Mastema (vocals), Corvus (bass)
Before going ahead, I would like to thank you again, Mastema and Corvus, for doing this interview. It's highly appreciated!
Mastema: No problem man, thank you very much for giving us this chance to talk about Psalm.
First off, I need to ask the not so unexpected question: could you briefly introduce yourself and the band to the readers who may not yet be familiar with Psalm?
Mastema: Sure. Psalm is an extreme metal band that blends death and thrash/power metal elements with a solid black metal basis. The band was formed early 2004 as a chaotic metalcore formation. We recorded our first album, "Fortune's Complexity (In Five Cycles Of Torments)" with Steve Austin, leader of Today Is The Day and who has recorded acts like Lamb Of God or Converge. "Fortune's Complexity" came out in 2006 on Genet Records. Then we fired our first guitarist and decided to turn our musical orientation around so that it would fit our personal tastes much more. That's why we stripped our music from the hardcore and chaotic elements and went down the "metal" road. Because it wasn't fitting his expectations, our drummer then left the band too. We found two new musicians, Baron and Baal, who are both great and who helped us raising the musicianship level in Psalm. In November/December 2007, we recorded our newest EP "Manifest", which shows what the "new" Psalm is all about, and we released it earlier this year on Genet Records again. For those who don't know us, I'd say that if you like original extreme metal, you should definitely check us out.
You guys are currently signed to Genet Records, a Belgian hardcore label. Why do you think exactly Psalm, which was still a young band at that time, caught their attention back in 2005/2006?
Mastema: Our former drummer David actually knew the Genet-team a bit, and when looking for a label, we asked them if they could be interested. Don't forget that we were still doing some chaotic metalcore at that point, so our style matched their roster. I think they liked our determination and our originality. I don't think our early style is great, haha, but at least it wasn't your typical chaotic metalcore stuff.
With the new line up and your latest EP "Manifest" the band went from a metalcore-related approach into a whole new, more extreme direction, and suddenly Psalm has somewhat become the odd man out in the artist roster of Genet Records. And, a few days ago, at the end of August, you guys played at the Ieper Hardcore Festival. This is not the first time Psalm played there, but this time a whole other kind of band performed on stage. What are your thoughts about this, and how do you and the band see these matters?
Mastema: About the Ieperfest, we played on Sunday with some other great heavy stuff like Cephalic Carnage or The Locust, so that was pretty cool, obviously. The audience reaction was pretty cool, we were all very happy about that show. Maybe do people know us a bit better now? It's possible.
Corvus: Of course it is strange for us to play on hardcore bills. But on the other hand, bands like Fear My Thougts and Cephalic Carnage are metal bands, so the Ieperfest 2008 is definitively a good opportunity. There are worse opportunities than opening for those great bands!
Mastema: Yes, and as you said, we played "hardcore" gigs many times before. Even after we changed our style. Earlier this year, we played at the Winterfest, the Winter edition of the Ieper Hardcore Festival. It was a cool show but, even with some metal acts on the bill, we still were kinda of like the "outsiders", so the audience reaction wasn't that great. This is a situation we encountered very often since we started. In the past we were not "hardcore" enough to convince this type of audience, and now we are way too metal. So we're used to being the outsiders, the "alien" band on a bill. That's why we slowed down the live gigs a bit, we are now trying to focus much more on the "metal" shows, even if that means playing less. If we want to move forward, that's what we should do. But that doesn't mean we'll never play another "hardcore" gig, of course!
And what about the Psalm fans who were there from the beginning? How were their reactions after the release of "Manifest"?
Mastema: It's pretty hard to say. I think our music now appeals to a very different audience. We switched from a "hardcore" audience to a very "metal" audience, so I guess a lot of fans from the early days didn't follow us, but I might be wrong of course. To be honest, I don't reflect on these matters a lot : our music has to please ourselves first. The people are free to like us or not, I don't judge them.
Corvus: Psalm never did "catchy" or maintream music. We always tried to do something a bit different. I think this attitude is the link between the first and the new album. I consider the first record as a "pre"-Psalm period. Some people have problems with the fact that we changed our music, and I read some reviews claiming that "Fortune's…" is better. It's of course difficult to judge your own music, but after a single week, I didn't even listen to "Fortune's Complexity" anymore. I'm very frustrated with that record's production. "Manifest" is way more mature ; of course it's still not perfect, but I'm pretty sure we found our style with this album. And as Mastema said, our music has to please ourselves first.
Psalm seems to be a band that wants to try out something different. For example, you play a sublime, non-everyday mix of black and death elements, with some clear thrashy influences. Some of your lyrics are in German and Latin, and there is a Gregorian chant sample in of the songs on "Manifest". And in the booklet, the text is printed backwards. How important are experimenting on the one hand and being fresh and original on the other hand to you?
Mastema: It's our main concern, really. I react to my own music first and foremost as a fan, and I think it's important to do so. Unlike during our earlier days, I now want my music to match my personal expectations about music. I think there are so many bands that are producing uninspired, dull or easy material. The ones I love the most are those that are trying to create something original and interesting, like Opeth, Anaal Nathrakh, Keep Of Kalessin or Mayhem, just to name a couple. But the thing is : you can't plan originality, at least not very well. It comes out naturally, or it doesn't. We never think of doing something in a certain way. But as we are open-minded musicians that love very different things, several influences and atmospheres kind of get blended together in a natural fashion. The difficult part is to remain coherent while being original. I think "Manifest" at least partially achieved that.
Talking about "Manifest", it seems that your EP is being well-received by the press and the people. And also internationally Psalm is getting a lot of positive comments, also here on Metal Storm by the way. Did you expect such a high-graded feedback? What do these positive reactions mean to you?
Mastema: No, I didn't think we would get that many positive reviews or comments. It's awesome and it's certainly something that means a lot to me, as it is always difficult to know if people will hear your music the same way as you do. I was also very curious to see if the press would see past our change of style, and gladly most of them did and encouraged us. I don't mind reading bad reviews either : if they're interesting and well thought trough, it can sometimes be interesting.
What do you think yourself about the end-result of the "Manifest" record actually?
Mastema: I'm very happy with it. Kris Belaen from the CCR Studio really did a terrific job, and the result is very powerful, especially considering we only had 6 days for the recording and mastering.
Corvus: Kris has a sort of perfect musical ear. He is also very honest and professional. Considering we only had 6 days for the recording session AND the mixing and mastering session, he did a perfect job. This guy is really the best in Belgium, no doubt about that.
Mastema: "Manifest" sounds much better than "Fortune's Complexity", which was one of our main goals. So, as far as the production goes, I'm very pleased and believe me, I'm an extremely demanding guy! Concerning the music, I consider this EP as a crucial record, a very important step we had to take after "Fortune's Complexity". I think the choice that we made was quite ballsy, actually : the change of style is so huge that a lot of people even wonder why we haven't changed our band name! So it was a big chance, but we took it without hesitation and I'm proud we did. Now that I look back to it, I think "Manifest" is definitely a transitional record. I'm convinced that the next one will feature a very mature Psalm, with a distinctive style and sound. Just wait… ;-)
What was your most memorable moment during the recording time of this EP?
Corvus: It was good to see the whole band at the same level, really. We had all prepared our parts very well, and for the first time I felt that everybody was 100% motivated and envolved. The work was professional, but we had a good time too, especially when Mastema recorded his vocals for the intro. Algol and myself had to leave the room, it was too much! What is great about the CCR Studio is the "relaxation room", with the big screen and "Fifa 2008" on PlayStation! Maybe it will sound stupid, but it's important to change your mind when you're recording!
Mastema: It was overall a great experience, as Kris is a very professional yet very pleasant guy to work with. One of the most memorable moments to me was when Baal recorded his parts, actually. When we rehearsed the songs, I already thought he was an awesome musician, but the sound must be pretty poor in our rehearsal room, because when I heard his work in the studio control room with a crystal clear sound, it was fucking unbelievable! Trust me : if we had had the time and the money to mix the drums perfectly on "Manifest", everybody would be blown away, even more than now. The guy is insane and I'm proud to work with such a talented musician.
I also find the cover art quite intriguing. How did you come up with this idea? How do you think the image fits into the general Psalm atmosphere? And how did you choose the designer?
Mastema: Picking out a designer was pretty easy, as our guitarist Baron handled all artwork and designs duties! I worked with him on some ideas for the cover. Of course, the most important thing was to match the lyrics and the themes developed on the record. I wrote mostly about Nietzschean philosophy on "Manifest", so it wasn't that easy to find images that related to abstract themes such as these. In the end, we decided to depict a sort of "Übermensch" (which is the theme of the song "Ecce Homo") surrounded by three other symbols : the fire (representing the necessary cleansing before a renewal), the eyes (representing the knowledge the new man must possess) and chaos, of course.
If I'm not mistaken, Mastema, you're also responsible for most of the songwriting. You probably have already had to answer questions about where you get your inspiration from a dozen times, so I'll put it this way: what are the topics you will NEVER EVER write a song about? And what kind of bands/music will only scarcely inspire you?
Mastema: Yes I wrote all the lyrics on "Manifest". I remain very open to all sorts of topics, and I'm interested in a lot of things. I'm not really inspired by any particular music genre or band, even though some music can put me in a certain state of mind that will have an inspiring effect on vibe. It happens sometimes with stuff like Mayhem and Emperor, or eerie progressive music (Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes,…), but not that often. There are just days when something makes me want to write about it, that's all. As for the topics I will never write a song about : political opinions, drugs, girls… all the corny or useless stuff that bores or irritates me. Philosophy, history, human psyche… those are the things I consider worthy of reflecting and thus writing on.
Corvus: Mastema is very cultivated. And he's also weird ;-) So I'm pretty curious about the lyrics he'll write for the new stuff.
Psalm is hailing from Brussels, the capital city of Belgium. What's your point of view on the Belgian metal scene as frontman and singer of Psalm anno August 2008? And how hard is it for an extreme metal band to break through in Belgium?
Mastema: Let's say it's very hard to break through in music in general. It gets extremely hard when you're playing metal, and it gets even harder when you're into extreme metal. How many Belgian metal bands really made it ? Aborted, Leng Tch'e, Enthroned… These guys have worked their asses off for years, and I strongly think they're still not making much money out of it. Making a living out of this music is nearly impossible, so our aim is basically to push Psalm as far as possible, write the best music we can and attract as many people as possible. But even that is hard because of several problems : bad venues, people that don't go to little concerts, too many bands around, etc. So we're just focusing on our music for now, and we'll see where it'll lead us. I think the most important thing is to be proud of your music and to be honest about it. As for the metal scene, I think there are quite a few excellent bands in Belgium : those I mentioned before, but many others too. So I'm not worried about the quality of the music, but I am about all that goes with it, actually!
Corvus: The Belgian metal scene has a lot of talent. I particularly like Kludde, Orb of Torture or Gorath. Consider Belgium is a small country, the scene is pretty good actually. And don't forget Emeth: their last album "Telesis" is awesome. This band could become huge in the genre, really. Our friends from Dark Sensation are also very promising, keep an eye on those guys.
Almost every band has at least one cover song in their repertory nowadays. Ever thought about recording a cover? And what song would you guys like to do then?
Mastema: Funny you mention it cuz' we started working on 5 cover songs (each member chooses one song) to perform live. Baron started by choosing "DNR" from Testament's "The Gathering" record. We already played that one several times live (at Ieperfest, for instance). We have now finished working on Algol's idea, "Sons of Northern Darkness" by Immortal, which is a very cool song too. The three remaining members have a few ideas already, but it's hard to choose, there are so many great songs/bands to cover…
Corvus: it's great to play some cover songs. It's kind of refreshing for us. As far as I'm concerned, I would love to play an old Enslaved song.
As you mentioned earlier, Steve Austin from Today Is The Day mixed and pre-mastered "Fortune's Complexity (In Five Cycles Of Torments)", Psalm's first full-length album. But he also did some guest vocals on a couple of songs on that album. If you could choose any musician(s) to make a guest appearance on the next album, which one(s) would you choose? And why?
Mastema: Haha that is a very tough question man, because there are so many musicians I love and respect… Even if you narrow it down to people who would be right for our musical genre, there are still quite a lot of them. As guest vocalist, I would definitely say Attila (Mayhem) as he's got a unique voice and presence, to me he's the best black metal vocalist around. Ihsahn (Emperor) obviously too, Devin Townsend, Chuck Billy, Nocturno Culto, Satyr, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Nattefrost,… the list goes on and on.
Corvus: V.I.T.R.I.O.L from Anaal Nathrakh! What he did on EVERY track he recorded is pure evil.
Mastema: Corvus is right, this guys is sick and it would be a blast to hear him on a Psalm track!
Do you guys try to be well up on the recent metal releases? What album is currently spinning in your CD player? And what's your favorite metal release of 2008 so far?
Mastema: I'm an enormous music freak and me and Corvus also work for two music webzine (Rock 'n Balls Webzine and Disobedience Webzine), so yeah I definitely keep up with all that is coming out. Currently I'm listening to Grand Magus ) "Iron Will", Krisiun - "Southern Storm" and Anathema - "Hindsight", but also older stuff like Liquid Tension Experiment 1, Megadeth - "Rust In Peace" or Control Denied - "The Fragile Art Of Existence" (but the list changes every week). As for my favorite release of 2008 so far, there are a few candidates already : Bloodbath - "Unblessing The Purity", Opeth - "Watershed", Hate - "Morphosis", Ihsahn - "angL", Airbourne - "Runnin' Wild", Belphegor - "Bondage Goat Zombie"… And I'm impatiently waiting for the new Bloodbath LP and…Metallica of course!
Corvus: I really love what Diamanda Galas is doing. Fantastic singer and pianist. "The Litanies of Satan" is still one of my favourite albums, definitively the most twisted stuff I've heard. Arkangel from Brussels released a very good album this year. The new Origin is amazing. Necro did a good album with "The Sexorcist" (can an album with Ron Jeremie and Katsumi as guests be wrong?). The last Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord are totally...there is no word to describe their music, it's more than twisted and evil. Those two bands are insane.
I understand Psalm is already busy writing new material. How's everything going?
Mastema: I'm very excited about it! We already have 4 or 5 new songs, which are almost finished, written by Baron and Algol and they all sound awesome. Can't wait to work on the bass lines, vocals and arrangements, cuz' I'm convinced these songs will be our best work so far. I know this is said way too often, but I really have no doubts about the quality of these future songs!
What will be the biggest difference between "Manifest" and the next release, you think?
Mastema: As is mentioned earlier, I consider "Manifest" as a transitional record. We came from a very different music style, so it was inevitable that we couldn't just jump from one wagon on another. Tracks like "Ecce Homo" or "Exhortation" still contain a few tiny links with "Fortune's Complexity". Even if it's very early to say, the new songs clearly pick up where "Paradox" and "Renewal" left. I can already tell you that it's gonna be much more extreme and "black metal" oriented than ever before. It will probably be more technical (more guitar leads, for instance) and diversified, too. Most importantly, it will definitely be a very coherent record, featuring a band with its own distinctive style.
Corvus: The musicianship will be better. And yes, more lead guitar stuff. Baal did a lot of progress these last months and I'm sure he will perform crazy stuff on his drumkit.
What can we expect from Psalm in the not so distant future?
Mastema: We're currently working on a European mini-tour but I can't tell you more about that because it's still very uncertain as to when and with who. We're gonna play a couple of shows this Fall/Winter, while working and rehearsing the new songs. Hopefully we'll have enough material to record our next LP around Spring/Summer 2009.
Corvus: I concur: new songs, more interesting shows, and I hope a new album in 2009.
Last question. Just say you would be religious (don't worry, we know you're not), tell me - just as a joke - what would your favorite psalm in The Book of Psalms be?
Mastema: That's a trick question, right? Haha, no seriously, if I could answer, that would mean I read the Book of Psalms. As I believe anything that is written for an organized, narrow-minded, senseless and weakening cult is a waste of words, I haven't read it.
All right, this interview is about to end. Thanks for your time and answers. The last words to the Metal Storm readers are all yours!
Mastema: Thanks to all the fans and media who support Psalm in any way! Hope you'll like our new EP "Manifest", come visit us at http://www.psalm-music.com or http://www.myspace.com/psalm anytime,... and prepare for the next wave!
Corvus: Thanks for the support, we'll see you soon!
Hits total: 3281 | This month: 9