Posted on June 09th. 2020
Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
I have the honor to introduce to you a Belgian Black, Death, Thrash Metal band who released their latest album late February 2020. Entitled “Cursed To The Pyre”, an 8-song loaded effort released through Germany based High Roller Records. MTI co-writer Holger B. wrote down his thoughts on the effort, feel free to read right HERE. I suggested drummer John Berry for an interview and he immediately agreed to participate. My intention is to go through life with John on the basis of a series of questions concerning both his young years as a metalhead; and of course as a musician. It will certainly be a fascinating story so let’s get straight to the point…
Stefan: Greetings John, welcome here at MTI! We’re living in bizarre times we don’t know the end of yet, what are you up to these days ?
JB: Nothing much, been down and out because of a car accident and I am slowly picking up rehearsals again. Meanwhile I’ve been busy around the house and getting drunk with several people over the internet. Never thought that would be somehow satisfying!
Stefan: Since when have you become fascinated by Hard Rock and Metal music in general? Which bands did you look up to back then?
JB: It must have been late 80s early 90s from all the videos I saw on TV but it all became very reachable once I got introduced to Queen properly through a friend and from there it never stopped. At some point I was digging around in a box of old records that had all the bay area classics and I was beyond marveled and I knew this was going to be the shit. Early bands I came (no: bands early me came) in touch with were Queen, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Testament, Metallica, Over Kill etc, you fill in the blanks.
Stefan: My motto has always been, once you get into this world, you never want to get out. I guess you agree with that statement, correct?
JB: Unless you’re such an insecure liar that you would even fool yourself into believing something you already don’t. Bit of a weird construction there but I guess it works out. As for me, NO. I do NOT want out. Helloween can go climb the highest tree with their song haha. Music gives me all I need to survive, starting with the energy, ending with an outlet to whatever frustrations society has boiled up in me at the time… and there’s always something, you can imagine.
Stefan: Are there certain Rock and Metal related moments from your childhood that will stay with you forevermore?
JB: Heaps, hills, mountains! As much as I can not start where or when I can not come up with specific examples – except the short meeting with Chuck Shuldiner, smoking pot in the bus with Robb & Steve (Anvil), necking cans with (and impressing) Sodom. But do count in all the crazy nights at De Lindekes, The Steeple, ‘ Stationneke, The Rock Temple, The Frontline, The Stage with friends… Those are most precious and sacred. I’d say come see me when drunk on Jack’n’Coke if you want to bring out the storyteller in me.
Stefan: Another ambition was to join a Metal band I suppose – was it immediately clear to you to fulfil the function of drummer ? Who have you always been inspired by?
JB: I always wanted to bring something back to heavy metal. Always wanted to play something. First i thought i’d go for bass but when I saw a friend learning drums it really threw me over. It also seemed less complicated actually haha. But before all that I wanted to make sure I knew enough about heavy metal before just making some nonsense and offending what I held more precious than anything. So it took some time before I felt confident enough to come out swinging.
Stefan: I guess Gae Bolga was your very first band you were part of as a drummer. For all those unfamiliar with, a short briefing history would be good to know.
JB: Well I was involved in a few things before Gae Bolga properly kicked off. Gae Bolga is an idea that had taken shape on a drunk night in Gent with brother Grimgäert in late ‘99 because we thought there was no true thrash or heavy metal (except Witchsmeller Pursuivant and Double Diamond) at that time in Belgium, but certainly no thrash metal haha! So after a few line-up changes etc and a lot of doing nothing but drinking beer and writing autobiographical lyrics we finally got our shit together with a properly motivated line-up and I think between 2006 and 2008 we worked on that demo-tape/EP. But meanwhile I had joined ice cold black metal band Kythrol that slowly faded into nothing, only rehearsal recordings exist.
Stefan: Attending a few Gae Bolga performances myself back in the day and each time, the stage was proverbially on fire, an unstoppable power and energy was dispersed and the crowd was furiously enthusiastic. In several European countries you were welcomed as real thrashing heroes, unfortunately it didn’t last because you called it quits. What happened John?
JB: Yeah playing live was for all of the ultimate discharge, and still is when I look at the other guys. A crowd will return the same energy and passion to you as you deliver. Which only amps you up and so the vicious circle of metal insanity is rolling. We didn’t call it quits but it also just faded out but for clear reasons. Which I prefer not to elaborate on anywhere as it simply doesn’t matter anymore. But we did have an EP as good as ready to unleash and those things are still sitting somewhere.
Stefan: Has there never been any talk of reuniting your forces and continuing the success story of Gae Bolga?
JB: Yes and no. Maybe when nostalgia, metalancholy (see what I did there?) and time cross paths the spear shall be sharpened again! The fact that we keep getting asked about it, is heartwarming though.
Stefan: Years went by and at some point I heard the news that you were joining Slaughter Messiah. How did you end up with this band?
JB: SM and everyone of the allied troops from the south had been friends for a long time already. One time I accompanied them to a show in Wermelskirchen (JZ Bahndam – what a delightful metal haven) and at the end of the gig they called me on stage to play ‘Die By Fire’ by Bathory. I was sitting in the back with two beers in my hand and was way passed sobriety but gave it ago, and even got away with it. After the gig they came to ask me if I wanted to be their new drummer as this was the current drummer’s last gig. It had been my audition. I never doubted one second of course! And they already knew what meat they had in the tub of course.
Stefan: Same question here John, give us a briefing history of the band?
JB: Sodomaniak and Rod had started the band as a duo in 2008. They engaged a singer and a guitarplayer but it wasn’t a good act music wise in the end so they had to leave again. Sabathan joined S.M. in early 2011 and brought with him the more black metal element of the band rather than the pure thrash they had going on back then. The logo also changed then. Roughly a year later they lured in Exhumator with cheap beer to have more striking force on the guitars. This line up went on until 2015 when Sodomaniak had to call it quits and they asked me to join in. The rest is history or has been explained earlier!
Stefan: Do the members of the band have a musical past?
JB: They sure do. Ironbitch had a solo project called Einherjar before starting up Slaughter Messiah. T. Exhumator had his messed up insane dirty speed rock band Spermafrost before and during SM. And I’m not sure Sabathan needs this introduction. As Nestor of the band he has had many bands, experience and a rich discography with such bands as Morbid Death, Enthroned, Horacle, Dawn Of Crucifixion to name the most important ones. In the meantime we are all also active in other musical endeavours.. I’d advise you to check out Metal Archives! Enough tooting our own horn for now.
Stefan: What about Slaughter Messiah’s releases so far?
JB: The guys started with a demo, as you do as a band, and then released two EP’s. Then the idea was to do an album but that did not happen right away in the end. Instead, another EP (Morbid Re-Incantations) came when I joined the band.
Stefan: Entering a new band requires an adjustment, did this go smoothly in your case?
JB: Well you’d think so but as we were already friends it all went really smoothly with these guys. Also I was super motivated to attack their style of metal so within no time we were ready for the road. We set up a setlist of songs for the upcoming shows and focussed on those tracks first. The rest came later as we went along!
Stefan: Were you working on songs for the new album right away?
JB: First we wanted to be road ready again as said. Once that was checked off the list we decided to firstly record three songs they had already written with my predecessor (yet I gave them my own twist where possible). That way we drew a line under the past. Thus we all had a clean slate to start writing for the album. Those three songs plus a Bathory cover were then recorded on the Morbid Re-Incantations EP.
Stefan: What topics will be covered during the writing of the lyrics?
JB: Death, demons, witchcraft, the horror of mankind!
Stefan: How would you describe the style of Slaughter Messiah – feel free to mention a few bands to make some kind of a comparison?
JB: We are obviously a waywardly quirky mix of black, thrash and death metal. We play metal inspired by the ancient masters. Most reviews try to push us mainly in the thrash metal bin apparently, we did not intend to make that the obvious style parameter I can tell you. Everything we listen to will willingly or unwillingly inspire us. And it just comes down to the fact that we are all 90% into old school metal. 90 for good measure because we do like a lot of nowadays’ bands but the ones we like most also actually play old school stuff haha.
A few bands? I can only speak for myself actually but I’m sure the others would agree with namedrops like Bathory, Aura Noir, Nifelheim, Morbid Angel, Holy Terror, Motörhead, Death, Sacramentum, Iron Maiden, etc. I don’t know, fill in the blanks yourself!
Stefan: At some point the songs were ready for production, who finished the job – where the album has been recorded?
JB: We have recorded all the tracks right here in the Oostrozebeke metropolitan area, haha! Recordings were supervised by Nguaroth and S. Suys at his studio. All tracks then went to Germany, to SOlingen -the birthplace of Accept- to be precise. Our friend and brother Mersus took care of all the mixing and mastering in his Underworld studio.
Stefan: Remarkably good news is that Slaughter Messiah have signed a contract with High Roller Records, located in Germany. As far as I’m concerned a very competent label where many excellent bands could spread their music. How and under what conditions were you able to join HRR?
JB: We were looking for a label in fact and had the idea to make a demo once the recordings were finished to go shopping as we say… but High Roller had seen us on a gig on our tour with Vomitor. Not much later I was in touch with Melle when Avenger Nocturnal) had sent him the raw recordings of the album. They proposed a deal right away. Indeed we did not overthink too much and went for it! HRR’s reputation and roster is impeccable and it’s just great to be part of it!
Stefan: The cover artwork looks awesome, who’s the creator?
JB: For this, Sabathan knocked on a (for him) old door. Sadistik Exekution’s first hand maniac Rok opened gladly and made all the art for the album. He had already done art for Enthroned nearly 20 years ago.
Stefan: We are now a few months away from the release date, have the predetermined expectations come true – how has the press and media reacted so far?
JB: Overwhelming and humbling, in short. Great reviews from all over the globe, some guy even made a tape version with shirts in Taiwan. We hardly had a mediocre review and all the rest was super positive. Way better than we expected ourselves. So yeah, we couldn’t be more happy and especially grateful!
Stefan: Who are engaged in the distribution of “Cursed To The Pyre”? Good to know an address where to order the effort as well.
JB: Oh I do not know all the channels High Roller has all over the world for their distribution. But if you want it you can get it from us (https://slaughtermessiah.bigcartel.com/) and HRR (https://tinyurl.com/SlaughterMessiah-HRR) of course. Then again I have seen the album on sale at Hell’s Headbangers, Nuclear Blast, fucking bol.com, Amazon, Season Of Mist, Large, …
And preferably… if we ever get to gig again… buy it directly from the merch stand of course!
Stefan: The album was released, a pity the Corona pandemic broke loose shortly after. Have you been able to plan a CD release concert yet?
JB: Hell no! There was one planned with Desaster in Aalst but that went -as you know- completely tits up due to the outbreak. We were going to play the entire album and were fucking ready to unleash a hellish symphony onto the crowd but alas the world got halted by germs. It has been rescheduled though for october! I hope it will happen then and that the government does not decide to fuck the music scene backwards again. As soon as we can go live the outlet of energy and bottled up aggression will be pretty lethal, I promise.
Stefan: What does the concert calendar of Slaughter Messiah look like for the coming period of time?
JB: Pretty empty! A lot is being staged at the moment and a few cancelled dates of this year have been postponed to next year. I think these are the ones still confirmed – I will double check though:
05/09/2020 – Saar-Tanica – Neunkirchen (DE)
03/10/2020 – Desaster + SM – Aalst (BE) – postponed release show
21/11/2020 – Mass Deathstruction – Louvain-La-Neuve (BE)
07/05/2021 – Courts Of Chaos festival – Plozevet (FR)
There will be more dates even this year if all goes well but they have not been announced yet.
Stefan: Talking about concerts, what are the most interesting bands you’ve shared the stage with so far?
JB: We have been honoured with support slots for or shared bills with a plethora of great bands. But off the top of my head: Asphyx, Vomitor (Hail!), Ragnarok, Darkness, Aura Noir, Desaster, King Diamond, Deicide, Testament, Gehennah, Deströyer 666, Necros Christos, Mourning Beloveth, Cult Of Fire, Heretic, Candlemass, Nocturnal, Girlschool, Bölzer, Grim Reaper, Vulcano, Deathcult, Sigh and a whole bunch more I can’t think of now (sorry guys).
Stefan: Tough one John, speak frankly and honestly. How do you see our own Belgian Metal scene evolving – which bands do you prefer because of the class they emanate?
JB: Ah you say it as if you expect me to go on a destructive rant about how shit our scene is full of posers, idiots and ignorants… Well you are correct! But I do not focus on the latter point. What we see is a flourishing (extreme) metal scene especially in the last years that is bulging with awesome bands with incredible dedication and a hellish drive.
A big shout out to our allies and brothers in Heinous, Violent Sin, Dikasterion, Bütcher, Possession, Schizophrenia, Enthroned, Evil Invaders, Terrifiant, Effroi, Emptiness, Struggler, Goat Torment, Gouffre, Moenen Of Xezbeth, Forbidden Temple, Perverted Ceremony, Pox, Coldborn, Carnation, Bones, Ars Veneficium, Darkest Mind, Saqra’s Cult, Plague Tomb, Antzaat,… And after that there’s the old timers of course who are still (or back) rocking and maintaining the heavy roads they paved for us. I am of course talking about Ostrogoth, Killer, Cyclone, Acid, and a few more.
Again I am probably even forgetting a good few, sorry again guys! So let’s ignore the false, they will phase-out automatically anyway, and focus on how it should be done!
Stefan: Running outta questions so the time has come to end this conversation. Pleasure to have you on board John – any last comments for our readers ? Remain healthy and stay safe brother, Cheerz !
JB: Think for yourself, don’t be a sheep, practice what you preach and don’t take anything for granted! Also, do not mess with Heavy Metal. It is not a fashion show people, more like an audible expression of a passion, not to be messed with.