Dutch death metallers Soulburn are coming off a four-year gap and a major lineup change in style. They’ve embarked on a new darkened path in the form of new album, Noa’s D’ark, their first with drummer Marc Verhaar (replacing legend Bob Bagchus). Indeed, the Soulburn mark of the beast remains intact on Noa’s D’ark, especially where it concerns the feel, the spirit, and the heaviness of riffmaster general Eric Daniels as well as Twan van Geel’s monstrous vocals. This is classic Dutch death metal with heavy tinges of doom, the very same that the Oldenzaal troupe have made since the Soulburn demo (and before if Asphyx counts) back in 1996. What’s new is the approach, the inspiration, and van Geel’s wicked lyrical sensibilities.
Decibel caught up with Eric and Twan before the holidays to learn more about Noa’s D’ark, get a pulse on Soulburn’s activities post-album release (Noa’s D’ark hit stores on November 13th, 2020) and to see how the group are holding up as a second wave of COVID-19 (and its variants) sweep Europe. As we’ll hear from Eric, Soulburn haven’t been in a better place since the group earned high praise for 2014’s The Suffocating Darkness effort. We’ll get to hear how Bob notified the rest of the band that he was leaving, how vocal wizard Martin van Drunen ended up guesting on “Anointed – Blessed – and Born for Burning,” how they still manage to capture the magic of Europe’s golden age of black metal, and get more info on the lyrical themes running through Noa’s D’ark.
Sit back, hit the play button on that “Shrines of Apathy” video (down below), and read up on the Soulburn’s latest death metallery. The Ark of the Dark is about to set sail…
How did the lineup change — Marc replacing Bob — in 2018 affect the band? I know Bob left on good terms, and has wished the band well.
Eric Daniels: In May 2018, we all received a Whatsapp message from Bob, where he explained he didn’t feel connected with the Soulburn music anymore; the blackened parts in our music particularly. It was right after we recorded the 7-inch EP Carpe Noctem. That was a big bummer for us all. Yes, of course he left on good terms. He is my best friend and we respect his decision. We had to let the message sink, but we were determined and convinced we needed a replacement for Bob, because we had so many ideas to explore and to record. It affected the writing process because we always jammed together in the rehearsal room. We had to find another way to make the songs, and we did. It took about one week or so and we had Marc in our band. The search wasn’t that long. Marc went with us to shows as a helping hand and as a drum tech, so he was very familiar with our approach and style of drumming. He fitted in right away and has been friends with Remco for a very long time. They are practically neighbors. His approach is awesome. We call him the human drum machine, tight and with the right groove and a vibe we like so much.
Musically, Soulburn has always bridged the divide between death and doom metal. The genres have further splintered a thousand ways. Where do you see Soulburn in the grand scheme of things?
Eric DanielsNot particular in the grand scheme [of things]. We never think about where to put the doom or death parts. It’s our vibe as we call it. It appears at the times it is necessary. I also wrote these style riffs in the early Asphyx period. It’s my kind of composing. I don’t care too much about what it’s called. It’s Soulburn’s style. We’ve done it for so long now and we like to make songs like this. We are also not thinking between border lines. We are not pure black, doom or death. We like to switch and even explore further for inspiration. That’s the spirit of Soulburn. Although, you mentioned splintered…I see it as we connect it together as one solid piece of music.
What I’ve always liked about Soulburn is the ability to capture the classic eras of Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Venom. Their fingerprints are all over Soulburn, but yet it’s not a direct copy of their work or ideas. There’s interpretation happening. Tell us how you find inspiration in the old gods, but infuse your own experiences into the music.
Eric Daniels: Those bands are a big influence on us. We don’t like copying music, of course. We like to give our own turn to it. What we really like about those bands you mentioned is the rough vibe they put in their music. It’s not tight, but the atmosphere flows everywhere. That’s what we like. We pick up those atmospheres, dark music and compose it to our own kind [of music]. I formed Soulburn in 1996, just with old Bathory in mind. The vibes and atmosphere I like so much. So, that was the idea, and we involved it with the current new album Noa’s D’ark. We have a broad spectrum of music we like. If it touches us in our minds, we process that to our own compositions. As I said before, we don’t like to be boxed in with one particular kind of style. We see it as our biggest freedom to explore music and our inspirations and give it a turn for Soulburn.
What, in your view, continues the Soulburn DNA on new album, Noa’s D’ark?
Eric Daniels: When you hear our new album Noa’s D’ark, we definitely think it’s a step forward where we want to be in our musical inspirations. All former albums were and are so important to have reached this level. If you hear all our albums, you’ll know what I mean. We consider it as a natural process. It just entered our musical minds. The songs for this album were built up — with a dark atmosphere — from the first ideas to the last. We all are very happy with the result. To mention, John Bart van de Wal, did the mixing and mastering, and he definitely did an awesome job. We never told him what kind of sound we wanted. He just started to create his own view and when we heard it, we immediately said, this is it! It perfectly reflects what we meant to do with this album.
Eric Daniels: All the riffs I composed I think are best for the given songs. I just make sure that I myself like the vibe. I never search for hours for the right riff. It comes or it doesn’t. Sometimes I don’t play guitar for three weeks, then I pick it up and the inspiration flows. It’s a composing process I’ve done for years. The “Anarchrist” guitars were composed in one day. Other songs took a lot more time. I believe it’s like art, paintings, sculptures, etc. We are no machines — music can’t be like a factory process. It’s straight from the heart and soul. That’s what you hear. That’s how the songs are built.
I noticed Martin van Drunen provides guest vocals on “Anointed – Blessed – and Born for Burning”. How did Martin get involved? Anyone else from the Dutch (or other) scene joining in for the death metal evilness?
Eric Daniels: When I composed the riffs for “Anointed – Blessed – and Born for Burning,” and when it was finished I let the other guys hear it. Twan said right away it would be a very interesting to ask Martin if he would like to do guest vocals on this song ’cause the riffs fit right in with Martin’s vocals. I gave Twan the email of Martin, and they contacted each other. Martin was excited and thrilled when he heard the riffs, so we went for it. I drove Martin to the studio and he recorded his vocals. To me, it was like a Valhalla hearing both of my favorite vocalists, making vocal mayhem on the riffs. I will never forget that day in the studio. It is a one-time, spontaneous guest vocal appearance, and we don’t have the intention to do it again. This is special and must kept that way. A little story behind the composition. I found some very old riffs from the Asphyx Last One On Earth era… like from 1992. I had it recorded in those days on a cassette, which I used to record before my guitar amp. I let a friend of mine convert the tape for digital computer use, and I used two riffs from those recordings. I thought they were awesome to use for the Soulburn album.
Lyrically, what’s Noa’s D’ark about? I gather there’s a theme to that song. What about the others? Like “Tempter ov the White Light,” “Shrines of Apathy,” and “Abyssica,” which is from the Carpe Noctem 7-inch.
Twan van Geel: The song is actually spelled a bit different from the album title: “Noah’s Dark,” It’s a vampiric tale, and it’s open for interpretation. When looking just on the surface, it’s an erotic horror story, where the male vamp seduces a fine lady, he can’t wait to dagger his teeth in her flesh and taste her lively warm fluids. He wants to show her the depths of a life eternal and take her spirit above (or below) the spheres divine. When looking deeper on the topic, it’s about the loss of identity as well, a common luxury disease very known to our time. It’s like when I bite you, you become like me, and the more bitten, the more we all look alike. In the end, the uniqueness of identity will fade and we all become as one hollow identity with nothing to add to one another anymore. Just a never ending hunger, a craving that can’t be stilled, a big hollow never to be filled.
This very much mirrors to our time I think, and the history of mankind in general. We are so greedy, ignorant and arrogant. We just keep draining and taking from the planet in order to satisfy our materialistic needs for a fucking show-off. On top of this, we over-populate this floating rock like a viral plague; literally, the Earth is getting sick of us and so are we. The flood is here, be it viral, be it with the melting of the ice caps, be it through depressions, stress and exhaustion all due to our so called ‘new found happiness.’ Noah’s Ark was about saving as many different species that can be saved from life on Earth. With Noa’s D’ark, the outcome will not be as bright I fear. However, I do have a red line expanding throughout all of my lyrics. It can be seen as hints of modern Satanism that actually bring a positive twist. I so deeply do renounce all religions as I believe they are to keep the dumb dumber, and a small world elite benefits form all hell on Earth, which paradoxically is the one thing those believers fear the most.
I very much pledge for what I like to call ‘Spiritual Anarchy.’ Do whatever soothes you right, without harming others in their free choices as well. Live by whatever makes you a better and happier person and don’t fall in traps of tradition. Traditions are very often a curse. Liberty of choice and freethinking is the cure. And then, when you found your path, and you are the most honest fully happy person you can be, with that energy you can step in society’s maze with joy, inspiration and lust for life to its fullest. This taboo breaking approach, I believe, can be a real solution for mankind to find a way of coexistence. But still, a few ground rules need to be made very strictly like perhaps what the Chinese did with their one child policy.
I have put liner notes for each song on this album on the lyric sheet to give a slight hint where I am going with it. Still, I am a very high defender of keeping interpretation open to listeners. It’s dark art for dark souls. I don’t want to ruin the horror and unexpected flashes of light that glimmer from my words to one’s third eye.
Twan van Geel: What you read is ‘Nietzschean’ — not Nietzsche, aalthough I did use a small part as liner note to “Triumphant One” from ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra.’ I found it very connecting to the poetic lyric and the vibe of this song. It’s like a solitary journey where one finds himself struggling in the duality of life’s challenges and then he figures it out. I mustn’t go against the wind by all costs, why not lean into them and let them guide me to wherever it might take me. For a man never reaches higher than we he doesn’t know where he is going.
By giving in to nature’s demands, you root yourself back on your place in all primal glory of what it really means to be human. We are so restricted by traditions and taboos, that we lost our animalistic balance way too much in our modern way of life. Shame is a real devil in this, nurtured by the musty reek of all religions.
I love to philosophize about this topic a lot and play with words and views from grandmasters such as Nietzsche, [Georges] Bataille or [Marquis] De Sade, for instance. It very much deepens the music of Soulburn and gives it a spirit of its own. And hell who knows, it might even inspire one another to grow some horns themselves?!
Are the two songs from the Carpe Noctem 7-inch re-recorded? The originals feature Bob on drums, if I’m not mistaken.
Eric Daniels: No. They were not re-recorded. The original tracks are used from the EP. We had to put bonus tracks on the new album, so we decided after meeting with Century Media Records to use those tracks. As we know, some songs from previous EPs haven’t been heard by some of our fans, so the opportunity was there to put them on the CD version of our new album. Bob is doing the drums on the EP tracks — then shortly after the recording process he left Soulburn.
The studio sessions were during the height of COVID-19. How’d that work? I would think most businesses, including studios, would’ve been closed.
Eric Daniels: The whole album was composed and shaped at first by making what we call ‘blueprints’ in 2019. The first song was done in the beginning of 2019 and the last song was completed in December 2019. Fun fact: the songs were composed in the same track order you hear on the album from song 1, 2, 3, etc. We never changed the order. I think that’s special to mention. All songs had that particular order for the album. When the songs were finished at the beginning of 2020, we had a big challenge because we booked three studios where we wanted to record the album. We scheduled to record and mix the album for the whole month of July. However, in March , the lockdown happened here in Holland, so we were really afraid we wouldn’t be able to record the album. However, we got lucky and the studios said only a maximum of three people were allowed to be together. So, we recorded the album completely separately with our sound engineers. It was very odd but we managed it! As you hear the album it sounds like we all were there. One solid vibe feeling. All tracks were sent to John Bart van de Wal, and he gave it his finishing touch.
Twan van Geel: On the front cover, you see the ancient temple Phnom Chhnork in Cambodia, as seen through my eyes last year. This temple was built within a cave before the birth of Christ in the Kampot area. The eerie and grieving stalactites and stalagmites that surround the temple, vessels this unique mystical sphere that needs no words to explain. The natural magical coloring, from a blink of sunlight that creeps through the narrow cave walls straight into the dark, left me in awe. I knew back then, when looking back to the picture later that day, this is it. This will be the cover art for the new Soulburn album. The history that scarred this area in the mid ’70s, where true horror revealed its most repugnant face, breathes through Noa’s D’ark as well. It was then and there, when people of a certain intellect and artists that spoke through freedom of thought and new creations (be that as writer/dancer/musician/actor), got literally tongue cut, tortured and killed in order for the ‘bigger good.’ In this sense, it also reflects through to our time, where censorship and hyper-sensitivity become more and more an enemy of the freedom in art and speech. Noa’s D’ark (and extreme music and art, in general) grows so convincingly in meaning with this in mind. The dark was never so essential for new lights to make sense.
How is the band coping during COVID-19 times? I gather the business side is suffering, but the creative side might be getting a jolt.
Eric Daniels: Luckily, we were very busy with the new album starting in March when COVID-19 broke loose. We’re doing okay and we are very busy right now promoting the album. However, playing live and promoting the album in his fullest it is not fun. We really like to go out there and spread the Soulburn message. Our booker, Continental Concerts, is looking for shows we can possibly do, so that’s awesome. We need to be creative. We definitely have the idea to play the album from the first note till the last note in a live setting somewhere for our fans to stream.
Any last thoughts for the Decibel faithful?
Eric Daniels: Thank you, Chris, for doing this awesome interview with us. In general, I say to our fans and everyone… stay safe! Take care of each other and especially the people who need it. Check out our new album Noa’s D’ark, and hope to see you very soon on tour.
Twan van Geel: Thanks a lot for this interview and hopefully you’ll see us on stage for some shows around the globe after this viral cloud slowly vanishes. Can’t wait to bring some of these new tunes loudly and proudly through the speakers! Stay safe — [and] not a slave!
** Soulburn’s new album, Noa’s D’ark, is out now on Century Media Records. Fans of death, doom, and questioning the religious status quo can direct themselves to this site [HERE] to order. EU readers can go direct to Century Media’s site for CD and vinyl [HERE].
** Check out think link to Joseph Schafer’s “35 Great Metal Albums You May Have Missed in 2020” article, where he drops Graceless, featuring Soulburn’s Remco Kreft and Marc Verhaar, as a bubbling under album of last year. Click HERE.