DATE OF INTERVIEW: 18th March 2020
Following a temporary disbandment after a festival show in January 2012, God Dethroned reformed, with a revised lineup, in 2015. Two years later saw the release of their first new album since 2010's 'Under the Sign of the Iron Cross', with the release of 'The World Ablaze' in 2017. Following what many hailed a resolutely solid comeback record, the Dutch deathsters have continued with their musical journey with another new album, 'Illuminati'; an irrefutably stronger set of songs that's seen the band experiment to a degree, with different textures and atmospheres in their material, yet returning to lyrical matter of yore. Metal Discovery quizzed God Dethroned mainman Henri Sattler about 'Illuminati' and the potential for erotically deranged guitars...
METAL DISCOVERY: When you reformed in 2015 and started playing some shows again, and then marked your return to full force in 2017 with ‘The World Ablaze’, your first new album for seven years, did you have any expectations as to how widely and warmly you’d be welcomed back? Did you have faith in the loyalty of your old fanbase?
HENRI: Well, we knew we had a loyal fanbase, but we didn’t know how long they would stick around. When we started playing again we were welcomed back in a great way. We were invited to play many great festivals and played to big crowds who were anxiously waiting for us. This was a good sign and a great foundation to start working on the ‘World Ablaze’ album.
(Henri Sattler on experimenting with God Dethroned's sound)
"I was nervous about the ‘Illuminati’ album. It could just as well have turned into a big disappointment, because we made some significant changes in the writing process of the album."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2019 - uncredited
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
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MD: A great new album with ‘Illuminati’ and a step above ‘The World Ablaze’ for me. Did it all turn out just as you hoped it would? Did it exceed any expectations you might’ve had, perhaps?
HENRI: I was nervous about the ‘Illuminati’ album. It could just as well have turned into a big disappointment, because we made some significant changes in the writing process of the album. We experimented a lot with the vocals and added a lot of keyboards. Although this was all happening in the background of our songs and the core was still very much GD as we knew it, it changed a lot in the atmosphere of the songs and, although for the better in my opinion, it was a bit of a risk. Now I can say I’m very happy with the choices we made and the end result of the album.
MD: With ‘The World Ablaze’ billed as your “comeback” album, do you regard ‘Illuminati’ as continuing your comeback, or does it feel more like business as usual now?
HENRI: For me, it’s business as usual now. It would be strange to me if people still look at our new albums as comeback albums.
MD: Press blurb states that the album “offers God Dethroned’s most varied material to date.” Was that a conscious decision to mix it up and progress with your sound? The keys, for example, add a wonderfully atmospheric layer to the songs.
HENRI: There was no master plan when we started writing songs for the new album. The idea to experiment more with keys and vocals came during the recording process. We recorded the album in my home studio so we had plenty of time to experiment. Initially, we felt that the songs didn’t need keys, but we just tried it because I thought it could add a lot to the atmosphere. So we started working on it and this is what came out. It was all very spontaneous.
MD: I gather you worked a lot more on the vocals for this album, and you’ve said, “I did the clean vocal choirs myself this time.” So, what kind of process did you go through for this, and what kind of challenges did this present?
HENRI: On some of our previous albums, the clean vocals were done by Marco van der Velde, the singer of a band called The Wounded. In my opinion, he always did a great job, so I wanted him on this album too, but he didn’t have time. During live shows I sang his parts myself and, although I’m not a singer on his level, it always seemed good enough. That’s why I thought I could try it myself on the album. I took my time to perfect it as good as I could and I was lucky to get some help from another singer (Remco Smit) of a metal band called Overruled, so we would at least have some extra layers of vocals on ‘Spirit of Beelzebub’. I’m very happy with how it turned out.
MD: I gather you recorded the album in your home studio, so was this important for you to alleviate the pressures associated with deadlines when booking expensive studio time? And did it require its own sense of self-discipline, working in this way? Perhaps a label deadline to deliver the album, regardless?
HENRI: Yes, it was a relief to be able to do it ourselves. We started doing this for ‘The World Ablaze’ and it is a pleasant way of working. Luckily, there are still deadlines like the one the label gave us. This prevents you from endless trials and wasting time on things that just have to be done. The recordings went very well, but when we gave the recordings to a guy with a great track record in a well-known studio, it went wrong all of a sudden. To make a long story short, he did a poor job and, after a couple of months, we decided to also do the mix ourselves. I guess we were lucky that it all turned out so well in the end.
MD: Dave Meester has replaced Mike Ferguson on guitar since the last album, so was Dave handpicked for what you knew he’d be able to bring to the band, or did you audition various players first?
HENRI: Dave joined the band for the tour we did with Belphegor and Suffocation last year due to Mike’s unavailability for that tour. We decided to stick with Dave, but the album was already recorded by then. Dave asked to play his guitar solos on the album so he wouldn’t have to play other people’s solos only during live shows. We accepted his request and he played some truly amazing solos on the album. We knew him for quite a while anyway, so we knew he would be the right guy for the job.
MD: You’ve returned more to your roots, lyrically, with this new one, with more of an anti-Christian and general anti-religion theme running through the songs, as well as freemasonry. What drew you back to these themes for the new album, and how does freemasonry fit into the overall picture?
HENRI: We went back to our old themes because it seemed a logical step to take and many of our fans had been asking for this for a while. To include freemasonry and the Illuminati was done to keep it interesting for myself as well. The Illuminati were basically fighting for some kind of freedom in their own secret ways and that’s also what our lyrics stand for. When you read between the lines you can see that our lyrics deal with abuse of power and sexual abuse conducted by members of the clergy.
MD: What does Satanism mean to you in the twenty first century? It seems to me that contemporary Satanists are more philanthropic than misanthropic; and Satan represents an anti-judgemental, anti-prejudicial, individualistic way of being.
HENRI: I’m not so much interested in Satanism, to be honest, so I’m not aware of what they stand for or try to achieve nowadays.
MD: It states in the blurb that, “God Dethroned embarked on a journey to… photograph scenes of erotic derangement”. That brings to mind 70s/80s European filmmakers like Joe D’Amato, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Jörg Buttgereit, Walerian Borowczyk, et al. What kind of “erotic derangement” are we talking about here?
HENRI: This statement talks about the song ‘Broken Halo’. In this song, I describe the painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Jheronimus Bosch, a Dutch painter who painted this work between 1480 and 1490. The painting shows scenes of members of the clergy committing sexual acts in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent punishment that awaits them by doing this. One should see the painting and then listen to the song and all will become clear.
MD: Working as a luthier for Serpent King Guitars for many years, particularly during the band’s downtime, did you get the same creative kick in making guitars as you do by crafting new music?
HENRI: No, it’s completely different, but it is great to be free and work for myself only and do something that has to do with guitars. I went through a steep learning curve with SKG, but I can say that we build guitars on a high level and the quality is recognized by many people nowadays and that is very rewarding. But being a musician is something completely different and, in my opinion, can never be replaced by anything else.
MD: I gather SKG has a custom shop, so any weird and wonderful requests over the years for any bizarre custom jobs, either aesthetically or technically? Anyone ever request an erotically deranged custom job?!
HENRI: Hahaha, yes, we built some exotic guitars over the years, but never a shape that can be described as erotically deranged. You probably gave some people an idea now.
MD: Finally then, 2020 is God Dethroned’s 30th year in existence (ignoring the temporary disbandment, of course!), so any plans to celebrate the occasion? A special show or two, perhaps?
HENRI: Yes, we will probably play a 30th anniversary show in our hometown, Groningen, this year to celebrate this event. That is if the Corona virus doesn’t destroy all possibilities to play live this year.
MD: Thanks for the interview and hope to see God Dethroned over here in the UK at some point in the near future.
HENRI: Looking forward to play the UK again soon!