Interview with bassist and vocalist Pete Helmkamp and guitarist Gene Palubicki
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 23, 2016
Death Metal institution Angelcorpse is back on the road playing a bunch of well-selected shows for their fans for the first time since they broke up back in 2009 to focus on other band projects (Perdition Temple, Blasphemic Cruelty, Kerasphorus and Abhomine). The main reason for digging Angelcorpse out of its murky grave was that some people, especially the younger generation, had never seen the band live. The core of Angelcorpse, Pete Helmkamp and Gene Palubicki, brought the band together again at the end of 2015, using two session drummers (Ronnie Parmer and Andrea Janko) for touring purposes.
The Angelcorpse tour hit Europe in October 2016 and reached the frosty shores of Finland on October 28th where they played their first ever headlining gig at a venue called Nosturi in Hell-sinki. They shared the stage with Mörbid Vömit, Torture Killer, Pyre and others that night.
Yours truly got to meet both Pete and Gene a few hours prior to show time and we talked briefly about the ongoing European tour, the reasons behind it and everything else related to this ominous entity named Angelcorpse.
Luxi: So, how are you doing guys?
Pete: We're doing well, man.
Luxi: This is your first time in Finland, right?
Pete: With Angelcorpse, yes.
Luxi: I was wondering what expectations you have from the (Finnish) crowd here tonight?
Pete: Excellent fans. Craziness, mayhem, you know? We want to see some good aggressive fucking fans, having a good time, listening to our music, so...
Gene: We've always known that there have been a lot of Angelcorpse fans in the Scandinavian regions, including Finland. We're expecting it to be as explosive as everything else we've ever done.
Luxi: Do you have any other experiences from Finland, like playing here in other bands?
Pete: I was here in 2009 with Revenge for the Black Flames of Blasphemy Festival so I was able to visit Helsinki.
Luxi: Oh, yes. How was that experience for you?
Pete: It was good.
Luxi: As for the Angelcorpse live lineup you have Andrea Janko behind the drum kit on this European tour. How did you find him?
Pete: Angelcorpse is using session drummers right now when we play live. Our previous drummer was a session drummer and now we're working with Andrea here in Europe and more than likely in the future as well...
Luxi: What about Ronnie Parmer, who you had with you when you were playing shows around the States earlier this year; is he a full member of the band nowadays?
Pete: Not at all.
Luxi: So basically, you are saying that you're going to use session drummers for Angelcorpse from now on, as you have always done?
Pete: Yes. Angelcorpse is Gene and Pete. We've had many drummers in the past so it just seems logical to continue in that tradition of giving people opportunities to play with us and opportunities to play with them.
Gene: The key creative drive of the band has always been me and Pete and whoever we can find to best fit what we're looking for regarding performance, attitude and everything else for the drummer.
Luxi: You played at California Deathfest two weeks ago. How was that experience?
Gene: ... and smelly.
Luxi: Okay... [*laugh*]
Gene: A brilliant time but pure chaos.
Pete: It was great. It was good. We had a good time. We had a really good time there. I don't know what to say, I mean a festival's a festival.
Luxi: How was it arranged compared to The Netherlands' Deathfest, which is like a brother festival? People tend to say that the European festivals are a little better organized compared to festivals in the States. What's your view?
Pete: I don't think that's necessarily true. I mean, every region has its own environment as far as how a festival is set up. The types of people that go, the types of venues that you can book, so, I mean, we don't have any complaints.
Gene: The trouble in the USA is for larger festival events as there are not a lot of good venues that can house them whereas The Netherlands' Deathfest is at the Old Thirteen, a huge indoor venue. It's perfectly suited for festivals and that's why there are more than one every year. You know, there's not really a venue like that in the US, or very few of them and Heavy Metal music doesn't have access to them.
Luxi: Do you have some new material in the works with the intention of recording a full-length album in addition to playing shows for the generation of people that never saw the band live?
Gene: We've talked about the idea of making new stuff for the fifth Angelcorpse album but at the moment we're just trying to settle on what would be the right way to do it. The thing is we can't just repeat ourselves and cannibalize our old material and try to just put the name of Angelcorpse on it. It has to sound like something that would be coming from us. At our age and with the time that we've been around we can't just try to copy and rest on our laurels and call it the band. It has to be something that's going to be the successor to whatever the band has previously done.
Pete: I mean, with Gene and myself, we have had many projects and bands beyond Angelcorpse so we have to be certain that although we are moving in different directions, as far as our style evolving as individuals, when we come together, if we're going to make a new Angelcorpse album, it has to be within the parameters, within the box of what Angelcorpse is. Not what Abhomine is or Kerasphorus or Perdition Temple or Blasphemic Cruelty. It can't be any of those things. It has to be an Angelcorpse album.
Luxi: When Angelcorpse broke up in 2000 did you feel that you had given everything you could to the fans so it was basically the right time to say goodbye, at least for the time being? I would guess many people have been demanding you guys play live again, especially those fans that never saw Angelcorpse before.
Pete: It's one of the reasons and we're really enjoying playing live to an entire new generation of fans, many that are younger and that had never had the opportunity to see Angelcorpse. We're also playing in many different places that Angelcorpse hasn't played before like Helsinki. It's a good opportunity for us to reach different audiences as well. So, honestly, that's what we're doing. We're playing live, we're performing, we're showing everyone that Angelcorpse music is still powerful and strong and creative and it needs to be out there and we're giving it to a new generation of fans as well as the generations that have been into the band since 1996.
Luxi: When you look back are you amazed by the fact that Angelcorpse created such a buzz back in the day - and in fact, you still do today...
Gene: I think a lot of the evolution of what led to the Angelcorpse sound and the appeal of it was due to the creative discontent we had with the music, especially Death Metal or Black Metal music, at the time we started. It was right after the major labels started dabbling with Metal bands and a lot of bands were trying to go more commercial or alternate directions to become the new big thing. We came from more isolated regions of the United States so we listened to the things that we liked and we weren't hearing those things any more.
We weren't hearing the snarling of Bathory or Hellhammer any more. We were hearing the crazy type of exploding sounds that we liked from Death Metal, Speed Metal and all that. We put that together with no care if it became a commercial success. We were happy with it, so we did it. I think people picked up on that because it was the opposite direction where most of the other bands were going at the time. People could hear that on our demo tape, recorded poorly on a four-track cassette player. People noticed and they liked it because of the rawness.
That carried through and contributed to the successful releases we did and then we just expanded on that and I think a lot of people followed with us. Clearly, they have because twenty years later they're still coming out to the shows and caring about the songs.
Luxi: Just a couple of days ago I was listening to Angelcorpse non-stop, hours and hours and this is just my opinion, of course, but your music reminds me of the sound that Morbid Angel had on Abominations of Desolation. That chaotic, energetic and totally wicked sound they incorporated into their songs on that record, plus some of the aggressiveness of Kreator's Pleasure to Kill thrown in for good measure. Would you say that early Morbid Angel and early Kreator were important influences on you guys when you started to make music with Angelcorpse?
Pete: Well, we didn't actually think about any bands. Like what Gene was saying, we weren't interested in pulling this from one band or pulling that from another band. We wanted to create our own sound with our own version of aggressiveness, some chaos and a lot of power, strength and a lot of speed. I think what's more important as a root for Angelcorpse is Speed Metal. There are not very many bands that really fit into that category. The energy and the power and the aggression of Speed Metal, I think that's what we tried to carry over with Angelcorpse but I wouldn't suggest that we pulled from one band or another or anything like that.
Luxi: It's always been the two of you that have formed the core of Angelcorpse. Do you feel that you have a special bond or chemistry that helps you both know exactly how Angelcorpse should sound and without one or the other the band would not be the same?
Pete: You're correct. Angelcorpse is Gene and Pete.
Gene: Without one or the other of us it really can't be that band.
Luxi: And that's why Angelcorpse sounds...
Pete: ...Sounds the way it does. Because the two of us working together, we can create something that's more than just one man plus one man. It's something that is beyond that, and that's what Angelcorpse is.
Gene: It's as black and white as Pete writing lyrics and me writing music. A lot of times there would be musical ideas that Pete would come up with and then I would put my spin on them and that would become a song. Or he would have lyrics and he wouldn't have a title for a song, and then I would come up with titles. Titles like "Christhammer", etcetera. I just come up with these titles and he'll be like, "Okay, that works", so we'd go with it. You'd think that he came up with most of the titles for the albums but I actually came up with all of them.
Pete: Gene came up with the title for the albums. I wrote all the lyrics. I wrote probably 25% of the music and Gene wrote 75%. But, working together, we were able to really create what's so strong about the songs.
Luxi: Of Lucifer and Lightning, the latest Angelcorpse album thus far from 2007, seemed to divide Angelcorpse fans mainly due to the production. Are you happy with how this album turned out production-wise?
Gene: Comparably, it was light years better than the Inexorable album which was probably my most disappointing album because I was never happy with the guitar sound. Even at the time it was recorded, there was trouble. Sure, people like what they like. I still think it has some of my strongest songwriting to date out of any of the four original albums. People can have their opinions; they really don't change anything.
Pete: I'm a guy that does not really care about the production as long as the energy and the aggression and the music come across. If there is melody, if there is strong songwriting, if the vocals are great, then that's what makes a band. There are many examples, which I won't list, of bands that do not have good production "whatever that actually is" but we all still listen to those albums because it's great music and that what's important.
Luxi: That's all what truly matters most. Anyway, as you're back now, playing around the globe, have labels approached you saying, "come to us and we will sign you and make great things happen for you guys"? They know the fuss you created back in the day and now you are playing again they surely know the fucking awesome live show you can put together.
Pete: No. In all honesty, we haven't received anything like that and we're not really interested right now because we're just playing live. Primarily, what Angelcorpse is doing now is playing live for the younger generation, for new areas on the planet, in the world where we haven't had the opportunity to play for our fans. That's what's most important to us at this point in time. If, like Gene said, we decide to create a new album then at that point we'll start to look around. But we're going to make the choices on our own. We decide what we do with our music. We decide what we do with our art. We decide what we do with our lyrics. If anybody has a problem with that, we won't compromise. They're not going to be somebody that we're going to want to work with.
Luxi: So, you haven't done any new music since 2007?
Luxi: The main focus for you guys at the moment is just going to places and playing for both your old and new fans without planning things any further, right?
Pete: Yes, that's what we're doing. We're just playing songs and enjoying it, and having a great time.
Luxi: What's your relationship with the current Metal scene? Do you find it less interesting and innovative than let's say, 15-20 years ago? Do you feel like today's Metal scene is suffering from a lack of truly inspiring bands that would have that instant "wow" effect?
Pete: I think the scene constantly changes. I try to be as involved in the underground as possible because that's really where my spirit lies with underground Metal. It's always been that way. I'm always trying to find that next step to go beyond. I think Gene would agree with me. He does that with his music. I do that with my music. Not only are we playing in Angelcorpse and playing 20-year-old songs live but we are also creating brand new music for today. For example, my two bands, Kerasphorus and Abhomine and Gene's bands, Perdition Temple and Blasphemic Cruelty. We are continuing to work in the underground. In a way, we're working on some different levels.
Angelcorpse might be here, but we have many other bands that are in the underground and that is what we really love because the spirit is there. I fucking hate commercial music. I'm not interested in any of that. Honestly, the people and the friendships and the fellowships you develop in the underground are real. I can't really say that about some of the higher levels of music.
Gene: Even in the times when Angelcorpse has been absent, we always continue with some artistic and creative participation in the music. Not so much of participation in the scene or any commercial end of it but creative participation.
Luxi: Talking about your future, as far as I know Blastfest in Bergen, Norway, in February 2017 is on your to-do list already.
Luxi: What other festivals are in the pipeline for Angelcorpse in 2017 that can officially be announced?
Pete: Other than Blastfest, none at this point.
Luxi: Is it possible that you will do a bunch of other festival shows next year?
Pete: I don't know right now. We'll have to wait and see on that one.
Luxi: Naturally. One of the trendy things to do seems to be releasing these live DVDs - and you have none officially out yet, right?
Pete: Correct. None official.
Luxi: I realized a while ago that places like YouTube have some good quality live footage from Angelcorpse. Do you have any plans to officially release an Angelcorpse DVD in the future?
Pete: I prefer to leave it on the Internet and let people discover themselves. Maybe they'll find an old video from 20 years ago and maybe they'll find something from two days ago. I think that that's great. Keeps it exciting for everyone. For me, a live DVD, you watch it once and then what? I don't know.
Luxi: All true what you said right there but fans can sometimes be crazy and demanding for stuff...
Pete: Yes, that's true.
Luxi: They can whine, "You don't have an official Angelcorpse DVD out yet, so you have to put out one soon..."
Pete: I guess they'll have to wait. Besides, there are a million cameras and everyone has a cell phone. Why in the world would we bother with all that? It is there for free, it's beautiful, it's for everyone, let them see it.
Luxi: But as you know, the spoiled die-hard fans, expect to get better sound quality, more professional footage, etc.
Pete: Nah. Again, it's the music, it's the aggression, it's the songs, it's the spirit and it is what it is.
Gene: Actually, I think some of the YouTube videos, when they're recorded badly, sound more like what it probably sounds like at the show, just a wall of exploding noise. If they want to get the real feel of what it's probably like, it's going to be more true on some shitty cell camera or a Coolpix camera than it's going to be with some 4K professional film cameras.
Luxi: Next question is for you Pete, about Order From Chaos. You played with this band at the Nuclear War Now Fest - Volume II in Berlin, Germany back in 2010. I am curious to know what it was like to play in O.F.C. with your old band mate Chuck (Keller) after so many years.
Pete: It was great. It was a really good experience. Chuck has been my friend for many, many years so it's always a pleasure to share the stage with him.
Luxi: Do you still keep in contact, at least occasionally?
Pete: Yes. We do, yes.
Luxi: If there was an opportunity to play live with Order From Chaos again, would you be into doing it?
Pete: I never say never, so, I don't know, you know. But I'm pretty busy right now - I'm very busy right now, so...
Luxi: What about tonight's show? Are you going to concentrate on playing the main classic Angelcorpse songs or songs from the first three albums, maybe?
Pete: You will have to wait and see. You will have to wait and see.
Luxi: Do you try to cover all four of your albums, offering something for everyone, or will your live set be based on classic Angelcorpse material like "Phallelujah", "Black Solstice", "Wolflust", "Christhammer" and so on?
Pete: In about two and a half hours you will begin to have the answer to that question.
Luxi: But it's going to be all Angelcorpse and no cover songs tonight.
Pete: No cover songs.
Gene: We don't do any cover songs.
Pete: There is no need. We have enough material to pick from, so...
Luxi: Indeed, you do. Hmm...What else do I have in mind? I think I have to thank you guys for your time and all the best for tonight's show.
Pete: Yes, thank you man, and thank you for the interview, my friend.
Gene: Have a good night man.
Luxi: Yes, I surely will... Thanks again.
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