IT’S IN OUR VEINS: DROWNED

It was a quite natural decision to interview Drowned. Kaleidoscope #2 had a Necros Christos interview and when I heard of this ‘cousin’ band of NC (or maybe a ‘little cousin’ band – there are as much differences than similarities between Necros Christos and Drowned) and was hammered by their demo Viscera Terrae (2006), I knew what to do. The little information about the band and their previous releases kept my questions quite basic, but thankfully I had quick-witted Tillmann behind the keyboard, so the result was something else than an amateurish and superficial chat. It would be nice to know what depths Drowned is wandering now, but unfortunately I didn’t get any explanations from Tillmann for these six quiet years… Maybe later, stay tuned!

Drowned. Can you have a more Death Metal name than that? Continuing the legacy of Entombed, Grave and Asphyx, this German death squad has become one of the most interesting and worshipped bands of Death today, although they don’t have a massive discography to back it up. No, it’s a quality which speaks here, and their latest demo tape Viscera Terrae is enough to put the big part of Death Metal bands to shame. Mr. Tillmann talked about death, vinyl, death, progressing and once more, DEATH… Please die.

Well, one long year has passed after the release of Viscera Terrae… Maybe the easiest way to start this discussion is to let you to tell the latest news from the underworld of Drowned…

– We’ve arranged a couple of new tracks and are currently also rehearsing for our Finland show.

Drowned’s music has changed a lot during these years (well, my comparisons reach only for Viscera Terrae and Conquering the Azure) but how do you see this change? Has the primal flame of Drowned remained same, and if it has, what is this flame exactly?

– I’d like to think it has, yes. You have to see that Drowned never had a stable line-up in the past, it kept changing almost constantly. The first demo from 1993 was more or less Swedish Death Metal, but when we worked with clear vocals on the 1995 demo and the Aerth EP in 1998, the vocals sometimes demanded different writing, so we emphasized doomy, slow melodies. Besides, the vision that we have now is much stronger, everybody is much more involved in the creative process, the way the songs come together is much more energetic. And we have become older, so that alone of course changes your perception.

– However, the core of what Drowned is about is the vision and feeling I have when I write, and these are the same since the band started out. Our playing is currently much more aggressive than 10 years ago, but you can hear a lot of similarities though.

At times I bump into statements where bands say that their music summons demons from them. Have you had any experiences like this when playing Drowned and do these experiences (and metal music in general) take you closer to madness or sanity?

– The music summons me actually. I see myself as a tool that receives the music, and not so much as an author really. It’s a spiritual process, a form of magic if you will.

Death Metal – as Black Metal, as any metal – has its own visual traditions like murky black/white artwork and slimy logos but you – at least your Viscera Terrae demo – are an exception to this rule with quite an aesthetic logo and pale cover artwork. Were you tired of gore and corpses or is there a bigger meaning behind this “sophisticated” approach?

– We’ve never been that inspired by the “gore” aspect of Death Metal, we are devoted to its occult traditions. Overall I don’t think that this is such an extremely singular approach if you look at other bands like for instance Unholy, Grotesque, Mercyful Fate etc. Our artwork is for the most part influenced by hermetic imagery. The cover of Viscera Terrae actually is a re-interpretation of an old alchemical engraving.

Usually art and Death Metal can’t be mentioned in the same sentence and it seems that the only form of Death Metal is loud, slaughtering music played by dirty mongoloids. What do you think about this (stereotype)? Can Death Metal be profound (in any other way than just adding some mythological lyrics and a couple of pyramids perhaps)?

– First off, music as such, and certainly also Death Metal, can be the most profound thing on earth because it can transcend reality. And while I agree that a lot of Metal certainly is cheesy, it is very honest at the same time. It’s probably the only form of music which can be utterly hilarious and profound at the same time, haha! But seriously, I don’t think that, on a lyrical and conceptional level, bands like At The Gates, Unholy, Kaamos or even Manilla Road have to hide anywhere.

– The somewhat tragic (but also great) thing about Metal is that it is fringe culture. And not only that, it actively isolates itself so to say. As an outsider, you will hardly have a point of reference to start with, you will never have the opportunity to discover the good stuff unless you invest years of research. So, it’s obviously easy to ridicule Metal for its outer appearance, but it’s really hard to grasp its essence.

– If Metal wasn’t the hermetic science that it is, it would have more influence on other (sub)cultural streams. The few years of the Punk explosion in the 70s have had much more impact on media culture than 40 years of Heavy Metal. Weird, isn’t it.

At least those cleanish vocals of Conquering the Azure were out of the typical DM mold and they also represent that more aesthetic atmosphere that I mentioned earlier. Did you want to be more extreme and different in your early days and now with Viscera Terrae’s more traditional material you have understood that this is what you want to do?

– The clean vocals and also our sound back then were more or less an experiment. It was a specific constellation of people. When I started to resurrect the band with Theby, the new songs gained complexity and pace due to his advanced way of drumming. Of course also our age had a part in how we approached the whole thing, our ideas about the music we want to create are much clearer now than 10 years ago.

I guess many Death Metal maniacs would want to hear your old material in a form of a re-release but will this ever happen?

– I’m not sure. We have been approached, but I don’t really see it as a priority at the moment. Do some tapetrading, hehe.

Somehow I find a band with many demo tapes but no actual albums very interesting and somehow more dedicated to their doings. What is your excuse for all these demos and the lack of full-lengths?

– Lack of personnel. It’s certainly not that I never wanted to do an album, hehe. Doing this band is obviously important to me, but it’s not the most important thing in my life to start with. It’s great if things finally start to work out, but we simply had to find the right constellation. If it continues to work out, fine. If not, well then not.

One could think that a band that have existed for 15 years and only released a bunch of Death Metal demos is out of their minds but what is the secret of your perseverance? The aforementioned state being out of your mind, perhaps?

– Maybe. I feel the same passion about playing this music than I did when we started out. Now we have the experience and means to make the band work despite (or maybe just because) our daily lives, jobs etc. We just know what we want to do, and even if things move very slowly we can work out things better than 10 years ago because we are more focused. Even if it can be quite a drag it is very rewarding in the end.

Well, according to Metal Archives there have been legions of ex-members in Drowned. Are you difficult personalities, is playing in Drowned so exhausting or what is the explanation behind this in your opinion?

– For the most part it’s bad luck and a bad local music scene. And without wanting to put down any of the past members – each’s contribution has been immensely important – very few of them had a vision of what this band could be.

You have a strong link with Necros Christos, but how about the German Death Metal scene (is there any?) in general? Are you forefathers or outcasts among the rest?

– Both I guess? We’re maybe the first Death Metal band from Berlin, and at the same time local people hardly know us. The major part of the local Metal audience is into something that I certainly wouldn’t call Death Metal. There are a few good bands in Germany, but considering the population it’s a mess. I’m too old for that scene stuff anyway. I do socialize with a few people from other bands that I’m friends with, but that’s it. Some that I would recommend are Spancer, Katharsis, Secrets Of The Moon, Hatespawn, Excoriate.

Yes, Excoriate, whom I will interview in this magazine as well (wrong – they never answered to my questions… -ed.) and who are going to release their farewell album through Sepulchral Voice… What do you think about Seb and his merry men?

– Great band and a rare gem in the German Metal world! Unfortunately I’ve never seen them live. As far as I know, that scene down there in Nurnberg is the most promising in Germany. Those folks are pretty crazy.

Let’s get back to your latest release. Viscera Terrae’s cover is decorated with a skeleton and angels with skulls but what does a skull mean to you in general? I think it’s a symbol of equalizing death, a state where your personality and inner self are washed away, and we all look just same… Thoughts from your skull about other skulls, thank you!

– Yeah well, that was a nice thought … What more could I add. Death is a mirror that more people should take a look into in order to get a grip on themselves.

From skulls we can easily continue our journey to the dead which is one of your lyrical topics: Abyssic Dead, They Sing for Me, Deep Down from the Tombs, In the Shrines of the Kingly Dead… What is so exciting about dead people, and what kind of afterlife do we meet after our death in your opinion? Resurrection, another life or just moulding slowly in the grave? At least there are some hellish and sinister visions of the afterlife in the lyrics of the title track of Viscera Terrae

– One pretty important thing about reflecting on death is that it gives you a pretty clear idea of the things that really matter in life. People who reject the macabre are quite often slaves of their own hypocrisy, consumer attitudes, spiritual corruption etc. It’s significant that today’s western culture completely rejects the idea of death.

You recorded Viscera Terrae with your close friend Evil Nikolai. Was it difficult to get the sound so abyssic but still effective? Did you use any reference albums to create that devilish soundscape?

– We actually only recorded the vocals and keyboards at his studio and did the mixing. The drums were recorded at a different studio beforehand, and I recorded guitars and bass at home digitally, right into the computer. For some reason we must have had a good idea of how we wanted it to sound like, as the mix itself didn’t take very long, a couple of hours split into two days.

One great thing – among others – in Viscera Terrae is the epic and haunting use of lead guitar harmonies. It really takes the songs to the ancient times and adds another dimension to this ghastly journey. The lead guitars and guitar solos in your music and in Death Metal generally – discuss!

– Haha, thanks! Well, to tell you the truth: I don’t see myself as a lead guitar player, even if I started to play guitar because of people like Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, great virtuosos — but guys who never play one note too much.

– In Drowned, I always had to concentrate on rhythm guitar most of the time because there seldomly was a second guitar player at hand. Secondly, I loathe those typical show-off players that can shred any scale but cannot come up with one meaningful note. The riffing and songwriting always comes first. I’d rather be Malcolm than Angus, you see.

The demo has been out for two years now and I’ve read some praising reviews… What bands has your material been compared to? What does it feel like when Isten for example mentions you and Grave in the same sentence – is it more like “we’re not worthy” or “fuck Grave, we are better”?

– It’s nice, because Grave used to be a fantastic band. At the same time, I don’t see much Grave reflecting in our music. I’d like to think that there’s maybe a similar feel in our music, but the whole riffing and the complexity of the songs are nowhere near Grave in my opinion. I hope that what we do to a certain extent defies comparisons. We’ve also been compared to Demigod, Autopsy, Grotesque and old Darkthrone. If anything, I can relate most to the Grotesque and Darkthrone comparisons. Not because I think they are very accurate either, but because for instance Darkthrone were on quite a singular route with Soulside Journey and Goatlord. They had pretty unusual songwriting with a progressive touch, an absolutely haunting atmosphere and outstanding lyrics. That’s factors that I care for.

People are waiting to get a vinyl version of Viscera Terrae to their dirty clutches but are the things progressing concerning this vinyl release? What about vinyl in general, what is your opinion about this modern black gold (especially in eBay…)?

– The vinyl is out since a while now, and since the first pressing of 500 is almost sold-out it will be repressed (and not limited, as was previously stated), because we want people to be able to get this for a decent price. The madness that’s going on in Ebay is puzzling. I don’t get it. The MCD version on Worship Him is out as you read this.

Sometimes it seems that some people are praising vinyl and all old school things just because they are old school. Were the old days better than modern times or has the nostalgia just glorified and polished the past? You have been around for 15 years so you should have an opinion about this!

– I like the vinyl format very much, even though I do not despise CDs. In fact I prefer CDs over vinyl for certain kinds of music or certain albums. With vinyl, especially in the Metal world, the problem nowadays is the quality. The sleeve design itself often isn’t good, artworks that already looked shit on CD are even crappier in LP size. Same goes for the manufacturing (printing and pressing quality etc.). Back in the 80s all these things hat a certain standard.

– It’s great if labels like NWN, NED or Sepulchral Voice really care for these issues. On the other hand, I think people also develop a strange fetish for material things instead of caring about the musical content which always has to be most important.

And if we play with these tags more… When does today’s “old school” go out of the picture, and what would be the next “old school”? Maybe in 2020 people will talk about how they play old school Death Metal like Soilwork…? Or is this primal essence of death metal that for example Drowned is using that certain ever-lasting power which remains when the trendy gimmicks collapse?

– Good question. We’re playing this music because it’s in our veins. We may have a sound of our own, but we’re not a very original band. We’re not the inventors that Celtic Frost, Voivod or Morbid Angel have been. But we’re still doing something genuine with those ingrediences, we’re not mere copycats.

– I embrace lots of different kinds of music, most of which I couldn’t actually perform because I do not have the bonds with them and/or skills to perform them that I have with Death Metal. Music as a whole constantly evolves, and many developments in the end prove to be false. I concentrate on something that I have worked on since 15 years and that I have a deep connection with.
– Also Metal will continue to develop, the only problem that I have with it is that … even if I don’t like 98 % of the “new” Metal bands that come out, I’m having a hard time respecting them, because in my book they clearly lack attitude and vision. It’s music from the surface so to say, whereas I am interested in depth. I certainly don’t have to like them, but I would like to respect them. In the 80s and early 90s, every new album that came out opened up a world of its own. I just don’t see this happening with most of today’s Metal.

Hmm, this corpse of questions is kicked to pieces so it’s time for last words… You’re coming to Finland to raise some demons with Necros Christos. What are we to witness from your side? Wimpy and amateurish life metal or true worshipping of metal of death???

– Ahem, the latter I hope! See you there!

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