As we dash towards the holidays and the end of the year Ghost Cult is feeling good about this season of giving. So we are giving our fans a chance to get to know our partners, peers, and friends from bands in the world of music. They will chime in with some guest blogs, end of year lists, and whatever else is on their minds as we pull the plug on 2015. Today we have Bidi van Drongelen, Dutch booker and manager who has worked with the likes of The Devil’s Blood, Saint Vitus, Ghost, In Solitude and many more. Every year a multitude of his bands get booked at the excellent Roadburn festival, and we have asked him what he feels were the best releases of 2015.
1. Klone – Here Comes The Sun
Great songwriting, amazing vocals, and a crystal clear though heavy production blending prog and post metal.
2. Ghost – Meliora
Ghost has it all to become one of the leading melodic heavy rock bands in the world
3. Bliksem – Gruesome Masterpiece
If you like Metallica’sMaster of Puppets of Death Angel’sACT III….with the a raw female voice like Doro.
4. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
Great atmospheric rock album with the amazing voice of Mlny Parsonsz
5. Tribulation – Children of the Night
Melodies of occult rock like The Devil’s Blood drenched with a satanic black voice which reminds of Satyricon.
6. Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
Refreshing approach of doom & drone. ART with capital A!
7. Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
8. Steak Number Eight – Kosmokoma
9. Melechesh – Enki
10. Enslaved – In Times
11. Clutch – Psychic Warfare
12. Thy Catafalque – Sgurr
13. Amorphis– Under The Red Cloud
14. RAM – Svbversvm
15. BRING ME THE HORIZON– That’s The Spirit
16. Mgła – Excercises In Futility
17. Baroness – Purple
18. Leprous – The Congregation
19. Graveyard – Innocence & Decadence
20. Hangman’s Chair – This Is Not Supposed To Be Positive
Bliksem 2015. Photo Credit: Tim Tronchoe Photography
An established act in the Benelux area of central Europe, the Antwerp metal quintet released their second full length album ‘Gruesome Masterpiece’ via Iron Will earlier in the year. As they prepare to invade different countries with RAM and Evil Invaders, drummer Rob Martin gave Ghost Cult the low (countries) down on Bliksem
Having laid down a marker two years ago with their debut album Face The Evil (Alone), the end of summer this year saw the Antwerp metal merchants in Bliksem release their second album. Martin is rightly enthusiastic about the progression in the band’s material, opining. “A key improvement is the more personal, eclectic and diverse approach in songwriting. We think we’ve matured and got closer to our own identity.” An identity, he believes, that is furthered by those they’ve allowed into their inner sanctum.
“We recorded with our live sound engineer, Martin Furia, who engineered, produced and mixed the album. He plays in a few bands himself and we all rehearse at Antwerp Music City – home of the Antwerp underground – so we’ve spent hours and hours talking, discussing, drinking, smoking and philosophizing together. He’s practically a sixth band member. We had a lot of trust in his studio skills as well, so we knew that he was the man for the job. This album was going to be us all the way.” But just what is a Bliksem song… on Gruesome Masterpiece, they go for the throat with the first two songs of the album, which, in particular showcase the thrashier side of the band, but then as things progress there’s a movement through Heavy Metal, Doom, a couple of balladic moments… “It’s what we like to hear and play ourselves”, begins the sticksman. “We like an album to have different kinds of songs. Albums should make you feel like you’re travelling, in a way. Things need to happen. Of course, there are artists that focus on one particular atmosphere or vibe, and explore that to the fullest – which can lead to great results. But that’s just not what suits us as a collective, at this point in time.”
A progressive and admirable mentality, but increasingly the listener of today is being brought up in a YouTube/Spotify/Playlist environment “I never really thought about it, honestly…” he muses. “I don’t know if this would hinder us. Much of our strength lies in this diversity. I think artists should find out what they’re good at, and we feel sure that we made a big step in the right direction with this album. A lot of listeners search up music by genre tag, so it could be, despite that demographic perhaps not being the bands target audience, that diversity serves to be a damaging factor…? “We’re not going to focus on any specific niche, like many retro speed/thrash bands do, for example. Not only would we bore ourselves by narrowing down our music to such a specific genre, we also wouldn’t get away with it. Because that’s not who we are.”
“We are five people, with a variety of influences” explains Martin, “who somehow ended up playing and writing metal songs together. There is no ‘man with a plan’. We just try to write the best songs that we can, and we don’t know where this will lead us. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’d turn into a prog or stoner rock band in a few years, or maybe we’ll be playing weird Voivod-ish stuff…then again, we might’ve gone full-on Black Album or Cryptic Writings by that time, or maybe we’ll re-discover the really fast thrashing stuff? No idea! “So I guess a Bliksem fan would be someone who, like ourselves, doesn’t cling to a particular genre but likes the heavy, melodic music that we like to play.”
Talking of diverse, the discussion turns to ‘Morphine Dreams’: it’s a bold move for anyone who plays a more straight ahead style of metal to put a 9 minute song in the middle of the album… “’Morphine Dreams’ is my personal favourite song on the album” is the proud response, and rightly so after the ambitious effort sees the light midway through Gruesome Masterpiece. “I had been thinking about doing a doom song for some time, because I thought it would really suit us as a band (and Peggy’s voice in particular). Apparently our guitar player Jeroen felt the same, as he already had some suitable riffs lying around.” “The song has often been mentioned in reviews as being the highlight of the album, so I guess it did pay off. I just think it’s a really good song, (and) what I particularly like about this song is how well the lyrics blend with the music. The song deals with the story of late 19th century serial killer Jane Toppan, a nurse that killed over 30 of her patients. She is quoted as saying that her ambition was “to have killed more people — helpless people — than any other man or woman who ever lived…”
“Her preferred method was to use morphine (among other drug mixtures). When our singer Peggy wrote the lyrics to the melody, she approached the song as a lullaby, sung by Toppan to one of her dying victims.”
Bliksem. Summer 2015. Photo Credit: Tim Tronchoe Photography
Having recently toured with Flotsam and Jetsam, and with more dates in the diary across Europe, and the promise of hitting some outdoor stages in the Summer of 2016 Rob is keen to assert that the live side of things is “definitely a very important focus. We are a live playing band, not a studio project.”
But perhaps most importantly is that Bliksem is evolving, and improving. Martin has the final word; “Something seems to click between the five of us. We are five strong personalities who have a lot of chemistry, and we took the time and effort to make it work. Writing the new album, we worked together a lot more closely and smoothly than before. If we can continue that evolution, the results should be accordingly. So I like to believe that the best is yet to come.”
With their native mainland Western Europe falling under the spell of Belgian quintet Bliksem, their sophomore effort, Gruesome Masterpiece (Iron Will/Rough Trade) takes the rough and ready chugging metal sound of their debut and looks to expand, both musically and in terms of building a more international following.
Thrashing and flailing, ‘Crawling In The Dirt’ and ‘Kywas’ beckon, coyly curling a finger and inviting us to draw closer to an opening pair of swaggering, pounding, headbanging melodic thrash songs. Peggy Meeusen is a snarling asset, switching from throat savagery to melodic hooks in ‘Room Without A View’ and then vulnerable on ‘Mistress Of The Damned’. But, despite her barb and vigour, and the technical proficiency throughout, as the album progresses and the plat du jour is served, it becomes clear the majority of the album is mid-paced stodgy fodder.
While there’s nothing wrong with pub grub, Bliksem, slang for bastard or asshole, have little to establish themselves beyond being the sort of act you’d watch for a few songs at a festival, beer in hand, head nodding, thinking “Yeah, they’re alright” before wandering off to take in something more substantial, something more inviting, something less… meat and potatoes (with not enough gravy).
They do mix things up, and in ‘Morphine Dreams’ attempt a doomy, crashing nine minute epic, where, sadly ambition and execution, unlike dream and day, fail to unite. In our world of enthusings, ponderings and writings about metal marathons, usually calling a lengthy track “torturous” would be seen as an extremely positive attribute, and an achievement of an aim… in this case, it’s meant literally, as the album centrepiece drags monotonously on, boring you to death. Spiky ‘Twist The Knife’ hurtles in and attempts CPR with compressions that’d break your rib cage all Ripper era Judas Priest / Annihilator ground and pound, but going-nowhere ballad ‘Out Of The Darkness’ sees the last breath escape.
Meeusen’s voice aside, despite aptitude and, I’m sure, a love of all things melodic thrash, harder rock and heavy metal, there is little distinctive in the Bliksem wares. All in, despite promise, there are too many indistinct moments for Gruesome Masterpiece to be anything other than just A.N.Other decent album.