War, what is it good for?

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God Dethroned is one of those death metal bands that define reliability, consistency, and excellence, almost to the point where I think they are sometimes taken for granted and perhaps not afforded the level of recognition they deserve. Some will point to albums like 1992’s The Christhunt, 1997’s The Grand Grimoire, or perhaps 2001’s Ravenous as the classics, in many cases due to nostalgia associated with remembering that first album that sucked you in for good.

But for me it was 2003’s Into the Lungs of Hell that raised the songwriting bar without compromising the death metal fundamentals in a way that would be so defining of the group’s sound for years to come. And the train just kept on a rollin’ with 2004’s The Lair of the White Worm, 2006’s The Toxic Touch, 2009’s Passiondale, and this year’s Under the Sign of the Iron Cross, the latter two World War I concept albums.  There have been instances of minor sound expansion and dabbling of a more melodic nature (e.g. The Lair of the White Worm and The Toxic Touch), but the act’s collective integrity always remained above reproach and the music never stopped kicking full and complete ass.  As for Under the Sign of the Iron Cross, fasten your seats belts because this is one harrowing journey into the heart of enemy territory and the heaviest album God Dethroned has made in years. So let’s dive right in to the meat of the matter with Mr. Sattler.

How surprised were you in recording Under the Sign of the Iron Cross about how heavy and fundamentally death metal it ended up being? It is certainly God Dethroned, but there is a level of ferociousness here that surpasses your last several albums.

I just wanted to write an extreme album. I didn’t plan on writing a specific Death Metal album.
For me this album is very God Dethroned and I mixed my Emperor and Behemoth influences with my typical riffs and it just turned out brrrrrutal! I also believe that having a drummer like Mike made it possible to create such an explosive piece of aggressiveness this time.

Although you had successfully integrated clean singing on some songs in recent years, this album is all about aggression. And yet the one place where there is a clean vocal on the title track ends up fitting spectacularly well, almost giving a moment of somber reprieve to the chaos on either side.

The singing is done by a good friend of mine [Marco van de Velde]. He’s the singer of a band called The Wounded. What makes this cooperation so special is the fact that he writes the lyrics for that specific part himself. I only tell him where to sing. I usually write from a third person point of view, where he writes from the “I” perspective. It makes it really special. Live, I do those clean vocals myself.

What really struck me about Under the Sign of the Iron Cross was how the atrocity and tragedy in the lyrics matched up so well with the feeling of the music.  Do you ever adjust an arrangement to make its vibe more in line with the lyrical content?

No. I just picture a story in my head, come up with a fitting title and then write the music that belongs to that specific feeling. Then when that’s all done I write the lyrics. It always works fine like that and I never change the music afterwards. I’ve never thrown a piece of music away in my life. At least not when I was working on an album.

The Killing is Faceless” in particular is stunning in the way that the franticness of the riffing fits so well with lyrics that are spat out with such venom. It is one of several examples where something as simple as a certain line of a verse becomes just as memorable, if not more so, than the actual chorus. I still get chills every time I hear “Soldiers ripped to pieces!”

Thank you. That song is one of the more intense songs on the album. Like I explained before, the music and lyrics are based on the picture I see when I think about the topic. People would have to hear it to understand it. This song is definitely one of our favorite songs on Under the Sign of the Iron Cross.

The story of how you ended up writing a concept album about World War I with Passiondale is well known now. How soon after you finished that album did you decide that you would again write a concept album, this time about The Battle of Verdun, the Schlieffen Plan, and the Red Baron? Was there much debate about whether this was the direction you should take the album?

There is never much debate about which direction to go. That is the advantage of being band leader and basically sole composer in our band. The critics on Passiondale were so great that I decided to go on writing about World War I. Not many bands use this war as a subject for their songs, so it gives me plenty of freedom to write about it. The reviews I’ve seen so far on our new album are good enough to reveal my plans to turn this World War One concept album thing into a trilogy. People like the concept and somehow it brings out the best in me.

What was the approach taken, musically and lyrically, to craft such an ambitious project?

The main thing and most difficult task was to do research and to write the lyrics. It was staying in sync with history, writing cool and catchy lyrics, and trying to construct the concept in a way that it makes sense and flows naturally.

Death metal is certainly a style that lends itself well to tales of war, doesnt it? Do you find that bands like your label mates in Hail of Bullets, as well as Bolt Thrower and even Jungle Rot do it well in their own ways?

Yes they do it very well. I think they’ve all proven that by now considering the fact that so many people like them.

To my ears, the approach taken by God Dethroned to a war-based concept album stands apart from other bands that have done it, primarily for one reason: the distinctive manner in which you write guitar melodies.

I guess that’s easier for you to judge about than me. I’m far from objective when it comes down to judging God Dethroned songs. I worked on them intensively and heard them a million times during recording and mixing. By the time the album is released I don’t even know anymore if the songs are good at all or not. But anyway, thanks for the compliment!

While anyone with any sense knows that an album like Under the Sign of the Iron Cross is a historical document set to music, certain countries tend to be super sensitive about metal albums that paint such images, although the issues tend to surround WW II and the Nazis more than WW I. Have you encountered any problems or misconceptions about the album?

No, we never encountered problems or misunderstandings at all. I guess people understand my lyrics well, or in interviews I am clear enough about the fact that we write songs from a historical point of view, unbiased and without political statements in them. People who would accuse us of right wing ideas or war glorification simply haven’t paid attention.

On to some other topics now… God Dethroned has been with Metal Blade for a long time and are one of the staple death metal acts on the roster. To what do you attribute this long lasting relationship in an era where switching labels happens with some frequency?

Metal Blade always treated us well and did a lot of promotion for our albums. In return we probably sold enough albums to keep them happy as well. We never saw a reason to go to another label, simply because we couldn’t imagine that things would be a lot better for us.
So we stayed and I haven’t regretted it so far in these nearly 14 years that we have been working together.

Since vinyl has made a significant comeback, especially in the metal world, has God Dethroned released any of its albums on vinyl, with special packaging or otherwise? Have you considered it?

Every God Dethroned album has been released on vinyl with the exception of the albums Lair of the White Worm and The Toxic Touch. I think that vinyl was only released through Metal Blade Europe though, but people can definitely order it through their Webstore. Also the new album is released on vinyl and the artwork simply looks amazing on a big album sleeve. Next to black vinyl it’s also available on grey and orange vinyl.

Wrapping up, what is on the horizon for God Dethroned in 2011?

I don’t know yet. Things always pop up by surprise, so we’ll see what happens.

Comments

  1. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    “Im gonna shoot you from real close ”
    This picture goes well with that classic line !


  2. Commented by: Desperado

    Excellent album and band, and good solid review. If there is another band that comes close if not surpases the WWI thing (IIRC correctly the setting), is another fav of mine, Torchbearer. Hot damn I want another album from them sooooo bad. Burial Waters is fucking tragic, and has that similar excellent vocals and riffs combination that really shine well together, the line “My brothers, I see them go down” is haunting. And my woman digs the crazy awesome solos in The Red Baron.


  3. Commented by: faust666

    Great band, great piece.


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