Belgian black metal experimentalists, Alkerdeel, returned to the primitive on their latest album and perplexed the staff at Scream Blast Repeat at the same time. As we said in our review: ‘We never thought the words would go together in the same sentence but imagine an art-school band creating a prog metal version of Hellhammer.’
If that intrigues you, wait until it all clicks into place on the second listen to Slonk. This is performance art of the highest calibre – part improvisation, part ritual, and always disturbing. You never quite know what vocalist Jeroen Pede is screaming from his lungs, and it’s doubtful even he can tell you, but Alkerdeel are all about energy and spontaneous intensity.
In our state of bedazzlement, we had to arrange an interview with Pede. Welcome to the strange world of Alkerdeel…
You recorded your new album, Slonk, as a live piece of music in one take. This means you kept the original ghost tracks and used these as your final songs. It seems to be the trademark Alkerdeel approach on your previous albums and EPs. Why do you prefer this method of recording?
When we started out more than fifteen years ago, there wasn’t a big plan. We were a jam band, improvising during rehearsals and just playing for ourselves. We didn’t have fancy stuff; the drum was rusty and taped together, a small amp for the guitar player, and I sang through a keyboard amp. All very primitive, but the sound was perfect. It was raw and honest, similar to the bands we were inspired by at the time, such as Corrupted, Ildjarn or Darkthrone. Although we evolved during the years, bought better gear and eventually went to a professional studio, the basic idea of a raw and natural sound remained.
It’s something I never understood, that bands who play together in their rehearsal space or live on stage, drastically change how they perform music when recording: they split up, record individually, during different sessions, often in a very artificial situation. Many guitar players just plug in straight to the desk and sit on a chair next to the producer. How lame can you be? This would never work for us as a band. We tried it once, after the debut, for the De Bollaf! EP and already decided during recording: never again! We need to be in one room, see each other and hear the sound through our amps. Not through headphones. Also, I mostly don’t like these “produced” albums, often using the tricks of the moment and sounding dated after a blink of an eye.
There are exceptions of course, Rebel Extravaganza from Satyricon, which is a very processed album, but it suits the songs. The love for this primitive way of recording probably has something to do with the music I grew up with. My dad was a huge blues and jazz fan. He played a lot of Robert Johnson, and those recordings were made with only one single mic. Even the earliest Miles Davis recordings were captured by only a room microphone. As early teens, we grew up in full grunge period. There wasn’t really a clear distinction for us between extreme metal or raw music in general. Listen to The Melvins, Nirvana’s Bleach or even In Utero. We relate a lot more to that kind of sound than 99 percent of those over-produced fake and polished metal albums. Speaking of Nirvana, they worked together with Steve Albini from Shellac. There’s this letter online he wrote when receiving an inquiry from Nirvana who wanted to work together. I strongly suggest you look for it, as what he wrote is one of the few rules we actually follow.
These days, I’d like to mention the recordings of Wagner Ödegard (Wulkanaz, Karnilapakte), Moenen Of Xezbeth or Meth Drinker as examples of what we like.
Slonk is an angry record. What are you screaming about underneath the intense noise?
What I scream isn’t necessarily angry, and I can also extend this to the mindset of the whole band. Probably contrary to what many people think, we’re not a negative band. We’re the opposite of these depressive suicidal black metal cry-babies. See it more as a release of energy, like the eruption of a volcano, a force of nature. Or the feeling when you go skydiving, the jump, the boost of adrenaline. Of course, we’re rooted in a genre that’s marinated in darkness, but we do not exploit it in a direct way. It’s channelled through a web of suggestive, surreal and often confusing layers.
On the previous album, Lede, there’s this comic inside the vinyl on two panels, that shows briefly what the songs are about. The lyrics weren’t included, for the simple reason that each time I sing these songs, the lines differ. The concept remains always the same, but the exact words vary. This is some kind of inheritance from the time we were a jam band and improvised during rehearsals. It gave me a lot of freedom and made it challenging, too.
When we were composing Slonk, however, I felt a need for structure, and for the first time, the lyrics were written as something permanent. The titles of the songs are based upon the Enochian Key, or Angelical, the language of the Angels. A mythical language written down in the 16th century by John Dee, an alchemist. We took the four primal elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Wind) as a basis and altered them in our own dialect. That way, the initial meaning of these words changed. For example, the first song ‘Vier’ is derived from “Vuur” which means “fire”, but also “to celebrate” and the number “four”. It’s about treasuring creativity, igniting the fire from within. At the same time, we thought it was amusing that the first song could be interpreted as “four”. There’s an intended relation between the lyrics, titles, photograph, symbols and animals which are present in the artwork. The third song ‘Zop’ refers to “water”. The dialect word is hard to translate; it’s something close to mud or sludge. The lyrics deal with the hare that’s shown on the cover, a skinned hare, that’s hanged upside down to bleed dry. In the lyrics, the course of the blood, starting from the head of the hare, via the eyes, the skin and the nose, towards the fall of one single drop to the ground, mingling with the soil, is described. It’s all a bit abstract and intentionally confusing. As with the music, we prefer to speak to the imagination of the listener, to give room to personal interpretation.
You sound like a progressive metal version of Hellhammer’s Apocalyptic Raids on Slonk. Maybe it’s because of the raw recording, but the music has a deliberate savage darkness to it. How accurate is our observation?
Ha, ha, I like that observation as both are at the complete other side of the spectrum. Although some of the band like a good dose of prog, even seventies psychedelic folk music, we never intentionally integrated prog into our music. I can’t even recall any discussion regarding this, so it must be subconscious. Hellhammer on the other side is quite obvious, considering that bands like Darkthrone or Tangorodrim, that wear Hellhammer on their sleeves, are prime fundaments of our sound.
People often mention Alkerdeel in the same sentence as Norwegian avant-garde black metallers, Ved Buens Ende. We came across your band when reviewing a Czech artist called Voluptas. They cited you as a major influence on their music. Which other bands are you aware of that claim Alkerdeel as an inspiration?
Aha! Voluptas from Prague. We got to know them when we played there – great guys. They offered us self-distilled rum, served in a pumpkin. Still happy we didn’t lose our sight, ha, ha. That said, I personally don’t think we sound like Ved Buens Ende at all, or it has to be the bass lines. It’s one of my favourite bands though, and their bassist Skoll, is one of the biggest inspirations to our bass player, but there it ends sound-wise. When speaking about inspiration, I have to stress that there’s a huge difference between being inspired and copying a style. Ved Buens Ende is inspiring in how they approach a musical genre totally different. I’m not aware of any bands with these claims, except from some befriended bands that during a personal conversation revealed they took inspiration from us, such as Witch Trail and Galg (one of the earliest bands of O. from Turia).
It must be a challenge to record an album in the way you did. For how many hours did you rehearse before you entered the studio to record the four songs on Slonk? Surely, one of you must have suggested using Pro Tools at the mixing stage, right?
I don’t know, honestly. In normal non-Covid times, we rehearse once a week. After we finished writing the final song of the album, we had quite a few months before entering the studio, so we were quite prepared. Except from the lyrics, they were only half written. Unfortunately (but luckily for me), the lockdown made us postpone the recordings for four months, a period that we weren’t allowed to rehearse. There was this small period in summer, where measures were less strict, luckily the same period that we booked the studio. If I recall right, there was only one rehearsal. When we arrived at the studio, we installed our gear, did one single soundcheck, played the songs and that was it. When we play, Frederik Segers, the engineer already adjusts the sound a little. Next day, we did the mixing. He mixes through his desk in combination with the computer, but I don’t know what software he uses. Except from little compression and some analogue effects there’s not much hocus pocus, though. We have been working like this since the recording of Morinde, our second album.
The bassist appears to be playing a different song on ‘Vier’ compared to the guitars and drums, almost like he’s playing in a Jazz group. What were the non-metal influences on your current album?
There aren’t any direct non-metal influences, apart from the obvious extreme metal bands. Everyone listens to a wide range of music, going from alternative music over electronics to even seventies or eighties pop, but that’s part of our DNA. There weren’t any direct references to these, except from the intro, which has been made by Stadt, the band of our producer Frederik. They play psychedelic music, close to krautrock, and they composed the intro as a return favour for some artwork I did for them. They got total freedom, although they received some suggestions: Klaus Schulze, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Neptune Towers and Jean Michel Jarre. Contrary to what I’ve read so far in reviews, the intro is not programmed on a computer. It’s totally analogue, made with real instruments – a cello, cymbal percussion and manipulated voices.
This is the first Alkerdeel album since 2016’s Lede. What reaction did you receive in your home country of Belgium upon release of this record?
The reactions have been overwhelming to be honest, all positive, even from some major music magazines. Which is weird in some way, as we do not write easy or accessible music. So far, most of the reactions were through reviews or people messaging. We haven’t got the chance to present the music live, and that’s something we look forward to.
How much interest have you had from the Season of Mist record label over the years?
What do your work colleagues say when they hear you screaming down the microphone for the first time?
I am working for an alternative music organization, as a graphic designer, for more than 16 years. I have my own, separate room in the office, and although they’re used to extreme sounds already, I notice them feeling uncomfortable when they enter while Vondur is playing, for example. Our financial accountant is most interested. He’s a music addict without limits, and once asked me to make an extreme metal compilation, covering death, black, doom, crust, and so on, for listening when cycling to the office. One day, he arrived at the office, totally out of breath and sweaty, mentioning he drove faster than usual. When I asked what song he had listened to, he took his iPod and read loudly: “It seems to be a band called Cannibal Corpse, and the song is called ‘Fucked With A Knife’ … och”.
Your music sounds like you’re plunging into the abyss and going through a rough period in your lives. How much of this is based on real experience, and how much of it is a therapeutic release of emotions building up inside you?
Only a little is based on real experience. We do not deal with earthly topics. Actually, the band is an escape from it. Of course, each member puts his heart and soul into it, and from time to time it might happen personal issues are channelled through it, be it positive or negative. Each member has also his own personal history. I don’t know what a psych would discover, but as mentioned in one of the earlier questions, our approach isn’t intentionally negative. This is what we create and comes out spontaneously. Our only ambition is to confuse people, hence the devil on the cover of Lede. We fart in your general direction.
Final question: What major change of direction can you see happening in the band’s sound in the future?
After the second album, Morinde, we heard a lot of people expecting us to go more sludge/doom, but we went the other direction. Almost all sludge influences disappeared in favour of a more death metal direction, e.g. Autopsy, Immolation or even inspiration from the My Dying Bride demo and some old-school bands like Sarcófago and Von. These are still present on Slonk, but for the first time, we embraced the sound of some atmospheric Scandinavian bands from the 90s. The working title of the closing song, ‘Trok’, used to be “the Ancient song”, referring to Svartalvheim. Where we go next is still a question mark, but as many people from different backgrounds seem to like us, we feel an urge emerging to go all nasty and create something totally inaccessible. But at the same time, it can evolve into pop-chart music. We never know…
*** Alkerdeel released Slonk on 5 February 2021 via Consouling Sounds/Babylon Doom Cult Records. You can read the original SBR review here. ***