interview by: Chaim Drishner
The unheralded Dutch band Sammath has released its fourth studio album, Triumph in Hatred. We asked Jan Kruitwagen, Sammath's main vocalist, guitar player, lyricist and composer, to tell us more about the creative process within such a hostile genre and how this kind of music is done by true devotees who soon will be kissing their 40th birthday.
Maelstrom: Greetings, Jan, and thank you for spending some time doing this interview with Maelstrom. First, we would like you to tell us what is the origin of the band's name: Sammath, and how does it relate to you in terms of ideology, lyrical content or general agenda in music and / or in your personal life.
Jan Kruitwagen (below): The bandís name comes from Tolkien's work, Sammath Naur, which means "Mountain of Fire." I left the "Naur" out. Back in Ď93, when I had found the name, there werenít one million bands using Tolkien. It has nothing to do at all with lyrical content... well, at least not anymore. The first demo was somewhat Tolkien-influenced, but I soon found out that imagining death and darkness together with little green men with big ears never gets as aggressive as are lyrics about world wars, or the destruction of man. The vastness of mankindís hatred towards each other is much more intriguing and fitting for black metal, in my view.
Personally, Iím somewhat of an idiot; I have never been able to sit still for more than five minutes in my life or attend a concert, have like five beers, and go quietly home: Everything always seems to end up broken. I guess black metal somewhat gives me an outlet for my insane energy. I donít know how my wife puts up with it. It's black metal every day, since 1994. I can only hope that my small children will posses the same kind of passion about something later in life.
Maelstrom: Sammath is / was a relatively unknown name within the metal underground. Can you think of a reason why, after being active for such a long time, activity that has yielded four albums and several demos, you have remained relatively in the shadows?
Jan Kruitwagen: Maybe the music it too aggressive or low key in terms of marketing and imagery; or people just donít like the music enough; or we donít appeal enough to the black metal kids. I donít really care. It was also in some way on purpose: I donít like all the crap that has nothing to do with music. My ego is huge, but I donít have the urge to be on stage in order to have the rock-star image. My ego and needs go further beyond the will for Sammath to become a popular black metal band.
I hate touring and all that constant waiting before shows. I make heaps of money with my day job. I also completely do my own thing, donít only have friends in black metal and donít go to every crap concert, probably because if I as well as some Sammath members go somewhere, someone always ends up in hospital. I have been making this music for years, have a great underground label that releases my stuff and thus I am satisfied.
I get many reactions from around the world from people who like the new album. Thatís great, but itís not my reason for creating this music. And last but not least, to me black metal and money are two totally different things. I donít even want to make money off black metal as the art should be pure; whenever there is money involved, itís never pure. Just look at all the big black metal bands: laughable, theatrical fags. They spend more time at the gym and combing their hair than anything else ó no, thanks!
Maelstrom: You founded Sammath some 15 years ago. What was your main driving force then, to establish a metal band? Why metal and into it, why black metal of all sub-genres? What were you trying to achieve or convey through the music and have you succeeded in doing so? Was music the right tool for all your aspirations, hatred and frustration back then?
Jan Kruitwagen: I just like extreme metal, there is nothing more to it. When I heard the first Gehenna 7" EP, I was blown away by the darkness and power of black metal. I never had many frustrations as a teenager or even now; if I wanted something I would make sure I got it. I just started a band because it was something that I needed to do.
I started playing guitar when I was 12. My guitar teacher was a religious dick. The second lesson I had, he told me to bring a record in the style I wanted to learn, so I brought a Slayer album. He almost threw me out. So I told him to go fuck himself and learned the rest myself.
To tell you the truth, I donít really understand most black metal people. I canít stand all those "I hate society, nobody understands me" faggots who hide themselves behind extreme music. To me black metal has always been about arrogance and power; I have a lot of hate, as I think most people do. I first explored thrash and death metal, but I always seemed to miss something. I have finally succeeded to find my niche luckily; I would never have imagined back when I started, that some day I would and could record an album like Triumph in Hatred.
Maelstrom: Fifteen years later, in what way has Sammath evolved? Can you put a finger on the main parameters that bear witness to your becoming older and maybe wiser?
Jan Kruitwagen: We have evolved in many ways: Once you hear the rest of Sammath's discography, you will understand. Listening to the first album, Strijd, and then to our last album back to back, you will probably have difficulty believing itís the same band. Only the guitars and vocals one might be able to recognize. I think a lot of the theatrical aspects have been shrugged off.
I really donít like the makeup wearing pansies. I think corpse paint is brilliant, but some bands we have shared the stage with were spending more time on makeup than on the actual music. I knew then that makeup and image were not at all things I was interested in. Fuck that. Black metal is for most people also a visual journey, for me the visual part stops at the artwork. I hate band pictures. I mean, who wants to stare at four guys on one's bedroom wall, anyway? I never did; how extremely silly is that? I had posters of Samantha Fox on my room's walls while listening to metal, that and of other women with nice, big tits.
When one gets older you donít really seem to give a shit what others say. I already was like that when I was ten years old, so imagine it now. My father and grandfather are also like that: intelligent men, but stubborn... fuck other people!
In my music one can hear that I listen to many sorts of metal. On the new album I seem to be developing more and more a kind of hybrid comprised of black, death and heavy metal approach, as you also stated through our email contact. It will always be black metal first and foremost, but the older you get the more you find your own way, a way which Sammath seems to be taking.
Maelstrom: Let's talk about the theme of war; you have stated you are not interested in dealing with the infantile concept of the devil. On the other hand, you chose in dealing with more realistic grim issues such as human wars and the great ordeals they generate all around the globe, since the dawn of man himself. Now, living in the peaceful Netherlands, in what way can you really deal with this subject? On what grounds can you genuinely relate to the pain of war?
Jan Kruitwagen: I understand what you mean: Should I move to Iraq or to some other war-zone where people are killing each other, in order to really understand what war is all about? The answer would be of course: no, way! I am a Western guy who's sitting at home and creating metal. Letís be honest: black metal is not something you do while you are in the midst of war. You donít reload your weapon, while trembling with fear, thinking to yourself: that would make good lyrics; or I heard a riff in that machine gun fireÖ Neither is black metal something you do while collecting water for your family, or out in the forest getting wood for the fire.
I understand what you mean, though, with the lyrics. What you speak of as lyrical subjects is something we all go through, but thatís hardly what I want to describe; personal problems and black metal lyrics about depressions or feelings I donít like at all. Only the craziest, war-ridden and almost arrogant fast stuff is what really interests me the most in black metal. The concepts are more than just war, but itís an atmosphere Iím trying to set down: total death, but fast.
I donít want people to take the lyrics as my personal views. I will not share anything personal with anyone through music. I canít stand lyrics that describe weakness; help me Iím so scared, boohoo. I donít want to hear anything personal but rather to hear relentless hatred in a musical form: fast guitars, blasting drums, bass thatís crazy, but all well recorded, sharp and always menacing, like it's going to cave in any second, and thatís what Peter Neuber, the mastering / recording engineer, did with our music. I only try to describe what influences me the most, things I've read about battles, modern and ancient and then Iím just sitting down and writing my thoughts about that subject, hence my lyrics: stuff like ammunition and its harmful impact; strategies of generals in wars; the descriptions of witnesses to bombing campaigns; how Mustard gas works, how someone was being slain by arrows in the middle ages, et cetera. I then sum that all up in a bowl of war black metal. Just to give you a total ferocious bombing, not thinking of what the listener wants to hear but what I want to hear. So yes, fast is my taste.
I live in peaceful Germany these days, just 1 km across the border (from the Netherlands). I havenít witnessed war myself, but my family did. My grandfather and his brother both fought in the second world war. My grandfather's brother was the first to shoot at the Germans when they crossed the border to The Netherlands. He got some of them but was gunned down quickly. He didnít even slow them down for more then a second or two, completely worthlessÖ So, yeah, I describe war and everything we use in order to kill each other.
Maelstrom: Instead of subduing your anger and hatred (what are the subjects of your anger and hatred, really?) musically, you seem to become ever more extreme and violent. Can you call "Triumph in Hatred" Sammath's most aggressive work to date? What feeds this fire of violence, as you seem like a totally nice and cool family man? Hasn't teenage angst subdued with the passing years? What are you so angry about?
Jan Kruitwagen: Iím not really angry at all. Most people would say I'm pretty friendly, maybe a bit rowdy and loud. The new Sammath album has indeed become extremely violent. I think, without sounding too arrogant, that this album is just about as fast and brutal as it can get. The drummer also really outdid himself on Triumph in Hatred. We were all just looking at him and wondering when he was going to fall down and die after recording sessions. He has managed to record some of the most straightforward and equally strange and relentless pounding I have heard in ages. Why must one be angry to create black metal? Most members of Sammath are pretty normal metal heads, some are more wild and crazy, but I see it as a form of music and way of living that also includes enjoying great guitar riffs, concerts, this music, but I donít see the necessity to be angry, depressed and such; nor do I think it should be a personal outlet for emotions. Thatís a terrible thing in my opinion; you need to be unstable and probably a fucking loser or social outcast pussy to create black metal (for those wrong reasons).
I prefer to see it as a form of music which is arrogant, strange and foremost totally free but at the same time bound by many borders. Keeping it extreme and interesting is what we have done on this album. Well, thatís of course my opinion as well as its being our best album!! Buy it, or die violently!
Maelstrom: Triumph in Hatred is one of the fastest and brutal black / death metal albums we have listened to in recent time. It is infested with relentless blasting and grinding drums from beginning to end. Why this love for speed? Do you think (black) metal is more effective when played furiously fast? Some of the best black metal pieces out there are those that are played rather slowly, thus generating atmosphere and allowing the melodies to emerge. Take for instance Ancient Wisdom, Negura Bunget and even Secrets of the Moon, who have discovered the power and beauty of slow black metal. On Triumph in Hatredís title track, which in many parts forsakes the blasts and is revolving mostly around the mid-pace beat. We think it is more effective that way. What would be your thoughts on the subject?
Jan Kruitwagen: Blast beats are a matter of taste. Some say itís too boring and it doesnít give much excitement, or it takes the surprise out of music, I say: utter crap. Some people say a riff should be played only four times... who cares what they say? I like it. When bands start using blast beats, I would paste the parts together so I could get a constant barrage for three minutes. I donít have only blast beats; it's the returning factor that makes it sound fast all the time. I think brutality is not found in fast or slow black metal, but rather in good black metal. The atmosphere on slow parts I find very irritating very fast. Only bands like Skyforger and the like I find are doing that well, the rest; be it folk or atmospheric black metal, is not my sort of beer. Music played with extremely fast and hypnotic riffs ó now that's taste. I think the best black metal parts are the brutal grinding stuff with extremely fast drums, furious guitar riffing and somewhat lower vocals, that's true black metal style.
I have never had any taste for too slowed down black metal. I would rather listen to some good doom or thrash, a combination of extreme metal styles is more my taste. I listen to extreme black metal mostly, but I also enjoy thrash, death or doom metal more than listening to atmospheric black metal. I think furious and fast black metal like Sammath is something to be explored and an acquired taste, after all . This album is about as brutal as you can get without it sounding completely chaotic like grind. Too mechanical some people may say, or too repetitive maybe; well ok, who cares? Move on.
Try drumming like this with very subtle changes in cymbals and keep the pace for five minutes. It's taste, if you do it right, well it's our taste at least. What Koos (the drummer) did on this album should excite the listener, but you have to listen to the entire album to comprehend.
Maelstrom: In truth, every riff out there has already been invented and used to death. Almost anything has been tried in metal. Metal music, once a fertile ground for endless ideas, has become a barren landscape of copycats, plagiarists and general "musicians" who simply don't have a clue, and those whom the very concept of originality says absolutely nothing to them. Where do you stand in that regard? What is the most important aspect to you when approaching the writing of new music? Is it the intensity, the originality, the overall production sound? What is the creative process? How does one "compose" black metal to begin with? How would you know that the very same given riff hadn't been written and used by another band on another album, or a combination of such? That a given song is one of its kind?
Jan Kruitwagen: I donít really think about that anymore, I know most riffs have been written, but I think Sammath has a unique sound, a small niche in warlike black metal. The biggest problem is crap labels releasing crap albums. I am not Mayhem, nor Gorgoroth, nor would I want to be, but thousands of bands simply copy them never-the-less. When a band first starts being active, it's probably inevitable to sound like the bands you listen to. I write music and if I donít like the riff, or it reminds me of something familiar, I'll throw it out straight away. Most bands, at least most new bands, have the problem that no one gives them much of a chance.
If you look closely you will see that most new bands that have got some recognition over the last years are mostly very theatrical: Cutting themselves, throwing up blood-like goo on stage, whatever to make sure the kids love it. I try to keep as far away as possible from all that. Creating this type of music for personal gain, or rock star ambitions is not what I am doing at all.
Composing black metal is something that canít be explained easy; it's writing the riffs, searching for the right moods that will correspond with the lyrical concept of the tracks, thinking of drum lines that would fit in, et cetera. I usually start writing a riff and slowly combine a chorus with other ideas. A good Sammath track is never finished in less than a year. I have more than five complete demos finished before we enter the studio for an album. The first demo was total shit. Itís a fine line between knowing when a song needs more work and knowing when to stop. You canít learn this, itís probably experience. I was talking to one of the guys from The Stone (Folter Records signed band from Serbia) last week and he had the same problem. You can just hear after about 30 seconds which bands have the experience, not necessarily your kind of music, but the know-how of how to approach music of that kind. But to get back to your question, I donít think any type of music these days is fresh anymore so-to-speak, but does that matter? If it's good, it's good; if it's crap it should not be released, and that's the biggest problem.
Production is very important; I waited for six months so that Peter Neuber could do the mastering again. He has a good sense of what Sammath should sound like, a whirlwind of chaos, but well recorded and clear. To sum it all up, most shit sinks to the bottom, but these days the bottom is so full of shit that it just stays on the surface.
There is more though: downloading albums is pathetic, our new album was available for downloading via hundreds of web-pages about a week after the release. Sales are ok, but do these bloggers really think they are helping the scene? They write on those sites that if you like the album go and buy it; sure, so I can download the entire album at your gay blog, with high resolution cover art and you expect people to buy the album after that? Fucking leeches. The saddest thing is that all these people donít do it for the scene, no, they like it when many people visit their websites so they can jack off at night when they have more than 100 visitors. Itís a disgrace! They are ruining the scene. It was so much better back in Ď85 to Ď95. But what can you do? I havenít got a single downloaded album; why? because if I like something, I buy it. The whole idea of downloading an album of a band you like for free is pathetic.
Maelstrom: In Triumph in Hatred you have done something exceptional, namely the incorporation of almost classic metal passages; guitar solos ("shredding") a-la Yngwie Malmsteen and such. Who's in charge of those marvelous solos and what gave you the idea to actually take such a risk and even incorporate them into the very brutal music? Is Triumph in Hatred the first album of Sammath where this "technique" is used? How did you manage to intertwine this "classic" melodic heavy metal approach so organically into the harsh sounds of your black / death metal?
Jan Kruitwagen: It was indeed a risk, but it worked out perfectly. The biggest problem was that the solos had to be part of the tracks, not just a different atmosphere whilst ruining the feel of the tracks. Magnus, who likes to be called Andy these days, did the solos. I was looking to combine more classic metal sounding solos and riffs with the typical sound of black metal. These types of solos are not easy to perform. Most solos in black metal sound like shit.
I was lucky enough to run into this madman at the "Under the Black Sun" fest in Berlin some years ago. He was promoting Sammath at the Folter Records stand. He did not know I was the Sammath guy and he told me this would sound better with solos. Iíve heard so many people saying stuff about what I should do that at first I thought: screw this guy. But after the weekend we were luckily still alive and got together to talk this through, once we worked out how we wanted it to sound. it worked out just how I had thought it up. The solos are great, they remind me of old Obituary solos. What I always missed with those eighties death metal bands with great solos were the fast parts. I donít think there are too many black metal bands with solos as fucking good as these. Magnus A.K.A. Andy is a talented guitarist, and on the next album he will also be part of the lineup.
Maelstrom: Triumph in Hatred sounds much updated, sound-wise. It differs from your early works in that it does not bear the typical traditional low-fi, anachronistic and "spiritual" feel of usually under-produced black metal, but rather a very hi-tech-ish, polished, sharp, yet punishing production. That being said, the production lends the music this crisp and "fat" death metal etiquette. What made you take this step towards a different kind of sound for Sammath? Would we expect Sammath to introduce more death metal elements in the future? Was the recording / production process harder a task, and if so, what were the challenges Sammath faced during the production of Triumph in Hatred?
Jan Kruitwagen: What I always hated when listening to underground black metal is the fact that it never sounds very menacing; it feels menacing but if you turn it up it has no impact other than that it fucks up your hearing. The snare drum you canít hear, or only hear slightly. I think itís a combination of having no decent studio budget and just thinking it sounds true and evil, but mostly true and evil are just used as an excuse for lack of know-how. Darkthrone pulled it off once, so itís been done. I wanted a black metal album that sounded good and ó as you have stated ó "fat," because it sounds completely devastating. Death metal has always been part of Sammath in some ways. I have always listened to different styles of extreme metal. On Verwoesting (the band's sophomore full length album), this is probably most apparent.
The recording [for Triumph in Hatred] wasnít difficult at all, except the slaughtering drum sessions. But I was sitting next to the producer with coffee, watching Koos (the drummer) killing himself behind his drum kit. No triggers or effects anywhere, you can actually hear the pain. But hearing the pain certainly pays off. At some points you can hear that he is getting tired, or that it's costing him more energy; natural dynamics are great, triggers are totally fake: like a whore with big fake tits. The biggest challenge I had was keeping the black metal overall feel, not letting the heavy, death, thrash metal elements take over too much. So it was a constant watching out for this framework.
Maelstrom: Jan, we would like to know what are your thoughts about the future of metal in general and black metal in particular? Where would Sammath be, let's say, five years from now? Where would you be? What's in store for your next album? Do you think age will have a say regarding the general trend of your thinking about the world, music and the metal underground in general? Will the world even exist five years from now?
Jan Kruitwagen: The future is always good; I always make sure to arrange stuff well enough for me and my family. The black metal scene will clean itself or destroy itself, I really donít care. I will be doing my thing, fuck the rest. In five years, when Iím 41, I will still be making black metal. Throughout the years I have been buying new stuff, checking out new bands, et cetera. The next album is already taking form in my head; the drummer is already coming up with the craziest stuff I have ever heard. I just hope my shouting won't worsen; it used to be better once. Should the world still exist in five years? I donít know and thereís nothing I can do about it so I donít give a fuck. Iím an animal, an opportunist and a very egocentric bastard, like most of usÖ
Maelstrom: Maelstrom would like to deeply thank you for your time, elaborate answers and co-operation. It was a real pleasure for us.
Jan Kruitwagen: Thanks also to you, man, great questions, looks like there is hope for metal if we old, soon-to-be metal fossils donít die too soon.