History & Biography
SAMHAIN - THE COURIER - EMANZIPATION
History lesson time, boys and girls. Gather round. Snuggle and tuck yourselves in. Delete the apps on your smartphone. They are making you dumb. This was a time of novelty and dedication; power and wonder. It was a time when metal was extreme, metal was elite and metal was select. Kids made bands not to fit in, but to not fit in. Men and women founded bands not to make money, but to do it their way. Musicians established groups to forge their own paths, not to strive for popularity. It was in this world that a couple of Danish teenagers conceived their own dream of a death/black group and named it Samhain. Then Samhain became Desexult because in this world people were individuals and did not want to share a monicker with other bands. The two main men in these bands also co-edited a superlative fanzine called Blackthorn.
Samhain, and its successor Desexult, issued demo tapes called The Courier and S.O.D.F.O.A.D. respectively in 1985 and 1986. The latter title was chosen because the Desexult members, like much of the metal scene, had disdain for the American band and hardcore/crossover in general. Does anyone remember Mayhem’s ‘No Core, No Mosh’ motto from the late 1980s? Then ravages of time struck back and pushed the boys down. Samhain and Desexult became history and the bands, now interred, were words whispered on fewer and fewer lips. The act, with only demo tapes and a compilation record appearance to its name, had refused a full-length overture from New Renaissance Records of USA.
Those times are long gone. Everything has changed. Thirty seven years have passed, and within the new reality and context Emanzipation Productions of Denmark has compiled the aforementioned demos into a vinyl LP, remastered by later Desxult drummer Tue Madsen, simply called The Courier. Ali “The Metallian” invited guitarist Esben Slot Sørensen to a conversation within the hallowed halls of Metallian Towers to discuss the new release, shed light on this underground artefact, expose death metal history and obtain news as well. - 29.06.2023
METALLIAN: Thank-you for the opportunity to conduct this conversation. I yanked my original Samhain tape from the Metallian Towers’ library shelves to hear again and have several old Blackthorn zines here so, in a sense, it has been a wait of 35 years for this interview. The thing that strikes one the most listening to the demo tape is how it stands the test of time. Indeed, it stands alongside Possessed's Seven Churches, Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales and the first Slaughter demos as a bona fide forerunner of the death metal scene. Why do you think the music is still viable and extreme to this day?
ESBEN: Wow, a dedicated, oldschool fan! Thanks a lot. Well, I think our main benefit is, or was, that we were young at heart and just did what we felt like. It’s no secret that we were heavily inspired by Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. Some might say that a few of our riffs get pretty close to actual rip-off. Nevertheless, we were part of shaping the first wave of death metal and, I trust, this is what appeals to kids nowadays.
METALLIAN: Back in the day I always wondered what the intro on the demo was saying. Would you spill the beans?
ESBEN: Well, we were young and lacked song writing skills. So we took some short cuts. The intro is taken directly from Anton Szandor LaVey’s Satanic Bible. “In this arid wilderness of steel and stone I raise up my voice that you may hear. To the East and to the West I beckon. To the North and to the South I show a sign proclaiming: Death to the weakling, wealth to the strong!” We thought this sounded really cool.
METALLIAN: With that out of the way, let's talk about the new release. What is it called and why is it out? Why should people buy it?
ESBEN: The title is the same as our debut demo, The Courier. Back in the day, the UK artist who made our cover artwork originally made it for an album. We just had it redesigned for the vertical dimension of a cassette cover. So once we had to do the re-release on vinyl, it was pretty easy to just use the original artwork in its original format.
People should buy it to get a better sound than on the original demos. It’s remastered by top producer Tue Madsen at Antfarm Studio. Tue has worked with some of metal and hard-edged music’s biggest like Rob Halford, The Haunted, Sick Of It All, Madball, Babymetal and a shitload of others.
METALLIAN: The 'why' deserves some more scrutiny. I know this is not the demo's first re-release, but at some level why re-release everything? Why not let the underground remain underground?
ESBEN: You tell me! Over the years, I’ve gotten numerous offers from vinyl enthusiasts around the world. I’ve always turned them down saying: “nah, no one’s gonna buy this old shit.”
But once a Samhain post on a Danish Facebook metal page got close to a hundred comments, I was like: “holy fuck, people are truly into this old shit.” Shortly after, Michael of Emanzipation contacted me saying, “How about it Esben, isn’t it about time we get serious about a re-release?”
We actually signed the deal two years ago. I just hadn’t been able to get my shit together. But Michael kept pushing me and here we are two years later with a full album, which I’m really proud of.
METALLIAN: My assumption always indeed was that Samhain was directly influenced by Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. Firstly, there were only a couple of bands that heavy back then to be inspired by. Secondly, the sound indicates as much. Could you elaborate?
ESBEN: That’s right. As I just said, they were our main source of inspiration. But we also listened to a lot of demos we got from tape traders around the world.
METALLIAN: Speaking of Celtic Frost, Was the title of the follow-up monicker, namely Desexult, inspired by 'Triumph Of Death,' which was Hellhammer's demo?
ESBEN: Precisely. Only ‘Des’ was a deliberate misspelling of ‘Death’ which was pretty much the trend back then. Think Megadeth, Mercyful Fate, Motley Crüe, Def Leppard, Lääz Rockit, etcetera.
METALLIAN: There is another Celtic Frost connection here. Like Samhain and Desexult, Celtic Frost was the new name of Hellhammer. Was the change of monickers somewhat mentally palatable to you because Celtic Frost had undergone a similar move?
ESBEN: Nope, our new name was entirely caused by Glenn Danzig’s Samhain who had put out an EP in 1984 without us knowing anything about it. It wasn’t until we had sent out our debut demo for review, that we started getting feedback from the editors about the US Samhain. There was also a German Samhain so in order to avoid confusion, we figured we’d better find a new name.
METALLIAN: Imagine that! Bands used to change their monickers in order to be unique and different. It is a good bet that there is a new band called Nemesis and more albums called either Memento Mori or Dance Macabre or Danse Macabre released just today - and that is before your first glass of orange juice in the morning! One note though, Esben. The current release is being advertised as the first two demos of the band. In fact, it is the only demo of Samhain and the first demo of Desexult. Is marketing trying to position this release somehow?
ESBEN: Well, since Glenn Danzig gave up on his Samhain and started Danzig pretty much at the same time as we changed to Desexult, Michael convinced me that we put this album out under the Samhain monicker. After all, this was the original spirit of the band. Actually, all the songs of the second demo were written as Samhain, but released under the name Desexult. So it’s really not a marketing stunt. It’s how things would have turned out if it hadn’t been for Glenn Danzig.
METALLIAN: Esben, you remained a musician and experienced some success with Barcode, but whatever happened to your fellow guitarist and co-founder Henk Leviathan?
ESBEN: Well, that’s a tricky subject. Henk left the band after our show with Pestilence in Holland in 1988. After our magazine, Blackthorn, folded in 1991 we drifted apart. I know he still lives here in Aarhus, but I haven’t seen him for 30 years.
Preparing for this album, I’ve been somewhat corresponding with him through a mutual friend of ours just to make sure he was OK with us putting out the album.
Henk METALLIAN: There is a lot of good information and anecdotes in the booklet notes of the record, but I have to take you to task for a couple of things. Firstly, Blackthorn was adamantly against hardcore music. Imagine my surprise when Barcode emerged and the music was hardcore.
ESBEN: Yes, I can see the irony of this. Back then, we truly resented punk and hardcore. Thrash metal, and a bit of death, was the only thing that was true in our world back then.
I went to a Sick Of It All show in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s without even paying attention. But when Slayer released Undisputed Attitude with hardcore covers, some friends and I just went, ‘This is fucking awesome. Let’s make a hardcore band!’
METALLIAN: Thanks for that explanation. Secondly, you misrepresent your band-mate Henk. The liner notes claim, "the emergence of the Big Four in America certainly didn’t go unnoticed, we leaned more towards European heroes such as Sodom, Kreator, Destruction, Bathory, Hellhammer and Venom.” This is misleading since, back in the day, Henk told me that his favourite band was Slayer and had been since Show No Mercy appeared.
ESBEN: Slayer is my all time favourite band too. Well, it’s a bit like this: In a perfect world we’d all like to go out with big titted super models. In reality, though, we jumped on whoever was stupid enough to go home with a stinky, long haired metal dude.
Similarly, we all loved the Big Four. But we were also realistic about our limited skills on our instruments, so Hellhammer, Venom, Sodom and the likes were lower hanging fruits to compare to, so to speak.
Just wait until you hear our unreleased demo from 1991 and you’ll witness a whole different skill level.
METALLIAN: Are you saying that another release is forthcoming?
ESBEN: Yes. That’s the plan. Tue Madsen has already remastered most of it while ex-Barcode guitarist Jacob Bredahl remastered the 1991 demo in his Dead Rat Studio.
METALLIAN: That has to be quite rare material. Final question along these lines: Reading the liner notes it occurs to one that you downplay the seriousness of the band and look down at your own youth. It is given a goofy and juvenile treatment. My experience is the opposite. Bands back then, and metal fans in general, were dead serious, steadfast and committed. Your recollection of the attitude and behaviour clashes with that reality.
ESBEN: We too were dead serious. No doubt. We truly lived for this. But seen in hindsight, it’s easy to see just how childish and immature we all were. That’s both the curse and the blessing of youth. You go all in, but holy fuck, in those early years we were just a bunch of wanna-bes. Honestly, I acknowledge that we did have an impact on the European underground scene. I’m both humbled and honoured, and surprised, but I feel it wasn’t until much later that I personally developed true musicianship.
METALIAN: Why did Desexult end and go away?
ESBEN: Well, stay tuned for part two (smiles). Seriously, if we fast forward to after we recorded our 1991 demo… Since 1986 we had undergone numerous line-up changes. The constant recruitment of new band members eventually tore the band apart. We practically lived in our rehearsal room, but most of the time we’d smoke weed and compose weirder and weirder music. We had started listening to Rick Wakeman, King Crimson, Primus, Naked City and things derailed more and more. We were no longer called Desexult. We took on a new name each concert we played! We played our final show in 1994.
METALLIAN: What was one name the band adopted after Desexult?
ESBEN: Grindhouse featuring shock rock punk singer Mort Harder from before he started Defectors and Stormtroopers Of Love.
METALLIAN: That is obscure trivia, Esben. Speaking of which, why did Blackthorn fold seemingly suddenly?
ESBEN: We had gotten to a level with a print-run of some 5,000 to 6,000 copies. However, this was still DIY meaning that the money we made from one issue financed the next. And when our US distributor, ImportAnt Records, ripped us off and never paid for the 1,500 copies we had sent their way, we were unable to print issue number 9, which we had written most of the material and interviews for.
METALLIAN: Some may know that ImportAnt was the mothership of Combat Records. What sort of a low-life steals from the underground? Regardless, as someone who has been involved in the scene and the underground for forty years how do you see the scene now versus then? What strikes you the most, Esben?
ESBEN: To be quite honest, I am out of sync with the scene. However, I am amazed at the quality of the new bands. For example, Baest from Aarhus. These young dudes are insanely skilled and extremely dedicated and professional.
As for the differences between then and now, I guess the internet is the biggest gamechanger. Bear in mind that back then we had to send physical demo tapes by snail mail to radio stations, magazines, record labels, concert organisers, etcetera in order to get noticed. Nowadays, you have so many platforms to spread your music which I think is a great development.
METALLIAN: Right on cue, Esben. The astounding part of the story and history is that Samhain and Desexult did not become another big name like Celtic Frost, Death or Possessed. The timing, sound and potential were there. Why do you think it was?
ESBEN: I really don’t know. Would have been great if we could look back on a lifelong career similar to Kreator or Destruction who are still going strong.
METALLIAN: Thanks for the conversation, Esben. Before we retire for the night here is one more for you. The world knows Metallian is the best. Why do you agree?
ESBEN: Well, that’s only because Blackthorn is no longer around.
The musicians in Samhain and Desexult were forerunners and the bands were quintessential underground material. Amazingly, unlike many other bands’ output, the material remains impressively heavy even by today’s standards. The Courier and S.O.D. F.O.A.D. releases boasted a line-up of Esben, Henk, drummer Max and singer and bassist Hund.
This was a story of early death metal, early scene and how all things wither and die only to come back in one form or the other years later. The Courier LP is available through Emanzipation Records. The band can be found here.
If you enjoyed this, read Dismember