Interview with Drummer Bob Bagchus
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 3, 2012
Dutch crushingly heavy Death/Doom Metal mongers, Asphyx hardly need any kind of introduction. The band has been around for ages, even if this Dutch defender of old school Death Metal has been sort of in an 'on/off' state for a few times.
However, in January 2007, Asphyx was re-united once again and since then the band has recorded a couple of very strong albums for Century Media Records; Asphyx's comeback - and at the same time 7th full-length studio album - titled "Death... the Brutal Way" saw the darkness of day in the end of June 2009 and its follow-up record, "Deathhammer", followed three years later: both albums proving Asphyx still got it - delivering its goods in such a way that made their comeback more than justified.
Drummer Bob Bagchus wanted to share some of his thoughts about the life after the reunion, telling some ground reasons for the band's new coming as well as going back in time when Asphyx had just about started to take its first babysteps back in 1987, how the underground Metal scene looked like back then with such names as Nihilist, Autopsy, Samael, Mutilated and so on, ruling the underground Metal (tape trading) scene.
Luxi: How's it rotting over there Bob?
Bob: Hey Luxi! Everything ok here, busy with being busy... and all ok with you, my old Finnish friend? (yes, all's well over here too, thanks for asking - Luxi)
Luxi: Ever since Asphyx made its second coming in January 2007 and two years later released your comeback record titled "Death... the Brutal Way", it seems like people took you back with open arms, as if Asphyx had never disbanded in the first place. How did you feel back then when "Death... the Brutal Way" was finally out and found its way into music stores worldwide? Did you stop thinking for a moment that "we made it... I am so glad the timing was on our side this time", kind of like proving to yourself Asphyx is the band that you want to do until you retire from doing music?
Bob: Yeah, well, the response was amazing, really! In fact, we're still amazed! It was an exciting time to see "Death...the Brutal Way" being released and hit the stores. Most nervous we were reading the reviews, but most of them were really positive so we were quite relieved, as you can imagine. Well, Asphyx always had troubles, especially with line-ups, and when we could have "made it" we had to deal with a line-up change again, that was in 1992 with "The Last One on Earth". That album could have done it for us back then, but fate decided different. But fate was in our own hands... But of course Asphyx is my main band, I raised it in 1987 so it gets to you, you know. We've been through a lot of things during the years and it becomes part of you.
Luxi: When "Death... the Brutal Way" came out, many said that it was the best Asphyx album that you had recorded during your entire career. Did you feel the same way, that you guys had really outdone yourselves on "Death... the Brutal Way"?
Bob: That was said indeed, and to us that is the biggest compliment a band can get. A comeback album which is praised almost as much as your debut... not many can say that. We're proud of that. But the funny thing with "Death... the Brutal Way" was, is that it actually was a demo. Paul and me did a sort of try-out at our sound engineers studio. We recorded at first 6 songs and decided that if we did some more, this could be an album as well. It's very spontaneous.
Luxi: Three years have passed since "Death... the Brutal Way" was released and now there's a new record out from Asphyx, titled "Deathhammer". Due to the relatively huge success of "Death... the Brutal Way", did you feel any sort of pressure when you started working on your follow-up record, like setting some sort of bar of perfection so high for yourself, in which you basically told yourself "I need to do this and that better next time" so that your next album could be the one that pleases you most?
Bob: Well, yes, we did feel some sort of pressure since "Death... the Brutal Way" was embraced massively, but we certainly did not want to make a "D.T.B.W. - Part 2". That would have been cheap. No, of course it had to be a 100% Asphyx album as always, but we wanted the doom songs to be 100% doom, crushing and crawling like dragging through the mud. But we also wanted the songs to be even more straightforward, more catchy. And of course,"Deathhammer" pleases us the most, as always with the last recorded album. But everything fell into place with "Deathhammer". But most of all, we wanted to please ourselves in the first place. If we make a new song we have to be the ones who like it at first. If we get excited about it, then it's ok for us. We will never make songs to please anyone else. If that would be the case, why bother to play in a band in the first place?
Luxi: In my humble opinion, "Deathhammer" truly is a splendid piece of work from you guys, combining some of the best elements of old school Death Metal with some heavy, Doom Metal-laden riffs that really create an enormously crushing wholeness together, making me easily to nod my head and say "Death Metal done the right way". I guess this whole concept about being 'old school' is something that you are always thinking of whenever the stuff that Asphyx produce is concerned. Correct?
Bob: Well, thanks a lot for this great compliment! It feels very good to hear this from an old veteran like yourself! Cheers! Well, it's certainly not a case of 'being old school or not' - no, it's all a matter of being true to yourself and the love for Death Metal. This is who we are and always were. People can appreciate that or not, we do not care. This is our way of thinking and doing so. Old School is nowadays a term which is overused quite a lot; sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way since it's 'hip' these days. But in the end it's the real love for the music that counts. And people can hear if something is done with heart and soul or not. And music has to be made with the heart... not with the mind.
Luxi: Has it always been somewhat easy for you to set yourself into a songwriting mood whenever that time comes? Or do you first have to find yourself from some specific state of mind before your songwriting pencil reaches its sharpest trace?
Bob: We write songs when we feel like "damn... something is coming up..." and usually Paul has already great riffs ready to be composed. In most cases Paul calls me and says he likes to rehearse since he has great riffs waiting to be played at loud volume. Most of the riffs we already know since Paul already did send them to our Gmail address.
Luxi: On "Death... the Brutal Way", you still had Wannes Gubbels on bass. Why was he replaced later by Alwin Zuur? Did he become too busy in his personal life to handle the bass player's role in Asphyx, leaving you no other choice but to try to find a replacement for his position?
Bob: Because we had different opinions of the Asphyx bass sound. We like distortion (especially to fill a rhythm gap when a rare solo is being played live) + we love a distorted bass anyway (I was always a huge fan of Mayhem's "Deathcrush" and the Repulsion bass sound) and Wannes wasn't happy with a distorted bass in Asphyx at all since he thought it didn't fit. But in the end it's me who decides what fits and what doesn't fit. Asphyx had a distorted bass in the beginning with Theo Loomans (RIP) and later on with Ron van Pol. We had that already on our "Crush the Cenotaph" demo in 1989 since that was what we wanted from the start. If someone jumps in 10 years later - with all due respect, he has to adjust to the band's sound. No matter who it is. I did not form Asphyx to compromise later on. Starting a band means you have a clear vision of how the band should sound like and you're starting gather people who think the same. So we had two camps: one with Martin, Paul and myself and the other consisting of Wannes. That is an unhealthy situation for a band so we had to do what was best for the band. Wannes was on stage great to look at and he gave 100% every time. We had fun and also had great times, that's for sure. He can do whatever he wants to do in his own band, but playing in Asphyx is a different thing. But I wish him all the best and success in the world for him, his band and family since he is one of the nicest guys I know for sure. And again, we really had great times as well. We cannot forget that.
Luxi: As far as I know, Alwin is still an active member of his other band, Escutcheon, that has even recorded a couple of studio albums. Escutcheon represents more of this melodic Death Metal style musically, with influences mostly from the Swedish melo-Death Metal scene. My question about him is, was it easy to feed this idea into his head that there's not so much space in Asphyx for overly melodic stuff, and he would better tune down his bass before he comes to his first audition to prove for the rest of you that he's the guy you are looking for, to jump into those empty boots that Wannas left behind him when he stepped out of Asphyx?
Bob: No, Escutcheon split up, they did one album titled "Battle Order", and that was it. They were melodic for sure, but Alwin also played bass in the old school Death Metal band Pulverizer. We did some shows with them in the past and I was amazed by his brutal bass sound back then. The thing is he asked me in 2009 (November) to print some stickers for Escutcheon which I did. He picked them up later on at my house and we listened to the new Asphyx ("D.T.B.W." since he hadn't not heard it yet back then) and we had some beers. We started talking about our bands and I told him that Asphyx and Wannes were going separate ways. He said that he really wanted to handle the job. And yes, I told him that we wanted a brutal distorted bass - just like in the old days, and that we are not fans of melodic stuff. Alwin told me he prefers brutal, heavy simple straightforward Death Metal as well. In fact, in March 2008 he asked me at a Obituary show if I wanted to drum in an old school project he was starting, but things were getting hectic with Asphyx so I had to turn the offer down. But Alwin fits in 100% and he did a great job on "Deathhammer". He even wrote the first riff of a song "Vespa Crabro".
Luxi: How much do you credit the staff at Century Media for working their asses off for this new coming of Asphyx; with all the promotion, etc. that they have done for you thus far just to get Asphyx's name back on people's lips again?
Bob: They get a lot of credit! They do a more than fantastic job and that is much appreciated! They/we are a good solid team and we know what we can expect from each other. They are also great people to party with.
Luxi: Both Martin van Drunen and Paul Baayens also play in Hail of Bullets. Does it cause any conflicts inside the band from time to time when you should, for instance, book a set of shows for either one of these two bands?
Bob: No, no problems at all since we have a common band schedule which includes: Asphyx, Hail of Bullets, The 11th Hour, Thanatos and now also Grand Supreme Bloodcourt. We have the same booker,TMR Bookings, so all is settled.
Luxi: Also, both Asphyx and Hail of Bullets share the war theme. Is it just a pure coincidence that this war concept is heavily wrapped around both Asphyx and Hail of Bullets, or is there anything more purposeful behind this?
Bob: Well, we as Asphyx, already had war related songs on our "Last One on Earth" album from 1992, namely "MS Bismarck" and "Asphyx (Forgotten War)", so we'll have always one or two war-related songs on our albums. Martin is a huge war history fan, so it's his favorite subject anyway. Hail of Bullets have concept albums, purely dealing with certain world wars or parts of it. They are 100% about wars. Asphyx has also other themes as one can read. Both bands are completely different anyway. Hail of Bullets is a great band - and sure, we have the same frontman and guitarist, but that's all. The music is quite different however. Hail of Bullets is far more melodic than Asphyx is. But both bands defend the Dutch Death Metal flag with honor and pride.
Luxi: Having a quick look at Apshyx's gig calendar, I noticed that you already have some one-off gigs booked, even up to mid of August when Asphyx will play at Summer Breeze festival in Germany. However, it seems like there's no extensive tour in sight for you guys yet, so what's the latest news from that front? Is there a headlining tour of Asphyx coming up any time soon?
Bob: No, Asphyx will not do tours anymore. Only single club shows or festivals. We have busy jobs, our own families, etc. Touring is boring anyway.
Luxi: Playing live in front of a crazy audience obviously is a great experience for all of you. However, nowadays when you enter stages around different countries, I was just wondering what kinds of things have changed over the years when you confront your audience? Do you still get as excited nowadays as - may I say - when you were just a bunch of kids who wanted to get famous and known among the people?
Bob: Yes it is. It makes you proud and appreciated. Not that much has changed over all those years really. Mostly people still get wild and crazy which is a good thing. We love that! Sometimes one show is better than the other one but that's normal. We still get excited, we still love to go on stage. Every show is special and we are thankful for that. When we were kids (damn... I'm feeling old saying that, ha-ha!!), we wanted to spread the word of Doom/Death Metal and we kind of succeeded in that.
Luxi: How about in the area where you live; do you still have some of those nostalgic venues where you played with the band like some 20 years ago, or have they all closed their doors for some reason or the other?
Bob: Well, the most nostalgic venue, Atak in Enschede, is now a shelter home and they built a new Atak. Very big and professional, etc. etc. but it doesn't get to me. I still love the old Atak; the old muffy venue with old bikes in the corner, horrible beer but a great underground atmosphere. It already had concerts in the late 60's, hippies, etc. I saw my first bands there in 1986 and Bolt Thrower always played their first show from a tour there as well. I saw so many great bands there, got so drunk there etc etc. ... such great memories from there! Same goes for Metropool in Hengelo; the old venue was awesome - so were the times, getting drunk with Sinister and Entombed etc.etc. - and now they have a new building, highly professional, fancy looking, etc. but... it doesn't attract me any more due to a lack of this specific atmosphere. But that's because I don't have memories from that place (yet) - and all the important things happened during the 80's and beginning of the 90's so it's all time and age related.
Luxi: Are there some places in this world where you would badly like to play with Asphyx but are a bit worried about going to some of these certain countries due to some inner political conflicts?
Bob: Not really, no. Maybe Tel-Aviv but that's it really.
Luxi: Talking a bit about reunions of once disbanded Death Metal bands, as you also have noticed yourself, Asphyx isn't the only so called 'old school' Death Metal band that made its return back to the limelight. Autopsy, Morgoth, Massacre, Gorguts and a few other Death Metal acts have all made their comebacks. What's your honest and unbiased opinion about this matter? Do you like to believe that the main reason (or reasons) for most of these comebacks of old Metal bands are basically a result of old band members being driven by this strong and constant inner force to create something new all the time - plus naturally getting something back from those old, past days, when they were a part of some popular or important band, gaining some name for themselves among the Metal loving community (you cannot completely hide from this sweet sounding whisper of nostalgia, can you?)? This type of thing cannot be done just for the $$-marks in your eyes, unless you are some selfish and greedy asshole, I honestly believe...
Bob: It's great seeing those bands returning to our so much loved Death Metal scene! Autopsy and Massacre were both very important bands when I was in my puberty. For example Autopsy still deliver the goods! It makes you think "wow...things didn't change that much... we're all still here!!". It's a thing of time standing still a bit and that we are all still in the game. You even forget your age, ha-ha!! But this type of music can't be done for the $$... hell no! But if a band does it for the $, you'll hear it right away. No heart and soul. A real music lover can easily separate a fake from real one.
Luxi: Metal music has always been kind of popular for over 40 decades already - sometimes more, something a little less. Bands seem to come and go all the time but Metal music is still always there in one form or the other, never going out of fashion if we decide to express it this way. This leads me to ask from you next, have you come across some killer Metal acts during these 2-3 years that have made a somewhat huge impression on you as to what they represent music-wise? Some recommendations are more than welcome from you now... (*wink wink*)
Bob: You are right. Metal will always be there. Sometimes it's up - and then it's down a bit, but it's like an ever flowing stream (oh, and I did not think of the excellent Dismember debut album). As long as there are hard times, troubles, bitterness and rebellion there will be Metal, no matter in what form. Dark ages mean dark music. Yes, there are new great bands for sure, check out Beehler, Necros Christos, Dutch Entrapment or Nailgun Massacre, Bodyfarm or Funeral Whore. All great bands! Also Necrovorous from Greece are great! So is Suicidal Angels. All great dedicated bands and that shows. We recently played with Necrovorous in Athens and they are great!
Luxi: Since you started Asphyx together with Tony Brookhuis back in 1987, can you still remember anything from those times like what were some of your personal goals in the very beginning that you wanted to achieve with this band - besides of course getting eventually noticed by some nice record industry people that would like to start working together with a young band like Asphyx was at the time...
Bob: Well, I was massively impressed by Mayhem's "Deathcrush" and I wanted a chainsaw sound like that. I already was in contact with Euronymous and we shared our thoughts on real Death Metal at that time. I wanted Asphyx to be a mixture of that Mayhem, Messiah, Venom, Hellhammer, Necrophagia, Slaughter, Death and Celtic Frost. We did covers of Mayhem's "Necrolust", Death's "Infernal Death", Celtic Frost's "Nocturnal Fear", Venom's "Nightmare" and "Countess Bathory". I still remember everything. We wanted to spread the word of Death Metal. Bay Area Thrash was trendy at that time (Testament, Exodus, etc.) and we hated that a lot. We wanted the opposite. I wrote with a lot of bands back then such as Nihilist, Autopsy, Mayhem, Sadus, Obscurity, Grave, Rigor Mortis(NY), Satan's Holocaust, Rotting Christ, Samael, Mutilated, Imperator, etc. etc. the scene was tight. We all traded demos or bad rehearsals but Tony and I were not thinking of a record label at all. All we really wanted was to record a studio demo... a real studio demo. After two years we recorded a rehearsal/demo "Enter the Domain" in the end of '88/beginning of '89 with Chuck Colli on vocals/bass. But Chuck left and I got Theo Loomans on vocals and later he took over the bass from Benno Cremers in March 1989. Together with Benno, also Eric Daniels joined the band and so we recorded our first studio demo "Crush the Cenotaph", also in early 1989. We were proud of it as hell, I can tell you! After that we did the "Mutilating Process"7" for Gore Records run by Slatko Dolic (RIP).
Luxi: As it's known already, Asphyx made a deal with British C.M.F.T. Records and your debut studio album titled "Embrace the Death", was recorded during 1990 for them. Sadly, the label went bankrupt, and "Embrace the Death" was never released - until 6 years later on Century Media with a new artwork and stuff. As far as I understand, you'd have wanted to release that record with its original artwork but due to some circumstances that were out of your control at the time, "Embrace the Death" was released with a completely new artwork. Would you mind by kindly shedding some more light on this unfortunate matter, what exactly happened there with the label and stuff? I am even more curious than ever now...
Bob: Yeah, we all know who did the original artwork... damn, still can get pissed thinking of that loss! Well, the label's 'boss' took off with all the money. I phoned to his house while we just finished recording "Embrace the Death" and got his mom on the telephone. She told me that he took off with the money and many people were looking for him. But anyway, we told the studio owner that we wanted the tracks on tape - with intro and effects, so that we could listen to it at our homes and return a week later for the real mix. Of course we never returned and he did not have our address or phone number, but at least we had the tape (it was on Maxell XL II 90). But we had already sent him all the lyrics and the original artwork done by Luxi... it was all gone, or it still is somewhere in England. If his mom is still living there the original album cover artwork for "Embrace the Death" might still be there too even today, but of course nobody knows. A shame since the original artwork was killer! Total death! Nobody heard a thing about this guy again...
Luxi: So, being in your forties hasn't slowed you down that drastically as you are still heavily into this band; playing gigs around the planet, going to concerts and checking new bands out, etc., just like you did when you were in your twenties or something. What's your secret, Bob?
Bob: Age doesn't matter to me, really. I love doing what I am doing. It's a part of me and it always will be. There is always something to look out for, there is always a goal. For instance, just 35 minutes ago Paul phoned me and said "check out our Gmail... new epic Doom stuff right there, I have a new part of a song..." - just like I told you earlier there, it happened just now. And I did check it out and it's fucking MASSIVE!!! I'm all excited to record it real soon!
Luxi: Okay, I think you are already bored to death with my questions, so I need to let you go now, after you have answered to my final question: Pizza with mushrooms, or meatballs with smashed potatoes? Which of these two alternatives is more often on the Asphyx gig rider?
Bob: Not at all! I honestly can say that this is one of the best interviews I've EVER done! Seriously!! You really thought about your questions and that shows! Respect... Oh... uh... we don't have food on our rider, just casual beer and desperados. But if there was food on our rider then it was meatballs with smashed potatoes for sure. With grease, of course. Metal is meat! Meat & greet.
Luxi: I want to sincerely THANK YOU Bob for your time with this interview and wish you all the great things in the future. May your path be well rewarded in the future too. Any closing comments for the readers of The Metal Crypt, perhaps?
Bob: No, thank you for doing this great interview and thanks a lot for your patience as well! Cheers!!! Thanks also for your nice words! Well, to the readers of The Metal Crypt: thanks very much for reading this interview and for your all support! Cheers and see ya!!
|Other information about Asphyx on this site|
|Review: The Rack|
|Review: Embrace the Death|
|Review: Reign of the Brute|
Copyright © 1999-2017, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.