Interview with Columbarium

Interview with Columbarium

- in Written interviews

Hi! Can you tell us about the origins of Columbarium and how the band came together?
I’ve known Mille, our drummer, since we were sixteen or so. We met as roadies from a Belgian heavy metal/thrash band called Vendetta sometime in 1986 – ’87. That band later changed its name to Anesthesy because they were not the only Vendetta. Anesthesy developed as a solid thrash metal band and made some very strong EPs and albums in the late eighties and early nineties. Because we were present at every rehearsal as roadies, we had developed a hobby band called ‘Arachnophobia’, so that was together with Mille and half of Anesthesy. We occasionally played the support act for Anesthesy just for fun. I was singing then, without playing an instrument. That was together with Franky Libeert, he was the frontman of Anesthesy, wrote all the music, sang and played guitar for the band, including all the solos. With Arachnophobia he only played the guitar. However, Franky died in a car accident in 1994. When he passed away, Arachnophobia also ceased to exist. At his funeral we went to his burial ground with the family. At one point we passed a sign ‘Columbarium’ in the cemetery and Mille said: “That would be a good name for our band if we continue together as a two-piece.” Mille and I subsequently decided to continue under the name Columbarium, also as an ode to our deceased friend. So we continued as a two-man band until around 1998. We played a mix of doom and grindcore, I played bass and sang, Mille played drums and occasionally shouted along with me, haha, it was a fantastic time! However, we stopped because the inspiration with only two people dried out a bit and a lot had changed in our private lives also at the time. We have actually just taken that name back from the refrigerator in 2021. We first played with Marc alone, Koen joined later in 2017, but we have evolved so much as a band that I thought it was a good idea to change the name.

How has your individual musical journey influenced the band’s sound and direction?
Mille and myself are influenced mostly by death metal, grindcore and some heavy doom bands, but also the older raw stuff like old Venom, Bulldozer etc … That is where the heaviness and the raw vocals come from. Marc is somewhat ten years older than us and he is more influenced by classical bands like mainly Black Sabbath, but also some later seventies hard rock, so that’s undisputedly where some of our riffing originates from, yes, you will hear some Black Sabbath-type riffing here and there in our songs. Koen also has a great history of listening to hard rock, heavy metal like Rush, and more modern complexer bands like Mastodon and Gojira. He definitely has a weak spot for melody, experimental harmonies etc because of that. So, that is the combination that you hear in the music of Columbarium. Heavy riffing, raw vocals pimped with guitar harmonies, melodic keyboards and guitar solos, heavy passages like almost Obituary-like but then with added mellow parts, slow guitar solos and keyboards … Columbarium could not be the band it is today with all these different influences from every band member. We don’t want to hide from experiment, that is an important approach to our music for us.

The addition of an extra guitar/keyboard player, Koen Biesbrouck, brought a new dimension to Columbarium’s sound. How did this change impact the band’s creative process and overall musical direction?
We had known Koen for a number of years. By the way, in a previous life he recorded a mini album and a full album for us in his home studio, a bit DYI-style, so to speak. But not only does he like to experiment with recording gear and software and he is not only a fantastic guitarist, he is also crazy about anything that makes additional sounds, such as analog synthesizers and subsequently keyboards. He also owns quite a few of those things. I don’t know much about them myself, and I call them all ‘noise boxes’ (haha), but it’s fantastic what influences something like that indirectly brings into the band’s music. Koen has historically been enormously influenced by the blues and that also brought in a completely different light. Just listen to his solo in ‘Redemption’, you can’t miss it, I think, it’s bluesy as fuck!! In this way he has ensured that we have all opened our minds more, and we wanted that too. I already had that approach myself because I am a very big fan of Cathedral, for example. In their musical legacy they have experimented a lot with instruments, mellotron, saxophone, trumpets, weird vocals etc. I always found that very fascinating, as long as it benefits your song, anything should be possible, I believe. Koen has allowed that influence to fully blossom within the band and brought the band to where we are today. We don’t shy away from a piece of piano or a bridge in a song with a cello, like in ‘Our Glorious Ways’ for example. Although Marc and I have almost always provided the basic riffs for the songs, Koen has given the music much more color and certainly a fuller sound.

Can you delve into the creative process and challenges faced during the production of “The Morbidious One”?
That’s a pretty difficult question since we worked on the record for a very long time. We started working on the oldest songs easily five years ago. They also often came up in very different ways. ‘Our Glorious Ways’, for example, is a song that Marc wrote himself at home and made a kind of pre-production for it, including recording digital drums, before he let us listen to it. Other songs were conceived very spontaneously while jamming in our rehearsal room, such as ‘Eyes Bleed Black’ and ‘Rivers Of Blood’, they were mainly created that way. I applied ‘A Cure For Everything’ ready-made. Sometimes the hardest thing is that we just need that last push to finish a song. ‘Rivers Of Blood’ for example, we chewed on that song for a year or more. It was 80% done, but we were missing something, we tried alternative lyrics and other riffs, but it didn’t sound the way we wanted. Until Koen came up with the guitar melody that fits the song perfectly. We almost threw it away and now it’s one of the better songs on the record, I think. Writing the songs itself is sometimes a challenge, although other songs are finished quickly. Another challenge was pre-production. We really wanted to do that before we started our actual recordings and took our album to the Hearse Studio. Koen did that pre-production and sweated a lot on it. Good pre-production allows us to remove small errors from the songs, small deviations in guitar parts for example, almost inaudible, but still… That’s why we really wanted to do that. But it didn’t really go smoothly…

“Rivers Of Blood” was the first glimpse of your music, released as a lyric video in December 2021. What themes and emotions are conveyed through this track, and how does it represent Columbarium’s style?
We felt that ‘Rivers Of Blood’, as the first song we ever released, represented the sound of Columbarium, as a new band, quite well. It is a song that came together spontaneously during one of our rehearsals while jamming. As far as the lyrics are concerned, this fits the atmosphere we want to create with the band. These are usually not really fun topics, they have to fit in with the concept. ‘Rivers Of Blood’ is about the heavy cross of addiction. And we’re not talking about one beer too many or a joint. It’s about severe addiction to hard drugs. And especially the consequences for everyone close to the addicted, they drag their family and friends into a downward spiral with them and junkies do not often realize that they are also destroying other people. There is a bright spot though: in the last stanza we try to give some advice about converting that negative energy into a new course. Even though none of that is literal, you have to be able to read between the lines. The four lines of that last stanza are also depicted as a powerful text on the back of the vinyl sleeve. So the song certainly represents the band very well both musically and lyrically.

“Rivers Of Blood” was released by Dust & Bones Records. How did the collaboration with the label come about, and what kind of support and vision do they bring to the band?
‘Dust & Bones’ Records is a small, local label, but that was ideal for us as a start-up. Frederik Vanhee, who ran the label, is an incredibly cool guy who is completely obsessed with music, just like all of us in the band are, and with all types of metal in particular. And he also has a very long history in this. When we talked to him about our single, there was an immediate connection and he was very enthusiastic about the music. You really felt that, it was sincere and I loved the guy from the first minute! We were immediately on the same page, as if we had known each other for years. It was his proposal to release a limited edition cassette and that also fits perfectly with Columbarium. As old-school as hell. The single with ‘B-side’ ‘Save Our Children’ was of course also released on all digital channels, which is as it should be today. But that cassette was a one-off and had a very limited edition. Now it is a nice collector’s item. So he mainly took care of the carrier. But we also contacted Mike de Coene from Hard Life Promotion to help us publicize the single and that also worked great! He is also a very nice guy and certainly great to work with. I can recommend him to every band. Our single not only gained some fame in the Benelux, but there was a response from various countries worldwide and that was very nice. Through that collaboration with Frederik and Mike we succeeded in our goal, which was to give the band some name recognition before we ever released a full album. We are still very grateful to both of them for that.

The single also featured “Save Our Children” as a B-side track. Could you provide insights into the creative process behind this song and how it complements “Rivers Of Blood”?
Haha, yes! Actually, it was my dream from the beginning to release a vinyl single with those two songs on it, but that turned out differently because of the proposal from Dust & Bones Records to make a cassette of it, which we also thought was very cool. ‘Rivers Of Blood’ could easily have been cut into an ‘edited’ version for a vinyl single, but we were looking for a song that clocked in at a maximum of four minutes because it should not be longer to release on a vinyl single. That’s why we composed a very specific short song and that was ‘Save Our Children’, which explains the short format of that song. I actually applied it completely myself and everyone in the band was happy with it luckily. That bizarre bridge with that keyboard, which Koen added, gave the song a very special twist and we received very good comments on it, which was very nice. In our opinion, Doom should not only consist of long drawn-out riffs and songs of more than ten minutes, it should also be catchy and short and we have achieved that nicely with ‘Save Our Children’, I believe. It’s also a song we really enjoy playing live. I would actually still like to release those two songs on a limited edition, 100 copies or so, on a vinyl single, that would be really cool. Maybe Gero from Argonauto will read this and we can come to an agreement, haha!

Your upcoming album, “The Morbidious One,” is set to release on September the 29th 2023 via Argonauta Records. What can listeners expect from this album in terms of themes, sound, and musical progression?
We actually want to be very varied with the album. No one will deny that our first single ‘Rivers Of Blood’ from 2022 has a somewhat similar song structure to ‘Eyes Bleed Black’, the song that served as the first single for our full album with a video clip. But that’s it. The other songs on the album have a different structure or approach. The title track ‘The Morbidious One’ is more of a series of different types of riffs and atmospheres, rather than a song that is mainly built up around one riff, like the two previous songs. TMO is therefore the most complex song on the album. But there is also an intermezzo with an acoustic tune on a twelve-string guitar that Koen came up with. I still absolutely love it. We asked Michelle Nocon from ‘Of Blood & Mercury’ (ex-Bathsheba) to do some vocals on it and she captured a fantastic chant in six layers. I absolutely love it, she is an incredible singer! Closing track ‘A Cure For Everything/Get Back Alive?’ is a fast thrashy, instrumental song, or at least the first part, something completely different. The second part is a kind of bass solo, well, solo, it’s more of reverberating noise (haha), but it does tell a story and that story can be found on the inlay of the vinyl of our record. And so the album is very varied and that is really what we strive for. We don’t want to make ten of the same songs and I think we have succeeded in that without the album losing any homogeneity. We have certainly made progress as musicians with this album and, as I said, that certainly has to do with the contribution of Koen, his guitar playing and his keyboards.

How has the partnership with Argonauta Records impacted the band’s outlook and plans for the future, especially with the label’s extensive experience in the stoner/doom/sludge genre?
Yes, we were absolutely incredibly happy with Argonauta’s enthusiasm when they told us what they thought of our record. It is certainly a big step forward for the band, because they handle things very thoroughly and professionally. What was important to us was the fact that they not only provided a vehicle for our music, but that they also contributed ideas and input into the promotion of the band. That is why we thought it was extremely important that we could sign a complete deal, both for the production of the physical formats on CD and vinyl and also the complete digital release, but also for a promotional package and serious distribution. For the promotion they work together with Grand Sounds Promotion and those men work very thoroughly and communicate very smoothly and openly, they are really killer! Distribution will soon also go through PIAS and that is also not a small name in the scene. In this way, the physical formats also end up in the US and in Europe. We found the entire package incredibly interesting. They also ask to actively participate in the promotion process, it is a collaboration and that also feels good, because we are also very active ourselves. Argonauta Records communicates with us very well and we consult with them on all matters that we think are necessary, they send us tips and tricks on how to promote the band better. We also retain all rights to our own music, they don’t make a fuss about that. By working together in all these areas, they have really taken us as a band to a higher level and we are very happy about that. They also encourage us to release more in the future and inspire us in that regard. We couldn’t imagine a better partner and never thought in advance that we would be able to set up something like this. We are incredibly thankful for them.

“The Morbidious One” will be available in various formats, including vinyl, CD, and digital release. How important is it for you to provide your music in multiple formats to cater to different types of listeners?
Yes, good that you mentioned that. It’s actually quite simple: digital distribution on all possible channels, you can’t avoid that nowadays, if you don’t do it, you miss a huge audience, even as an old-school doom band (smile). We are not specialists in this ourselves and Argonauta helped and supported us perfectly with this. In recent years we were surprised that quite a few people came to our concerts to ask if we had a CD, but we didn’t, we first only had the cassette and digital releases. But it became clear to us from that question from fans that we also had to have the release on CD once we were going to release our full album and it appears that many people are still interested in that format. We also see this in the pre-orders. And vinyl, well, maybe that’s not a real must, although vinyl does sell well in our music genre, the fans are often real diehards, but that was mainly because of me. I have been a vinyl collector all my life and I wanted to one day have my own music out on a real vinyl record. As I said, that was also my first dream for that vinyl single of ‘Rivers Of Blood’, which never came about, but now it does with our full album. By the way, the vinyl package looks very nice and we are very happy with it. The comments on the cover are overwhelming, the shirt with the cover is also selling very well, and the version that Argonauta made looks fantastic! The ‘morbidly green’ vinyl, as we have baptized it ourselves, is very beautiful and fits completely into the concept and design of the entire album.

Could you elaborate on the role of visual elements, like the visualizer for “Save Our Children,” in enhancing the overall experience of your music and connecting with your audience?
I think those visual elements are especially important on the internet. You have to sell your band a bit, don’t you, if you want to reach some people, even though that may sound very commercial. I once saw a beautiful lyric for the song ‘Melted Together’ by Horde Casket, I was completely in love with it, also with the song by the way. Those wobbly men put the otherwise very heavy lyrics of that song into perspective and I thought that was really nice. It was made by ‘Ultra Organic Studio’ and I wanted something like that too. We contacted them and we had a very good click with him from the start, we still work together. They then made the lyric video for ‘Rivers Of Blood’, which we were also very pleased with and to which Dust & Bones Records responded about our first single. We also wanted to do something with ‘Save Our Children’ online, we thought a regular visualizer was a good idea and we also worked with Ultra Organic Studio for that. They work quickly, communicate smoothly and are also on the same wavelength as to what we want to achieve with something so visual. We will certainly continue to work with them in the future. At live concerts I think it is a different story with visuals. You may not see us performing with a projection behind us anytime soon. Sometimes that works out well for some bands, like Amenra, for example, which really gives the band an extra dimension live, but other bands really want a projection, but it sometimes offers little added value.

Doom metal often combines elements of melancholy and brutality. How do you balance these contrasting emotions in your music, and what inspires your songwriting?
If you’re talking lyrically, then I can only say that I write from the heart. It’s emotions that come out, and that goes without really thinking. ‘Redemption’ is about how I dealt with the last hours of my mother before she actually passed away. ‘Eyes Bleed Black’ deals with the pain of the passing of one of our good friends. Emotions that impact me so hard come out when I write lyrics, it’s bizarre and I can’t help it. I saw a documentary about a tribe that divinizes death in a positive way to hope for a safe and good passing to the other side for their brothers and sisters that leave them. It was kind of a rite. I thought that emotion was so beautiful and I wrote a song about it, it ended up being the title track of our album. Death is not only a negative emotion and it runs as a common thread through our album, without it being a concept album. There are also other songs on the album, but it became an important lyrical theme and it fits our album cover also perfectly. The creature you see on the cover is the embodiement of ‘Death’ seen through the eyes of Vladimir Chebakov.

With over 100 gigs under your belt in the previous lineup, could you share some memorable moments or experiences from those live performances, especially when opening for bands like The Gates Of Slumber, Nekromant, or playing at festivals like Little Devil Doom Days?
Almost every gig has its special moments, because playing live is always emotional for us. What I like particularly is the friendships you built in the end with the bands. Nekromant from Sweden are such great guys. We played with them in a small venue on a regular Tuesday evening in France, but the atmosphere was really great. Mattias their singer/bass player lost a specific cable with a speakon-connector for his amp and although I only had one cable like that I just gave it to him, for keeps, so he could use it further on the tour. I bought a new cable the day after, so who cares? He gave me a shirt for free because he was so thankful. It’s just those small things. Happy people, nice memories, great gigs together, that’s what it’s all about in the end. People enjoying themselves at shows, making connection with each other, without barriers of language, race, background etc., it doesn’t matter, that feels so good. We played with FAAL and other bands quite a few years ago at a small festival ‘Doom Over The North Sea’ and that’s how we got to know them. We talked with their singer William Nijhof and we had a really good connection. He asked us to play at ‘Little Devil Doom Days’ and later on at the pre-party for the festival. Our first concert with Columbarium was right after the covid-period with FAAL in the Little Devil in Tilburg in the Netherlands. It is a very well known club in the scene over there and extremely cozy always with a great crowd. It was the first concert in two years they did after covid. The atmosphere was really crazy and we have an incredible memory of that evening, thanx to William! He likes a beer or two and so do we, haha, maybe that’s where our connection is, haha, no, he is an incredible easy going guy and we wish him all the best in his new project Asklepeion. It’s all about the people and music in the end, you know.

As a band, how do you see the evolution of the doom metal scene in Europe, and how do you envision Columbarium’s role in shaping its future?
Europe has an amazing doom scene with countless great bands, too many too mention and that is a great thing! Much talent hasn’t even surfaced as they deserve yet and I don’t have to look around me very far. Bands like Growing Horns and My Lament from Belgium or Treurwilg from the Netherlands deserve so much more attention. But since covid I have the impression that the scene has changed somewhat. There are many shows, but people don’t engage as much upfront any more. There are sometimes a lot of late deciders, which is good of course, better late than never. ‘Will I go to that concert or not?’, and that is hard for bookers and venues sometimes to reckon with. But many beautiful things lay among the surface, wallow in the underground and are ready to burst into the air. We are working hard and hope to be playing in new countries where we haven’t been yet. Our cooperation with Argonauta Records and Grand Sounds is opening barriers for us and that is great! We are getting a lot of attention with the record and we are incredibly thankful for that. The bookers know where to find us, hahah! No, really, we are ready do spread our wings. We recorded our album ‘The Morbidious One’ last year between April and June, so that’s a while ago. The new songs we are writing are very promising, I believe, we are very happy with them anyways, we are opening our minds even further. So more recordings and releases with Argonauta would be great. We are playing one new song live that is not on the record, it’s called ‘Longing And Regret’ and is probably the most catchy and quite short song we have ever written. ‘Shaping the future of Europe’s doom scene’ would be great of course, but we are humble and thankful for every positive comment we get. It is so amazing what we are going through now. We want to thank everyone that is involved in that journey and hope to grow further.

What are your long-term goals and aspirations for Columbarium, both creatively and in terms of live performances and reaching a broader audience? Thank you for your time!
Creatively we want to broaden our minds even further. We don’t want to hide from new influences or even make our songs more catchy and shorter. I am jealous at songs like ‘Another River To Cross’ by Goatsnake, you know, without the intro that songs is shorter than three minutes (!), but it is catchy as fuck!! That riff is massive and the doom almost sounds poppy. That’s great and is a great inspiration. On the other hand I am really fond of bands like Sevenchurch, Revelation and Reverend Bizarre with odd vocalists like that. Of course they have great clean voices I will never have, but their music also is an inspiration and that are mostly long and epical doomy songs. So, yeah, it can go anywhere really. But we are not hiding from experiment and certainly will even do more of that. The long term goal in the end really is do what is so important to us, and that is continue to have fun with the four of us playing the music that we like so much. We are really good friends and know what we want. Being friends and having fun is the most important thing for us. That will always be the number one priority in the band. Hopefully people will then like what they hear when we create music from our hearts.

Thank you so much for the interview and great questions! It has been an awesome talk, cheerz to everyone out there. Have Fun and Enjoy the music that you love!! See you somewhere in time! Cheeaarzz!!

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