Interview with vocalist and bassist Malte Gericke, drummer Iván Hernández and guitarist Ekaitz Garmendia
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 14, 2022
Sijjin, an old-school trio from Berlin, Germany, was born out of the ashes of occult Death/Doom unit Necros Christos who decided to call it quits in early 2021 due to the many setbacks that hit them during the pandemic. It's better to end your band on a high note rather than ruining your legacy if your heart and soul aren't into it 100%, right?
Sijjin features two ex-members from Necros Christos, vocalist and bassist Malte Gericke and drummer Iván Hernández, strengthened by guitarist Ekaitz Garmendia, who is no rookie (Extinction, Legen Beltza, ex-The Great Wound, etc.). The band's main emphasis is on old school, extreme underground metal such as Morbid Angel, Slayer, Nocturnus, Necrovore and the like. The band has released a 4-track demo called Angel of the Eastern Gate in 2019 and their 11-song debut album, Sumerian Promises, in 2021 via Sepulchral Voice Records.
The band was booked on a European tour with LA's underground death metal legends Sadistic Intent, and when the tour stopped at the Finnish Death Metal Maniacs Festival in Vantaa, Finland, on July 9, 2022, rest assured yours truly from the infamous Metal Crypt wanted to catch up with the guys to find out how things have been going since the inception of the band and what the future might hold for them.
ENCOUNTERING DRUNKEN METAL MANIACS
First off, welcome to Finland and the Finnish Death Metal Maniacs Festival. Do you have any expectations regarding the crowd and stuff?
Ekaitz: We want to start with the name of the festival, do it some justice. You know, "maniacs"? We want to see all the maniacs going crazy over here tonight.
Iván: We are expecting a lot of drunk people here as well. [*laughs*]
Haha! That's the Finnish way to let loose.
Iván: Yes, the Finnish way exactly.
Malte: We are expecting to meet some old friends here. It's always great to be in Finland.
How was Metal Magic Festival in Denmark where you played yesterday?
Malte: Really fucking good. It was a really, really good experience for us. As I told you, it was almost too good for the first show of the tour, but, yes, it really worked out well, and we got a nice sound, too.
Iván: We were in a great spot that night as well. I mean we're a new band and still they put us in a good spot in the running order. It was the right place, the right moment. We just did our best. The people over there went completely nuts. They were mosh-pitting and everything. It should be forbidden for a new band. [*chuckles*] It was such a great experience for all of us.
Was the venue crowded?
Iván: No. There was plenty of space and it was not packed. There were enough people, though. It's not about the amount, it's more about getting the right people to see us for the shows really.
Exactly. These events are not really for casual tourists who may attend for curiosity's sake, like "Ah, what's going to happen here? Hmm...uh, OK, maybe this is not my kind of thing after all."
Malte: Yes. That's the way it should be in the first place.
What kind of expectations do you have about this FDMM festival today? There's a pretty good lineup of bands playing here today, some legendary Finnish underground metal bands from Sacred Crucifix to Purtenance, for example. Do you know anything about these bands? Have you had a chance to mingle and meet some of the people here?
Malte: To be honest with you, I never try to have many expectations in advance. We will do our show. We love to play our own music and then we hope to convince people to join in and get fucking wild. That's always the best, of course, but if you have an audience that is not going wild, we do the same. It's the same energy always, back and forth.
Iván: As for the bands you just mentioned, sadly we don't know anything about them. I think we are perhaps a tad too lazy to do our homework with some of the bands that we share stages with. Normally, it's the other way around. You come, you play, you meet the guys, you see the bands, and then you start knowing them.
Malte: We know Concrete Winds, of course, because they are on the same label with us.
Ekaitz: It's a pity we missed them because we'd like to watch them, but it was really complicated for us. Almost no sleep yesterday. We had to sleep a little bit. [*chuckles*] They are a killer band, absolutely!
SIJJIN IS BORN
When did you get the idea to put this band together and how did you persuade the other guys to join?
Iván: It's a long story because Ekaitz and I have a long history. We are from the same town. We live together in the same building. He's older than me and my first band was with him. Then I moved to Berlin years and years later, and then I started playing with Necros Christos. At some point, the circle closed.
Ekaitz is my best friend and in the end it became something so natural. We spent time together at some festivals like Party San. We did even some tours together because Ekaitz is an amazing musician, and he did some really fast stuff, also filling the slot as the bass player for Ascension. I don't know if you know them.
It was very natural when Necros Christos was about to hit the end of the road. Ekaitz is the kind of guy you always want to be in a band with. Malte can tell you more about this.
Malte: That's a pretty good description, actually. We went together to the Party San festival, all three of us. We listen to a lot of old stuff in the car at maximum volume, bands like Nocturnus, Morbid Angel, Slayer, all that type of stuff. I told the guys, "Hey, this is exactly what I want to do." Everybody said, "Yes, so let's do it." Then we saw the Possessed gig, which was unexpected, but it was so fucking incredible. Afterwards we said, "We have to make a band."
Was it easy for you to end Necros Christos, knowing how much true underground metal people seemed to appreciate everything you did with the band over the years?
Malte: Actually, for me it wasn't hard because it was decided like right after the third full-length it should be over and then we would go for touring but, of course, due to the pandemic it all got fucked up. For me, it was quite clear that it was the end and we had started with Sijjin, and it felt so good. For me, it was no loss.
Iván: As soon as we started with Sijjin I had a feeling Malte wanted to end Necros sooner rather than later. Yes. [*chuckles*] It's so strange because it's his baby, actually.
Malte: Yes, but I didn't expect it to happen. It followed me for 20 years. Sometimes it's better to make an end before you ruin your legacy. There are so many bands I don't want to see anymore.
Yes, I can completely understand your point.
Malte: Really, I don't want to see them.
Many bands don't see this until they have indeed ruined their past legacy...
Malte: Yes. It's the classy way to end it when everything's still really fine with a band.
Yes, end it in a good way.
Malte: Exactly. In a good way.
ABOUT GOING BACK TO THE ROOTS OF EXTREME METAL
When listening to your songs from Sumerian Promises and Angel of the Eastern Gate, it's the early Morbid Angel sound for the most part that seems to pop up in my mind, but apparently there's a lot more that has either inspired or influenced you to get the kind of sound Sijjin has, right? You know, bands like Possessed, Necrovore, Incubus (the Floridian one), Devastation from Chicago and the like, basically these '80s more extreme and classic underground names that we used to have back in the day...
Malte: Yes, also Insanity from San Francisco, California. I fucking love them, and Possessed and basically all that stuff.
When Necros Christos came to end in 2021, was the idea to do something completely different musically with your next band, like drawing back that true extreme underground spirit and sound of the late eighties?
Malte: For me, that was clearly and absolutely the main purpose for this band. I have always admired bands that played like all hell's fury was being unleashed while they do some kind of catchy stuff. They may even play some tricky stuff, but you can recognize the songs right off the bat. That's one thing I really miss from today's bands. There's a loss of catchiness and simplicity in their compositions. I really wanted to have the type of verse-chorus feeling that everyone can shout along with. The main thing is about writing memorable and catchy songs more than anything really.
Iván: I remember as we started writing the songs, Malte brought his ideas to the room. He still wanted to do something complicated when talking about riffing and stuff. It's funny that yesterday we have been talking with the Sadistic Intent guys. They have an amazing history and they are the fucking legends, so they could tell us about the times back in LA when punk started to be a huge influence for bands like Slayer, for example.
This is one of the things that influenced us because Malte wanted to create Morbid Angel's complicated riffing and we were like, "Hey, Malte, we don't want to have this complicated shit again. Let's just make it simple and bring this punk vibe via extreme metal so that it sounds straight and simple instead" and I think this was the point where we kind of found the direction of Sijjin.
BLACKSTORM STUDIOS IS THE PLACE TO BE
You recorded the Sumerian Promises album at BlackStorm Studios. Is it your own recording studio where you can pretty much record whenever you want, without any deadlines?
Malte: Yes, it's his place.
Ekaitz: Actually, it was the third experience for us because they did pre-production of Necros' Domedon Doxomedon album there. They did it in my studio as well. They spent 15 days there completely isolated, writing the last stuff of the album, and then finishing it all up. Then the new era of Sijjin was born. We also recorded the Angel of the Eastern Gate demo there as well.
This time we were all in the same room with the amps and the mics grabbing all the noise from everybody everywhere. For the album, we decided to do it also in the same room, a big room for a drum set, so it sounds big. Malte and I were in isolated cabinets in the other room with headphones listening to a fucking cool mix.
When you rehearse together, you get that next level of connection and you feel this on the album. The moment we played we knew it was a take for the album because it was like, "Oh fuck, man, this felt so fucking brutal. Yes." Maybe we did another take and then, "Ah, not so good" so the previous one was the one.
It was fucking awesome having this experience. It was also great having Thomas supporting this band from the first day even before listening to the music. We had zero pressure. We had some deadlines for giving the LPs to the pressing factories because of crazy queues. Yes, it was smooth. We have the same ideas all the time. We don't even argue over anything. It's like we agree with everything. It's so smooth and so fucking great.
Yes, I think the main problem for many bands nowadays is that they spend way too much time in the studio trying to polish and refine their stuff and then when they play live, it doesn't sound the same. They sound like two different entities. They are ruining things in the studio because all they get is this plastic fucking modern sound. There's no authenticity in their sound at all anymore.
Ekaitz: As the producer, I almost fell into trying to make it sound bigger and stuff. The recordings were fucking fast. We did the whole recording in maybe three days. One day and half were the three of us live, doing vocals, leads, and second guitars. It was incredibly fast. Then I mixed them, and they went back home. I sent them the first mix like my usual EQ stuff here and there.
Some of the small tricks that make it sound more powerful didn't work. There was something missing. The vibe we felt while we were playing wasn't being caught so I had to start over again from scratch. I have an analog desk and kept it really simple, here and there touch this and that, but keeping it all really fucking simple. Maybe one day and a half and the whole mix was done. The guys loved it. It was fucking A. The less I touched it, the more it kept the essence.
KEEP IT TRUE, KEEP IT ANALOG
Sometimes less is more.
Malte: Yes. Definitely.
Iván: For me, Ekaitz with his studio is making history, at least in the Basque Country. We've met people from as far away as Finland who are interested in going there. I think it's making a difference because as you say, nowadays, musicians are used to going to a studio and thinking the technician, the engineer is going to fix what I can't do. You think, "He's going to make me sound good." He is the guy who is in the studio telling you, "Kids, I'm not going to fix it. You have to play, you have to learn, you go back, you practice, and you come back when you can play your stuff because here is the place where you play more analog."
Of course, he's trying to do things sound better, but he always makes the point and makes musicians better. This is what it was back then. In the '80s, you didn't have these options to make everything sound perfect, even if you are fucking crap. Everybody could play because they had no option. This is the point that I think it has to be brought back and he is working very hard on it.
Yes, it's a good lesson for young musicians that they should prepare themselves for recording analog in the studio. A studio owner would just tell them, "No fixing will be done, so play as well as you can – or otherwise I am going to throw you back home where your mom is going to make you some hot chocolate and cookies, whatever [*chuckling*].
Ekaitz: Exactly. All this bullshit of quantize and everything... fuck, man! In fact, I like to push the drummers to the limit then keep it as it is. I don't fix stuff. Maybe in one field, you have a stick hit or something, small stuff. The performance must be their own performance because if not, everything sounds the same. I'm really sick of this new production. I can't stand that anymore. Drum machines, sampled drums, I hate it. Before producing any band, first I listen to them, then talk to them about all the philosophy of my recording methods and stuff.
Iván: You even go to their rehearsals.
Ekaitz: Yes, I go to their rehearsals. "You should do this, better like this, and blah, blah, blah". The mentality of the bands should be at the right level. If not, I'm not willing to do it, man. It's even worse.
WHAT'S BEHIND THE NAME SIJJIN?
I am curious to know how you ended up naming the band Sijjin. Did you play around with other names?
Malte: I guess it's me who needs to answer your question. I think I read the term many years ago in a book about Islamic afterlife conceptions. There are two terms. I forget the other one. Sijjin, I think the Arabians pronounce it like Sijjin. This is the deepest kind of region in hell. When I came across the term I was like, "Oh, fuck...! Man, it looks incredible, and the meaning is just perfect." I have always had the idea to use it for a band at some point. Then when we came together, I was like, "Hey, guys, actually, I have just one option". They both were like, "Yes, that's fucking cool." We went for it.
Sijjin is a really strong name for a metal band, at least for those people who understand what's behind the name. Do you think the name is strong enough to support the band's own concept of what the band is all about, both ideologically as well as musically?
Malte: Yes, there must be a strong name, and there must be a strong logo as well. I have always been fond of great logos that resembles some kind of symbols like the old Dark Angel logo, or Morbid Angel, or Slayer. They all had logos which could be recognized at first glimpse like, "Oh, man, that's fucking Slayer." Then we called an old buddy of mine, with whom I used to play in Drowned from Berlin. He was a drummer and he's a fucking genius. We were telling him about our ideas, and after a while he was sending his ideas back to us. We were like, "Yes, fuck, yes." That's it.
I guess you are no stranger to the Sumerian mythologies. What makes it so fascinating for you?
Malte: Yes, I have always been interested in them, man. Absolutely. However, I must admit that the lyrics for Sijjin are not only based on mythology. They tell classic horror stories but maybe with a really old and ancient background. I love to write ancient horror stories. That's the whole point for me. Death metal lyrics for me should always be really dark and touch upon really evil and nasty kind of stuff. For me, death metal is all about demons, hell, and all that type of classic stuff, you know.
I bet in your case you cannot sing about beautiful flowers, a happy life and a beer...
Malte: Hell no, that would be ugly. I mean, Chuck Schuldiner from Death, he was writing lyrics about social aspects and that stuff worked for them, of course, but I have always preferred old evil and satanic concepts.
TRUE STORIES FROM THE PAST
You are on tour with Sadistic Intent, so you guys must get along well with each other. What do you think of these guys? Are they like old-school brothers to you in the sense of sharing similar musical interests?
Malte: First of all, we have been getting along with them fucking great.
Iván: Oh man, we were expecting something good, but this is even better. The tour just started and it's only our third day with them. They are fucking amazing, nice guys, down to earth, really underground, too. You can feel it, you can see it.
Ekaitz: Fucking true, they are amazing guys, really. Hearing all of these cool stories from them, man, I am like, "What? You have experienced this and that... holy shit, are you kidding me!"
Malte: "We listened to Slayer even before they recorded the first record."
Iván: They were telling us, "You know, Slayer were playing at this garage nearby and we said, let's go and check these guys out." The guys saw them even before they released Show No Mercy.
Ekaitz: Stories like that. They told us it was normal for them to experience things like that at that time.
When I visited my friends in Sadistic Intent in LA 10+ years ago, they drove me around and showed me the place where the Slayer guys rehearsed in their very early days. I remember being thrilled to see it and took lots of pictures.
Iván: Oh fuck... nice!
Malte: Cool! Show No Mercy was one of the first records that turned me on to this dark side of metal. I think it was an older friend of mine who made me a copy of S.N.M. on tape back in the days - and man, I was like 9 or 10 years old. Then I heard "Evil Has No Boundaries" for the first time in my Walkman, I was like, "Oh, fuck...!" I got chills down my spine. I wanted to get this same type of feeling for people that I had back in the days when they heard a Sijjin song. It must have the vibe, making you to say, "Oh yes... now that's fucking evil."
THE FUTURE OF SIJJIN?
What are your plans for the future and when you might record and tour once you are finished with this tour?
Ekaitz: We really haven't talked about it, but after this tour we will start writing new stuff, definitely.
Malte: It's like back in the pandemic years, we didn't feel inspired, so we recorded the album. We didn't write any new songs though, but now that we have played like three festivals this year and then started this tour, I believe we will have a lot of new inspiration to come up with new songs. We'll also play Killtown on September 2, 2022, and then we are waiting for more gig offers and, of course, we will go for another record.
Ekaitz: I'm sure the Sadistic Intent tour will be an inspiration for us.
Are you also aiming to get some promotional videos shot at some point because the fact is audio-visual stuff is very important regarding promotion.
Iván: Yes, we wanted to, but I couldn't because there were some things in my life that change in a hard way and there was no time. So, we said, "Okay, let's focus on the record instead."
We did think about it again, so maybe we'll do one or two for the next record. We want to do them, but we want to do them in the old-school way, only us playing live with some nasty moving cameras or something, keeping it very simple, you know. As our music is based on old school extreme metal without complicated or tricky stuff, we certainly don't need some cheesy and half-naked chicks jumping back and forth in our videos – hell no!
It doesn't sound like that would really serve your goal of being an old school extreme metal band, I am afraid. "Look, naked chicks, they must be such a cool band."
Malte: Haha... no, it won't happen.
Iván: Sometimes, you have to use some of your own resources instead. [*chuckles*]
Do you have any new stuff written yet or is it just a bunch of riffs that you have at the moment?
Ekaitz: There's some riffs written, right?
Malte: Yes, some riffs only. I have some ideas, but the guys don't know about them yet and am just gathering ideas. This part of the songwriting process became a little bit tricky because Iván is now living in Galicia, and I am in Berlin. We don't want to send files back and forth all the time. We want to meet in the same place and do the stuff together. Of course, it will take time and it needs good planning.
Iván: The way to go is that we meet in a practice room. It's going to be the old way. We are all experienced musicians. We can get ready, do our homework and then we have to set a date for meeting to get things done together. I would like to be at the studio again, BlackStorm that is. We just meet there for two weeks and I'm sure it's going to happen like this. Then Malte brings the riffs in, and we all go there and develop the songs. We'd record a demo and then we meet again and record our follow-up album.
Ekaitz: Yes, indeed. Also, I miss the room in Berlin. I think that we'll manage also to go back to Berlin at some point because all the material of the Sumerian Promises album was written in that room.
Malte: It would be a good vibe, too.
Iván: Yes, that's right. It was a fucking pleasure. Highlight of the week were the Monday mornings when everybody else had to go to regular fucking work and I was heading to the practice room with Malte and writing stuff for Sumerian Promises. I was like "Hell yeah, man. This is awesome." Maybe this is another option, to do it in Berlin.
Okay, I think I have taken enough of your time. I want to thank you for this cool chat with me and wish you all the best for tonight's show.
Malte: Thank you very much.
Iván: It was a real pleasure to talk to you, man.
Ekaitz: eh, all is well with you?!
All's well. I just have a bit dry throat, so one or more beers will fix it very soon I believe.
|Other information about Sijjin on this site|
|Review: Sumerian Promises|
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