interview: Dawid Krosnia
‘I try to maximize everything because if an album becomes a big flop, then at least I know I did everything I could to make it go right.’
photo: God Dethroned 2017
With the new album, The World Ablaze, God Dethroned complete their World War I trilogy having covered the topic very extensively. Over the year, the band managed to work out its unique sound of blackened death metal with a lot of melodic touches. After 7 years since the last release and just before showing the world their newest offspring, we spoke to Henri Sattler who answered our questions about his passion for war themed topics. We also talked about why the band split up before and what is the secret of their fruitful cooperation with Metal Blade Records.
The Goat Tavern: Hi Henri, thanks for speaking to us!
Henri: No problem, no problem at all.
So it’s been seven years since your latest album with God Dethroned, how did it feel to go back and record your new album, The World Ablaze?
It felt really good. I had a lot of time to recharge the batteries and reflect on my own work. There were some things that I thought I could do better this time. It’s great when you start writing a new album and you know what you have to do better. Actually, we tried to record some stuff earlier on and nothing good came out and then, at certain point, the fresh air came on and all the ideas started to come and it worked out really well. It seemed that we worked under pressure and that we work much better when there is no pressure. We managed to write and record an album that is a lot more dynamic than the last one, Under the Sign of the Iron Cross. That album was really fast and aggressive. The new album has got much more variety. It’s not only fast, but it’s got a lot of mid-tempo parts, rolling and headbang stuff. So I think that it became much more dynamic album but it still sounds like God Dethroned.
Definitely, for me the new songs are a perfect definition of what God Dethroned is about. The album is amazing from start to finish so well done with that.
Thank you! You know, our booking agent said that when he listened to the album, it felt like he was listening to 20 years ago God Dethroned, you can hear the stuff that reminds you of the old God Dethroned, stuff from the middle era and from the later albums. So apparently, we have taken a little bit of everything from all those albums and put it on this one. That’s good I suppose.
Yes, it is! It sounds very tight. As you said, there is a lot of melodic parts as well as blastbeats, so everything is merged nicely together. The World Ablaze is the last chapter of the World War I trilogy, can you tell me how the idea was born in your head to do the theme on three albums?
When we started doing Passiondale, the first World War I concept album, I ran into that basically by accident. Because our guitar player, Isaac Delahaye, who was in God Dethroned at that time, he lived in Ypres in Belgium. As you may know, Ypres was one of the cities on the front line of the war, so this whole city is filled with war memorials and graveyards. When I witnessed that every weekend and, on top of that, lots of English people who were there visiting the graves of their relatives who died in war, it was so impressive. I wanted to know more about this. So I started digging in the history and I found really mind-blowing stuff like the war propaganda. So we did the Passiondale album and the response to the album was so good that we decided to do another one, Under the Sign of the Iron Cross. I suppose I must have mentioned here and there that I was thinking about doing the trilogy so it was like an obligation I had to fulfil when we decided to do the new album.
So we did the final album in the trilogy and I think it fits perfectly. It’s the three albums together are very coherent. At the same time it was very difficult to write more songs about World War I because I think I’ve done something between 20 and 25 songs about this topic so I was happy I finished the last one. It was getting difficult, you don’t want to repeat yourself so much. But it feels that when you speak about the trench war in three albums, it’s inevitable that you come to the same kind of lyrics.
God Dethroned’s World War I trilogy – Passiondale(2009), Under the Sign of the Iron Cross (2010) and The World Ablaze (2017) – Metal Blade Records
Did you have to do a lot of research, read a lot about it?
Yeah, definitely. You have to do that. You can’t just say something, you have to know what you’re talking about. And there’s some really specific stuff like, for example, the song The 11th Hour. It is about the end of the war but it was symbolic – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But officially, the Armistice was already signed at 5am instead of 11am. Some of the allied commanders wanted to look good in the statistics, so they said to their soldiers in the morning: ‘You have to attack, we’ll send you into battle because we want to gain more ground because it will look good in the statistics‘. And because of that 20 thousand soldiers were killed on the final morning basically just to look good in the statistics. Stuff like that happened all the time during the war. If you do research about it then you know what you’re talking about. You can’t just make that up.
Can you tell us what the title song, The World Ablaze, is about? Because it seems to be the catchiest song on the album.
It’s one of the songs that describe the war seen at the frontline. But it’s also, the reflection to the situation in the world as it is right now. The lyrics are very open, I always try to write from the neutral point of view, so everybody, no matter from which country you are, you can read the lyrics and think that the army is fighting for you and the other one is the enemy. We don’t want to mention certain countries as good or bad guys because we have friends everywhere so I want people to be able to read the lyrics and listen to the album and have a good feeling about it. So the lyrics in that song are more like a common description of what happened on the frontline.
I had the same feeling when I listened to this song. I was trying to get the lyrics and instantly thought about the current situation in Syria and all those places. It felt very current.
Yeah, it is true. I didn’t initially write it with this purpose in mind but when I wrote the song, I realized you could reflect the world as it is now. And that’s what many people do, that what I hear from the press – ‘we have that feeling, just like you’. I guess that people sometimes see that history repeats itself, I’m not sure if that’s completely true but at least it makes some sense.
Can you expect in the future some other themes in the albums or do you want to try something totally different?
I must admit that I like to have a themed album because you can write the lyrics and you can make one big story. It’s going to be about the different topic, I’m not sure what it’s going to be for the future. Right now, I want to promote this new album as much as I can and see if our fanbase is still there. I mean, it looks pretty good if I look at the shows we did in the last couple of years. I can’t complain at all but I have no idea if people still buy albums. It has been 7 years since our latest album so I have no clue what has changed in the meantime. I’m afraid things haven’t got any better to be honest. I hope that people will still buy our albums. We have a limited edition with a DVD and we have a vinyl so there is more than just a jewel case CD.
What does the DVD include?
The DVD has got our show at Graspop Metal Meeting from last year with enhanced sound which is really good. It also has got our show at Rock Hard Festival in 2015, also with enhanced sound. And it has a song from 70000 Tons of Metal cruise when we reunited in 2015. I think it’s a nice bonus you can get for a few euros more. For the collectors and fans, it’s something to have I suppose.
I think it’s better than a standard CD, you get more for the money. You know, everyone is about money these days…
Yeah… And we also have the vinyl version which has got a poster and colour vinyl, you can choose your colour. So yeah, if you’re a fan then you can buy some nice packages. They sell bundles nowadays where there’s a t-shirt included and stuff like that. I guess Metal Blade make interesting packages just to be able to sell some albums.
Definitely! Can you tell us a bit more about the writing process of The World Ablaze and when did you start recording the album?
We started writing right after last summer and we started recording by the mid-December. We did the drums in the Spilt Seconds Studio owned by the guys from Textures. Then we rebuilt my house to the recording studio, we recorded the rest in my house. I have a perfect location because I live in the perfect place to be able to make a lot of noise and nobody is bothered about that. My house is acoustically very suitable for that. Then Dan Swanö did the mix, you know, he did Hail of Bullets and Asphyx albums and many other great productions. After that we went to Wisseloord Studios, which is an old but very famous studio here in the Netherlands, and they did the mastering. They also work with Within Temptation, Rammstein and bands like that in the past. So they put the icing on the cake so to speak.
Quite an interesting combination of people! And who’s responsible for the artwork, it looks really cool!
It’s a friend of mine, he’s a graphic designer. He did a lot of artworks for festivals like Eindhoven Metal Meeting and many other bands. He might not be a very well-known guy but he’s doing a really good job. And the artwork fits perfectly to the album.
God Dethroned The World Ablaze
(out on Metal Blade Records on May 5th)
I’m sure he’s gonna get a few phone calls as soon as the album is released, it looks very professional. You have stayed loyal to Metal Blade Records for 2 decades now. How do you create such a positive and fruitful relationship with a label? What’s the secret?
Well, the secret is that I have a good relationship with the boss, Brian Slagel. But I also have a good relationship with most of the people at the label. I’ve known them for a long time, there’s not a lot of people that came and left in the meantime. Basically, the core is still the same people as when we signed to them 20 years ago. We always sold the decent amount of the albums so the label has always been happy about that. I’m not trying to cause too much trouble, we always work on a reasonable basis. I think we have a good contract as well. They want us to deliver the goods and they do the rest. That has always worked out really well. There was no reason not to continue.
It makes sense, but have you been tempted to try someone else in the past?
No, they always offer us a new contract when the old one expires. They always come up with a good deal. There was really no reason to change it. I always have that fear of changing label and going somewhere else. Maybe I wouldn’t feel at home as much, but it’s something you don’t know beforehand. It’s a bit of a gamble and I didn’t feel like taking the gamble so far. We’ve had some offers here and there in the past but we always stayed loyal to Metal Blade because we know what we get and they know what they get. It always worked really well so it’s better to keep the same team.
Yeah, I think they’re doing really well because they’ve had bands like Six Feet Under or Cannibal Corpse for years. Those big names stay loyal as well.
And they still have Amon Amarth for the US, not for Europe anymore. So I guess bands feel at home with them.
Six years ago you decided to split up for the second time in your career, this came as a shock to many fans around the world. What made you put everything on hold?
I was fed up at the time. I didn’t know if I needed a break or I just wanted to quit it altogether. The risk is that when you take the break, people won’t leave you alone. They will keep on bugging you about playing shows, new album and stuff like that. I didn’t want to have that so I decided to call it quit. For a while I thought it was a right decision. For the first year and a half I felt really relieved not to do the same thing over and over again – recording and touring, recording and touring. And at a certain point, the guy who signed us back in the day, Michael Trengert from Metal Blade Europe, he died. He also was the guy that did Summer Breeze Festival later on. I went to his funeral and there I met all the guys from Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast and also from many bands like Amon Amarth. It was during that day when I realized how much I missed everybody. I was like: ‘Jesus, I have to go and play again!‘. This felt like my family. So then, it took a year or so before I really took a step to start playing again. You need some preparation for find band members again and then make sure you get some shows. I wanted to start again when we finished in 2012, we started again on 70000 Tons of Metal cruise. I thought it would be really cool to start at the same place where we ended. And they were also very enthusiastic about it. So when we entered the stage on the cruise, the crowd cheered to us as if Iron Maiden came on stage [both laugh]. So that was really good! And since then things worked out really well.
I can definitely imagine that! But right now, do you actually regret the decision you made or are you happy that you had a break and time to think about it?
It was good for me to have that break anyway. I needed a break so I don’t regret that at all. It was good to have something else on my mind for a couple of years. The only thing that worries me a little bit is that we haven’t done an album for 7 years so will people still remember us? But I know now when I looked at some recent shows that people still remember about us. It seems that we have a very loyal fanbase. And to gain a little bit more attention for the new album, we decided to do three videos before the album comes out. It’s low budget of course but you can at least present the song. I hope that if we do three videos in one month, most people will be aware that we have a new album.
I’m sure they will! Do you like working on video clips? Is it something you enjoy?
[laughs] You know, you spend the whole day playing the same song. It’s fun but you’re happy when the day is over! I wasn’t there when the first video was edited and for the next video I wanted to be there. There were some things I wanted to improve on. It’s always the same story, if you’re not there yourself, you can’t control what’s going on so it’s always better to be there. In the end, it means that you spend a lot of time to get everything perfect. I do all the interviews myself and that’s why I’m always there writing the songs, recording the album, making sure everything is perfect.
Are you the control freak?
I’m afraid so [both laugh]…
That’s not a bad thing I guess…
Well, you can only do it once, you know! You do an album and there is no ‘undo‘ bottom there. If you do an album, do it good! Make sure it looks and sounds good and you do your promotion right. I try to maximize everything because if an album becomes a big flop, then at least I know I did everything I could to make it go right. If I didn’t do anything and it became a flop, then I could only blame myself. I’m very proud of the album so I do everything myself to make sure that everything is correct. I was always like that and it always worked out so I guess it should work this time as well.
In the past, you had a lot of line-up changes. Do you think that the current line-up is stable enough to go and play long tours?
I hope so and I think so! In the past, when somebody left the band, it was usually because being away from home is not for everybody. People have got families and other obligations sometimes. When you have a full touring schedule and you need somebody else, it’s usually split seconds to decide to use that guy on guitar and so on. This time we had time for that so we took some session musicians, the guys that we like as musicians. But we wanted to try them before making the decision. So we had session musicians in the band for two years and now, when the album was recorded, we all had a good feeling about each other. So they could become the steady members of the band. It felt really good. It’s better to take the time before making a decision like that. I think we made a right choice and this can go on for a very long time.
So are you planning to return on the road soon to promote the album?
We’re looking at different options right now. First of all, we have five album release shows. Then we have some festivals lined up this year like With Full Force, Dong Open Air or Party.San Metal Open Air. For after summer, we’re looking for some tours. We have some options for Europe, for the US and for Japan as well. We’re looking into that but nothing has been decided yet.
It would be great to see you back with Vader, the co-headlining tour. I remember that tour and it was pretty good! It was like 10 years ago, wasn’t it?
Yeah, you’re correct! But it was a great tour, I’ve known the Vader guys for the long time now and they are great people so that would always work out.
I watched God Dethroned in 2015 at Brutal Assault and it was a very good show, the tent looked full of people. Do you like playing in Czech Republic?
I wish we could go there again this year! It’s a really beautiful festival, beautiful location and there was a lot of people, the crowd was in the good mood. It was all great, I really hope we can play there again soon.
photos: God Dethroned live with Brutal Assault 2015, by Dawid Krosnia / The Goat Tavern
Currently, a lot of bands revisit their previous records and play them live in full. Would you consider doing the similar thing with one of your ground-breaking albums like Bloody Blasphemy?
Yeah, but what we want to do later in the year, is to play The Grand Grimoire in its entirety because it’s 20 years old now. So we thought we could celebrate this album by having some exclusive shows when we play this album in full and maybe even songs from the very first album. Digging into the old material [both laugh].
That sounds really cool! Can you promise not to split up again?
Yeah, I can promise [both laugh]. I think that if we do things right then we will go on for a long time. Because it’s a lot of fun and the break has brought me the peace I was looking for. And now I think there should be no reason why we won’t last for a long time.
My fingers are crossed for you! As a musician, do you actually listen to any new music? Do you still listen to a lot of death metal or are you all over the place musically?
I’m all over the place. In the past I listened mostly to metal but now I listen to David Gilmour a lot, that’s my hero. I listen to the radio, to everything really. I still listen to metal but my spectrum is a little bit wider. I’m a big Golden Earring fan so I listen to different things. It’s good because it brings different influences. When you listen to other metal bands they will influence you in a way when you write a new album but when you don’t, you never know what comes out. For example this album – I didn’t listen to any metal at all beforehand and what came out, came out. I think it’s one of the reasons I like the songs so much.
So which new song are you looking forward to play live the most?
I can’t say there is one song that’s the best. There’s four that we’re going to play right from the start because those four are really strong. It’s going to be Annihilation Crusade, The World Ablaze, On the Wrong Side of the Wire and Escape Across the Ice (The White Army) because those songs are really strong. I’m sure we’re going to play other songs as well in the later stage. We don’t want to play the same setlist over and over again. Every six months we want to make some changes in the setlist to keep it interesting for ourselves and for our fans. But you know, the song like Escape Across the Ice (The White Army) we thought at the beginning it wouldn’t fit to our band but we wanted to do it anyway. We were really scared that it would be a song that is too far away from what we normally do. After it was recorded, we thought that it was excellent, it turned out really well.
As the last question – who inspired you to play metal?
It happened when I was 13 or something. I saw Wasted Years on TV by Iron Maiden. They released Somewhere in Time album when was 13 it grabbed me completely. It was like: ‘wow, this is so great!‘. And that day I knew I wanted to play guitar and I wanted to be in a heavy metal band. And that feeling never went away.
Did you ever share the stage with Iron Maiden?
Well, we played at the same festival [both laugh]. That’s as close that I could get!
Henri, thank you very much for your time! It was a pleasure talking to you. Do you have any last words for your UK fans?
I guess it’s very common what I’m going to say but I really hope that people will check out our new album, it would be great if they gave it a listen!