NECROWRETCH – The Bells Of Evil Schism
Valence, France-based extreme metal outfit Necrowretch formed during 2008, the brainchild of the mysteriously named Vlad. The man wished to perform extreme fare, much in the vein of the death metal that he had always enjoyed. Consequently, Vlad began to record guitar riffs over a drum machine, via a computer.
“I sent these songs to a drummer (Blastphemator, Necrowretch drummer from 2008 until 2011),” Vlad recalls, vocalist, guitarist and founder of Necrowretch, continuing the story. “I said ‘Are you capable of playing these songs on the drums?’ He said ‘Yeah,’ so we got together and started rehearsals. After three rehearsals, we went into the studio to record the first demo (Rising From Purulence, recorded in January 2009). Then we contacted a bass player, and the rest is history. We formed to play the music we liked. Things have gone fast, but I don’t know. Maybe things have gone fast, maybe things have gone slow. It depends on which bands you compare us to, but I think it’s gone pretty fast. Three years after the beginning of the band, we were signed to Century Media Records. So yeah, I think it’s been a good start for the band.”
The singer christened Necrowretch’s musical style as being ‘putrid death metal’. “That’s a tag we have created, to be put apart from all of the old school new trends you have in the metal scene,” he explains. “We don’t want to be associated with all of those bands who want to play like Dismember and Entombed. Sometimes the music is good, but it isn’t good music just because you’re playing old school. If you’re using the same gear as Dismember and wearing spandex and things like that, it will not make your music cool. We don’t want to be associated with this, so we have created our own tag called putrid death metal to make sure that no-one actually plays this kind of metal. Also, I think is maybe somewhere between black and death metal, but it’s not really our concern.
“When I write a guitar riff, I don’t ask myself ‘Does it sound black or death?’ I ask myself ‘Is this gonna kill or not? Are all the people gonna go crazy when we play this live?’ That’s all of our concern. This thing to know if you’re more black or more death, I don’t know. It’s up to the people; they’ll make their own interpretation of the music of the band. Our influences are bands like Marduk, old Death, old Sepultura, a lot of bands from South America such as Sarcófago, Mortem, Hadez, and also bands from Sweden such as Dissection, Nihilist, Repugnant, and bands from all around the world. So yeah, it’s pretty hard to describe the music that we play, but clearly if you like all the bands that I mentioned, you will like Necrowretch (laughs).
“Fans of death metal and black metal will like the music or maybe won’t like, but yeah, Necrowretch is somewhere between the two styles. That’s not something that we intended. It’s more something we’ve discovered after recording, like ‘Oh yeah. Maybe it does sound like that,’ but it’s great to play like this. We have our own identity. I think that’s something that’s really important, as many bands just play the same music. You have thousands of bands playing Carcass and you have thousands of bands playing in an anthemic style, but you only have one Necrowretch, and that is good.”
Necrowretch’s moniker was inspired by the group’s initial set of lyrics. “The lyrics were talking about a mad priest busted from hell,” Vlad remembers. “Some people said ‘You have to name this guy,’ so I named him the Necrowretch. A wretch is something miserable, someone preaching about a god but not the biblical version. You put ‘necro’ before that word, and you have a Satanic version of someone miserable. It’s really good. No-one in France will understand what it means, but it’s a good name (laughs).”
On February 6th, 2012, it was confirmed that Necrowretch had inked an album contract with Century Media Records. “Formerly we were on Detest Records, a Belgian label,” the axeman backtracks. “Century Media approached the owner of Detest Records. I think they offered him a job or something like that, and then when he went to work for Century Media, he brought some bands off of his roster to Century Media. Let’s say Century Media were interested in signing many bands off of his roster. I think it was easier to pass through him, instead of contacting us directly. When Century Media approached us for the deal, we had had three years as a band and had done something like maybe 15 shows, two demos (Rising From Purulence and January 2010’s Necrocollections), and one EP (Putrefactive Infestation, July 2011). It was something very fresh. I was 22-years-old, so it was something really big for us. They knew the band as they had the demos – I don’t know how – and they had the EP. It was playing in the office. They liked the music, and they saw that we were already playing shows. Not only in France, but also in Denmark, in the Netherlands, and places like that.
“They proposed to continue the adventure with us, and we accepted. It was alright, because now we have way more attention about the band while we can still make what we want. There’s a lot of clichés about being signed to a big label, but I can clearly tell you that the guys in Century Media are like me. They’re death metal fans, and go to shows. We drink beer together at festivals – it’s not like them just being guys in Sweden, or anything like that (laughs). It’s really cool to work with them. They’re open to listening to what we have to say, and we listen to what they say, and it all goes well. So yeah, it was a real improvement for the band. It’s like there’s a before and after the signing with Century Media. The day we signed to the label, the band really went to the next step. And yeah, let’s hope it will continue forever (laughs).”
Inaugural full-length outing Putrid Death Sorcery arrived in January 2013. “The recording for Putrid Death Sorcery was very intense, because we were in Belgium,” Vlad recalls. “We spent two weeks – actually ten days – recording the album, and the studio was in a basement. We were all playing, sleeping, eating, shitting and everything in this fucking basement, and we were only seeing the light of day for half an hour per day like for two weeks. We went really insane during the recording (laughs). That was something good I think, because it really sweated out into the music. It’s not just music; it’s like ‘Those guys, when they recorded the album they were crazy, like they were in a prison or something.’ I don’t want to make this again, because it was really hard to make. Yeah, that’s my memory of making that album; the fucking basement for two weeks, and no sunlight, and nothing else. We were really cut off from the world; we were in our own world, only focusing on the music. It lasted for two weeks, and after we got back to the world – to civilisation – it was something really strange (laughs).”
Compilation Bestial Rites 2009-2012 emerged in August 2013. “All of our previous recordings up to that point – demos and EPs – were sold out,” the frontman notes. “When we signed to Century Media, we gained a lot of new fans that discovered the band with the first album, but they didn’t know the previous releases by the band. We wanted to make one release with all of the previous material in one format, to put all of the history of Necrowretch on one CD. We chose CD, because CD is the format that everyone can play at home, in the car, on their computer. That was also a way to include some rarities such as the cover of Merciless we did but never released (‘Pure Hate’), and also to put some photos of the band, some shows. Everything between 2009 and 2012 is on this compilation; people now have access to what we made before without searching for sold out demos being sold for ridiculous prices on Ebay. You can buy the CD, and have the early history of the band on one CD. That’s great for everyone, I think.”
Writing sessions for sophomore full-length affair With Serpents Scourge began during late 2012, concluding in early 2014 – 18 months in all. “Usually, I write everything; all the music, the drums, and things like that,” Vlad shares. “I make let’s say a demo version, a pre-production version. We all listen to it together, and then the drummer and the bassist put ideas into the songs. Everyone practices the parts that he has to play at home, because we live far away from each other. We don’t rehearse so much, like two or three times per year. Everyone works on the parts that he has to play, we take to the studio, and then it’s like we’re on autopilot. You play what you have learnt, and then you put the puzzle together, and then you have the songs. It works like that at the moment, but in the future, we might try something different because I’m not closed to experimentation. For now though, it works fine, and we’re happy with the results of the writing process.”
With Serpents Scourge’s lyrical matter is “more blasphemous, more about Satanism and things like that,” the composer submits. “It was clear for us that if the music was going to be more extreme, the lyrics had to follow. We had to write lyrics that were more to the point, more direct, and that’s why the lyrics are more blasphemous than on the previous album. The whole story… It’s not really a story; it’s not like King Diamond, but the whole background of the lyrics is an alternative version of history. Christianity isn’t the main religion – it’s falling apart.
“This creature called the Necrowretch slowly turns into a god of evil like I said, and all the people start to preach for him and join this new cult. It’s pretty classic stuff that you can find in metal, but was for me definitely a kind of criticism against mankind. Man is really quick to turn away from its god, and choose another one when the time comes. In the end though, if people looked at the lyrics, they will find typical metal lyrics. I like to have something in the way of normal metal lyrics.”
Recording sessions began in July 2014. “This time, we chose to go back to France, to a studio near Grenoble,” Vlad informs. “That was the studio which we recorded at many years ago, but the mastering was done in Germany at Temple Of Disharmony studio, which has done mastering for bands like Asphyx, Grave, Dissection – bands like that. The recording process was really intense. When we were in the studio, we really pushed ourselves to the maximum. We were literally yelling at each other – like ‘Go on. You can play this faster. Faster’ – in order to really deliver the most extreme thing that we were capable of, and it was the same case when I was doing the vocals.
“I was really searching in my bowels for the most extreme thing that I was capable of doing. Yeah, there was a lot of tension in the studio, because they were really long days – from eight to eight – and we were only focusing on the music. I think the listener will definitely hear this in the recording, and not just the music. There is something else in the recording; you can feel that the musicians were really hungry when we recorded this album.
“We did the mastering by email with Temple Of Disharmony in Germany. Everything turned out really good. We’re pretty happy with the sound, because it sounds extreme, and you can understand what’s going on. It’s not just raw metal with an underground sound; you can clearly hear each instrument playing, but at the same time, it’s still very evil and grotesque and very raw. So yeah, it was a really good experience with these studios both in France and Germany.”
The axe-slinger is seemingly nonchalant with respect to guitar equipment. “I’ve used the same guitar for many years,” he muses. “I’m not so aware of guitar gear, or how to modify an amplifier, and things like that. I don’t really pay attention to that. I just put gain to the maximum, and play. I don’t ask myself too many questions, because the more you ask yourself questions, the more your music is drifting away from your primary intention. It’s really important for us to keep focused on the first intentions we had with the band, so the guitar parts, I don’t have much to say about that. I don’t really remember which we used. It was just playing at the maximum volume (laughs). That’s what we did before in the other studio.”
Mixing sessions took place in France, as well. “The recording and mix was done in France, and the mastering was done in Germany,” Vlad discloses. “We have our own sound engineer (Xavier Sindt), who works at the studio where we recorded in France – Microclimat Studio. He’s close to the band. Sometimes he comes out with us live, and is the sound engineer for the band. He really knows the band’s sound and the band’s intention, so it was a real pleasure to work with him for the mix of the album. He’s one of the few guys that has really known the band since the beginning. He knows what we want, and so we don’t lose time explaining things. It all grows very naturally and very quickly with him.”
As was the case with the record’s lyrical content, the aim was to make With Serpents Scourge’s musical offerings more extreme than their 2013 predecessor’s. “When we got back from the studio after Putrid Death Sorcery over two years ago, the intention was immediately to make a more extreme album with more speed and more aggression,” the mainman elaborates. “We said ‘Okay, Putrid Death Sorcery is a good debut album, but if we’re going to work on a second album, it has to be more extreme.’
“We have to still shock the listener and create a surprise, so I would say that With Serpents Scourge is way more extreme, has more speed. You can use many words to describe the music, but it’s more to the limit – we pushed the limit of the band on the album. You can feel maybe more hate in the recording, whereas the first album was more cave sounding, intimate maybe. On the new album, we have unleashed a beast that was just growling at first (laughs). I don’t know if you can hear it, but that’s how I feel about the new album.”
With Serpents Scourge marks the studio debut proper of drummer Ilmar. “The most important point to make I think is about the drummer,” Vlad enthuses. “He really put his own way of playing into our music, and it’s really a boost. He plays really, really fast, but at the same time he has a lot of personality and groove in the way he plays, so that really makes a difference. The vocals, because we did many shows after Putrid Death Sorcery, live, I’ve discovered how to use my voice. I’ve discovered new vocal tones that I wasn’t aware of before, so when we entered the studio for our second album, I had more control over my voice.
“I was able to do more powerful screams while not being exhausted – I had more energy, more breath. I had more breath in my lungs, so I was able to deliver much interesting things on the vocals. The vocals can be compared to some death metal bands, but then you also have high pitch scream vocals that are more related to bands such as Dissection and Marduk. It was more interesting to do these vocal tones, because on the first album there was only one type of vocals. On this, there aren’t just the same type of vocals. Towards the end of the first album, it maybe sounds repetitive, but now there’s more variation in the vocals. It improves the diversity and at the same time, it’s way more extreme than the previous one.”
Ilmar previously stepped behind the drumkit for defunct French extreme metallers Bloody Sign. “They were an excellent band from France,” the lyricist endorses. “He has also played drums for many other bands, such as Incantation and bands like that. When our former drummer left the band in 2011 (Blastphemator), he came to us and proposed he join, but at this time we already had a replacement on drums. In 2013 though, the drummer – Desecrator – left the band. We got in contact with Ilmar about the drums, and said ‘Okay, let’s have a trial.’ We had a show together and things turned out successful, so we chose him to be the permanent drummer of the band. Not just a session drummer, but the permanent drummer who does all of the shows, studio work, and things like that. He accepted, and now we’ve done a tour together. We’ve recorded an album together. He’s really a part of the band, and that is really great (laughs). That is very great.”
Prior to Ilmar’s joining, searching for a permanent drummer was a difficult endeavour. “Really difficult, really difficult,” Vlad stresses. “At first, you have to find someone who’s able to play at speed – that’s the first step. Then you have to find someone who’s dedicated to metal, who’s okay to go on tour, who’s okay to play shows a long distance away, and things like that. Then you have to find someone who has a good attitude, where we don’t have to fight after three days in the same car (laughs). There’s many obstacles in finding a good drummer. In France, there are only a few drummers capable of playing this kind of extreme metal, and who like it. So yeah, it was really hard to find a permanent drummer between 2011 and 2013.
“For two years, we had one drummer for the studio, and one drummer for live. It was working of course, but it was difficult to put everything together. Now finally, the band is back to being a trio. Now there’s three permanent members of the band, so we can focus on the future and make things happen more quickly. When you change drummers every six months, you have to learn all of the songs again with him. It’s really long, a waste of time. I hope now that everything will stay like this, that we go right away and play a maximum amount of shows together with this line-up. I’m confident about it; everything is going fine, so there’s no reason for it not to work.”
With Serpents Scourge’s issue was preceded by the October 2014 release of seven-inch EP ‘Even Death May Die’. “It’s a fucking great song,” the vocalist reckons. “I like it; it’s maybe one of my favourite songs from the album. That’s why we chose to put it out as a seven-inch before the album’s release, as a teaser. It’s really made for live. It’s also of course a way to pay tribute to Lovecraftian mythology, as you have noticed. The lyrics change a few things, to make my own interpretation of the Lovecraftian mythology. Yeah, it’s a great song. It’s something fast. I think it’s one song that perfectly describes what you’d find if you came to see us play live; speed, aggression, different kinds of vocals, screams and shouts, and things like that. Yeah, it’s a good introduction for someone who doesn’t know the band.”
Performing B-side duties was a cover interpretation of ‘Black Magic’. Written by Californian thrashers Slayer, its original rendition featured on December 1983 debut Show No Mercy. “We have always played covers, since the beginning of the band,” Vlad reasons. “We’ve covered Nihilist (‘Supposed To Rot’), we’ve covered Merciless from Sweden, we’ve covered Death (‘Zombie Ritual’). It was normal for us to make a new cover, especially as we want to pay homage. For some it’s maybe a cliche, because many bands made a cover or tribute to the former guitarist of Slayer (Jeff Hanneman, who succumbed to liver failure on May 2nd, 2013 at the age of 49), but Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits (March 1985) are really important recordings – not only for me, but for the band and every metalhead who’s into this kind of metal. I think without Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits, the metal scene wouldn’t be the same – it wouldn’t have the same face as we know it to have. It was important for us to make something to celebrate the memory of someone who really created something that will last forever in extreme metal.
“Also, lyrically, ‘Black Magic’ was closer to Necrowretch imagery – about spells, Satan, necromancy, and things like that. It was really interesting to make our own version of the song. I think in the future, we’ll continue to make covers. You don’t have to forget your roots. That’s not to say that we’re going to make a covers albums, or anything like that – that’d be stupid – but from time to time, at the end of a good show you play a cover. It’s always good; it’s good for people who come to a show, and it’s also good for us on the stage to pay tribute to bands we like. It’s an exercise that we really like, so yeah, it was natural for us to do a cover of Slayer, and I hope that in the future we’ll cover other bands. There are so many great songs that we want to make our own Necrowretch version of; it’s something interesting, and we’ll continue to do this for sure.”
Cover artwork duties for With Serpents Scourge fell to Montenegro-based artist Milovan Novakovic, who Necrowretch has previously worked with. “All the artwork, the logo of the band, all of the T-shirt designs and all the imagery of the band was made by him,” the guitarist credits. “At the beginning of the band, we were searching for someone to make a logo. I was in touch with this guy, and he made a logo really quick – that same day (laughs), some hours later. I said ‘Okay, we should work together,’ and we’re still working with him. I tell him my ideas, and he really draws the music as I imagine it in artwork. I want to express darkness and evil with the music and he’s able to transcribe this with the art, so it’s something that really completes the band.
“This time, for the album we tried something different. He sent me the artwork while the recording process… The writing process wasn’t over yet. I had only been writing the first song for the album, but he had already sent me the artwork. I said ‘Okay, this time we’ll try to write the album from the artwork and not the other way around,’ so it was something really interesting to work on – to work this way, to write the music from the artwork. Yeah, it was like the artwork had been made for this kind of music, that the artwork had been made for Necrowretch and Necrowretch had been made for this artwork. So yeah, he’s a great artist. There’s no reason that we wouldn’t continue to work with him.”
At the time of writing, a music video hasn’t been filmed to accompany With Serpents Scourge’s release. “We haven’t had much time to think about a video clip for this album,” the Necrowretch founder offers. “It’s definitely a good idea, but between recording, touring, and all these things, we haven’t had time to think about it. To make a video clip, you have to think about it. Shooting the video treatment and things like that takes many months, and we haven’t started thinking of ideas yet. So yeah, it may happen. It’s not a concern for the moment, but we’re definitely interested in making a new video. If we’ve kept a good video of shows, we can make a compilation of good shows with one studio song in the background or something like that. It will maybe happen, but we haven’t thought about it yet.”
With Serpents Scourge was released on February 16th, 2015 in Europe and subsequently on the 24th in North America (digital only), all via Century Media Records.
Interview published in February 2015.