Guitarist Eric Daniels about Asphyx’s debut album
After thrash metal had gone out of fashion, death metal took over its position in the underground scene. The genre reached its peak very quickly around 1991, a lot of influental, classic records saw the light in that year. One of them was The Rack, done by Dutch death/doom outfit Asphyx. With the help of guitarist Eric Daniels I managed to look behind the scenes, considering the way how the album was created back in the day.
Eric, what were your experiences as a musician before you joined Asphyx back in 1989? What about your musical past as a whole?
Well, I started playing electric guitar when I was 14 years old. I listened to the Blackout album by Scorpions and I was so thrilled about the rhythm guitars on that album that I really liked to play guitar. However I was also intrigued by playing the bass guitar, but in the end I decided to go for the electric guitar. I learned to play all by myself, it was hard but the love for the instrument took over. I played heavy metal, later speed metal and ended up by the style of music I really like the most, death metal. However when the album Black Metal by Venom was released I knew that I wanted to play guitar the rough way like Mantas did. I played in a couple of bands in my neighbourhood, just with friends. Later in 1989 I joined Asphyx to play the second guitar, when a friend of mine had contact with Bob by mail, and asked if I like to play in Asphyx.
Were you perhaps familiar with the band’s demos Carnage Remains and Enter the Domain (both 1988)? Did you consider them as a promising band?
Yes, I was and both demos sounded dark and promising, pure death metal, the way I wanted to play. All from the start it was very different from the music what was in that time. Doom and mid tempo in a different way, it has it’s own style of music.
Would you say that thank to the early demos, including the Crush the Cenopath tape and the Mutilating Process 7” you managed to gain more and more attention?
There was a lot of interest in the demo period. After we recorded the Crush the Cenotaph demo, we really didn’t expect world wide attention. We thought the demo will sell about 200 copies, but it went crazy in numbers, everywhere people picked it up. The 7” Mutilating Process I still consider as a true Asphyx masterpiece. There we let hear the true face of Asphyx. Still cherish that release. Bob did a lot fan mail and tapetrading at that time. No social media back then, all with hand writing and we gained more and more attention. It was an awesome period, also we didn’t expect it would turn out that way of popular with our music.
Embrace the Death originally was intended as the first Asphyx full-length album, it was planned for release on C.M.F.T. Productions, but the label went bankrupt. Were you very disappointed about the situation?
Yes for sure, you can imagine it was our first full length release in making, and we were very happy with the recordings. It was our step forwards with our music and we wanted to let people and our fans hear we had a very dark death metal sounded album coming up with tracks from the demos and new material. I was lucky and happy Century Media released it way years later. Embrace the Death is still the first full length Asphyx album. It was very disappointing when we find out the guy at C.M.F.T. did not come close and release it.
Did it lead to the line up changes that happened at this time? Guitarist Tony Brookhuis and bassist/vocalist Theo Loomans (R.I.P.) left the band and Martin Van Drunen was recruited…
No, it was not that reason for the line-up changes. Tony left ’cause he didn’t felt and liked the music we played and the direction we went. So he quit. We also had some troubles with Theo as you know and Bob asked Martin when we hanged out in the same bar in Oldenzaal, if he liked to join Asphyx. Martin came back form the USA tour with Pestilence and didn’t had a good time there, inner struggles, so that’s why Asphyx went this way. We actually played one show in Germany (Cottbus) with Theo and Martin together. It was very special. After that show we went together as a 3 piece band, Bob, Martin and me.
Is it correct that Martin Van Drunen didn’t agree with the rest of the guys in Pestilence about the more sophisticated death metal sound that they wanted to pursue as his interest was in filthy old school death metal?
To be honest I don’t know that background information. The only thing I knew was that Martin was not feeling okay anymore with Pestilence. The whole inner story I didn’t care that much. I hate inner struggles and always want to kept aside from that. I think when you google around you will find this answer.
By the way, was he your first choice or did you maybe try out other musicians as well? Didn’t you think about getting a second guitarist in the band?
Yes, Martin was our first and only choice. He lived nearby and we all were friends and liked the way we wanted to play death metal the brutal way, so the connection was made. Concerning a second guitar player we did not have the best of luck back then. We did some try outs with people, but in the end the vibe with the 3 of us was golden so we stayed that way as line-up. The sound was brutal enough with the 3 of us as you know.
On the 5th of January, 1991, you recorded a three-track promo. Did you get the contract from Century Media based on that demo? Were there perhaps other labels interested in the band?
We already had the Century Media Records’ contract, we only did that 3 track demo, for sound wise for the official recordings for The Rack. That promo was never mentioned to be released or to be sold. However later it came out in the tapetrading circuit. Both Bob and I we wrote some record companies, I think it was after the 7” Mutilating Process. We wrote to Noise Records, Century Media Records, Earache and Roadrunner. We got a good response and fast from Century Media and we went to Dortmund headquarters of C. M. to meet there and sign the record deal.
Conjuration of Choronzon didn’t appear on any Asphyx records later on, did it?
Yes, it did, songtext wise Martin did some alter, ’cause he felt best to write and sing his own created versions, and that’s of course very understandable.
At which point did you appear on the label’s compilation In the Eyes of Death? Was the goal of this record to introduce the fans to the newest signings of Century Media?
That compilation album In the Eyes of Death, indeed was the idea from Cenury Media with the signed death metal bands at that time to get promotion, just to let hear the fans for the bands new songs. I don’t know if it was for the signing that idea but it was just promo wise for this compilation. To be mention, I still have the vinyl version as test-pressing, very happy with that.
When did you start working on The Rack? Were all of the songs completed and written when Martin joined or did he take part in the songwriting process as well?
Most of the songs were already ready, they were from the demos past time so we only had created approx 2 new songs like The Rack. We composed that song all 3 at our rehearsal room. The most songwriting of that song was Martin’s idea. I can remember we were finished with a rehearsal, Bob and I were packing in our equipment and Martin just played bass, he started the riffs from The Rack and suddenly Bob and I unpacked our equipment and started to play together with Martin. I never forget that moment, it was so pure and fun to do so. We created the whole The Rack song in that moment.
How long did it take to come up with any material with him?
As I can recall, not long, After Martin joined Asphyx we were preparing for the The Rack album so it was very quick we did the preparation. An awesome time, while we recorded the album, winter fell in snow and cold, inside cozy and loud loud music…
Were you prepared to record the album, when you entered the Harrow Studios? What do you recall of the recording sessions?
Yes, we were prepared as much you can be prepared. We did a numerous of rehearsals back before and we were ready for the final touch to record the album. We did the base with all 3 together, 1st guitar track, drums and bass guitar all at once. 2nd guitar, solos and vocals we did afterwards. It went very quick. Harry Wijering was doing the engineering in his small little studio where we also rehearsed. Tape like, analog, that time, so awesome it was.
How do you view that the The Quest of Absurdity intro that opens the album creates the horror atmosphere and after it Vermin suddenly explodes in all its fury and the massacre starts?
That was an awesome idea to do. The intro was done on an Korg synthesiser with samples and it just created the atmosphere we liked it. Dark and vicious before Vermin opens and spawn our death metal out.
In your opinion, did some of the tracks have fast thrash-type parts in them (e.g. Wasteland of Terror, Pages in Blood), but in general The Rack is pretty doom oriented?
Yes, it has, but it was our invented style of doom changes with up tempo to fast tempos. We liked and still like doom metal very much. It was thrashy orientated, too. To combine those styles it was were Asphyx stands for.
Did it really concentrate on mid-pace or even fast riffing slightly more than its predecessor, Embrace the Death?
There are numerous songs on The Rack which also were recorded on the Embrace the Death album, so it wasn’t far away as style. We never thought about the levels of thrashy riffs and doomy parts. It blended in a nice way the way we liked it.
Of course there are also massively slow and heavy doom/death riffage, Evocation or Diabolical Existence being the most obvious examples, but the latter song appeared on the previous album under the title Denying the Goat. Why did you rename it?
Well, Martin re-wrote the title of the songs Theo had created, pure for his vibe. I can understand that and we never found it an problem. Martin had to sing the songs live and recorded them and he is the one to feel comfort by it with the meaning of the songs. We never involved with our instruments, we all 3 had our speciality on our instruments. We just brought it together in the songs. I think that’s called musical freedom. I am not the guy saying, you have to do this or that. The expression of invidual skills is most important.
The Sickening Dwell is another crushing song that also has been recorded on Embrace the Death album first, hasn’t it?
Yes, it’s also present on the Embrace the Death album. It has a crushing vibe and it was always my favorite song to play. All expression in the guitar parts, good structure. For sure one of my favorite Asphyx songs.
Ode to a Nameless Grave is a brilliant doom metal instrumental song, it’s heavy, mournful and dark. What made you to put this tune on the record? Did it add a unique character, feeling to the album?
Originally it was part of the song Mutilating Process itself, however Bob and I made it only the intro part as one song Ode… We really like the doom vibe in there so we recorded it on the The Rack album just to reflect we are doom fans ourselves, with an icy atmosphere.
Do you think that the title track starts in the same vein as Hellhammer’s Triumph of Death? Is this the longest, most complex song in the band’s history?
No, not the most complex song. On the Last One on Earth album there are more complex songs. As I mentioned earlier we wrote that song in 1 rehearsal take. It was just coming out and we really like the atmosphere, the build up and till the ending of the song. I can say, all true Asphyx elements are in this song, and it was a very good ending song for the album, too.
Would you say that Martin Van Drunen’s voice sounds even more hoarse, brutal and merciless than on Pestilence’s Consuming Impulse and combined with the heavy and mostly slow music, it makes it a really extreme experience?
Yes, I sure honest agree with your question. It’s also progress from the musician himself. I think it’s a natural process and Martin did an outstanding job there. We all were very happy with the result of the The Rack. Exactly the way we wanted it. His voice is aggressive, brutal and very blend in with the music.
Is this album a real massive attack of doom/death metal in its most powerful form and remarkable for its unmatched brutality and doomy atmosphere?
It is. If you imagine we were a 3 piece band and besides our fan worship to the old Venom, there is no 3 piece band in death metal who can over conquer what we did on The Rack. It’s not arrogant saying, it’s just the truth. Especially in that time beginning of the 90’s. I can recall a remark from a guy way back when we did a live show, he said I never experienced a 3 piece band who blows away an 5 piece band in death metal. So I rest my case, amen.
The Rack was released at a time when death metal was getting more and more technical and losing the darkness of the music. In contrast you decided to stick to your roots and do what you do best: simple, crushing and heavy-as-hell music. Do you agree with it?
I totaly agree with that. I respect technical death metal bands very much, it’s an art and skill I do not have, but to me I like the heavy doom, up tempo and the switch between tempos the most.
After the release of The Rack you went on a European tour with Entombed, followed by the This Time it’s War tour with Bolt Thrower and Benediction in 1992. How did they go? Can you tell us more about them?
Those 2 tours were awesome. Every night it was sold out and play before a packed house every evening it was awesome! I still remember it all and it was awesome to play every evening the brutal Asphyx tunes. Yes, there are so much memories about those tours it’s hardly to subscribe here. The highlights of death metal in those days. Good bands, good friendships among the bands it was so cool to do.
Was Asphyx a part of that huge group of death/doom bands to come out of Netherlands in the early 90’s (Sempiternal Deathreign, Mourning, Delirium, Phlebotomized, Beyond Belief etc.) and certainly the most well-known and praised of that scene?
Yes, it was. I only can recall Sempiternal Deathreign, they were awesome and the first death metal band grounded in Holland. In that time more and more bands saw the daylight and a great scene was growing in Holland. We were part of that from the beginning.
I like collecting bootlegs and in my collection there are two Asphyx bootlegs titled The Way of Samael and Live Geronimo 3. 12. 89. Are you aware of these materials?
That’s really interesting! I did not know they are circle around. Very nice to know, thanks! They are from way back, yes.
Eric, thank you for your answers! End up the interview the way you want…
Thank you David for this in-depth nice Asphyx interview! I like to thank for all fans out there for their support and in this pandemic time I say stay safe, stay healthy and take care of each other especially the people who needs it the most! Stay heavy, horns up! Greets, Eric