January 17th, 1666
THE BERZERKER - same - EARACHE
The Berzerker! When a band names itself after the Viking hordes, then you know the band is not about to impress you with its balladry. That is right. It's full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal brutality on Earache and with the release of full-length number two, entitled Dissimulate, the band is on a mission of grinding savagery. The Singer, who completes the band along with The Guitarist, The Bassist, etc., is giving interviews early in the morning local time - and right in the middle of an Australian tour - when Ali "The Metallian" manages to get the Aussie on the telephone - 09.09.2002
Since we did not speak on the occasion of the release of your self-titled debut of 2000, would you elaborate on the circumstances around your signing with Earache?
The way it started was that The Berzerker started in 1995 and I was putting out various EPs through labels like Industrial Strength in The USA and Speedcore Records in Germany and an EP I put out in 1996, Digby Pearson of Earache Records heard and really liked. It was similar to what we were doing now although it was a purely solo project. It was a drum machine and sampled guitar riffs. He included it in his Top 10 list of 1996 and contacted me. So in 1998 I did some remixes for Morbid Angel and was over in Europe seeing Friends and doing DJ shows and took the time to go over to Europe and meet Digby. We took things from there.
What is The Berzerker's mission now that you are signed?
We are all about pushing the boundaries and the limits. We don't want to be limited. We always want to take things one step further. It's difficult, but we constantly influence ourselves and push ourselves.
What pushes you... ?
That is an unfortunate thing because it is always easier to chase someone better than you. If you are a runner in 100 metres, it is always easier to be second. That way you know what you have to do to beat the first man. You know you have to double your training, you have to be healthy, work out more and so on. That's one thing that is disappointing: that we don't have bands, I suppose, doing similar kinds of things, but where we get inspiration from is pushing ourselves. We always say that, 'we have to perform this live at the best of our abilities' and when we do that the satisfaction is there.
Do you feel that you are competing with yourself and your previous albums?
Completely, yeah. We definitely did that this time. We listened to the first album and it gave us the majority of the inspiration for Dissimulate. We didn't really look for inspiration from carcass or other bands, the majority of the inspiration for Dissimulate was the first album. We wanted to keep the feel the same, but take it to where it hadn't been yet. It is always gratifying when people listen to the music and say and think there is no way we can play that extreme music live and then come out to a show and see it played live, see us fly around like mad men. We reproduce the material to within an inch of the album.
One of your trademarks is how you hide your real names and instead use titles like The Singer, etc.
That is because we want people to concentrate on our music. It is not relevant who is playing the music or what his name is. The listeners should concentrate on the vision and the sound and not the names.
This strategy can backfire. An example is how Arch Enemy constantly evade the question regarding whether singer Angela Gossow is intimate with any of the band members. As a result, this question is one that is asked more than any other.
Yes, you are right, but with us it should be no question that the idea is to take the music one step further beyond the boundaries set by others.
In that case let me ask you this: is it correct that your name is Sam and that your co-vocalist's name is Luke?
That is not my name. People always ask whether members of Napalm Death or Brutal Truth are involved in The Berzerker and we neither confirm nor deny those rumours.
Can you also address the contention that you and your co-vocalist have replaced the band that played on your North American tour with Dying Fetus and Gorguts with a wholly new line-up?
Well it is true. The debut was basically the two of us anyway. As I told you before, The Berzerker was basically a solo act at the beginning. Then in order to tour we created a band that can represent our vision on stage. Now the band is stable and we work as a unit.
Speaking of units, one oddity regarding your new album is how its cover resembles the debut's.
That's right, that's right. As a matter of fact Earache did not want to use the cover. They were against it. They said that people will confuse the two and think they are the same. You see, The Berzerker is about changing perceptions. The new cover completes the debut's cover art and we had to make Earache understand that. Basically the cover for Dissimulate is done by the same artist, but with better technology this time. He has been able to sculpt the dragon with three-dimensional technology. The idea is that Dissimulate has not wavered or shifted from the same album. We are as intense as ever. The vibe and the feeling remain although they are taken to a better level by using technology. We have better song writing and better technology. I really think the cover describes the music so well. It's almost a computer game kind of marketing where you have a game like Tiny Hawk on Playstation and you don't want them to destroy or change it too much. You just want more of the same, but with better technology. I want people to feel safe picking up the album knowing we haven't sold out or gone left-field or gone into doing slow and ambient kind of music and we are as hard as ever.
These are very worthy goals. You spent three months in Vancouver and Montreal in Canada prior to releasing your debut. In this period, Devin Townsend was billed as your producer. What happened?
He did not understand our vision. He wanted a more... conventional sound for us. He was thinking more post-modern, whereas we were thinking (about) taking the underground extreme sound of the death metal bands to another level. I was thinking of taking the sound that bands like Carcass achieved, and those bands from around 1993, and pushing the boundary. He was thinking more along the lines of a Fear Factory or something. It just wasn't working out. So I went back to Australia and produced it all, mixed it, everything in a week.
Let us transition from the debut to the new album. On the debut, one of the better songs was Forever; on Dissimulate Last Mistake has a similarly outstanding quality. Will you expand on those?
Definitely, as I said the band has a lot of input on the material now. The two songs that I solely wrote were Last Mistake and... hang on a minute... let me look at the track listing... and Betrayal. They were both written on the keyboard and transposed to guitar. That's quite interesting that you mention those ones because they were written in that similar way. What I do is cut up each riff and put them on the computer. Then I play them back at all the different tempos by time-searching them until I am happy with the tempo. Usually it's much much faster and sometimes at double the speed. Then I rearrange them and give them back to the musicians to learn. They would have to relearn them because the songs are not anything like they originally gave me. So I suppose I am the executive producer who makes the final decision on everything. Nothing gets past me and onto the album without going through that avenue. It is an interesting kind of working and I do the same kind of a thing with the drums. I write many of the drum patterns, with a drummer in mind obviously, and then write it out in MIDI and give it to him. Then he has to sit down and figure out the drums.
How long does this process take?
A while! It's very very unconventional, but we don't really write material at rehearsals. Rehearsals are purely for the live act. It's a very different way of working. Yet it still gives me full control and it ends up being different. I suppose musicians don't always push themselves to the limit and by me getting a riff to them that's sped up and thrown one more in there and giving it back to them makes them have to work on performing the new material. It's the same kind of thing with the drums. It's too easy to sit on the grind for thirty seconds. I like to break into a grind and then have a different beat and try to keep the pit moving the whole time. I am originally a drummer.
Something else that is peculiar about The Berzerker's songs is how they are mostly in the two minute length range.
I think if it takes longer then it is too fast and too extreme and it becomes repetitive. One thing we do not want to do is bore the listener. That was what I was getting at before with many bands sitting on the grind. We play the same number of bars and beats as friends of mine in other bands, but we just don't want to bore people.
Dissimulate features a cover version of Carcass' Corporal Jigsore Quandary. With the glut of cover songs everywhere, why do yet another?
I used to play drums in a death metal band called Mystic Insight in the early nineties and we used to play Corporal Jigsore Quandary. The song has always been close to me. We've been jamming the song for a while and playing it live and it just represents the feeling of old death metal at its prime. What we thought is that we can do the song justice. We are not going to do a song and throw it together. We are going to pay homage to Carcass and also give people a chance to see how ten years ago there was a band writing very high quality death metal material. We wanted to recapture when bands were really pushing themselves. I am talking about bands like Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Carcass, Bolt Thrower and bands like that. Those guys were really pushing each other and I think that was the perfect time to be creating that music because you had the other bands to feed off of and push.
Going back to our earlier discussion about your Australian base and its relative inaccessibility, how do you compete with bands based in USA, Canada or in Europe for the fans' attention? Do you feel hindered?
Yeah, access to fans now with the Internet taking off is easier. We really try to promote as much as we can so the fans come to us when we can't get to them. I control the web site and read all the fan mail that we get. That's the best way for us to directly relate to people that enjoy our music.
The major problem is the distance and the money to get to Canada or Europe. You know, a band like Gorguts doesn't have the $10,000 start up fee that we do just to tour. It makes it very difficult, because we are playing underground music after all. It is a shame because we do tour. In November we are leaving for thirty dates in the States and Canada. We start November sixth with Immolation, Vader and Origin. That will be intense. Then we get to take the band to the UK for some headline shows with and Insision. We've got a break over Christmas during which I would like to set up another tour of USA and Canada. Then we head back to Europe on our way back to Australia!
As stated above, The Berzerker will be hitting several continents in the coming months as part of different tour packages. For more information please visit www.theberzerker.com.