Deströyer 666 VI
by Niklas Göransson
Black flames on distant shores – in the fall of 2002, Deströyer 666 recorded Terror Abraxas and embarked on an extensive tour alongside Behemoth. Before the year was over, they found themselves back where their journey started.
MICHAEL BERBERIAN: Look, following up a successful album like “Phoenix Rising” is difficult, but “Cold Steel…” delivered when it came to riffs and attitude. Production-wise, it brought back some of the rawness to DESTRÖYER 666. It’s an overall great album that was well-received both in terms of sales and reviews.
KK WARSLUT: Over the years, I’ve met many people who love “Cold Steel…”, but it seems as if each album has its own particular set of fans. Of course, when it came out, some preferred “Phoenix Rising”. If a band changes between releases, there will always be an initial period of rejection from those who liked the previous style – but eventually, most of ‘em come around. I think that’s how it might work.
BERBERIAN: DESTRÖYER already had a higher status in the metal scene by then, and they were starting to attract a reputation as troublemakers. So, “Cold Steel…” was appreciated also for that aspect.
In September 2002, three months after the release of “Cold Steel… for an Iron Age”, DESTRÖYER 666 spent seven days at Voodoosoundstudio in North Holland recording “Terror Abraxas” under the guidance of HAMMERHAWK guitarist Paul van Rijswijk.
WARSLUT: If I recall correctly, we did “Terror Abraxas” to keep ourselves motivated – to instil some sense of accomplishment and achievement.
SHRAPNEL: I wrote “Trialed by Fire” in London, and then we met up in IJmuiden to jam. Those songs weren’t gone over heaps and heaps: the whole EP was composed, rehearsed, and recorded in quick succession. We tracked everything with Paul at his home studio – where Keith, Simon, and I had slept on the floor for three months the year before.
MERSUS: I’m not sure what the issue was, but I remember Ian and Keith getting into a fight. Paul and I were chatting when we heard them yelling and screaming – literally flying around in front of the canal. ‘What the hell is going on?’ Keith kept pressuring everyone, like, ‘Look, we gotta come up with something now, or we quit the band. So, let’s fucking do it!’ Then, we sat down together and wrote the opening track, “A Breed Apart”.
It’s interesting to note that “A Breed Apart”, just like “Black City – Black Fire” before it, emerged spontaneously out of anger and pressure. Both are among the most performed DESTRÖYER 666 songs in concert, having been staples of the live set for two decades.
WARSLUT: I’ve got no recollection of that fight, mate. If Chris said so, I’m assuming it’s true. But yeah, maybe there’s something to that – a bit of stress, a bit of tension.
MERSUS: “A Breed Apart” was composed in just a couple of hours and then tracked right away. Once it was done, we realised that we had a few decent riffs lying around. Each of us brought our different ideas to the table and recorded them straight away. So, the entire mini-LP came together in just a few days – almost out of the blue.
Three of the four originals are the type of fast and violent DESTRÖYER songs common for this era. “Those Who Dare Beyond” sounds straight out of “Cold Steel…”. In fact, it’s rather similar to “Witch Hunter” – besides the vocals, which were performed by Shrapnel.
SHRAPNEL: That was just a one-off; I think Keith might have suggested it.
WARSLUT: For quite a long period, I was sick of fucking singing. I never wanted to be a lead vocalist in the first place. I wasn’t the kid standing in front of the mirror pretending to be a frontman – my dream was to play rhythm guitar and do backup vocals. Somewhat easier, a bit simpler… <laughs> not so challenging.
“Terror Abraxas” also includes a Wendy Rule cover – “Prometheus”, from her 1996 album “Zero” – on which Paul played guitar.
WARSLUT: I was a big fan of the first Wendy Rule record. In the mid-90s, before her debut came out, she had an artist residency in Melbourne and played at the same bar every week. So, for a couple of years, I was going there regularly to watch her perform. I really liked that song, “Prometheus”, and thought it could translate well into metal. Such great lyrics too.
“Terror Abraxas” was released by Iron Pegasus – a German label operated by Tales of the Macabre editor Costa Stoios. Costa’s fanzine was one of the most important underground ‘zines of the mid-90s. I myself first heard about DESTRÖYER 666 through a demo-era interview in the publication’s second issue.
WARSLUT: We’d fulfilled our two-album deal with Season of Mist and were free to do something else. We knew Costa; I liked him and what he did with Iron Pegasus. It was a good, honest underground label.
SHRAPNEL: We wanted to wrest back some of the control that a bigger label would have and make amends for a few issues regarding “Cold Steel…”. That’s why going with Iron Pegasus was appealing; we had a bit more freedom. Not that Season ever interfered with the actual music – it was mostly things like the packaging.
Speaking of which – are those your guitars in the booklet?
SHRAPNEL: Those are the guitars we used on “Terror Abraxas”, yes. So, that would’ve been Keith’s Destroyer, my Warlock, and Paul’s Flying V. That photo was obviously inspired by ACCEPT and those classic covers with their guitars on the back. It’s a great idea – I love looking at it.
MERSUS: When “Terror Abraxas” was recorded, the BEHEMOTH tour had just been finalised for the coming November – and that put a lot of pressure on us to find a bass player. I remember discussions like, ‘Fuck, what are we gonna do?’ But then we thought of asking Rob Reijnders (LUCIFERICON) to fill in.
ROB REIJNDERS: Keith was at a party at my place in Bladel when he mentioned that they’d been offered to tour in support of BEHEMOTH. Simon had left DESTRÖYER, and Keith only wanted friends in the band; he knew I could play bass and asked if I’d be interested. I told him I’d think about it and have an answer once we got back from Wacken. But when we were at the festival, having a good time, I said to Keith, ‘Alright, why the fuck not? Let’s do this.’
How much prior live experience did you have?
REIJNDERS: Back in 2000, around the time GOSPEL OF THE HORNS came over to Europe, I did three shows on vocals in a SLAYER cover act – just for the hell of it. My first concert performance with a ‘real’ band was when DESTRÖYER played in a small Belgian town called Desselgem. We only had four rehearsals, and then we were good to go.
Rob’s first show with DESTRÖYER 666 took place on October 19, 2002, at Awaiting the Apocalypse VIII in Belgium. Joining them were a strange mix of bands: ABORTED, CADUCITY, CIRITH GORGOR, CONGRESS, and LIAR.
REIJNDERS: Unless I’m mistaken, that show was in the gymnastics hall of a school building. Typical for Belgium, always a bit weird! I remember that as our encore, Keith announced “Australian and Antichrist” – which was not on the list of ‘tracks to learn’ he gave me. So, I had to improvise the basslines on stage, going by ear. I don’t think anyone but me noticed.
Two weeks later, DESTRÖYER set out on a month-long tour through ten different countries. They were joined by American death metal band DIABOLIC and Poland’s BEHEMOTH, who had just released “Zos Kia Cultus (Here and Beyond)”. I found a November 7 Blabbermouth story stating that Mersus had to cancel a few early dates due to ‘personal circumstances’.
MERSUS: It was essentially a choice between coming back home for a very important work project or losing my job. I’d spent a lot of money and was in debt because of DESTRÖYER; I was trying to figure out how to keep myself afloat, and that’s why I had to go back for two or three days.
SHRAPNEL: That tour was amazing, and we really clicked with BEHEMOTH. There was also an American band called DIABOLIC, and some of those guys were great. Especially Bobby Cardenas, who now plays with POSSESSED. The whole thing was unreal – lots of drinking and chaos on the bus. There are photos of furniture getting smashed and beer literally flying through the air.
WARSLUT: Yeah, it was a liver killer, mate. Some great photos from the bus, though.
REIJNDERS: There were lounge areas both upstairs and downstairs in the nightliner – by the time the tour was over, neither of them had tables. I think the only time we weren’t drinking was on stage. The hospitality rider included two crates of beer per band, plus whiskey, vodka, and wine. We got that on the bus every day, so it was just absolute madness.
WARSLUT: Man, those Polish motherfuckers… it was insane. Every night, someone would throw down the gauntlet and we’d all end up in a drinking contest, fucking skulling hard liquor.
REIJNDERS: The BEHEMOTH bassist did not handle alcohol very well. Nergal, who is a bit more serious, said, ‘Don’t give Novy too much booze because he will freak out!’ Well, you shouldn’t tell us that <laughs>. The next thing we did was give him more booze. He was losing his mind! Then he vomited in a garbage bin, picked it up, and started waving it around. We had to duck under the seats and tables to avoid getting puke in our faces. He was an absolute mental patient – quite hilarious.
SHRAPNEL: Yeah, he went nuts. BEHEMOTH had a rough show the next day; I don’t think Nergal would’ve been too pleased. Novy was a bit of a loose cannon – amazing bass player, really solid guy, but he just turned into someone else when he got drunk. I also remember Keith and Inferno, the BEHEMOTH drummer, doing vodka shots and headbutting each other <laughs>. Inferno told Keith, ‘You remind me of a man in my village!’ which I found hilarious.
WARSLUT: Actually, I bumped into Inferno at a festival in Poland about a month ago, so I brought that up: ‘Do I really look like someone from your village?’ And he goes, ‘Yes, it’s true! I wish he were here now; you look exactly the same.’ So, somewhere out there in Europe, there’s another handsome motherfucker getting around.
MERSUS: Inferno was a total maniac when it came to vodka; he’d drink straight from the bottle every single day. Keith and I tried to keep up with him but failed miserably.
WARSLUT: I think it was after this tour that Nergal told Inferno, ‘Mate, you gotta pull your fucking head in. You’re off the rails.’ Because the man plays like a beast; every night, we stood there admiring his drumming. But then, after one particularly heavy drinking session, he got in trouble the next show. Apparently, he didn’t play as excellently as he normally did, but it was imperceptible – at least to the Australian ear.
SHRAPNEL: Don’t ask me how, but we invented a game called ‘Riding the Beast’. There was a hatch you could open in the ceiling of our nightliner – then one evening, as we were driving through the Swiss Alps, someone went, ‘Let’s climb up there!’
MERSUS: In fact, I was one of the first to do it! <laughs> I’m tall enough to open the top lid of the bus; then, someone gave me a hand and helped me up.
SHRAPNEL: I have a photo somewhere of… I think it’s Malta, the BEHEMOTH engineer, sitting on the roof of the bus. You can see his legs hanging down. You know, Swiss roads have a lot of low bridges – someone could’ve died.
WARSLUT: We were driving through a valley surrounded by these Mountains of Might, as Abbath would say. It was a spectacular evening with clear skies and, I kid you not, a full moon above. When it was my turn, as soon as I got up, I just felt this, ‘Whoosh!’ There was a bridge and the vacuum from the bus going under it made my entire head – hair and fuckin’ all – flip back… <laughs> I go, ‘Down, boys! Down, down!’
MERSUS: In some countries, the crowds were great. It was our first time in Spain; we had four dates there, and it was amazing. Germany wasn’t really into DESTRÖYER at the time. Of course, we had some dedicated fans, but it was mainly BEHEMOTH’s show.
I’m curious what the band dynamics were like once the line-up was only fifty per cent Aussie. Out of all nationalities in mainland Europe, it could be argued that Germans and Dutchies are the least receptive to the type of banter Australians engage in.
SHRAPNEL: <laughs> There’s a saying in Australia that we call our mates ‘cunt’ and call cunts ‘mate’. It’s mainly the kind of piss-taking sarcasm we dish out that people don’t get. But it wasn’t an issue because Rob had been to Australia before, and Mersus really understood our humour by then.
MERSUS: I know what you mean about the Aussie humour, but I adapted quickly. Of course, I was really pissed off a couple of times in the beginning when I took things too seriously. But I got the point shortly thereafter.
WARSLUT: It went fine; both of ‘em were a good laugh. Rob coined the term ‘The Aftrekken Tour’. ‘Aftrekken’ is Dutch for wanking. Despite there being three bands, no one got fucking laid for the whole tour. No one <laughs>. That was Rob’s contribution to the humour.
REIJNDERS: After the last tour date, I was dropped off in Eindhoven. When I stepped on the bus back to Bladel, carrying my guitar case, I recognised the driver as someone from my gym. He took one look at me and said, ‘You really want to go home, right?’ Both of us laughed, and I asked him to please bring me home as fast as possible. Recovering took me several days, but it was much easier back then. I doubt I’d survive it now.
In early May 2003, DESTRÖYER 666 returned to Sweden. After a club show in Gothenburg, they played a legendary den of black metal lawlessness: Rockklubben in Sandviken, a two-hour drive to the north of Stockholm. Support came from local underground stalwarts IN AETERNUM, whose founder and frontman David Larsson organised the gig.
WARSLUT: I noticed in Gothenburg that everyone seemed very softly-spoken and mild-mannered. Like, <whispers> ‘Hey, how are you doing? Everything okay?’ Then we went to Sandviken, and there was some enormous fucker outside the venue. I said, ‘Hey mate, you got a smoke?’ and he just snarled, ‘No, I fucking don’t!’ <laughs> ‘Whoa. Easy there, big fella.’ I turned to Ian, ‘Man, they’re not like the Gothenburgers here. Jesus Christ. Hostile motherfuckers.’
REIJNDERS: I’d never been to Sweden before, and I really enjoyed it. The Sandviken venue was fantastic and just perfect for the atmosphere and underground vibe.
MERSUS: As soon as I set foot down there, someone offered me moonshine. And I must admit, I drank a lot before our show, and it turned into a big debacle. I played like an idiot, completely ruining all the songs. But the good thing was that due to the acoustics, the crowd didn’t notice anything – and neither did the band.
SHRAPNEL: I’d forgotten about that one. You were there, right? Wasn’t it like a bunker or something? I know there was some kind of moonshine going around, and I stayed up all night drinking this poison while people were passed out all over the place. Lots of fun.
DAVID LARSSON: That gig drew a record attendance for us – about 140 people showed up. At some point in the early morning hours, the only thing left in terms of alcohol was moonshine. The drink mixers were long gone by then, but I found a few lemons. So, moonshine with squeezed lemon juice was the only refreshment available for the remainder of the after-party, which lasted until 11 am the following day.
REIJNDERS: I was the driver but only managed to get about three hours of sleep. When I woke up around 10 o’clock in the morning, everyone was still going. But we needed to leave early because we had a long drive ahead of us. Luckily, there weren’t too many people on the roads, so we could drive somewhat safely.
WARSLUT: I remember that long, gnarly ride. Me and Ian got into a fucking brutal heart-to-heart discussion that lasted the entire way, so everyone else had to listen to this drunken Jerry Springer situation going on in the back.
They would meet David again only weeks later, as a DESTRÖYER gig at Festung Bitterfeld in Germany coincided with the GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, RAZOR OF OCCAM, and IN AETERNUM tour.
MERSUS: Brilliant venue; one of the best I’ve ever seen. My first time there was in the late 90s when DESASTER and IMPENDING DOOM played. I loved the whole atmosphere because it looked like a war zone. The sound was absolutely perfect, and the people running Festung were great. We had a party going on for days after the show.
The following week, DESTRÖYER 666 played a mini-tour of Finland with another set of maniacs: BARATHRUM.
SHRAPNEL: When we arrived at the venue in Turku, people were already fucking paraplegic – lying on the ground unconscious – hours and hours before the show. Like, ‘Bloody hell, these Finnish fuckers are full on.’ I can’t remember who they were now, but one of the bands had a vocalist whose thing was to get on stage naked, which was… whatever.
MERSUS: They had a pram and were throwing marshmallows around while this really weird guy was singing naked. And I’m thinking, ‘What the fuck is going on here?’
SHRAPNEL: About an hour before I go on stage, I like to take out my guitar and play some scales or whatever – just to loosen up a bit. And then the singer from this fucking band comes in, naked, smoking a cigarette. So, I’m in this cramped backstage room… maybe a few square metres, with all the instruments and luggage and shit, trying to get ready. And he’s just standing there, naked; it was fucking weird. Then Keith walked in.
WARSLUT: Ian wasn’t happy. He’s a bit touchy about this kind of stuff; it’s very Australian to be. He goes, ‘Ah, for fuck’s sake!’, storms out, and slams the door behind him. I yelled, ‘Just turn around, mate. You don’t have to look at the cunt!’ <laughs> And when we got on stage, I kept slipping around on these squished marshmallows all over the fucking floor. I just kept thinking to myself, ‘What’s black metal about marshmallows and prams? I don’t get it.’
REIJNDERS: In my memory, that was probably the best weekend I had with DESTRÖYER. Luckily, not much of it was documented <laughs>. Demonos Sova from BARATHRUM is a funny character. At the Helsinki show, Ian walked into the dressing room and found Demonos arguing with his wife.
SHRAPNEL: They were having a massive fight, and for some reason, his bass guitar was on the ground. Then, after she left… now, the guy is a bit of a lunatic, I guess, but he started jumping up and down on this fucking bass. I was like, ‘Come on, man – leave the bass alone for fuck’s sake.’ <laughs>.
MERSUS: Demonos Sova was jumping on his very nice Rickenbacker bass and going, ‘I hate this shit! I fucking hate it!’ I said, ‘What the hell are you doing, man?’ I mean… this was before their show, and he completely destroyed his own bass. After the gig, Demonos was screaming and yelling at everyone, completely out of his mind on drugs and drinks.
WARSLUT: That BARATHRUM fella was a bit of a handful, mate – totally outta control. He just went fucking mental, smashing stuff. Probably the biggest ego I’ve seen in metal; not even Abbath was like that.
REIJNDERS: By the time we’d finished on stage and got up to the backstage area, the Finns were all drinking like maniacs. We packed up our gear and joined the party. They brought out some kind of homebrewed vodka – and soon after that, a bench crashed through the window.
SHRAPNEL: We ended up in this huge building and somehow got upstairs. It was an old office or something but looked totally run down. The BARATHRUM guys and this naked band were up there, and things got a bit crazy. We stupidly started smashing things, and a TV got thrown out the window like some sort of rock ‘n’ roll cliche. The cops eventually showed up, and… <laughs> I think someone was even hiding in the toilet.
MERSUS: I needed a quick break, so I went to take a shit. I remember the police opening the toilet door; before I could say anything, I was in handcuffs. ‘What the hell?’ But once they showed us the mess we produced, I said, ‘Oh, fuck. Was all that our doing?’ And then the fun was over.