by Niklas Göransson
A tale of passion and perseverance – French music fanatic Hervé Herbaut, founder of Osmose Productions, discusses the milestones and misfortunes of the label’s past thirty years.
– The story of Osmose Productions began one evening in 1991 when SAMAEL played a concert in our area. After meeting the guys, we offered to release “Worship Him” on the company we were about to create. BLASPHEREION, who later became ENTHRONED, also signed with us that night. Before all this, in 1986, I’d established a small mail-order called Strangulation Distribution, stocking records and demo tapes I’d bought from all across the world. Most of my stuff was sold at local concerts; back then I was the only one selling at gigs which, I must say, wasn’t always fun. I’ve been kicked out many times by managers who saw me as a reason they lost money on merchandise sales. I will forever remember how badly I was evicted from a KREATOR concert, haha! I wished suffering and slow death upon the guy and this later happened to him. Anyway, we – my ex-wife and I – wanted to take everything one step further and I was already a fan of SAMAEL.
At the time, the Swiss black metal band had released a few tapes as well as the classic 1988 EP “Medieval Prophecy”. Black metal was entirely out of fashion, which meant such acts had no chance of signing to one of the established record companies; Nuclear Blast, Metal Blade, Century Media, Earache, and so forth.
– Nobody outside the underground was interested in SAMAEL – it was the massive period of death metal with MORBID ANGEL, CANNIBAL CORPSE, DEICIDE, OBITUARY, DEATH, ENTOMBED, CARCASS, NAPALM DEATH, just to name the big ones. Black metal was very obscure, only a few bands existed and had begun recording demos. The only releases available on vinyl were MAYHEM’s “Deathcrush”, early BATHORY, SAD-X “The Magus”, SARCÓFAGO “Inri”, BLASPHEMY “Fallen Angel of Doom….”, SODOM, and a few others.
I can’t help but think it must’ve been difficult for a young French music enthusiast in pre-internet times to figure out how to start a label, print vinyl, and then get records into the customer’s hand.
– All of this I learned by myself, without the help of any business types or whatever – fuelled only by the enthusiasm of a young man who’d wanted to run his own company ever since he was seventeen. To understand how everything was constructed, after buying a record I’d disassemble the cover and labels. I went to the library to check out how vinyl was manufactured, with what material, and from where. I started checking all book sections for information, to figure out how all this can be possible. I’d never even spoken to anyone from a big label, I always thought such people would simply be unapproachable. I was just a young die-hard fan who couldn’t expect any outside help. At the time, I didn’t talk much about what I wanted to achieve because most people considered it a doomed career prospect. Out of the very few I did mention my plans to, every single one urged me to not follow through. None of our friends knew about any of this until they held the SAMAEL record in their hands, and still some of them said it wouldn’t work out… well, times were indeed very hard in the beginning, but we kept this to ourselves. It wasn’t until 1994 we told anyone about how bad our financial situation really had been; we very nearly went bankrupt in ‘93.
“Worship Him” was printed in one thousand copies on both CD and LP – a grave underestimation in retrospect but, at the time, it must’ve been quite the financial risk.
– It was easy to move the first three or four hundred copies, but the remaining stock grew increasingly difficult to sell. We hadn’t anticipated this side of the job; at a time when “Blessed are the Sick” (MORBID ANGEL) was already selling more than 200,000 copies within a year, we thought getting rid of two thousand records would be easy! So, we had to search for distributors around the world and, I must say, it wasn’t an easy job since the internet didn’t exist yet. But, during August the same year, we found a solution in the form of our European distributor, SPV. I can only say thanks so much to Martin Ruder, the SPV label manager at the time, for his trust and for being so enthusiastic about working with us. I kept my main job as a social worker for the first three years – I’d run Osmose from 6:00pm to 2:00am and then wake up for work five hours later. Every day. Physically, it was hard combining both, but I was young and full of energy.
I suspect this drive and work-ethic to be something Hervé picked up early in life, when he had to help raise his younger sibling. At twelve years of age, he was already charged with household maintenance and cooking all meals.
– Yes, it’s true, I learned early how hard life can be, back when my little brother and I were kids. Our mother took care of us all alone and, very quickly, everything started unravelling. To make a long story short, I had to stop my own studies and find a job to help our mom – who was the cleaner at a handicap institute – pay for my brother’s school tuition. He got much better grades in school than I did.
I read that you were in regular touch with Euronymous around the time Osmose started?
– I sold MAYHEM’s “Deathcrush” mini-LP via Strangulation before Osmose even existed. After we released SAMAEL, Euronymous started calling me twice a month to ask which bands I was dealing with and so on. He wanted to know everything, and it was becoming embarrassing; two weeks before he died, I asked him to stop calling and bashing me with all his shitty stories which I will not disclose here. Enough things have been said about him, true or false, it doesn’t matter. At the time, besides MAYHEM and BATHORY, most of the crazy stuff was coming from Brazil with SARCÓFAGO, SEPULTURA, and MYSTIFIER, from Greece with ROTTING CHRIST and NECROMANTIA, Colombia with MASACRE, Australia with SAD-X, the US with PROFANATICA, and BLASPHEMY from Canada. I probably forgot other countries and bands, but the hard stuff from Scandinavia arrived a bit later.
Bardo Methodology has featured historically themed interviews with several of the aforementioned bands, SADISTIK EXEKUTION being one notable example. Having now heard quite a bit about their infamous 1995 European tour with IMPALED NAZARENE and ABSU – and seeing as how all three bands were signed to Osmose – I’m wondering if Hervé had any involvement in the spectacle.
– Of course! I remember well all the shit happening on this tour. We funded the whole thing which, financially speaking, was a complete flop; much like the other tours we did. Fuck Christ, World Domination, and Sex, Cyber & Rock’N Roll – all three were financial disasters. Anyway, during a day off, all the bands came to our old Osmose office in Beaurainville. It was really funny to have the Australians there in this little village, going to the local supermarket barefoot and hanging out. The locals grew curious about all these strangers walking around. Later, in the evening, the police dropped by since the tour bus had to stay overnight next to our office to have electricity. I had to advise the major not to worry, ‘These are musicians from our company who will spend a day and a night at Osmose before heading out on tour again the day after.’
Unsurprisingly, given its participants, the tour itself was highly eventful. Nonetheless, the most renowned incident is the meltdown of SADISTIK bassist Dave Slave, which inflicted severe harm on both band members and the nightliner.
– Yep, the tour turned out of control one night. All of this started when Dave Slave was handing out free stickers to the audience and, suddenly, some idiot ripped one of them in front of him. What later started with arguments ended up as a massive fight on the tour bus, with the result of fingers, legs, and arms injured – concluded at the hospital emergency… also, the bus interior was so severely broken that the booking agency wanted to dump the SAD-X guys in Italy and let them find their own way back to Australia. I had to negotiate with them not to do it and then pay for all the damage myself.
How were they live?
– Totally insane! In Paris, people were simply afraid and refused to stand up front when SAD-X entered the stage. You could expect a brawl directly with Rok or Dave, spit in your face, anything they could get their hands on thrown; it was totally insane and I really loved it! At the Paris show, I was the only one who stayed in front, ready for a fight… it was so exciting, absolute chaos when this band was on stage. I miss them hard, they’re all great guys. A few years ago, Rok knew I was about to visit Australia… we ended up going to Indonesia instead, but he invited my wife and I to visit all around his area. I love them, even if they sometimes shit on us. Whatever can be said, they’re great blokes!
Also along on the tour – and maniacs in their own right – were Finland’s IMPALED NAZARENE. Besides their business relations of three decades, Hervé has a long-standing personal friendship with the band’s vocalist, Mika Luttinen.
– Yep, for sure, we’re very good friends and always happy to meet each other. Nowadays, we barely discuss music or business at all since both of us love to cook. Same with Arki, the bass player – we speak of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, discovering new wines, drinks… our cats, dogs, garden, family, and so on. Just enjoying our time together like old friends.
In Bardo Methodology #2, Mika told the story of their 1993 album “Ugra Karma” – which used artwork motifs lifted off some book he procured from a roaming Hare Krishna. Alas, they were dobbed in by a French former black metal fan who’d gone on to find enlightenment through the group. The American leg of the organisation descended upon Osmose with all of their Krishna Consciousness and slapped upon them a 100,000-dollar lawsuit. After retaining legal counsel, Hervé was able to get it down to 10,000.
– Yes, it’s true – this story landed us in a very bad situation. We lost the court trial against the New York Hare Krishna, they were considered legitimate in the US so the trial went in their favour and we lost a tonne of money; all over a painting we later discovered they themselves had been using entirely without the consent of the original artist from India!
Besides Mika, #2 also features a conversation with MASTER’S HAMMER frontman Franta Štorm, in which he confirms the rumoured existence of an unfinished recording of what was meant to be their third album. The material supposedly had, quote, ‘the same aura as on “Ritual” and “The Mass”’. The Czech eccentrics were contracted to Osmose at the time, so I’d like to know how much Hervé knew about the matter.
– Well, there was some talk about this album but I remember Franta telling me that, in the end, they’d decided to do something radically different and were unsure if I’d like it. This was the weird record, “Šlágry”, which today is for me the best MASTER’S HAMMER release! But this was not the case in ’95 when everyone, including me, was looking for a natural follow-up to “The Jilemnice Occultist”. Franta had already advised me over the phone beforehand but we rolled the dice and agreed to release it. I knew it would be a total flop as soon as we received the master. “Šlágry” burnt down their name completely – right after it came out, both previous albums, “Ritual” and “Jilemnice”, suddenly stopped selling. Back in those days, Franta was involved in so many other things apart from MASTER’S HAMMER; he ended the band to concentrate all efforts on being a teacher, typographer, and computer developer.
One year later, Hervé would receive another unfortunate sonic surprise through the mail – from Salvador, Brazil, this time. In protest against a development he believed to have taken a trendy turn, Armando Beelzeebubth took it upon himself to distance MYSTIFIER from black metal by fundamentally reinventing their sound. His objections came in the form of “The World Is So Good That Who Made It Doesn’t Live Here”, which has plenty of classic black metal traits but also more adventurous elements such the strangely nasal operettic singing.
– I was extremely disappointed when the master arrived. “Wicca” and “Göetia” made the essence of MYSTIFIER back then but, suddenly, the band decides to radically change their direction. Hearing the album for the first time, I knew immediately it was going to fail hard – and that’s precisely what happened. But now, years later, I think it’s just a masterpiece!
In Bardo Methodology #5, Armando claimed that MYSTIFIER were initially supposed to be part of the second Fuck Christ instalment. Its original edition, in December 1993, was the first real black metal tour and featured IMMORTAL, ROTTING CHRIST, and BLASPHEMY. However, the ripple effects of the Scandinavian black metal commotion in ’93 would soon come to entirely re-draw the map. As Armando put it, everyone went, ‘Ahh, nowadays I only want to see Norwegian bands!’
– Armando said it all really, back at that time everyone who suddenly became interested in black metal was praying only for Scandinavian bands. It would’ve been almost inconceivable to bring out acts that weren’t from Norway or Sweden! But yes, we initially wanted to do a second run which would’ve included MYSTIFIER. MARDUK, and MASTER’S HAMMER. In the end, we decided not to go ahead with the tour due to financial reasons. Since the first one was such a fiasco, the booking agency didn’t want to take much risk so we would’ve had to cover all the costs. After some calculations, we decided it was too expensive. Plane tickets cost an absolute fortune back then; today, you can fly with far less budget but in the 90s and early 2000s it was a ‘privilege’.
Reading ‘zine interviews following this tour, I recall having the distinct impression that ROTTING CHRIST and IMMORTAL did not get along very well.
– No, they hated each other since one guy from ROTTING CHRIST vomited on IMMORTAL’s gear during the bus trip. At least this is the report I got from the BLASPHEMY and IMMORTAL guys when I met them at the Paris date.
Are IMMORTAL the biggest band to have been on Osmose?
– Yes, but not alone. In the earlier times, until “Suomi Finland Perkele”, IMPALED NAZARENE were much bigger. IMMORTAL started becoming important in ’95, when “Battles in the North” propelled the band’s career directly after the album release. Within a month, we’d sold over 40,000 copies! The best-selling one was “Damned in Black” in 2000, but “At the Heart of Winter” from the year before had a much greater impact; IMMORTAL become huge and there was too much pressure around them. I remember very well the Paris date of their Damned in Black Tour, when the band announced to me that they declined our offer to stay on Osmose and were instead going with Nuclear Blast. In the end, I didn’t try to keep them because relations inside the band were becoming increasingly difficult and, sure enough, they split up after their first album with Nuclear Blast. This is something I already sensed back at that time… it was all too much for the guys!
In July 1993, IMMORTAL’s Fuck Christ touring companions BLASPHEMY released their highly anticipated second album, “Gods of War”, through Osmose. Not even a year later, the band had ceased to exist.
– I was distributing their “Blood Upon the Altar” demo around ’89; as far as I remember, we sold something like three or four hundred copies. Then Wild Rags released the debut, “Fallen Angel of Doom”, and again we sold a massive bunch of them in Europe – at least four or five hundred. I met them several times during their first time over here, when they toured with GORGUTS and all the shit with Black Winds, their frontman, happened. He left the tour in the beginning, trying to find a solution to get back home. At that time, he couldn’t be in the band any longer so the Fuck Christ tour went ahead without him. Shit happens. BLASPHEMY could’ve been much bigger at the time so I’m glad this is happening for them now. Actually, we signed the band for two albums but, in 2018, decided to not do their upcoming record and sold the master of “Gods of War” and “Blood Upon the Altar”.
Bardo Methodology #4 contains an extensive KATATONIA retrospective in which Blakkheim mentions sending Osmose their 1992 “Jhva Elohim Meth” demo. The young men were then ecstatic to receive a letter in response but, alas, were only offered demo distribution – not the record deal they’d been hoping for. Consequently, they ended up signing to No Fashion, a Swedish label that collapsed just as their debut album, “Dance of December Souls”, was about to be released, in turn delaying it from April 1993 to December the same year. Furthermore, they received no support with crucial aspects such as promotion and tours. It’s interesting to speculate what might’ve happened with a label like Osmose really pushing them at that point; especially if the debut had come out in April of that year, when there were far less black metal releases to compete with.
– Blakkheim is correct concerning the demo, he surely sent it over to us. Back then everyone wanted to be on Osmose with their black metal vibes, but we couldn’t afford to sign every band in existence. It simply wasn’t possible, financially speaking. Also, even to this day, I sign to Osmose only what I like personally so “Jhva Elohim Meth” was probably not what I enjoyed the most at that time. And, to be honest, I haven’t even listened to “Dance of December Souls” since ages. But one certain fact is that 1993 was the year of massive change, with the second coming of black metal. Not only from Norway – even though it was mainly focused there due to all of the actions – but across the entire world. Having a good record out earlier in 1993 would’ve changed everything for this band.
Putting out a quality release in 1992 would presumably have been even better. Before I spoke to Hervé, Paul Ledney of PROFANATICA told me about what was supposed to be their debut album on Osmose. Weeks into the recording, neither guitarist nor bass player had been able to nail their parts so Ledney issued an ultimatum – either they get their shit together or he’d bring in someone else to take care of business. Exactly what happened next is not entirely clear, but Ledney believes this drove his bandmates to erase the master tape using a large magnet.
– I was very furious over the situation during the studio session, but whatever happened back in ’92 will stay in that time-period. I was lucky enough to meet Aragon Amori – the bass player, who was French on his mother’s side – twice at our old office in Beaurainville and his version sounded slightly different. This would’ve been a year or two before he died.
I read a HAVOHEJ interview from 1993 in which Ledney mentioned having sent Hervé remixes of old PROFANATICA demos instead of the album he was expecting; reasoning that this would at least allow Osmose to release something. When anticipating a studio album, that must’ve been even more underwhelming than both the MYSTIFIER and MASTER’S HAMMER offerings.
– True, but we couldn’t do it this way. We’d already announced the album, “The Raping of the Virgin Mary”, with adverts in magazines and couldn’t come to fans with only demo remixes. We would’ve been harshly blamed at that time, had we done this! Years later, Ixithra from DEMONCY, who recorded the guitars, sent me a tape containing what was supposed to be the album! Maybe one day… who knows. But first I need to meet Paul in person. He actually contacted me before PROFANATICA went on their very first European tour and I was enthusiastic to meet him in Paris, but it didn’t happen due to urgent family issues. I then expected to see them when they came with ROTTING CHRIST and WATAIN but, again, couldn’t go. Anyway, I know I’ll meet Paul at some point soon; we’ll have a beer or more and everything will be fine and pleasant!
The halls of Osmose are filled with swift and unexpected dissolutions, but perhaps none hit Hervé so hard as the 2009 demise of French death/black band ARKHON INFAUSTUS. Osmose had invested heavily into building them up, they’d produced several critically acclaimed records and played extensive high-profile tours; things were looking rather promising.
– I got seriously affected by this debacle. At one point, the band were at the doors of consecration and could’ve easily become the next big thing in Europe but, suddenly, everything turned into a giant mess. I was really desperate at that point – after all these massive efforts we put in, only to have it end up like this. Total disaster. At the same time, we also faced similar problems with ANGELCORPSE. They could also have been very big but, all of a sudden, chaos erupts and puts an end to the band’s career.
2009 was the second time ANGELCORPSE split up. The first took place a decade earlier, whilst touring with SATYRICON, IMMORTAL, and KRISIUN. First came the highway accident, when the vehicle they were travelling in hit an embankment and went tumbling down a ravine. All members were banged up pretty badly but, despite various debilitating injuries, decided to rent a new van and resume the tour after only one day of rest. Then, a few days later, the wife of frontman Pete Helmkamp was stabbed in a mugging incident. This served as the tipping point after a time of turbulence; Helmkamp quit the band and left the tour.
– Back at that time, with the release of “Exterminate” (1998), ANGELCORPSE had started becoming important. The band got a pro-pulse and started being billed on top of tours, there were concert demands coming from everywhere around the world. The band toured intensely, certainly too much, and came upon hard times. First the van accident and then Pete’s wife attacked with a knife, all within the same week. And, on top of this, the beginning of the end of Gene and Pete’s relations. I tried my best to correct all this by talking to them but, you know, this should’ve been the job of a psychological person – not me. I did my best but, in the end, I was sure the band was going to break up.
What’s the worst disappointment you’ve suffered?
– That would be DARK TRANQUILLITY. Everything was going very fine with the band and we’d built great mutual trust but, suddenly, coming back from our summer holidays in 1998, we read that they’d signed to Century Media… with their “Projector” album, which had been paid for by Osmose! We trusted them so much we sent the studio money before they returned the contract. The guys took our money and recorded an album and then used it to sign with Century Media; we were shocked to see such an attitude. After months of negotiation, we let them go and were refunded the recording cost. Not cool, but we accepted it. This could’ve caused drama for the band’s career, but we decided against using it.
As will probably have become perfectly clear by now, at this stage in his professional life, Hervé has dealt with every conceivable type of problem. Not all issues arise from within the bands though, Osmose was one of the very first labels to deal with organised smear campaigns targeting their acts.
– Actually, the bad memories – even the worst – are transformed into something that helps us focus on the direction we want to go in. Of course, we had some bad luck at certain points but, in the end, we wound up stronger than ever. Most important is that the band or artist gets recognised to the level they deserve. Dealing with all this banning shit only makes us stronger. Those who allow themselves to get frustrated are the ones suffering the most from this idiocy, and it’s certain that most of it comes from ‘journalists’ who know better than everyone else. The expression of art can be severe, insane, crazy, totally mad, controversial, whatever you can call it; I never put a limit. Today, when I see all those debates around black metal music, it just makes me laugh. I keep an eye open with all those metal kids analysing black metal from scientific and psychological angles. I have to say, they can just fuck off. There’s nothing to understand here besides that of your own interpretation. Nothing more, nothing less, and having a broad spectrum toward the art in general makes you think differently than those who need to categorise and define themselves to navigate life. Osmose means to be in osmosis, so it’s all a matter of personal attraction.