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Interview: Asphyx

Asphyx logoEvery genre has its cornerstones, its pillars, and then other people build on those. Asphyx are one of the cornerstones who keep people coming back to the old school vision of death metal, which is booming power chord riffs that sound like horror movies soundtracks -- epic, theatrical, symbolic and by the very nature of being in a place people wouldn't look for truth, able to spit out a clear vision of reality as a quest for survival. They also remind us all that doom/death is one of the foundations of the genre, not some add-on like disco-thrash or whatever is popular this week. We were fortunate to catch drummer and founding band member Bob Bagchus and to harass him with too many questions.

Asphyx was formed in 1987, when death metal and black metal were still new. What was the original vision for the band?

The vision was to make the music we loved the most. That was Death Metal in the vein of old Death, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Messiah, Slaughter and of course Venom, etc. It was just for ourselves.

As time went on, how did your music change?

It got more brutal and straightforward. Also we used fewer and fewer solos. We also got heavier and heavier. But as a overall view, we didn't change much. We always kept the typical Asphyx style.

Some have said that Asphyx has an "epic" sound, meaning that songs build up slowly and broaden in context, almost like religious hymns without the religion. Do you think this is true, and how do you achievethis style of songwriting?

Yes, I think it's true indeed. I don't exactly know how we achieved this, it just came/comes naturally. It's the style we like the best. We are just being ourselves. In fact, we can't do anything else or even want to do anything else. Every song is based upon 1 or 2 single riffs which are repeated over and over again.

Asphyx, the dutch death metal band, as they are today

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, isthere a difference in goals between the two?

Art is what is in the heart, entertainment comes from the head. Art is real, entertainment is forced.

What books and ideas influenced your music? Did something other than metal music inspire the "epic" sound of Asphyx?

Books mostly for the lyrics, but it's the old horror/slasher movies which inspired us for the music. The creepy feeling and atmosphere. That combined with our longtime musical influences and you get the epic sound of Asphyx.

Asphyx are known as pioneers in the doom/death genre, which combines the slow repetitive riffing of doom metal with the more elaborate songstructures of death metal. How did you arrive at this style?

We always listened to bands like Venom, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, old Messiah, Necrophagia, etc. so that kind of death metal was part of us anyhow. But also Black Sabbath was an influence more or less, with 1 or 2 single riffs carrying a whole song. And we always wanted to keep our music as simple as possible to get a heavier and catchy sound/writing. We never liked alot of riffs in a song, neither from ourselves nor from other bands. We like repetition. It's simply inside us. Asphyx = repetition.

The band has gone through many lineup changes, but elements of the1989 lineup -- yourself and Eric Daniels -- persisted throughout most of its history. How hard is it to work with different members, and who writes the songs? How is it the songs still sound "Asphyx-y"?

Yes, we were the most consistent factor all over the years. It's not too hard to work with different members 'coz I know how Asphyx should sound. The guitarist does all the compositions and then we'll arrange them in the rehearsal room. For instance on our new album Death...The Brutal Way Paul did all the riffs and compositions, then we got into the rehearsal room and Martin and I changed some little things and there it was. Some things came into existence through pure jamming as well. But Paul understands 100% how Asphyx should sound like, like he was a member all along. Really amazing!

On your self-titled album, no original members except Tonny Brookhuis were in the band, or so Wikipedia tells me. How did this situation come about, do you play this material live, and how do you feel it stacks upto other Asphyx releases?

Yes, that's true indeed. I was fed up with the music business at that time so I quit Asphyx in 1993, after Martin left the band in 1992. It felt I had no control anymore of my own band, so I got frustrated quite alot. I said to Eric that he was free to continue with Asphyx which he did. The Asphyx album is a good album. Eric did a great job on that one. But no, we don't play any material from that album live...oh no, wait, yes, we do play "Abomination Echoes," a very old song from the 1989 demo Crush the Cenotaph.

Your songs are distinctive, unlike many death metal bands, and like bands such as Slayer, Asphyx seems to like to have introductory songs and then one big epic song at the end of the album to close things out. How and why did you start doing this?

There no actual reason for it, to be honest. It just happens. It's the Asphyx who leads our way I guess...however cheesy that may sound. But it just always turns out that way.

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How do you conceive of a song: do you start with a riff, an abstract idea, an emotion, or a structure?

We always start with a basic riff that must carry the whole song. Or,sometimes we say, "Let's make a brutal Necrophagia-like riff (like Black Hole Storm)" and we take off from there.

But sometimes it's the emotion who leads the way as well, like "Asphyx II (they died as they marched)" when we were in the ultra doom mood or "Scorbutics" when we were in the total aggressive death mood.

Will you tell us how you get the legendary "Asphyx sound" guitar distortion? (It's OK if it's a trade secret, obviously.)

Hahaha, you're not the first one to ask this. It's not only the effects/distortion who make the sound...also the playing is a part of it.

What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?

The soul and emotion. Very simply said, but it's the truth. Technique has nothing to do with it. The more technique is involved, the less soul the music has. Music comes from the heart, not from the head.

Have the ideals and music of death metal changed since the early 1990s, or is death metal something immortal that never changes in form, even if new songs and ideas are created all the time?

Yes, they have. In fact, they changed quite a bit, unfortunately. Death Metal did evolve from straightforward very dark and brutal music to megafast super technical lalalabullshit as we know it these days. Don't get me wrong, there are still great new bands around, but most bands are trying to break the new speed/technique record instead of focusing on the songs itself.

But, luckily, there are still great bands who still know how REAL Death Metal should be played and be carried on. The old true spirit is still there. Take for example the German Necros Christos -- totally dark and obscure straightforward death metal. Or the Swedish Revolting or Paganizer! Excellent stuff...or Ribspreader! Brilliant Death Metal to the bone!

How does modern death metal/deathcore stack up to the originals?

Let me say this: "DEATHCORE SUCKS MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE"...man,I hate that term as well...Deathcore...bluurrghh! Modern death metal is horrible as well. It's getting way too technical and has no soul whatsoever. Sorry,not for me.

Now that you've released Death... The Brutal Way, will Asphyx be around as a band for the future? What will your next move be?

I don't know. We're still enjoying this alot. Our next move is a split 7" with Finnish doomsters Hooded Menace.

Asphyx playing live in 2006

Does death metal have an idea behind it, like Hellhammer saying "Only death is real," and if so, what does it mean to you?

Death Metal has an idea behind it, of course. Obscure, dark, scary and heavy music which easily could come out of a grave. The music is deathly, the lyrics are deathly and the atmosphere is deathly. That is what real Death Metal means to me. The creepy graveyard atmosphere surrounded by hostile darkness.

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Do you think humanity is headed toward greater enlightenment, or some kind of cataclysm or big failure? Please explain why.

A big failure since we are becoming victims of our own madness to science. I mean, we're even experimenting with creating black holes.....

18 questions it was, but it was fun doing them. Great to hear you're a long time Asphyx fan! Cheers to that!

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