Interview with vocalist R Hellshrieker
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 5, 2020
Belgian blackened Speed Metal merchants Bütcher truly know how to arrange a wild and fierce party in the name of old school Metal. They really do. The band was formed in 2002, released a couple of demos, and played a bunch of local shows until it was put on hold in 2007.
In 2014, all the ice frozen around the band was finally torn apart and this frenzied and relentless corpse was back in action again. Three years after the reunion of the band, they released their debut album, Bestial Fükkin' Warmachine, on independent Belgian label Babylon Doom Cult Records, which has been well received in underground circles.
Three years later, these painted and hungry Belgian Speed Metal beasts' highly anticipated sophomore album, 666 Goats Carry My Chariot, followed on January 31, 2020. This time, legendary French label Osmose Productions handled the release which fueled the flames under their chariot and brought them to different places for many cool gigs. What happened around mid-March 2020, everybody is surely aware of by now. The whole world was on its knees due to the coronavirus.
The Metal Crypt contacted the band right after the news about the virus started to appear in many media publications and outlets. There was radio silence for six months until it was finally broken by the band's vocalist R Hellshrieker, who kindly wanted to inform us about things before and after the virus and how much they affected the band and what they have been up to during all this downtime when gigging has not been possible.
How's life in Antwerp, Belgium, these days? Afraid of Corona (not meaning the brand of beer)?
R Hellshrieker: Hi Luxi. I guess we should start by saying that you posed this question way back in March, when the Covid-19 situation was still a small virus situation that we all thought would be dealt with swiftly, like a common flu. Suddenly the world (or at the very least the entertainment world) as we knew it came to a halt. The flood of show cancellations and not even being able to rehearse, see my bandmates, go out to play and meet old and new friends, etc. really took a toll on me. I spent the first weeks, maybe even months, thinking the situation would be dealt with in a few weeks. So, in the spring I was still hoping for gigs in the summer to happen, in the summer I still hoped for a fall gig schedule and now I sincerely hope a vaccine is in the works so we have a 2021 festival summer. I guess a lot of people in various bands, and metal fans all over the world, had a similar experience. In any case, I was constantly postponing interviews because my state of mind about the situation would not make for a good read to our fans. A fear of a burnout and a huge disappointment in not being able to support our latest album properly was constantly on my mind. And it still is to be honest, but it doesn't make sense to continue to wait until a better state of mind comes along. So, I felt it was due time to try and give you an update and an answer to your questions.
Personally, I am not afraid of the coronavirus because the rules in Belgium are very strict. I follow this pretty well so it would be strange should I become infected. But the week before Belgium and most parts in Europe went in lockdown we played at the Hell over Hamburg indoor festival, accompanied by the usual party shenanigans. I met tons of people there so who knows, I might have had an infection and it didn't break through? I was never tested and don't plan on doing so if it's not necessary.
I am afraid, however, how our metal scene will survive. Well, survive it will, of course, but how will gigs look? I can't imagine metal being enjoyed any other way than in a mass of frenzied metalheads, drinking beers, banging and bleeding. If bands get to resume their "regular" way of performing in the coming months, we can look back at this as a common hiatus as our way of life. So that's all I care for and I am trying to focus and keep that goal in view. All of our 2020 gigs so far have been rescheduled for 2021. I sincerely hope we get to play them ALL.
OF BRINGING BACK THAT ROCK 'N' ROLL FEELING BACK TO METAL
You guys formed Bütcher in 2004 and there was a little hiccup of seven years when the band was inactive. You put out your debut album, Bestial Fükkin Warmachine, on Babylon Doom Cult Records on July 7, 2017. In a nutshell, your music on that one is, simply put, an evil, blackened Speed Metal frenzy in one package, paying homage to the eighties genre, everything from bands like Mercyful Fate to Exciter to Slayer to Cirith Ungol, etc. What's so fascinating about this era of Metal music for you personally?
R Hellshrieker: Nothing is as difficult as putting emotion into words. That era of music evokes in me nothing sort of the strongest of emotions. I keep getting swept away by the combination of the natural and organic sounds of the instruments, the lyrical content and various artworks, the enthusiasm and the sheer honesty of Metal back then. The shameless enjoyment that you hear and feel in all the bands' playing and the youthful yearning for either success or just the love of playing either fast and aggressive Metal, or melodic and epic Metal. Music just seemed to be less calculated, and though there certainly was a sort of rulebook (by which Bütcher also plays) in the way bands presented themselves... I just keep getting steamrolled by that balls out leather 'n chains approach. And music had RIFFS man! And unique vocals, and a pumping rhythm section. But mainly riffs are severely lacking in what's really popular in the Metal business (by popular I mean the mainstream releases on major labels). It's all about the most "brutal" sounding guitar or the fastest drums. It's surely impressive what some of these modern drummers can accomplish, but it's more science than music. Same goes for all those "fat" guitars. Sounds like a tank the first time you hear it, but soon it all sounds the same to me. It's been looped through a computer a gazillion times and all expression and musical craftsmanship (in the sense of writing catchy or aggressive choruses, or solos that evoke feelings) seems lost to me.
Compare that to any classic '80s album or underground gem and I can't find that uncalculated or rock 'n' roll feeling in today's major releases. But these last years Metal with a big M is fucking back! Maybe we can't expect our style of Metal to constantly sell out clubs and stadiums like back in the '80s, but a healthy scene has developed and there's a lot of high-quality Metal being released. Not saying that all things based on the '80s template are excellent, though, but I buy records of contemporary bands again, and really love to see some new bands performing!
What kind of things put the band on hold for seven long years?
R Hellshrieker: I am the only original member of the band. Long story short, but me and some friends started Bütcher because we wanted to bring some enjoyment back in the early 2000s. You know, all gigs were just Black and Death Metal, and everything was about "sounding extreme". So it was rather a jape, just to have an '80s-sounding riff on a Saturday night out. It was fun for a while, but it was very low quality and we never set out to truly do something special or release an album. As with so many projects the foundations got cracked by lack of interest in rehearsing, by stuff that happens with a member in life, or whatever. But it didn't feel bad. There wasn't a singular reason, it just stopped after a while and we had a good run with fun local shows. And that's all it was supposed to be.
GOOD FUCKING SPEED METAL
After the release of your debut album, the band's reputation as a ravenous, very aggressive and hungry Belgian Metal band started really sort of skyrocketing. Did it surprise you that there was this much of demand for your kind of style from both old and new fans?
R Hellshrieker: Well, after the 2007 split, fast forward to the end of 2014 and it was just a drunken night out, we hadn't seen each other in a long time, and we just decided to rehearse for the fuck of it. But we recruited KK Ripper for that. And during the following years KK Ripper and myself grew into a like-minded machine of Metal Power, and we wanted to take it further. We did a hugely successful local gig in Antwerp and we were very surprised by the response ourselves. So we whipped ourselves into shape and started to take it very seriously. We decided to set out to try and make an underground name for ourselves. You know, be a band that is truly respected by fans of the same music we adore. To achieve this, we had to play live A LOT, and a further result were some defining line-up changes which leaves me as only original member if you look at Bütcher as the same band from 2003. But I think the band only really started out in 2017, when KK Ripper and myself said, "we have something here, let's try to pursue our goal to play some fucking good Speed Metal."
And good Speed Metal only comes with true passion for the music, writing catchy riffs, performing like rabid maniacs and just bulldoze any stage we decide to play. And I think we can say that we are well respected for our live performance. We always play on the brink of total madness, and that flame of burning Metal always starts burning in the audience as well. Our fans are from all ages, the guys that were there when Show No Mercy released and the guys that started out listening to Midnight and Toxic Holocaust. To me, that's the sign we do things right. We're not some trip down memory lane but we create and play our Metal based on the classic foundations, we keep it fresh and contemporary at the same time.
The follow-up album, carrying the name 666 Goats Carry My Chariot, came out on Osmose Records on January 31, 2020, which continued the band's crusade to conquer Metal, showing your love of bands like old Iron Maiden ("Inauguration of Steele") and Bathory's Viking era combined with some snippets of Ozzy, King Diamond, Nocturnus, etc. ("666 Goats Carry My Chariot"). How happy and satisfied are you with this second outing from the band? Did it turn out the way you originally planned?
R Hellshrieker: Thanks for your kind words! The album did pretty much turn out the way we wanted it, yes. We aim to take the listener for a hellish ride and we wanted to achieve it via the riffs, the screeching vocals and a plethora of influences from our own Metal background. KK Ripper writes all the music and had strong ideas about the overall sound as well. He mashed it all together and I am still impressed how he had it all going on in his head. We knew we could achieve all by going back to the Voodoosound studio, but we did it in an incredibly short timespan, working in our new drummer (Mister LV Speedhämmer) only two weeks prior to the recordings, and playing a massive amount of shows with new members and friends of other bands helping us out. That it turned out the way it did is still kind of a miracle, considering the schedule we had. And maybe some extra preparation would have made it just a tad more elaborate, but the album screams anger and hot blood and I think the complete rush we were in at that time makes it the album that it is. That's one of the plus sides of analog recordings, you can sense the mindset KK Ripper and myself had at that time.
What was it like making the lengthy, over 9-minute title track on the album? I can only assume composing it, part by part, undoubtedly took more than just a couple of hours to complete... ;o)
R Hellshrieker: Well, as said, the music is KK Ripper's creation. He worked extensively on it, and it took us quite a few rehearsals to nail the structure. And there are a lot of details going on as well. It changed a few times, but it wasn't written in parts as far as I know. He had the main line all figured out, though I don't know how many hours it took him to craft it completely. I wrote the lyrics to it afterwards, as I often do. It has quickly become a live favorite, even if it takes over nine minutes but it really has become the band's anthem. We were amazed the last time we played in Germany, people are actually singing along to the melody of the main riff. So it will be a regular in our live set I think, along with "The Blakk Krusader" (which is actually a 2005 song revamped!).
If you compare the songwriting and recording processes of these two albums, what were the biggest differences between them?
R Hellshrieker: Mr. Ripper just evolved to channel more influences into our music. The first album is indeed a balls-out approach and it's a statement, like "here is Bütcher and we will put you to the reaper's scythe." And on 666 Goats there is more room for Heavy Metal and Black Metal alike, which is what defines Bütcher in the first place. We call ourselves Speed Metal, but mainly because that's the one metal subgenre that hasn't been tainted as much by modern standards. Speed Metal is a definition that still screams power and inflicts a rush of blood. But that won't limit us to put Heavy and Black Metal in there, or take things slow like in the opening of 666 Goats if it makes for a great song that still screams metal if you even dare to look at it. In any case, I agree there is a palpable difference between the two albums, yet both of them are fueled by that enthusiasm I was talking about earlier when you asked me what is so fascinating about the '80s.
You had quite a few festival appearances coming up this spring and summer that were all postponed due to this unfortunate COVID-19 situation. How important do you see these festival shows for the band to reach masses of people?
R Hellshrieker: Yes, all those sweet gigs are postponed to 2021 (hopefully they can happen!). We can't wait to get back out there. However well the album might be perceived, I still think us playing this live is THE way to experiencing Bütcher. The action between us and the crowd is part of the Bütcher cult so we will give our utmost to reinstate the "see Bütcher live!" credo that was going around, and hopefully widen our audience as well.
Speed and Thrash Metal has always done will in Belgium. Even Belgian Thrash Metal legends Cyclone decided to reunite in 2019, so that alone tells something about Belgian metalheads' love for the genre. How do you see the Belgian underground Metal scene these days, from your point of view?
R Hellshrieker: We have some great bands that are working their asses of. I don't even think you can call Evil Invaders underground anymore, they keep going strong and keep rising. Same goes for Carnation for instance. If we're talking about underground and old school vibes, we are good friends with Slaughter Messiah, Speed Queen, Bones... their latest EP rocks by the way. And we have such a strong legacy in Belgium, but I think honesty and hunger and passion are necessary in a good reunion so I reserve my judgements when I witness older bands live.
Physical or digital?
R Hellshrieker: Physical, all the way. Modern media is great to have some music in my car (which doesn't even have a CD player anymore, fuck that!) and to get to know a band. But I would never keep listening to a band via a "device." I need an album on vinyl or CD.
PLAY HARD, PARTY HARD AND MAKE KICKASS METAL
There's certainly been a lot of demand for all kinds of nostalgic trips. Do you believe if stars align favorably, there's a chance for Bütcher to achieve some of those things within a few years that are worth achieving (you tell me what they could be for the band, OK?)
R Hellshrieker: I really can't say. We are a very self-confident band when we hit the stage and I think that's what an audience deserves and needs to see. We are also certain that we have strong material. But with the music that we make, we are also aware that there is a limit to what we can achieve and where the bigger audiences' interests are. Getting as big as Slayer is simply not possible anymore, because we have decades of extreme Metal trod on by so many bands, and certainly not with how the music industry itself changes. Underground Metal will always have a huge fanbase, dedicated people that support bands by buying merch and records. But the online thing, the need for likes and downloads and Spotify appearances and whatnot, is what is required for making it big. And bands that play a more contemporary style of metal (without the big M) do all that so much better, and the competition is so fierce because everybody has that online platform now. And it's not about what you actually bring, but how it is perceived by the music industry's big bosses. So, that kind of greatness is out of the question. But a band like Nifelheim is respected all over the world, they travel the globe and play their music. That's all we set out to do. Play hard, party hard, make kickass Metal for like-minded Metal fans.
How will the band's hellish Metal ride continue in 2020, at least for the time being?
R Hellshrieker: Maybe we should talk about this in 2021! Right now we are rehearsing and writing new songs and that's all we can do. So we will maybe talk about this later, when heavy duty is resumed.
I wanna sincerely thank you, Mr. R Hellshrieker, for this chat and wish you all the cool and nice things ahead of you in the future. Last curses could be yours now, so just spit the venom out of your system... ;o)
R Hellshrieker: Whenever this fucking pandemic ends, come to our shows! Bang and bleed with us. And wear the speed swirl with swag! Cheers all!
|Other information about Bütcher on this site|
|Review: 666 Goats Carry My Chariot|
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