|Band:||The Monolith Deathcult|
Jews, Middle-eastern leaders, soviets… The Monolith Deathcult really spared no one. In the beginning they were more direct, more of a “regular” brutal death metal band, but along the way evolution came, the band started drifting and all of their different influences came to life and found place in their music. “As hard as it is to believe, I’m not that into death metal and brutal death metal”, interviewee and multi-instrumentalist Michiel Dekker begins. “At the time of The Apotheosis we thought Nile was a very cool band, and we still do indeed, but we had to find our own way, and that word you used, drifting, perfectly fits our situation”. And they did find their way, no doubt, especially when it comes to…
Irony. Probably the main reason why I love you guys. A lot of bands take themselves so seriously (I read your comments about the whole “death metal is not supposed to be funny” thing)… But it wouldn’t seem the case with TMDC.
Well, yes and no. Musically we take ourselves very seriously, but our image… Well, you know how metal works, with the whole Manowar-style pumping things up, or Iron Maiden and their huge stages and productions, or the original black metal scene which was taken so very seriously. I don’t like it. Like, Dimmu Borgir: they fell off the cliff, they took themselves so seriously that they ended up being ridiculous. Behemoth is entering the same realm, selling dog food, but there’s no irony in that. They are a great band, but they’re selling anything with their logo on it, and to me, that’s a way to not take yourself seriously; they are so serious that they’re not anymore. That’s what happened with Manowar: they were just a normal band, but their image took off and went too far and now they’re just caricatures of themselves. Us, we stay away from that as far as possible. The irony we use is the one Laibach and Type O Negative used. We focus on the music side of things.
Now I have a very specific question, about the music side of things: I have here a copy of Tetragrammaton. It’s packed with ironic quotes, like the one from Al Gore: “I wouldn’t be surprised if TMDC were to blame for climate change. I can already picture them shooting that poor polar bear from the last remaining iceberg”. Do you guys actually spend time to focus on this stuff or does it come out naturally?
It all comes naturally. We’ve known each other for twenty years, we have the same style of humor, sort of Monty Python-like stuff. And here it returns again what Type O Negative did: talking to everybody, saying out loud what a shitty band they were. And that is a lot more fun than telling how great you are. Everybody does that: “Yeah, our next album is the most brutal album ever”, come on, that’s always the same.
So your best album will be your worst album.
Absolutely. You said it before, we are drifting. We are drifting downwards. That’s our fame, I’m sure this is one of the reasons why we are not as famous as Behemoth, but hey, we might start selling The Monolith Deathcult toilet paper or bathroom cleaners.
Exactly! I’ll take a note, you never know.
Now, back to the main topic: you are ironic, indeed, but you are also aware, and awareness is not something that you come across so often. You talk about history, I know you are a high school history teacher, so you know what you’re dealing with. I also know that you always claimed that The Monolith Deathcult is not a political band, and in the beginning you picked on religion, but starting with Trivmvirate you started incorporating politics as well, with songs like “Wrath Of The Baath”. Ironically, in a Monolith Deathcult-ish way, but still politics.
We are not a political band. The way you say it, yes, we do talk about politics, but to my eyes political bands are System Of A Down, Rage Against The Machine, U2, Napalm Death. That’s not what we do. We use things from recent history, we are very interested in the XX century, dictatorships and stuff. Guys like Saddam Hussein, who wanted portraits of himself in every city, the stupid Soviet Union, where Stalin killed twenty millions of his own people, that sort of things. Or the first Gulf War, we talked about it in Tetragrammaton. To us, political bands are bands that take a stand, saying stuff like: “Vegan is the new way of life”, or “Fuck Donald Trump”. If we were to write a song about Donald Trump, we would praise him, so that it could piss people off, but that’s not being a political band, that’s not our political view. Yet again, everything can be politics, even the assassination of Caesar is politics.
Let me be provocative then: seeing how things are going in the world, you said you’re interested in dictatorships, maybe in ten years you’ll start writing songs about a Trump dictatorship…
I don’t think we will ever write songs about Donald Trump. Of course he’s a strange guy, but he was elected, and everybody is always bashing him, here in the Netherlands. And then, whenever someone in the US talks bad about us we’re all offended: “Oh, they’re talking shit about us”. Well, every progressive politician here talks shit about them, and it’s sort of ridiculous. “Everyday in the US someone is murdered!”, fuck that, it’s a whole continent with three hundred and twenty-five millions people living in there, of course someone is dying every day! Here in Holland we are seventeen millions, of course we don’t have daily shootings or murderers! Oh, I hate stupid people. Of course Trump is a strange guy, but he was elected, he is not taking the power or planning a coup. We’ll be writing a song about Donald Duck, on the other hand.
Or you could write a song about Walt Disney, he was a renowned fascist, after all.
Yeah, well, but was he a fascist before Hitler rose to power? Or he became such after that? If you voted for, I don’t know, the Five-Star Movement. You were badly fucked up and the last weapon you had was your vote to the Five-Star Movement. After five years the Movement opens labour camps and kills a lot of people. Are you responsible for that? In Holland people voted for the fascist party, in 1930. They claimed they wanted to fix the economy, which was bad after the recession, and they brought Hitler as an example of what the party could achieve. People voted for that. Then WWII came, the holocaust came, and people were considered responsible for a vote they expressed ten years earlier, in a time when that kind of stuff was unthinkable. So: can you make people responsible for something they couldn’t know would have happened?
This is very interesting. Actually, nowadays, eighty years passed so we should have learned something from that. We should be more aware than our grandfathers back in the early ‘30s. We now have the experience and the tools to be informed, to know that something that bad could come out of such situations. But let’s move back to TMDC: you’re now a three-piece. This trilogy is the first effort you’re publishing as a trio, how did that affect the band, if it did?
We lost our drummer after Tetragrammaton, but it all went in an easy way, and we just decided to go on with the core: Robin on bass and vocals, Carsten on guitars and synths and me on guitars and vocals. The drummer on both V1 and V2, Frank, was asked to join, but he prefers to be a session musician, as he is also playing with Incantation. We were a bit skeptic at the beginning, but now we see it works super-well for us all. If we had to play and Frank couldn’t, we would just ask another drummer to fill in. And being a three-piece you have less things to discuss about, while musically nothing changes, as I write about the ninety-five percent of the music and lyrics, and Carsten has his own style on both guitars and synths. We don’t need extra members.
You never now, it can always happen.
We’ll tell them to know on wood then. And I hope you’re not going bankrupt now that you’re on your own. Yet, you’re not with SoM anymore, how was the transition from smaller labels to an almost-major, and from there to complete self-promotion?
That’s an interesting story. Season Of Mist released Illud Divinum Insanus by Morbid Angel and I sent them an email saying: “Hey, you’re now promoting Morbid Angel, but we’ve been doing that kind of stuff for several years now, and better than them!”, and we got a deal. We released Tetragrammaton and the EP Bloodcvlts with them, and that was the contract deal. The plan was to go on with them, but they said we didn’t sell enough for the effort the label put into our promotion. We could sell more, but we had to change our image, and they didn’t want us to change our image. We had a very good talk at Inferno Festival some time ago and we are still on very good terms. Later on we went back to Hammerheart, which was our label for The White Crematorium, but people in the band were just starting to question why we were giving our music away through a label. I was the last one who started to think about it, but we actually were selling our rights on the music for pieces of plastic and wax. So we asked Hammerheart to rework our deal, buying back the rights on the music and paying for our expenses, but they refused. I understand that, because if The Monolith Deathcult becomes the next Ghost, then they have rights on that music. So we just decided to go on on our own. We created a company with a record label which is named Human Detonator, but it is not really a label, it’s just for us to release our own music. We pay for our own costs and now we own our own music, and we are happy now. But we can do this because we are a bigger band now, if you are a debuting band you’re considered a loser because you cannot get a label.
I can say that the risk self-produced bands take is not to be considered losers, but to become just one of the way too many. If your band comes from a renowned label, it can definitely be more considered than others; on the other hand, if you’re The Monolith Deathcult you can afford to do that, because people will listen to you and care about your releases.
Absolutely. Before we released Trivmvirate we would never try something like this. Labels have promotion guys and they work their ass off, and that’s great. The thing is they are not in the band, they are promoting maybe forty bands a week, sending out press sheets, and your band is in there. Now we have a guy who is focusing on us and us only. We get in touch via Skype every evening what might work and what might not for us. With a newborn band the risk is very high, but we are not twenty anymore, we have jobs and our own money, so we can do this. And it’s cool to see how it actually works: what’s the price of a CD, what are the production costs. Oh, and one funny thing: our distribution is going through Season Of Mist. We got this idea from Watain and Marduk.
Now going back to the music: you’re in the middle of a trilogy. Why a trilogy, how will it be concluded? I know you want to publish the third chapter by 2020, tentatively, a big change for a band who used to release albums every four or five years. What happened?
The idea of shorter albums and shorter pauses between each other came from our friends at Hammerheart. We see what youngsters do when they listen to music: they’re not going to listen to a whole Ed Sheeran or Lady Gaga album. They just pick out songs. So why should we (and again I was the last one to think about this, because I’m old and “oh, when I bought Cruelty And The Beast I bought the whole album and I spent weeks studying the lyrics when I went to the bathroom”) keep on recording music for fifty, sixty minutes when people do not listen to it anymore? You can see it on Youtube, the last songs of our albums have way less visits than the first ones. So we decided to write shorter albums, about thirty minutes of music, then maybe some extra material like re-recorded songs or stuff like that, and this way we can release music every two-three years instead of four or five, and stay relevant. You see, Trivmvirate cost me five years of writing. To the outside it felt like we’ve been away for five years, but we weren’t, we were working on new music.
So you really dedicated yourselves to marketing!
Yeah, we always did. We always said we are very commercial! Give me your money!
Well, I did, but starting from your very words: I bought all your albums, and yet I found them all second hand. And I rarely see TMDC name as an influence to newer bands. That always surprises me, because you’re an extremely personal band: you’re genuine, brilliant and yet funny. My two cents about this paradox is that you might be a bit too intelligent for the average metal guy. Did it ever occur to you?
I wouldn’t say too intelligent, I think it is because of the many styles we put together. Newborn bands usually decide to play “like someone” which has a defined style. We mix just too many of them, I think our influences are just too diverse to be a landmark to newborn bands. If you said: “Hey, I want to sound like TMDC” then I would be: “Ok, so what do you want to do?”. You’d have to do chanting, snorting, growling, blast-beats, break-beats, everything. I’ve never really thought about this but now that we talk about this I think this is the case. Or maybe we just have haters, who knows.
I don’t think that’s the case, if I find people who know TMDC they’re all “wow they’re brilliant”. Maybe intelligent was the wrong adjective, maybe you’re a bit too difficult for the average metalhead. I could spend one hour reading the lyrics of a single song of yours.
Absolutely, there’s a whole wave of people between their forties and fifties totally into old school death metal like Dismember, Grave, you know all the bands, who absolutely hate everything we do. And yeah, you might be right, but for us this way of working is very natural, we are not doing this on purpose. Between us we’re always throwing things at each other: look at this, think of that, how could that work, if we consider this thing under that perspective, and so on. There are no borders. We do have a framework, but our framework is very broad. I would never put out music which is not cool enough or brutal enough; brutal does not always mean that you have to put blast-beats in it, though. This keeps our minds sharp.
Now I’m referring to your latest video: so you’re saying that putting together aliens, spaceships, old school first-person-shooters and the secret Israeli police was natural?
Yes. I read a lot of books about Nakam, there’s a movie on Netflix called Operation Finale, I wrote lyrics about it, then we put together the song, which to me is our own tribute to Slayer Divine Intervention. Then we wanted to do a lyric video and we had all this stuff about WWII but we thought that was what everybody would do, and commercially it wouldn’t be very clever to make a video with swastikas, nazis and the alike. So we just thought about what we think is cool for us: why not doing something like Wolfenstein 3D or Doom-like? I’m now thirty-nine, and that is what I remember as cool. After that came all the easter eggs in the video, and that’s it. Nothing was planned. Of course “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Ashes” is a quote from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes mixed with references to survivors of nazi death camps. The topic is very serious, we do not intend to make fun of what happened historically, just the way we bring it to the people. Difficult topics don’t always need to be heavy, and maybe this way we will bring someone to look up on Google what the Nakam were.
Two thoughts from your words. First of all: a few years ago I attended a sort of conference with an Italian comedian about mafia, and as a comedian he said that his aim was to make us all laugh about organized crime. Not because organized crime was not serious, but because if you can laugh about such a topic, you will be less scared of it.
Absolutely. In Holland we call it gallows humour. I understand that, and I strongly believe it’s true.
Second, my next question was about to be: have you ever thought of getting in touch with the guys at ID Software? I was listening to “The Furious Gods” and realized I would love to shoot nazis listening to TMDC.
No, we never did, but it’s an interesting topic! If you know people there feel free to introduce us! We also mix all our songs without vocals. Fear Factory donated three songs to Carmageddon, without the vocals, and when you hear it you think “wow, this is so cool, why the fuck was Burton Bell screaming over this music?”. But it’s very interesting, I will talk to Carsten, who’s into that stuff, I’m sure “The Furious Gods” would work perfectly in a Bavarian castle full of swastikas.
One last topic I wanted to discuss: I know you don’t make a living out of the band, you all have different daily jobs. Are you ok with that? Would you like to be full-time musicians with TMDC?
No, we prefer it this way. We all have jobs we love, the band works fine together with our jobs, I can go to my boss and tell him “I have to go to Italy for three shows” and he agrees to that. Sometimes there is no inspiration, nothing. I had a six-week holiday once and I was sitting home with my guitar and nothing came. I ended up watching all the episodes of 24. Right now I can tell everybody there is not going to be a new album for some years and just go on with my life. If I’m living on my art that is not possible. And I am sure that, if I was living under that kind of pressure, I would create something not as good.
Well, these were all the matters I wanted to talk about and you gave me exhaustive answers to each one of them. Anything else you want to add?
Yeah: we hope to come back to Italy! We had a lot of shows there and we also fucked up a Rock Hard festival once! The customs destroyed our computer and nothing was working when we got on stage. We loved all the shows we played there, and if anyone wants us to be playing, just ask us! We don’t have any booking agency, it’s just us!