by Niklas Göransson
As the twilight of Necros Christos coincides with the dawning of Sijjin, German death metal veteran Malte Gericke speaks of death and rebirth, of graveyards and tombstones, as well as the ancient flame of authenticity.
Here follows the first part of this conversation, whereas the second – which is significantly more in-depth – is published in Bardo Methodology #6. The same issue also includes features with FUNERAL MIST, DEAD CAN DANCE, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, SUNN O))), MYSTICUM, ADORIOR, Metalion, Dave Haley, OFDRYKKJA, Michael Denner, TEITANBLOOD, and Wim Hof.
– The reason we set up an ending like this, making no more than three records in total, is firstly out of necessity; our creative process requires a lot of effort and can’t be done in a classy way without repetition. Now we can say that, at least to us, NECROS CHRISTOS released three great records which will stand as monuments. There’s no competition in us any longer, no urge to top ourselves. Just listening to “Domedon Doxomedon”, I think, ’How could we even come up with a successor to this?’
I did some online research in order to refresh my memory about the third and final album of NECROS CHRISTOS, “Domedon Doxomedon”, which was released by Sepulchral Voice Records in May 2018. It appears to have garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics but – given the preceding buzz – I’m wondering if the actual public response might not have been a bit tepid, almost underwhelming.
– Mm, I’m curious why you mention this underwhelming response. Do you know something I don’t?
Whilst obviously not privy to any sales figures, I was thinking more in terms of online discussions. With a playing time of 113 minutes, there appears to be quite some opposition to its scope and length. I read several comments like ’Who has the attention span for a two-hour album?’ and found most of the album-related discourse not dealing with the lyrics to focus on this.
– Yeah, yeah. This point was really clear once we became aware of the fact that the record would be as massive as it turned out, when the whole thing came together. We were, like, ’There will be a lot of people complaining about the length and structure and everything’, but… yeah, what needs to be done has to be done.
Another point of contention is how a heavy chunk of its running time is taken up by non-metal interludes. The triple-CD edition features twenty-seven tracks in total, spread in nines over the respective discs – three metal songs, three temples, and three gates. The latter two are the rather ambitious intros and outros bridging the songs, most of them sounding like something from the ritual ambient genre. Now, not all metalheads appreciate this type of music but, unless one listens to the LP, it’s not all that difficult to circumvent them as they are on separate tracks.
– That’s something I didn’t get, man, when all those people complain in forums, like, ’Why is the record so long? Why are there so many temples?’ Really? Come on. Then just listen to the metal songs, skip the rest, and you’ll still get your money’s worth. However, I can mention something that might have been a bit disappointing to me… maybe it’s just a sign of the times, eh? But the attention – it vanished so quickly. You know what I mean? There was a lot of discussion about the record; everyone really appreciated its release and we had good reviews everywhere, in magazines and on the net. But then everything just quieted down really, really fast.
This has been going on for a while now, it seems all manner of cycles within metal – fads, hypes, trends – appear and pass faster than ever before. As Yosuke of Nuclear War Now! observed in Bardo Methodology #5, ‘The ascension of social media culture has definitely had a profound impact on the speed with which new ideas, or recycled old ones, propagate through a scene.’
– Yeah, true, maybe that’s one of the reasons. Thomas from Sepulchral Voice also had a point when he said that perhaps it will take ten years for people to fully appreciate the record. If we regard this as an experiment, to see whether our work stands the test of time – whether people will grant the album some term like a classic or if it will be ignored because of its intense length and structure or the lyrics and all the symbols. The content is also really hard to understand.
Without meaning to draw any comparisons, one record I recall as initially heavily shat upon among both critics and listeners but on which public perception came to change was DISSECTION’s “Reinkaos”.
– True, that’s one of the really famous such cases in music history. For me, it’s an incredible record – absolutely fantastic. I was even more fond of this one than the old DISSECTION stuff. I wasn’t a real fan of the old days but when “Reinkaos” came out I was, like, ’Yes, this is real. This is fucking evil.’ Those lyrics are some of the darkest things I’ve ever seen integrated in a metal record. Fuck yeah, that’s a great one.
Do you find the discussions about your relationship with the Christ figure to sometimes overshadow the music?
– Yeah, this has been extremely annoying. I’ve had to answer the same questions over and over again in every single interview. Not asking anything about the music, always about that – come on, at least get the fucking record and read the booklet. After you read the booklet, then we can talk. This was really, really irritating. Definitely, man. I mean, mea culpa because I did this, of course. And I knew making a record with such content would raise a lot of eyebrows and not be loved by everybody. Of course, ultimately it’s my own fault so this is the cross I must bear. But, yeah, there were some interviews where I was, like… ‘Can we switch to more important matters? Don’t know if you noticed but we delivered some pretty good tunes, actually, could we perhaps also say something about the music?’ It was horrible.
The cover artwork is rather striking, depicting a tombstone with the Dom Doxom cross engraved on it. Considering who I’m talking to, I suspect the inscription isn’t Photoshop and that those craniums aren’t ceramics.
– That’s right. I had the idea when listening to “Darkness Descends” from DARK ANGEL, which I do pretty damn often because it’s one of my favourite records of all time. Looking at the cover, I was, like, ’Yeah, this is so fucking great. Hey! Why not do it for real, man?’ I told my mates, ’Man, let’s buy an old tombstone. Let us have the Dom Doxom cross engraved on it and use this as cover artwork’, and they all went, ’Yes, fantastic!’ Same with Thomas from Sepulchral Voice, ‘Yeah, man, this is fucking insane – you have to do it.’ Since it’s the last record of NECROS, the tombstone gives it all much more sense.
Malte found a Berlin stonemason who’d be willing to sell him a custom tombstone – but not after having first been turned down by several of his peers.
– They’d go, ’You want what? Man, really? I’m not so sure about this.’ But this guy was really cool – he had a backyard full of old tombstones, literally hundreds of them. I was, like, ’Oh shit, man.’ He said, ’Choose one, then we can talk about the price.’ I picked the tombstone and told him, ’Now you have to do the Dom Doxom cross on it, okay?’ And, in the end, it was like 150 euros. Fucking nothing.
Fucking nothing indeed, but I can’t help but think hauling a massive slab of stone around wouldn’t have been entirely effortless.
– Man, I’m not joking when I’m saying it must weigh about 180 kilos. I mean, it’s so fucking heavy. It took three of their guys to put it in my car. I was, like, ’How the fuck do I even get this thing out?’ We made an appointment for a photo session in this really old cemetery in Berlin, because we wanted it to be real. So, we ended up carrying this fucking heavy tombstone into the cemetery in broad daylight. Just imagine the look – it was me and my drummer, Iván, along with the photo guy who was totally punkish. All of us dressed in black with tattoos and all the stuff. Now, picture three such people dragging a tombstone around the graveyard. We set it up at various locations and did hundreds of photos with different settings and all the candles and bones. But, in the end, this picture you see on the record was the best one.
Did you leave it there?
– No, we wanted it in the rehearsal room. That was the real tricky part, getting it back, because now we had to carry the damn thing out of the cemetery to my car. And there were some people looking at us, like, ’What are these guys doing with the tombstone?’ So, I was expecting police at any minute; I even had some plan in mind about what to say to the cops when they appeared, but nothing happened. It’s one of those fantastic memories I have with “Domedon Doxomedon”, knowing all of it is real. Just like everything with NECROS CHRISTOS, that was always the main point.
Malte has now formed a new band, SIJJIN, in which he handles bass and vocals. On drums we find NECROS CHRISTOS faithful Iván Hernandez while the guitars are handled by his old friend and fellow Basque Ekaitz Garmendia. In November 2019, the trio released a four-track demo tape called “Angel of the Eastern Gate”. In March 2020, they performed their debut gig – a small and intimate but extremely intense set at Hell over Hammaburg in Germany. Malte says the band’s conception was not an easy decision, but one preceded by a lot of soul-searching.
– I really got deeply into myself, like, ‘Are you capable of bringing this flame back?’ And I could answer, ‘Yes, I am.’ Then I asked myself if there really is a place for new bands? Because the market is so full, there are thousands of new releases every month. Times have totally changed because of how easy it is to get instruments and record. Anyone can make both layout and music for their debut album from a laptop; that’s really fucking problematic. Also, with this digital technology you can play a single note and then slowly build it into a masterpiece, you know. The ability to play is something that was fucking high in the 80s. I mean, just listen to a MERCYFUL FATE record or whatever – they performed those songs live in the studio with no chance of playing note by note or doing the lead a thousand times over. Their ability to play this kind of music back in the day was incredible.
To truly summon the spirit of old, when Malte began composing for the project he decided to recreate the same environment which birthed the early NECROS CHRISTOS material.
– I lit up incense and candles and brought out some bones I still possess. The idea was to create a good surrounding for this kind of music and it fucking worked. There are spaces left in my soul which are definitely still addicted to this stuff. When starting SIJJIN and writing these songs, I swore to myself, ‘I will never betray this music. I will never betray this music because I fucking love death metal. This is the music I am living for.’ I even have it tattooed on my body.
Were you ever into black metal at all?
– Actually, no. I listen to some of it once in a while but was never especially fond of black metal, music-wise. Of course, I love MAYHEM’s “De Mysteriis dom Sathanas” – it’s an incredible masterpiece but I’m more for the really nasty things. Like SVARTSYN’s “…His Majesty”, I fucking love this record, it’s my favourite black metal album of all time. It sounds fucking amazing, so dark and exactly what black metal should be; as if something really old and evil is creeping out of the speakers.
As it happens, I know for a fact that SVARTSYN tracked the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar live for that one – with candlelight as only source of illumination.
– Oh fuck. Really? Nice. Yeah, but you can hear this, right? I’m also really fond of the first DARK FUNERAL EP – “Open the Gates”, such a fucking great tune. It’s the same drummer as SVARTSYN… he was called Draugen, right? Yeah, it’s because of his style; I fucking love his drumming on “…His Majesty” and also on the next one, “Destruction of Man”. This is black metal. I really dig the atmosphere, not at all like these new bands. As I said before, nowadays it’s so fucking easy that you don’t have to be good any longer.
On that note, why have you – one of the best guitarists in the scene – switched to bass?
– Man, come on. I mean, I’m truly flattered by your words but there are tonnes of guitar players who are far better than I am. I can write some good songs but I’m not the best player. I studied classical guitar at university, and perhaps I was good in this field but that was because I had to be – otherwise, you can’t study classical guitar at university. My electric guitar playing was always lacking due to a lot of burdens. Actually, I’ve stopped practicing guitar for the last year or two. Now I just play for fun, or when I want to achieve something like write a song or stuff like that. But I stopped practicing leads and such, which I was really hard into before. I focus my abilities on writing quality material.
This is not the first time Malte goes four string. Back in music school, at age fourteen, there was a band he wanted to join but they played jazz and already had an accomplished guitarist.
– I’d only been playing guitar for maybe two or three years by then. ’Fuck, I have no clue about all these fucking jazz chords.’ So they said, ’Yeah, but we need a bass player.’ I was, like, ’Okay, I can try.’ I took regular lessons back then, so I went to my teacher, ’Okay, now you have to teach me how to play bass in a jazz band.’ I played bass for real the next year or so, without any guitar lessons. Then I started with contrabass and played in a classical ensemble, doing Mozart and all the stuff. Do you remember that I also played in DROWNED? We performed live shows and I did the bass and vocals – it was a fantastic thing to do, really fucking great. So, now I’m writing the songs on guitar but my friend Ekaitz plays them. He’s… fuck, he’s an amazing guitar player, just wait until people see him. Or if you compare myself to The Reverend in NECROS, he’s also damn talented. In our current live set, we’re playing all the old classics; even demo songs. And I said, ’Okay, you will do the lead because I’m fed up with this.’ Now he’s doing more leads than me and I’m really loving that, it allows me to concentrate on just shouting and playing rhythm.
As for the music of SIJJIN – pure unashamed 80s worship, drawing heavily from ancient death metal infamies such as MORBID ANGEL, INCUBUS, and NECROVORE. The lyrics are also more traditional, at least compared to NECROS CHRISTOS. I’m almost getting the impression that Malte is fed up with constantly pushing genre boundaries.
– Yes and no. In a way, I still want to keep pushing the limits – playing death metal with this darkness which has to be in the music, so even crossing boundaries in such a manner that everyone who hears the new band will say, ’Oh, fuck yeah, this is really harsh and fucking dark. This is death metal.’ But no, not in the other way we did with NECROS. Here’s the thing, at university there was a professor I got along with. We investigated some really extreme classical music pieces and I was, like, ’Why doesn’t anybody compose wonderful fugues like Bach did?’, and he said, ’Because all the new composers are busy searching for something new.’ In my opinion, this is wrong because… if I’d be able to compose a fugue like Bach, I’d do that because they’re so fucking amazing. So fucking beautiful. Why shouldn’t I do this? While giving it a little bit of personal input from me of course. And now it’s like everyone is always talking about how you must be original in this and that way. Of course, we don’t want to be copycats and never would or will be but if you’re capable of doing stuff like this in a good way – if we’re able to capture the spirit from the old days, like on “Altars of Madness” or “Seven Churches” or whatever – why shouldn’t we do it, you know?
It’s interesting to note that SIJJIN self-released the demo on tape before fielding any label offers. Obviously, just by virtue of Malte’s past merits, I’m sure they could’ve easily gotten an EP or album deal straight away.
– It’s important to us that we do things right, definitely. You know, most new bands have no patience. They try to grasp for everything all at once. I mean, they’ll release an LP immediately if they can get a record deal. But, for me, this makes no sense whatsoever because I was raised… my metal education took place in a time when it was absolutely clear that you first release a demo to see what people think. Then there’s also word-of-mouth propaganda, ’Have you heard this demo?’ ’Yeah man, it’s fucking great so you have to order it.’ I really love that, for me it’s the good way – the 80s way. Being patient and giving the music time to unfold and establish the name. Our goal is to release the demo, then go for an album. Also, we want to play live; I’m still very fond of touring, that’s one of our main priorities with SIJJIN. Much, much more intensely than we ever did with NECROS.
I’ve noticed some listener speculation that Malte’s perceived journey ‘from darkness to light’ was mapped out from the beginning. One argument for this is that the entire lifespan of NECROS CHRISTOS had been defined before the debut album even came out, pre-planned down to details such as number of albums and their respective songs.
– No, I don’t think so. Every act was well-planned, the records and demos and all the stuff; I’d made up my mind about what I wanted to achieve, doing only three records was an early decision. In retrospect, seeing the whole evolution – how the themes and music all flow together – it seriously gives me goosebumps. Really, it looks so fucking perfectly arranged. But again, no, it wasn’t. Sure, certain things were set up for us as a goal but I didn’t map out any evolution from the first record to the last. I don’t think this would’ve even been possible, considering how everything developed music-wise. For me, it’s clear our first record, “Trivne Impvrity Rites” was really, really deep into the grave, about all things connected to death. And then we released “Doom of the Occult” which was, like… we lifted it up and then got into this old Egyptian stuff with themes about gods and goddesses. Then, when we reached a certain point with “Domedon Doxomedon”, I was wholeheartedly set on just going for the beyond. So, maybe this was pre-arranged, or pre-destined; step by step and you’ll reach the gates to worlds unknown. This is something I’m really fond of and may have planned unconsciously but as for the rest, no.
You’ve reached the end of the first part of this conversation, the second – which is significantly more in-depth – is published in Bardo Methodology #6. The same issue also includes features with FUNERAL MIST, DEAD CAN DANCE, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, SUNN O))), MYSTICUM, ADORIOR, Metalion, Dave Haley, OFDRYKKJA, Michael Denner, TEITANBLOOD, and Wim Hof.