Bestial Warlust II
by Niklas Göransson
In the series’ second chapter, all five original members take us through the conception of Bestial Warlust’s iconic debut album: Vengeance War ‘till Death.
JOE SKULLFUCKER: When recording “Vengeance…”, we were doing ten to twelve-hour days. The engineer was a bit… ugh, we had to do many, many takes, despite most of us thinking, ‘We got it right the first or second time.’ I must admit… well, it’s a fact: we spent more time on “Vengeance…” than any previous recording. Which you should, obviously, because with a demo you could always say, ‘Oh, that was just a demo tape,’ whereas an album is kinda like a facial tattoo. It’s fucking there, if you know what I mean?
In late 1993, a few weeks after opening for CARCASS in Melbourne, BESTIAL WARLUST entered Studio 001 to record their debut album, “Vengeance War ‘till Death”.
KK WARSLUT: We hadn’t signed a contract, so Daniel from Modern Invasion came by the night before we were supposed to be done. Of course, we were behind as things were, so we had about twenty-four hours to finish everything. And there’s Daniel trying to hammer out the contract in the studio, and that took ‘til like four or five in the morning. Hours and hours of something that should’ve been sorted before we even hit the studio.
DAMON BLOODSTORM: It was on the table to sign before we went in, but that didn’t happen because Modern Invasion fucked us around so many times; it took fucking ages to do anything. Things got to the point where we started recording – meanwhile, there were all these promises of this and that.
SKULLFUCKER: The great payoff about recording an album in a studio is when you get to listen to the final mix through their $30,000 sound system. However, it never sounds as good at home. We went away with the rough mix for about… I think, five or six weeks? Keith and I always used to say that whenever you do a recording, you should listen to the rough mix in the lounge room with your friends. And even more importantly: fucking listen to it in your car. Driving music is important. Well, to some people at least. Listen to it in many different aspects of your life, so you get a good all-round feel. If you dwell on it for a bit, you’ll have a better impression of how to edit, mix, and master the record.
Once the mix was set in stone, Modern Invasion label manager Daniel Janecka announced that the album had to be mastered. He asked KK to come along.
WARSLUT: None of us had a fucking clue what mastering was. ‘We recorded it; isn’t that enough?’ ‘No, it’s gotta be mastered too. And that must be done in Sydney, at…’ Sony Music, wasn’t it? I mean, they had big cardboard cut-outs of Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson and shit like that. It was massive – a proper… what do you call it? Um, industrial estate-size fucking thing. And we’re going in there to do BESTIAL WARLUST.
After the album had been mastered, Janecka invited not only KK but also Kriss Hades and Dave Slave from SADISTIK EXEKUTION – as well as a few hangers-on – down to a fancy seafood restaurant in the Sydney harbour.
WARSLUT: I’m thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this is the life. I’ve made it, this is how things will be forever now.’ But everything was recoupable; all of it was deducted from our royalties, as we discovered when the first sales statement arrived. I was flabbergasted. And once Joe found out… oh my god, he was fucking furious. ‘What the fuck is this!?’ Because he thought I was just going for mastering – he didn’t realise that we were up there swanning about eating oysters in view of the fucking Sydney Opera House. We didn’t understand royalties, we didn’t understand how any of it worked. We just wanted our record put out.
“Vengeance War ‘till Death” was released in mid-1994. The cover artwork by Tony Ranger is unreal – it looks just like the music sounds.
WARSLUT: I loved it. There was only one change we asked him to do, I think. He’d just drawn a standard armband, and we were like, ‘Put big fucking spikes on there, mate. Big fucking nails, ya know?’ I can’t remember how we found him though… I believe he was a tattoo artist up on the Gold Coast.
BLOODSTORM: We came across some of his artwork at a tattoo convention in Melbourne. He had samples on display, and once we saw what he could do… ‘Fuck man, this looks killer!’ So, we asked if he could do something for us, and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, no worries.’
SKULLFUCKER: When we saw his first draft, all of us were blown away. At the time, Tony Ranger was one of the best tattooists in the country. Basically, you give the guy an idea, and he’ll turn it into gold.
BLOODSTORM: We weren’t at all expecting it to be like that. ‘Holy fucking shit, what is this? Far out, man.’ So detailed and everything – incredible, we couldn’t believe it. And he didn’t even listen to metal. He was only into that fantasy and barbarism stuff, not death metal.
HELLCUNT: I loved it so much that I’ve got most of the artwork tattooed on my arms.
SKULLFUCKER: One thing we did change was the colouration: his original version was in black and white. So, when I went into the editing studio to do the layout, I added all the red to the album cover.
“Vengeance War ‘till Death” was released in early 1994. I bought it because of that cover in combination with the titles: “Dweller of the Bottomless Pit”, “Holocaust Wolves of the Apocalypse”, “At the Graveyard of God”, and so on. I hadn’t heard BEHERIT or BLASPHEMY yet – mostly Scandinavian and Greek black metal – so I was utterly bewildered when the brief intro gave way to “Bestial Warlust”.
WARSLUT: We sold a lot of copies because it got caught up in the whole black metal train. I think many who bought it expected BURZUM, DARKTHRONE, or something like that. Presumably, they would’ve been in for a surprise.
SKULLFUCKER: We soon realised that “Vengeance…” wasn’t for everyone. It was so left-of-centre that I’d say ninety… or let’s downplay it and say eighty per cent. Anyways, a high percentage of reviews said, ‘Absolute fucking noise’, ‘unlistenable garbage’ – you name it. I’d keel over laughing and think, ‘These reviewers have no hair on their dicks!’ But then there would be those ten to twenty per cent who adored it. This is an album you either love or hate. There is no, ‘Oh, I can take a little bit of BESTIAL.’ Either you like it, or you don’t like it. And most people back then did not like it.
CHRIS CORPSEMOLESTER: I didn’t follow the sales or read ‘zines or anything. Even domestically, I had no idea how it was selling. I’m not quite sure why, but I just wasn’t especially interested. You know, the other bands I’d played with had never even released a CD – so BESTIAL was still more than anything I’d done previously. But even though we were playing with MORBID ANGEL and CARCASS, I still couldn’t see it as going anywhere. I just liked playing.
BLOODSTORM: Here in Australia, most metalheads were into a different style of death metal. They weren’t familiar with the type of extreme, barbaric, relentless shit we did. I mean, there were people who fucking worshipped it, but quite some time passed before we got any kind of recognition. We weren’t liked a lot. People used to say, ‘What the fuck is this shit?’ But those we knew as true metal maniacs understood “Vengeance…”, and they fucking loved it.
The repetitive beats work wonders for this music, in great part due to the intensity and power with which they are performed. It sounds as if Hellcunt hits hard as hell.
HELLCUNT: I did a lot of accents on the cymbals and china blasting and leaned heavily into the snare drum and toms. They wanted heaps of percussion work, a lot of fast grinding, and for me to hit hard, so I learned to hit hard and do rim shots on the snare.
SKULLFUCKER: Oh, I can confirm that. Totally. Marcus’ bullet beat – or, as some people call it now, the ‘bestial beat’ – suited our music perfectly. It’s like a HELLHAMMER and MOTÖRHEAD fusion.
HELLCUNT: Nowadays, they call it a bomb beat. It’s where you play with the arms together – hitting both the snare and the tom, cymbal, or whatever simultaneously – whereas with a regular blastbeat, you’re alternating every other hit. With the bullet beat, it’s all on the same note.
Was this common back then?
HELLCUNT: No, I can’t remember anyone doing it, actually. I think it was Keith’s idea; we came up with the hands-together sort of thing just to give it more of a bombastic feel. And we added the china and toms as well – a lot of chaos. I was still in ENTASIS and used it on their later demos.
The lyrics, written by Warslut and Skullfucker, are unlike any other contemporary band I can think of. The philosophical barbarism and straightforward savagery work extremely well together, and the colloquial profanity mixed with black metal blasphemy made it feel more ‘real’.
SKULLFUCKER: We were young at the time and obviously growing up and getting into reading books. Philosophy would’ve been one of the big points, as was the occult and things like that. And also having all that young angsty anger. We didn’t want a record talking about the scenery and the forest and the fog – which is fine for some bands, but we’re in Australia. That wasn’t what we were about, and it wouldn’t have suited our music. I mean, listening to “Vengeance…”, the last thing you’re gonna think about is a Monet painting. It’ll be something pretty grizzly coming to mind.
WARSLUT: I had this idea that our lyrics should be a form of violence. Take the title, “Vengeance War ‘till Death”… hm, I think Joe put the apostrophe after ‘War’ to make it sound more grammatically correct. But in my mind, it was ‘Vengeance. War. Till. Death.’ – just an eruption of powerful words. I wanted ’em to sound like a manic death metal solo; not so much a melody or anything, just violent squeals and bends and dives and stuff.
People often speak of the album’s violent qualities, but what I appreciate most are elements I’d describe as atmospheric – where strings and percussion merge into a hypnotic steel ambience. Despite its ferocity, many parts sound more like a chaos trance than something one would bang one’s head to.
SKULLFUCKER: That droning maelstrom of sound you’re describing was exactly what we set out to create. As an accompaniment to the music and the vocals and what the lyrics were about, we’d do overdubs of noisy guitar leads and fill-ins and licks to add to the chaos and noise. Many bands have an over-reliance on technicality and use too many riffs, and it all gets lost in a blur. Whereas if you think of all your favourite sing-along songs from MOTÖRHEAD and CELTIC FROST… it’s verse, riff one, riff two, bridge, and back to the verse, you know? I guess we tried to do it in a catchy way but a lot noisier. It’s about creating an atmosphere. Sometimes music can speak volumes – like Beethoven’s Sixth, which is almost like a book in music form.
WARSLUT: I didn’t really know how to play, so I just did whatever I could. I mean, even a monkey can slide a guitar, so I slid the guitar. A lot. Also, I’ve always loved dark trancey stuff. Ever since Joe introduced me to octaves, I’ve pretty much been stuck using them for the past thirty years. So, I was putting in a lot of octaves, and sometimes a fifth of an octave. I think that might have added to the quality you’re talking about.
In the Western tradition, most musical scales use eight notes – the distance between them is called an octave. Octaves can be broken down into twelve semitones, or half-steps, each represented by one fret on the guitar neck.
WARSLUT: Rehearsing these songs, I’d get myself into an almost trance-like state and sort of convince myself that something sounded killer when it wasn’t necessarily killer <laughs>. Sometimes, we’d play in the dark as well – pitch black. Assuming we were tight, it was fucking intense with such blasting, droney music: comparable to an acid trip. But if you lost your place in the song or something, then it was just horrible.
SKULLFUCKER: The only thing you could see were the LEDs on your foot pedals or Marshall amp. I couldn’t see my fretboard, and Marcus couldn’t see the drums. Playing without having to look at your instrument makes you a better musician. And in total darkness, you also remove one of the senses and that allows you to get into the heaviness a lot deeper and darker.
BLOODSTORM: We also used to wear spikes and bullet belts and paint in rehearsal to create a certain mood – it definitely added to the playing. And also, for us to get used to performing with all the gear on. But at the end of the day, it gave us a good feeling.
WARSLUT: Did I ever tell you the shoe-polish story? We’re doing it one night and I didn’t have any makeup, so I just grabbed the next best black thing – which happened to be some boot polish. I went to the toilet and put it on, and it looked killer: black as hell. Really fucking black. I went back into the rehearsal room and started playing and the next thing I know, my eyes start stinging. They’re watering so I go to rub them and smear this fucking shoe polish in there and it’s like… just immense. I thought my eyeballs were gonna melt outta my fucking skull. Like, ‘Ah, my eyes!’ Yeah. That was nasty.
With their debut album out, BESTIAL WARLUST began playing live more often.
BLOODSTORM: At the particular pub we used to play back in the CORPSE MOLESTATION days, and even after that, we had a lot of problems because various people didn’t like us. There was even some dickhead who was gonna bomb the place because he was on some fucking BURZUM trip and didn’t like anything not coming out of Norway. He thought he was a church burner, but I’ve seen that guy and he’s just a loser. Anyway, we were told he was gonna come and blow up the venue.
SKULLFUCKER: That was a gig we did at Hell Club on Swanston Street. There was this pseudo-black metal dude who thought MAYHEM’s “Deathcrush” was released when it was re-pressed, like three years later. He was a wanker – but one who apparently owned a crossbow and wanted to bloody shoot us while we were on stage. Fortunately, that never eventuated; I never got a fucking arrow in my face. As you can probably tell from me still talking.
BLOODSTORM: We heard he’d been seen in the area, so me and KK and, I think, a few others went out on the hunt, searching for him through the streets of the city. And we were gonna beat the fuck out of him – like, destroy the fucker. We couldn’t find him, so we headed back after two hours but, apparently, the word was out: he was looking for us. So, we went out again. But yeah, that was an event. I think even the security people were on the alert about this dude. Nothing ever happened though. He was just talking shit: no action, just a wimp.
CORPSEMOLESTER: I didn’t join the search party looking for him; I wasn’t worried. I mean, how is a guy gonna get through security carrying a crossbow? Seemed a bit… yeah, stupid – impossible even. That’s just not going to happen. Why would someone even bother?
HELLCUNT: I met that guy on a completely different night when I ended up at a goth bar. Someone approached me and started talking shit because I was wearing a BESTIAL WARLUST shirt. I asked, ‘Is your name such and such?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, it is.’ So, I ended up escorted out by security after putting a stop to his nonsense.
I came across some obscure video from an August 1994 gig in Melbourne and was quite surprised to find them playing “The Eternal Glory of War”. I had no idea it was ever a BESTIAL WARLUST song.
BLOODSTORM: Yeah, we performed it live once or twice, just to see what was eventuating between the first and second albums. “The Eternal Glory of War” was written by KK – great song, and I’m pleased about the way he developed it later.
SKULLFUCKER: Keith wrote that song and yes, BESTIAL WARLUST played it on at least two gigs. It would’ve been a part of the next album, for sure.
HELLCUNT: Joe went on a bit of a vacation for a couple of months, travelling around Australia. Meanwhile, Keith and I were jamming. At that point, I’d actually quit my job to do BESTIAL full-time. Keith had the main riff in “Eternal Glory of War”, and I came up with a drumbeat, so we started jamming. It was slightly more up-tempo back then, but the basic vibe was the same.
WARSLUT: To be perfectly honest, I don’t even remember doing “The Eternal Glory of War” with BESTIAL. I’m not sure what Damon was singing at the time. What I do remember is that they didn’t like it. Joe wanted to make it a blasting song or speed it up somehow, which I thought was just mental.