Dark, dynamic and undoubtedly massive, Hemelbestormer is an unsung juggernaut within the sludge/doom/post-whatever scenes. Those whose have not experienced this Belgian act’s monolithic tunes are missing out on some truly devastating, forward-thinking “post-metal” that sounds like an environmental cataclysm in audio form. On their newest full-length recording, A Ring of Blue Light, the band continue to build upon their towering sound while incorporating new elements into the mix. The results: crushing as ever.
In this new interview we caught up with drummer Frederik Cosemans to discuss the new album and more.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in Hemelbestormer?
My name is Frederik Cosemans and I handle drums and (live) electronics.
How did Hemelbestormer come to be?
The earliest version of Hemelbestormer started out in 2010/2011 when Jo (guitars) and Kevin (bass) were looking for musicians to form a band in the vein of Ghost Brigade, Cult Of Luna and Isis. You know the stuff… Through some adds they found me and as a trio we started jamming and working on stuff, but we almost immediately realized that something was missing. So I contacted Filip (guitars), an old friend of mine who was just laying his old band to rest. When that story was finally written, he joined us and brought along another former band buddy who initially took care of keyboards, samples and electronics. As a five piece, we wrote and recorded “Portal To The Universe”, a collaboration album with the Italian shoe gaze band Vanessa Van Basten. But before it was even properly released, electronics wizard moved to the UK for work related reasons, so we turned into the four piece we still are today.
What influenced the decision to remain an instrumental band?
It was not really a deliberate decision, more a spontaneous one. When we started working on the songs, we just focused on the music and figured that vocals would be added in a later stadium. But when the songs started shaping up, it became clear that vocals were not needed at all. The music was strong, diverse and layered enough to stand on its own. We didn’t want to add vocals just for the sake of it, so we didn’t bother to look for someone (or try it ourselves). Up till now, we haven’t used vocals on any of our songs, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t try this in the future. There just has to be room for them in the song, otherwise adding them is pointless.
How do you feel instrumental music conveys thoughts and ideas differently than music with lyrics?
Since there are no words to tell a story or explain a theme, the music has to be self explanatory. This means you have to create images with sound and evoke the right atmosphere but, at the same time, you have to leave a part to the listener’s imagination. Your riffs, melodies and what not have to be strong, intense and memorable to achieve that. So if someone tells me after a show that he felt like he was being sucked into a black vortex and felt the weight of burning stars on his chest, I take that as a huge compliment. Did we mean to create that particular feeling? Perhaps, but not necessarily. We try to offer something that is compelling and involving, but leave enough empty blanks for the listener to fill in.
What do you believe the benefits and challenges are to writing and performing music devoid of vocals?
Well, like I said in the previous questions, the music has to be very layered and dynamic since there are no vocal lines for the listener to focus on. So we have to keep it interesting, intense and add lots of layers and details. That can be challenging sometimes, but the best things in life all require challenge and effort, right?
How do you feel writing and performing in Hemelbestormer has pushed you as a songwriter and musician?
Since practically all songwriting is done by our guitarist Filip, I can’t really answer that part of the question, but given the fact that he has a black metal background, I dare to say on his behalf that it can quite challenging to write this kind of music, but also very rewarding.
As for the second part of the question, playing in Hemelbestormer definitely made me a more focused musician. As a drummer, you’re the heartbeat of the song. You have to be solid and spot on, but you also have to bring the right “feel” into it. You need to give the song what it needs. It’s easy and very tempting for a drummer to show off and put in lots of fills and rolls, but this is something that doesn’t work with Hemelbestormer. It would, in fact, kill the atmosphere and disturb the flow. So you have to focus and “feel” the song to make it come alive. This is not always as easy as it seems.
Hemelbestormer’s music has been lumped into the “post-metal” category. Is this label something the band personally ascribes to? In general, what are your thoughts on the genre and how do you feel Hemelbestormer approaches it differently than others?
People can lump us into whatever they want, as long as it makes sense to them. If someone would our music “electric folk boogie”, I would certainly raise my eyebrows, but if that person sees it that way, fine. But in all seriousness, in a world where people try to put everything they know in a specific box just to “define” it, I guess “post-metal” is a pretty obvious tag. We’re instrumental, have long, epic songs and multiple influences with not one in particular sticking out, so that basically spells out “Post-something”, right? You know, we just try to create the music we like ourselves: heavy, atmospheric, layered, captivating and, very very very important, dark. It’s not that we’re trying to reinvent the wheel or something, we just want to do something good with the stuff we know and like. If you desperately try to put yourself into a certain box, you will probably fail and sound cliché or uninspired and, at a given moment, you will repeat yourself over and over again, just to fit in that box. We are very careful to avoid that specific trap.
What can you tell us about the creation of the band’s newest record, A Ring of Blue Light, and how would you compare it to your previous full-length, Aether?
First and for all, both albums sound like Hemelbestormer, but you can hardly call them exact copies. “Aether” was very dark, heavy and monolithic, whereas “Ring…” is far more layered, dynamic and diverse. It is still pretty dark overall, it contains some of the darkest stuff we’ve ever done, but there’s also room for light and melody. It’s a bit more interesting to listen to, since it offers a bit more breathing room. Don’t get me wrong, it still sounds like two mountains colliding and it’s still as heavy as the combined weight of those mountains, but it has a bit more sophistication and detail.
What is the origin behind the album’s title? Judging from the song titles, A Ring of Blue Light seems to possess themes of astronomy and space. What drew the band towards this particular subject for this record?
“A Ring Of Blue Light” is inspired by Hoag’s Object, a galaxy that literally looks like a ring of blue light. It consists of approximately eight billion stars and is a part of the constellation Serpens, more specifically the part called The Serpent Bearer. The sheer vastness of the universe and all its phenomena are a perfect match for Hemelbestormer since our music sounds very wide, open and unbound. These are the things we imagine ourselves when we listen to our stuff, so it’s not really strange that we use these themes and images to create a visual counterpart for our music.
Each record thus far has featured artwork depicting fantastical, mostly mountainous landscapes. Is this recurring theme in the artwork intentional? How do you feel the artwork compliments Hemelbestormer’s music, or vice versa?
Correct. Almost all our artwork contains mountains (or monolithic rocks), but there’s another returning element that is equally important, namely the sky. The sky is even in our name, since you can literally translate the word “Hemelbestormer”, which is a Dutch word, a “Stormer of heaven” or “Sky stormer”. The sky (or space) stands for vastness and something we can’t fully grasp or understand. From Earth, you look to the sky and almost instantly you feel insignificant and ignorant. I don’t think the human brain is capable of “getting” something enormous like the sky or space or the infinite and ever expanding universe, so naturally this is something very appealing. The mountain on the other hand stands for greatness and purity, but in ways we understand. It’s a symbol for the exact opposite of the hectic society we live in. A society where the meaning of “real life” has changed. Nowadays, everything has to go fast and everything has to be finished before the deadline. We don’t, or can’t, take the time to enjoy things anymore because there is always something that has to be done. The mountains stand for the connection with nature, where you can find some peace and quiet, away from it all. Both images tell us how futile and insignificant it all is: no matter how many contracts we close, how many products we manufacture or how many profits we make, in a few years we will all be gone and forgotten, while the mountains will still stand tall, majestically and unaffected and the universe will be just as infinite and mind blowing as it was before.
What is next for Hemelbestormer in the near future?
We’re going to continue to promote “A Ring Of Blue Light” in the coming months with a string of interesting shows. We can’t give that many specifics yet, but our show with Amenra and our appearance at the Soulcrusher festival (both in October in The Netherlands) are definitely worth mentioning. As for the rest, we’ll see what the future brings. There’s no big masterplan and no desire to conquer the world or tour for three months on end. We just want to have a good time among friends and peers and bring our music to like-minded people under the circumstances. It’s all good as long as it stays fun.
Any final words or thoughts?
If you like heavy, atmospheric music and have an open mind, you really should check out “A Ring Of Blue Light”. You won’t be disappointed. Also, everybody is welcome at our shows. Just enjoy it, take the trip and come tells us what you thinks afterwards!
Thank you for your time!
Thank you for yours and your support!
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