No one could have imagined that 30 years ago in the small village of Bielen in The Netherlands, that a very successful Black / Death Metal band would emerge. 30 years on and God Dethroned unleash a barrage of hellish brutality with their 11th album 'Illuminati' having completed their 'War Trilogy' (Passchendaele, Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross and The World Ablaze) with such aplomb, especially with the latter album being a struggle as Henri went on to explain in our interview with GD's front-man, he divulged into the challenges of music recording, the Dutch Metal scene and customs checks they had to face, when visiting the UK...
[The] 'Illuminati' were basically a secret society fighting for freedom, it's not so mysterious as it looks to many people."
Given God Dethroned's longevity and line-up changes, what in essence has kept the band going?
"It's because I like to play live and of course make new albums, but for me especially nowadays the reason to make new albums is to be able to play live. Recording an album is OK but it's not the thing that I like the most, I like to go out to play at festivals and shows at the weekend, some cool tours here and there... yeah that's the main motivation and that's still there after all these years"
Having completed the 'War Trilogy' (Passchendaele, Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross and The World Ablaze), what convinced you to shift away to different lyric topic entirely?
"Hehe well you know, back in the day I decided to write a concept album about WW1. I came to that idea because our guitarist Isaac Delahaye lives in a part of Belgium where a lot of the fighting went on; there's a museum, war cemeteries and monuments and things like that, it really intrigued me and so I decided to write 'Passchendaele'. That album was received very well by the media and fans alike, so I made the 'stupid' mistake to announce the fact that I would write a trilogy about WW1 and it all seemed to go very well. We did the second one 'Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross' and then I discovered it was a lot more difficult to write lyrics about WW1, because as you know most of the time people were just shooting from trenches to the enemy's trenches, so not much was going on.
So by album two I covered most of the topics that I could find and then I still had to do album number three, so it was really difficult to write lyrics for 'The World Ablaze' and I was really happy that I could finish that album... but in the mean time our fans started requesting that we would go back to the dark side so-to-speak, to write lyrics about religion, occult themes, etc, so it was a no brainer to do that again and it felt like a relief, to be able to write lyrics about said topics; one topic per song instead of one topic per album, let alone three albums."
With respect to your new album 'Illuminati', could you give us the backstory behind each song title?
"The track 'Illuminati' refers to the organisation from Germany, they were basically a secret society fighting for freedom, it's not so mysterious as it looks to many people. They were a society who wanted to read certain books that were forbidden at that time by other religious organisations at the time, they secretly fought against those religious organisations in the name of freedom in order to read those books that were forbidden, that's basically who the illuminati were. I created a story where it takes a mastermind to infiltrate and replace a new world without religion and that's the story I created around the illuminati."
What was it like working with artwork designer Michal Xaay Loranc (Nile, Evocation, etc), engineer Ortrun Poolman and Hugo Alvarstein?
"Oh yeah pretty good, I mean Ortrun is our live sound guy so he basically did the setup for the drum recordings. Michal Loranc is the Polish guy who did our album cover, the management sent me a list of artwork designers and I liked his the best, so I contacted him and he wrote back to me saying that he is a long-time God Dethroned fan... what an honour it is to ask me to do the album cover. So he came up with this album cover right away which is really beautiful and said 'Henri, this is possibly the most beautiful artwork that I have ever did in my life' and then Hugo is the guy who did the mastering, he is also one of our live sound guys and has his own studio which is really good; the mastering turned out really great."
Focusing on the track "Eye Of Horus", did you dabble in Egyptian mythology for it?
"Yeah I did, I read about the god or half-god Horus and basically the story is about the battle between good and evil, from which I made my own version of it. This is the song that our guitarist Mike Ferguson wrote and when I listen to the composition, it gave me this Egyptian feeling and I thought OK I'm going to write some lyrics that fit the feeling of this song that it gives me, that's how I came up with the 'Eye Of Horus'."
Out of the whole album 'Illuminati', was there any tracks that you could consider challenging and / or ambitious?
"When it comes down to recording drums, bass and rhythm guitars, all of the songs are really doable, I mean when we record the basics, they are finished within a couple of days no problem. But usually when it comes down to trying different things with the vocals, like this album we have of course my main vocals, Jeroen's backing vocals and then we have the choirs (something I did myself together with some other people); that was challenging, along with the grunting and singing at the same time which was challenging. So you have to try different things and that it's not that you don't know how to do it, but if it's something you haven't done before on the songs and you are trying so many different things, then it takes a lot more time.
It's the same with the keyboards, we decided to put a lot of keyboards in the music but not in the foreground, it's all in the background so to lift up the atmosphere and add more layers to the music; making the songs more interesting to listen to in the long term because you will discover more and more things in the music, again those are the challenging things because you're trying something and then you're trying something else here and there, and then decide what you're going to use, this takes a lot of time because this is something you cannot prepare beforehand."
Was the music video 'Spirit Of Beezlebub' easy to create and what is the story behind it?
"Well we wanted to do something different instead of just a regular band video, so we looked at the lyrics and looked at the songs... lyrics that would be easy to put into a music video, so we chose three songs: 'Illuminati', 'Spirit Of Beezlebub' and 'Book Of Lies', all of these have been released with the latter in conjunction with the album release.
What you see in the music video is a short movie which represents the lyrics of the songs and 'Illuminati' was already discussed earlier; in this case you see a priest who shows he wants to abuse children so we bring back to life a mummy who is going to kill the priest. 'Spirit of Beezlebub' is about trying to change and kill evil, but then it comes back to kill you. 'Book Of Lies' is more of a band video but features aspects of the illuminati and is more so about the bible."
Most bands form in either towns or cities, but for God Dethroned's origin is in the village of Beilen, what was it like in the beginning and what can metalheads do there?
"Haha, there's nothing to do there at all. I guess that's why it was so worthwhile playing in a band because nothing was going on there and yeah I found my first musicians back in the day in the area. Nowadays I have to drive all across the country because everybody lives in a different corner of the country, but that's what you get when you get bigger, you get better musicians who live in different places. But for me it was a relief to play in a band back in the day because for the rest, you have just a few pubs and that's it. You just start a band and are not that good in the beginning, finding musicians who are on the same level and from there it develops and along the way you find better musicians; resulting in travelling a bit further."
Regarding the Dutch Metal scene, would you say it's strengthened and grown over the years?
"Yeah I mean there are a lot of bands that are big, back in the day there was us, Asphyx, Sinister, Severe Torture and probably Pestilence, some of those bands sort of disappeared, are still on the same level or have gone up in the world. But in the meantime we have a new wave of bands such as Epica, of course they existed for many years but they grew slowly and steadily and now are a huge band. Another big export band so-to-speak is Within Temptation who are also huge, we have other bands like Carach Angren who play Symphonic Black Metal and are getting rather big at the moment internationally. So I guess we're doing quite well in this country and there's old bands and new bands, but luckily those new bands are getting big as well because one day they will need to fully replace the old bands. Overall I guess we have a pretty strong scene."
With regards to Brexit, are you concerned about the challenges you may face coming to the UK?
"No I'm not, I mean OK we will be checked by customs but that's also the case now, even though the UK is still a part of the European Union (EU). Last year when we visited the UK on tour with Belphegor, we had to go through customs so it was already the case. I guess if we were to go again after Brexit, nothing's changed and I'm not worried about you guys, I'm pretty sure that the UK will manage to get new trade deals with all the other European countries again, the USA and places like that. I think you guys will be fine, of course it will feel like a new beginning but after that it will be business as usual."
Are you surprised about the global impact heavy metal has made, seeing bands emerge from far-flung countries?
"No I'm not, you know in the past you wouldn't know if there were bands in Iran, Iraq, Indonesia or some other far away country from us. But of course there are people there who love to listen to and play metal, maybe for them in the past it wasn't a natural type of music to play... they have become modern societies, they listen to Western music and I guess as there are people who like to play metal, that's what they like now. I think it's great! Why not? You know the world has become smaller because of the internet and so I guess it makes sense."
Outside of God Dethroned do you have any other hobbies or interests?
"Yeah I build guitars through my company Serpent King Guitars, that's what I do most of the time I don't play (The song 'Serpent King' was taken from Henri's company name). One of my friends always called me 'serpent king' instead of Henri so he would be like 'hey serpent king how are you doing', this is what he has said to me for many years, so when I founded my guitar company I thought 'OK what am I going to call it?' and then I thought 'of course, I am the serpent king so it's going to be 'Serpent King Guitars'."
Are there any guitars that you have made that you're specially proud of?
"Basically all of them, but I have made some really special ones: one is called 'The Anubis', which is a really beautiful one... I play them all every once in a while and build a new guitar for myself, which I can show off by playing live and people see that, check out the website and give feedback and say they want to buy a guitar like that and that's how we do it."
Any finals words? Greetings you wish to send out?
"I just want to thank the fans in the UK for following God Dethroned all these years and hope they will check out the new album and hopefully we will be able to play in the UK soon again."