Ryan Förster (Death Worship, Conqueror, Blasphemy)
by Niklas Göransson
A personal conversation with outspoken underground stalwart Ryan Förster. We learn about the secrets of Ross Bay Cemetery, the history of war metal pilgrims Conqueror, and his initiation into the proud Canadian tradition of black metal skinheads.
A significantly extended version of this article is included in Bardo Methodology #1., which also features BÖLZER, SADISTIK EXEKUTION, PHURPA, Graham Hancock, ANTAEUS, MORBID, No Fashion Records, Alvaro Lillo (WATAIN), TEITANBLOOD, FORNDOM, MGŁA, The Ajna Offensive, and DESTRÖYER 666.
– “Extermination Mass” is my vision of black metal, the apex of all understanding gathered since first setting out on this path as a young man. DEATH WORSHIP is my latest manifestation in the league of bands affiliated with the eternal Ross Bay Cult.
More about the madness of the graves later. DEATH WORSHIP’s new EP, “Extermination Mass”, is the culmination of an arduous three year-long process.
– There were quite a few delays along the road from rehearsal to recording. First and foremost, I was swallowed by the trap set forth by Western civilisation – forced to prioritise food on the table and paying bills over private life. The ‘work life balance’ has become much more difficult to maintain during this generation, as we all know. It seems as if we’re increasingly forced to sacrifice our so-called ‘free time’ to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
It could be argued that Förster’s most important contribution to extreme metal is the pioneering war metal monstrosity CONQUEROR. The band’s only other member was demon drummer James Read – now known from REVENGE, and seeing as he’s also part of this new project it begs the question why a new moniker was required in the first place.
– CONQUEROR was James and I putting our minds together, working out all concepts and music with each other. So despite the presence of both members, DEATH WORSHIP is not constructed in the same way; this is my vision. The message remains the same – nothing has changed in that regard, but I prefer restarting with a clean slate. I’m all about the present; not the past, and not the future.
How do you look back on CONQUEROR’s legacy today?
– It’s great to see bands we influenced make their own mark with new ideas and concepts – they got the point. It’s also infinitely annoying seeing those who just shit out amateurish and improvised recordings with blastbeat drums, noisy guitars, and gas-mask wearing goats on the cover. These people completely missed the point.
As we will soon learn, there was nothing half-arsed about CONQUEROR. There must be an iron will resting in the eye of the storm, a maelstrom anchored in intent.
– Pure devotion, never since have I been so utterly engrossed in a project. James and I started out it in 1996 after the demise of both our bands, DOMINI INFERI and CREMATION. We were already close friends and decided to work together after discussing our visions of what a band should be.
Both men lived in a small city called Victoria, two hours from Vancouver. There was no metal scene, and overall few distractions.
– It was amazing being able to concentrate on the band at all times. We could be sitting in our flat late at night exchanging ideas, and then head straight to our rehearsal place at 2am to flesh them out. Or I would be at work and think of a lyrical concept, and when I got home we’d discuss it and build from there.
All this took place in seclusion from any scene, or other outside influences. Being the mid-nineties, it was also pre-internet age.
– Through isolation and tunnel-vision, by putting our minds together and writing music with every detail thought-through, we forged our own distinct sound.
Once the abstract concepts were in place, the duo started to breathe life into their creation by rehearsing as much as humanly possible.
– That’s how we came up with all of these ideas, like the crazy pick-slides and spiralling song arrangements. Our focus was on creating the most chaotic music possible while still, albeit barely, remaining within the established models of metal.
Later the same year, CONQUEROR released their first demo; “Anti-Christ Superiority”.
– The packaging was completed by a nice photocopied layout, as it was done back then. I remember going to a CANNIBAL CORPSE show in Vancouver shortly after the demo came out, armed with about ten copies and hoping to see the BLASPHEMY guys there.
The Canadian black metal skinhead legends have been Ryan’s primary musical influence ever since he heard their 1990 debut, “Fallen Angel of Doom….”.
– CONQUEROR was essentially a continuation of some of the concepts they pioneered with that LP, and I was determined to let them hear the fruits of their legacy. Anyway – I got to the show, walked into the venue and could not believe my eyes. Not only were BLASPHEMY there, they had their own section of the club with a clear view of the stage.
No one appeared to dare go near their table. Ryan however, was on a mission.
– I approached them and handed out copies of the demo, they seemed pretty uninterested overall but flung the tapes into their jackets, so I hoped they’d check it out. Fast forward to about ten days later; James and I check our PO Box and … holy shit – there was a letter from fucking Black Winds!
Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Black Winds is the hulking orator of BLASPHEMY, he also performs guest vocals and effects for DEATH WORSHIP. In his letter, he praised the demo and expressed excitement over having such a band in the Vancouver area.
– The local scene was pretty much dead at the time and BLASPHEMY were inactive. His phone number was included in the letter, so I called to thank him for his words; we got to talking and then stayed in touch. I went over to Vancouver with James a few times after that, visited the guys and we became friends.
Upon its conception, CONQUEROR was initially intended to assemble a full line-up capable of performing live shows.
– However, James and I soon discovered there were no suitable members in our area. We never really had any offers of bringing our music to the stage, as the band was defunct before the full-length record was even released.
The tale of debut album “War.Cult. Supremacy” is a tragedy of Shakespearean magnitude. Having been recorded in December 1996, it was scheduled for release two months later.
– We signed to Evil Omen Records, a division of Osmose Productions in France. They transferred the studio money, we recorded the album and then sent them the master tape and layout – all that remained was printing and putting it out. Unfortunately, Evil Omen went bankrupt before this happened.
To the duo’s horror, the label shut and “War.Cult.Supremacy” ended up shelved. There was nothing they could do about it since the now-defunct label owned the rights to the album.
– CONQUEROR was left in total limbo; all of our next plans was based on the release of that album so when it didn’t happen, we were forced to go in other directions. We didn’t have the money to buy back the recording and release it ourselves, so in 1998 we recorded the “Annihilate” demo. It was just a selection of tracks from the unreleased album, meant to keep the band name alive.
Were you actively writing new material during this time?
– We had four songs completed at the time James and I went our separate ways. One of them was used on a REVENGE seven-inch in 2002; “Superion Revenge”, but that version is a little different from the original. The remaining material has never been used for anything else. “Extermination Mass” was written after I knew that James would be on drums, I used no CONQUEROR songs or riffs.
In 1999, more than two years after “War.Cult.Supremacy” was originally scheduled for release, the now defunct US label Full Moon Productions expressed interest.
– BLACK WITCHERY were signed to FMP, and Impurath (bass, vocals) had told the manager about our shelved album, how it was vicious and extreme – all recorded and ready for release.
The label’s proprietor liked what he heard and proceeded to obtain the rights from Evil Omen Records.
– It was great that the album was finally being released, but this Full Moon character was a total goof about the whole thing. First, he released the CD version on his label – but was too lazy to even change the layout so the Evil Omen logo is still on it. Then he licensed the recording for vinyl release to two different labels in Europe at the same time.
– Yes! Both of them were completely unaware of each other’s involvement, so suddenly there were two different versions of the same record released around the same time. The Merciless Records LP did alright and sold out quickly, thanks to of the owner’s vast network. The other label, Spain’s Death to Mankind, was not so fortunate.
Sales didn’t quite go as planned, as having to go up against an established and well-connected competitor was not part of his budget calculation.
– To top it all off, FMP refused to give us any copies of the album; he told us that he had procured the rights and owed the band nothing. That was a new low for an underground label. Anyway, after some threats we ended up getting something like fifty copies of the CD.
Today, American label Nuclear War Now! Productions owns the rights to the recording, and allows them full control of the layout and anything else related to the band.
Before the FMP debut debacle began, CONQUEROR had ceased operations.
– We decided that we had enough of boring old Victoria and it was time to get out. James ended up in Edmonton and I went to Vancouver. There was no bad blood or anything – we just decided it was time to leave for a new city, but couldn’t agree on which one.
Unsurprisingly, neither Förster nor Read are particularly compromising types so the only available option was to disband. Shortly after moving to Vancouver, Ryan fell into bad company – not only socialising with the BLASPHEMY boys but also being drafted for rhythm guitar.
– I’ve been through a lot with those guys, always violence and chaos and other craziness… but unless I’m asked about a specific situation I wouldn’t know where to begin.
We’ll save the anecdotes for another day, and focus on Ryan’s own exploits. In 2009 and in their first concert appearance in eight years, BLASPHEMY headlined Canadian festival Messe des Morts. The name might sound familiar, seeing how the 2016 edition was forced to cancel as a result of booking Poland’s GRAVELAND.
– The promoter of the festival is a huge black metal fanatic and like most people interested in the genre, he came across GRAVELAND and liked their music. What I’m trying to say is, this guy is a metalhead above all else. The only agenda this gentleman has, says Ryan, is one of enthusiasm for the music.
– Not politics of any kind. So when these foolish hippy bums come along and get his festival shut down, thinking they brought triumph to their cause … in reality, they are undermining the very foundations our civilisation is built on. People died for liberties now taken for granted, such as the free speech which enables even the most useless elements of society to come along and shit on said rights.
How did the Canadian metal media handle this?
– I don’t really follow it as they rarely cover bands I’m into, and if they do it’s usually full of disinformation. Regardless, I can’t imagine there was much reporting going on; I guess it’s easier to ignore the heavy issues and stick with the fun topics usually found within these outlets.
After the interview, Ryan messages me to say that he checked a few Canadian metal sites and could find no mention of this story. He is generally not overjoyed by recent scene developments, where extreme metal is getting increasingly polarised by political interests.
– It’s completely beyond me why these wimps and infiltrators who need safe lyrics and imagery in music even listen to black metal. It was never for them, yet here they are.
Like many others, he expresses a sense of nostalgia for the under ground of the early nineties. As an example, he mentions his experience with Oystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth, the late guitar player of Norwegian black metal band MAYHEM.
– I contacted Euronymous on the strength of the two tracks on the “Projections of a Stained Mind” compilation. I picked up the CD version and discovered killer bands such as GROTESQUE and MACRODEX, both of which I was previously unfamiliar with.
The MAYHEM tracks “Freezing Moon” and “Carnage” stood out, so Ryan sent a letter to the address provided on the compilation CD and got a quick response. Euronymous told him they were planning on recording an album soon but that vocalist Dead had committed suicide, so there was going to be a delay.
– He introduced me to his label, Deathlike Silence Productions, and pointed me to bands I might be interested in since I liked MAYHEM.
Do you remember which ones?
– ABRUPTUM, specifically. I bought their “The Satanist Tunes” demo and was mystified! That was the first time since getting into SODOM years earlier that I heard a band which actually sent shivers down my spine. Euronymous was very helpful and really cool to me – he even sent CD’s and shirts before I paid for them, and told me to reimburse him whenever I could. No one else would do something like that.
In recent times, with Hollywood films and whatnot looming over us, there has been a fair bit of discussion about Euronymous’ legacy.
– From what I know, he had an established idea of what Satan and evil was.
Doing things like photographing his friend with his head blown apart, and trying to get others to follow his path burning churches, etcetera – it all must have made sense in his head.
The venerated term ‘black metal skinheads’ was coined by BLASPHEMY, specifically by the previously mentioned Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Black Winds.
– It encompasses everything that’s so great about BLASPHEMY, realising even back in the late eighties that this music is not for everyone. They played exclusively for themselves and others like them – I mean, who would dare to wear a hoodie with ‘black metal skinheads’ printed huge across the back? This was extreme back then, and still to this day is a slogan that raises a lot of eyebrows.
Ryan adds that this was a convenient means of thinning the herd; printing merchandise that only fans with requisite testicular fortitude were able to bear.
– We adhered to this concept almost religiously in our circle – proudly showing up in public with our heads shaved and slogan displayed.
When Ryan first approached the band members back in 1996, he had long hair – but after meeting them and subsequently getting to know Black Winds, he decided to do his part in keeping alive a proud Canadian tradition.
– I brought clippers and a portable stereo to Ross Bay Cemetery, then blasted “Fallen Angel of Doom….” while I proceeded to remove years of hair. I then left it there, so my offering will forever be part of the Ross Bay burial ground.
Anyone familiar with BLASPHEMY is likely to recognise the name of this notorious graveyard.
– When I first discovered them, I noticed in the lyrics to the song “Ritual” that they were going off about this Ross Bay. I found out that it was a cemetery in the city of Victoria, where there had been plenty of reports of satanic activity through the years.
Much of this came from a book published in 1980, Michelle Remembers. It was co-written by a Canadian psychiatrist and his former patient, then wife, and is about a girl who was allegedly abused during diabolical rites in Ross Bay Cemetery. While most claims appear to have been thoroughly debunked in this day and age, it had a massive impact at the time; becoming both a best-seller and a cornerstone in the eighties hysteria of satanic ritual sacrifices lurking in the repressed memories of children.
– Needless to say, this was of the greatest interest to me. I lived in Edmonton at the time, and my imagination was running wild about this alleged gateway to Hell.
A few years later, Ryan had the opportunity to move to Victoria and so hopped on a plane without even having set foot in his new hometown. Instead of the uninspected apartment, his friends who collected him at the airport drove straight to the cemetery.
– So even before I got to see my new place and familiarise myself with the surroundings, we were already checking out Ross Bay. I remember walking onto the grounds that cold evening, but feeling warm winds as we crossed over the cemetery threshold.
Not usually one to believe stories of the supernatural, this experience was eerie to the point where it raised some questions. The infamous resting place has been part of Ryan’s artistic expressions ever since.
– We took that photo of the angel wearing my gas-mask, for the “War.Cult.Supremacy” cover artwork. Also, on stage with BLASPHEMY I wear an inverted cross that was buried in Ross Bay Cemetery for a week.
The rest of this conversation can be found in Bardo Methodology #1. Among the topics covered we find Ryan’s personal philosophies, memories of touring Europe in 2001, CONQUEROR’s 2014 reunion concert, as well as his future plans.