Satan is just a character like Hastur, Hades or the virgin Mary whore. We have no great expectations or a relationship with death. It is the only thing that you can be sure of and that one day will come. Death is the way which we are all destined to, no matter if you believe in fucking Christ or not."
TOTTEN KORPS are veterans of the Chilean scene. Together with PENTAGRAM CHILE, SADISM, TORTURER, DEATH YELL and ATOMIC AGGRESSOR (I shared the stage with them and DIABOLICAL MESSIAH at the Italian Brixia Death Fest last September, both bands performed killer shows!) you surely influenced a new generation of Chilean Deathsters. Can you tell us how strong the scene in Santiago is at the moment?
Cristián: "I want to clarify that Santiago is not Chile. The national scene is growing a lot and many new high quality bands have appeared. Even though Chile is a small country in population compared to its neighbors Brazil, Argentina and Peru, there’s more and more passionate believers. We are proud of playing and living Metal in such a little known place in the world, it gives us a little extra."
What are your plans for 2016? Are you just working on new material or are you also planning some live activities to promote the new album?
Cristián: "We are already working on our third album, we have never stopped working. If we are not rehearsing, we are composing or perfecting our skills on our instruments, while listening to a lot of music and instructing theoretically. This year we have been invited to play several parts of our country and for the first time we will play at the second edition of the Lima Metal Fest in Peru. The album is being promoted by Apocalyptic Productions in Chile and Pathologically Explicit Recordings and The Horror Dimension in Spain, and we also have a partner in Italy (Everlasting Spew). They are responsible for distributing the album in Europe, USA and parts of Asia."
Thank you for the dedicated time! End this interview as you want…
Francisco & Cristián: "Thank you for the interview and greetings to your readers. We hope to be in Europe soon to play our new songs as well as some of our old classics."
Interview: David Lucido
Editing and translation: Frank (with the help of Google translator)
Live pics: Álvaro Pardo Aravena