If somebody tells me that tomorrow is the war, I might believe in that

By Tania Legrand

God Dethroned are not newcomers in metal industry. Founded in 1991, they are considered to be the veterans of the ,death metal scene, loved and respected by their fans for brutality combined with great mélodies and meaningful lyrics. I had a lucky opportunity to talk with the founder, composer and vocalist of the band Henri Sattler.

Hi Henri ! How are you?

Fine, thank you! Hope you are fine too!

It’s a huge pleasure to talk with you.

My pleasure!

So, Henri, you are the founder and inspirer of the band, God Dethroned have been around for the last 16 years… what can you tell us about the status of the band? After the lineup changes, after experiments with music style, are you satisfied with what the band presents itself? Where are you now? In what form, in what state?

We are now at the point when we are about to release our tenth album, I think what we are doing now is a typical God Dethroned album, an album which seems to be more dynamic than that one before.  We made an album, Paschendale, with the First World War concept, and the previous album, Under the Sign Of The Iron Cross was pretty fast, aggressive one, which was great, but was hard to play live, as people don’t know what to do anymore at the certain point, it was o fast, people can’t go to a slamming pit for an hour, it is not possible. So, we decided to write an album which has mid tempo parts and headbanging parts, and more melodies, also there are fast parts, but it is a very diverse album. I think when we get to play this album live, it will be much better for the audience.

Is it hard to keep reputation of a good death metal band – brutal, heavy? You say that there are more melodic parts in the new album…slow pieces… What do you do to be different from other death metal bands?

I don’t do anything to be different from other bands, all I do is I write my own songs. And songwriting in God Dethroned is very typical. For 80 percent these are my ideas, and I have very specific timing and way of playing guitar, and if you are a fan of the band, you can hear immediately that it is a God Dethroned song. And if you hear something new, from our album, you say immediately: ah, this is a God Dethroned song... Its style itself differs from other metal bands.

Henri, you have just partially answered my next question, talking about your unique style. I read in some reviews that metal critics compare God Dethroned with Bold Thrower. Does this comparison flatter or offend you? Tell our readers one more time that your band is NOT Bolt Thrower and why!

Well, we have some melodies and atmospheres, even in the new album, that may remind to people Bolt Thrower. It doesn’t mean that we play like Bolt Thrower, it doesn’t mean that we write songs like Bolt Thrower. All what we have is some of Bolt Thrower vibe in some of the songs. It’s a compliment for me, as I love this band, I know them personally very well, we’ve been on tour with them a couple times. We became great friends. And, yeah, when people say that they hear some Bolt Thrower in some of my songs, to me it’s a compliment. But it’s just basically due to a little bit of Bolt Thrower atmosphere. For the rest – it’s typical God Dethroned.

I absolutely agree with you. Let’s talk about the new album. The World Ablaze continues the First World War theme. Why have you chosen this topic? Are you personally interested in history or war theme?

I am personally very interested in historic themes. I have used many historic themes on many of our albums. In the past, I wrote the song about the Flying Dutchman, the story of the ghost ship, the song about Michiel De Ruyter, one of the greatest Dutch sailors of our golden age, he did many great things for us. I also wrote the song about Willem Barentz,  who was also a very famous sailor in the past, he wanted to find the northern way , he got stuck at Novaya Zemlya, he thought he would get to the North Pole, but it didn’t happen. At least he tried.

There’s a lot of great historical stuff from  our past which I would like to use for our songs. I had a guitar player in the band who was Belgian, from Ypres, Isaac Delahaye, he was playing with us for four or five years, now he works with Epica. He became a great friend of mine, and when I was visiting him in Belgium at the weekend, at his home town, and his home town was on the forefront of the trench warfare, Belgium. I saw all the war artilleries, war memorials, I saw the war museum… a lot of English people come to Ypres to visit the graves of their relatives. So, I was confronted the First World War a lot, and I didn’t know a lot about it. The Netherlands were neutral during the WWI. So, at school we don’t learn a lot about it. I started digging it, found a lot of things out about it, also I realized that there are no metal bands who wrote songs about it, maybe, one-two songs, but no one made a concept album about the WWI. So, I decided to do it, I wrote the album Paschendale, and it became a big success, I got a lot of emails giving me compliments about the songs and lyrics, so I thought I had  to go on with it, as apparently, people liked the songs about the WWI. Then we made Under The Sign and now the one which is being released – The World Ablaze.

I absolutely agree with you, I didn’t know any conceptual albums about the WWI. There are many more tributes to the WWII… but not WWI… Another question to you, Henri. Many metal bands sing about wars in general, and sometimes it is hard to understand their attitude to a war, if they condemn it, or consider it necessary, like something unavoidable in the history of humanity. What is your personal view on a war?

I think any war is a bad thing, I am trying to reveal in my songs uselessness, all bad things about a war. It doesn’t solve any problems, it creates misery, a lot of people are dead, you have to rebuild the country… And I try to write my lyrics in a way, so you can understand – it is useless. But sometimes it is difficult, sometimes I write lyrics which describes a certain situation on a battle field. Or, sometimes I just describe an event which happened. For example, on a new album there is the song Escape Across The Ice. It’s the song about the Russian revolution and the fact that  tsar Nicolas had to decline the offer to abolish his throne, and the White army which was loyal to the tsar had to fight their own war against the Red army. It was an important part of the Russian history, but nobody ever speaks about it. I wrote the song about it, and I hope that when people get interested in the song, they open internet and go to look up what it’s about. It’s difficult to explain in just one song what happened in those old years. I am trying to come out with stuff like that, not trying to say that a war is great or necessary.

I am Russian by origin, so I know this part of history very well, in Soviet times this part was not a kind of prohibited, no, but was given to us in a certain, one-way.

So, this is a very well known topic for you then…

Yeah, a sort of…

So, do you think I managed to write good lyrics about it?

Yes, I like this song both musically and lyrically. You succeeded to reveal that tragedy connected with the White army. It was the elite of Russian troops, officers mostly, who had given the oath of allegiance to the Motherland and the tsar, were keeping being faithful to both of them. By the way, the code of honour of officers of the White army was partially used and is being used in nowadays Russian modern army.

So, do you think that Russians may like this song, relate their history to it?

You know, depends… Those Soviet times were very controversial, even now the society is very diverse, for example, there is the discussion if Russians should bury Lenin, the leader of the Russian revolution or not, keep his body in the mausoleum. Those who have nostalgia about the Soviet times are against it, religious people and just people who consider him a big criminal, tyrant who threw millions of people into a horror of the civil war are for. Who was he in reality, a dreamer who gave to millions of poor people an opportunity to build a new life or a mass murderer,  only time will show…Very controversial points of view on this controversial personality. The same about the White Army. Poor people were supporting Bolsheviks and the Red army, and they had their reasons to do it – it wasn’t a paradise for them, the tsar times…. All civil wars are disgusting, compatriots killing compatriots, it’s not a fair war when you fight to defend your motherland… it’s a huge tragedy, very sad one.

Yeah, I agree…When you read the lyrics of the song about the White army, you can see that I don’t try to choose someone’s side, I try to be objective, not taking side of one party or another, I am trying just to describe the situation, not more than that…

Yes, it’s hard to identify what side you would have been on during those times. Our grand-grandfathers had to choose sides, for example, my grand-grandfather was against the Bolsheviks, luckily, he wasn’t killed or exiled, but he lost all his property which he earned by hard work.

I agree, hard to choose sides, but, as a musician, I can’t take sides. I want to play in Germany, In France, in Russia, I want to play everywhere, so I don’t want to make enemies by saying, for example, all the German army were bad. I describe the war, not specifically Germans or English, so on…So everyone can read lyrics and think that there were victorious armies and those who lost the battle… so, you know what I mean…

Yeah, you are describing the tragedy of a war itself, in general…

Yeah, exactly.

There is no soldiers’ fault in wars, they are sent by their countries to fight, sometimes they even don’t know what for exactly, they just fulfill orders, as any soldier must do…

Yes, exactly!

So, do you think that we are on the edge of the WWIII?

WWIII? I think that it may happen, as many people think that we are in a very bad economic situation, and it may be a cause to go back to war… there are so many conflicts in the world! But to say that it will happen tomorrow… I hope it will never happen, as it will finish very badly. I really hope it will not. Many people were asking me about The World Ablaze: are you talking about this depressing current situation? As if it is about nowadays, not about the WWI… Some people read the name of the album and say: it is about now, not about the history. And I don’t know what to say, as I see so many bad things happening in the world… if somebody tells me that tomorrow is the war, I might believe in that, it may happen. I am not trying to say it will happen.

I understand your position on a war thing… Let’s return to the new album! Let’s talk about it from the musical point of view. One of my favourites from the World Ablaze is Breathing Through Blood. I love doom metal, for me it starts as a good doom metal song.

Yeah, but only the beginning is slow.

Agreed, but you use so many music styles in the album! What songs you can say you are mostly satisfied with the result you got?

It’s not just one song, it’s the whole pack of songs. I didn’t want to write just slow songs, I also wanted to write fast songs, I wanted to make the most possible best mix of all music styles within the death metal genre. Like Breathing Through Blood, this song starts as a doom metal song, then it goes fast, then in the middle there is a super fast part with double bass, I wanted to write songs which would be very diverse, not just slow or just fast, or mid tempo, but a combination of everything. I think that the whole album makes this great combination, not just one song. One of my the most favourite songs actually is The White Army, because this song is very different from the songs on the album, very different from the songs of any our albums, but we decided – let’s put it into the album, let’s see what happens. I heard that many people said that it was their favourite song from the album, and I must admit that it’s my favourite too!

Yeah, I agree with you that Escape From The Ice (The White Army) is the outstanding song from The World Ablaze! I heard somewhere that metal reviewers called God Dethroned the masters of riffs… So, tell our readers, Henri, what songs metalheads should pay special attention to, where are the most killing riffs?

Wow, you read somewhere somebody called us the masters of riff…

Yeah, I can find it and send to you later, if you want…

It’s very cool! Uh… it’s a very difficult question! The most killing riffs… You know, for me, it is very important when you play a song live, it shouldn’t be difficult to play, but it should be a great song, not too difficult to play, but at the same time – on a high level… so when you play it, people should notice that it’s quite technical. For example, we were shooting the video to the song The World Ablaze… and you don’t expect that when you play a new song for the first time, people like it. We played it for the first time for the live audience, but the filming crew, the guys who were filming the video, they loved it, from the first time! Everybody loved this song. And we played this song again, already after the vieo was released, within a week, as we were filming it really fast, later at live shows, and we were very glad that when we played this song again and again,  people loved it. It seems like the title track to the album has this a killer riff, because it is so easy to listen to it! It gives to people such a nice feeling to listen to it, that it must be a good song… (laughs) You know, so…But for me it is so difficult to pick a song, I like them all… Tomorrow evening the video to the song Annihilation Crusade will be released, and this song is also a beautiful one. It is more aggressive, but it has this epic middle part in the song…

I understand what you mean, a beautiful old school death metal song…

Yeah!!! And that’s what I like too, but also I like Escape Through The Ice, because of this vibe and the whole feeling in it… you can ask me about each song, and I will like them too (laughs)!

We noticed that you loved to mix death metal styles. Which of them is your favourite?

Do you mean death metal styles? I like them all, but I think that my favourite is melodic one. I like melody, I’m a melody guy. I always liked melody, and I always create my songs around melody. That makes a song a good song.

Yeah, absolutely agree with you. I love melodic songs too! About future…do you have something new in your pocket, and I wonder if future releases will also combine different death metal styles?

Yeah, I think so, I think that we will try to use as much variety as possible in future albums. I’m not a kind of a guy who likes to write the same album twice. I don’t want to repeat myself, I don’t want to make extreme stuff all the time. But what I always want to do is to write songs which have strong melodies. Melodies is what people will remember, and when we play live, people sing along with the songs. They can play songs on their guitars, they can sing along with the songs, and it is so beautiful… this is what will always stay within the band, always!

It is a rarity when people sing songs along with a death metal band, and it is awesome! Well, a question to you as to a vocalist… you have got brilliant guttural technique, have you ever tried or wanted to sing using clean vocal?

I do a little bit of clean singing. On the previous two albums, Under The Sign Of Iron Cross and on Paschendale, there were a few songs with clean singing. Recording of clean singing was made by a friend of mine, but I wanted to sing clean, I could have used samples, but I wanted people to see me actually singing, and still if even it doesn’t sound as good as my friend, still I want to do it myself. So, at the upcoming shows, when we play these songs, I will have to sing them live. I haven’t done it on the album, and I feel so unsecure about my clean singing, but I will have to do It in future. I haven’t sung them on the album, so it is very scary…

Why scary?

Because you have to sing in a tune, if you sing it out of a tune, it sounds horrible! When you make death grunt, it’s easy, but clean singing, if you do something wrong, it sounds like shit! (laughs)

We had a discussion with a friend of mine, he is a clean vocalist, in a metal group in Facebook. He was asking people what vocal style is more popular nowadays, if clean vocals are still popular…

I think clean vocals are the most popular and will stay popular. Look at big bands who are doing clean singing, they are usually very big bands, they are very popular because they are more melodic, easier for people to listen to, they are more commercially interesting, as people love melody and clean singing. Not so many people love death grunts or screams. It always makes sense when we say that clean singing will make your band bigger, but it should also fit to the music. That’s why Iron Maiden is such a big band, they have great songs and clean singing.

Does it mean that you will be making more clean singing songs?

Not really. For example, on the new album, there’s no clean singing at all, only death grunt. Nobody complained about it so far…The journalists I talked to, nobody said – it’s a pity you didn’t do clean singing, no, everybody says – it’s ok, it’s fine the way it is.

(laughs) My question was just a matter of curiousity, I didn’t complain that you didn’t make clean singing on the new album, that’s why I mentioned your great death metal technique…Now on behalf of our readers I must ask you where we will see you live, what are the nearest live shows in your schedule, and what are your biggest expectations from future live performances?

Well, the next live shows start next week, our new album will be released on the 5th of May, and we will have five release shows, two will be in Germany, and the next week after we’ll play in Belgium, then we will play in Holland, two shows, and we have high expectations of these shows. And then we’ll go into the festival season, and we will play at Dong Open festival, then in Party.san Open Air, then we will see where we will go on tour, nothing is finally confirmed yet, maybe, we will go to Japan, to the United States, we will see…It’s too soon to say right now.

So, what of these show are you looking forward to the mostly, with the highest expectations?

Well, I’m looking forward to all the shows, usually there’s such nice atmosphere, with this vibe among all our fans and the band... all the shows! There will be one special show for me, in our hometown in Groningen, the town where I live, in the north of Holland, on the 13th of May…It will be a great show, as we are in a hometown, after the show everybody gets drunk, that’s great (laughs)!

Alright, I wish you all the best shows! Well, one more question to you, Henri. There are many newcomers at the death metal scene. What would be your advice as of the scene veteran, how to become popular?

There is the only way – write very good songs! Make sure you record them very well. Make sure you have a good band name. Good pictures, good logo… Because it’s not only music what is important. The whole package is important. If you have good songs, but can’t play very well, or you have a very bad sound, or you have bad band pictures, it won’t work for you. Make sure that the whole package is working very well. All this will give you a chance to success. If you have some very badly done things, people won’t listen to your songs, or you should have a very good luck to succeed.

Very good tips, thank you, Henri. What would you wish to our readers?

I wish them to go and check our new album out. Twi singles are out, On The Wrong Side Of the Wire and The World Ablaze, and Annihilation Crusade will be released tomorrow. So I advise people to check the new album out, I think it’s worth of listening to.

Thank you, Henri! I think it was a very nice talk! Huge success to your new album and to the band in general!

I liked it too, thank you very much!

I hope it is not the last interview you are giving to Metal On Loud! Looking forward to future chats!

Tania Legrand