Revolver has teamed with Asphyx for an exclusive, limited-edition white vinyl variant of their new album, Necroceros. It's limited to just 200 worldwide, so get yours before they're gone!
The history of death metal could never be told without the inclusion of Martin van Drunen's iconic vocals. The Dutch musician came up as a member of Pestilence, adding his distinct tortured death growls to the band's classic first two albums Malleus Maleficarum (1988) and Consuming Impulse (1989). From there, Van Drunen joined the great Asphyx, performing on the band's massive 1991 debut The Rack and 1992's masterful follow-up Last One on Earth. Van Drunen left the band soon after and proceeded to do stints in Bolt Thrower, Grand Supreme Blood Court and Hail of Bullets, among others. He rejoined Asphyx in 2007 where he's been holding down the frontman position ever since.
The Dutch metal crew's new and tenth record Necroceros (their fourth since Van Drunen's return) is a steamroller that combines death metal with doom and punk overtones. Completed during the COVID-19 lockdown, Necroceros sits comfortably in the old-school death-metal category alongside their now-classic works Last One on Earth and Death… the Brutal Way — while managing to defy conventions through the duration of its unrelenting, terrifying (and just plain fun) ten tracks.
Ahead of Necroceros' release (due on January 22, 2021), we talked to Van Drunen about the challenges of recording in the middle of a pandemic, getting vocal inspiration from John Lee Hooker and Tom Araya and much more. Read the results of that conversation below.
WHEN DID YOU START WORK ON NECROCEROS? DID THE PANDEMIC CAUSE ANY DISRUPTIONS?
MARTIN VAN DRUNEN It was already written over the past year, music-wise that is. The studio is not far away from my home [in the Netherlands], so we would just meet there and then start jamming to arrange everything. We started that around November  and eventually we thought to ourselves, There's still something missing. The songs weren't really powerful and strong enough.
All of a sudden, Netherlands was completely locked down because of coronavirus. So then we decided that since all the gigs are cancelled, what else is there for us to do other than use the time well and start working on the album. So in May, we had another two jam sessions in two weekends and that's when all the songs really were finished the way they appear on the album. So from there I knew I could start doing the lyrics.
[Guitarist] Paul [Baayens] is the riff composer, we'll see which riffs fit best together and then try to build the song from there. Once the songs are really arranged music-wise, then I start writing the lyrics on it. That's how it works for us, anyway. I don't want to have to rewrite too much if all of a sudden the line has to change because of the length of the riffs or something like that. We always work that way.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SO INSPIRED BY A LYRIC THAT YOU'VE WORKED BACKWARDS AND RETROFITTED A SONG TO SOMETHING THAT YOU'VE ALREADY WRITTEN?
Yeah, I always had the thought of writing something about the biggest tank battle ever. So, the guys knew I had the idea and I just needed a song that was crushing bloody everything, a powerful song. Then Paul came with a bunch of riffs and we all said, "Jesus, this could be on a follow-up Bolt Thrower album." So we decided that since they are good friends and the band is no more since the passing of [drummer] Martin [Kearns], we may take this song on — they won't mind. But yeah, "Molten Black Earth" was a song that maybe worked backwards.
"BOTOX EXPLOSION" IS A SUPER FUN AND TONGUE-IN-CHEEK CHOICE OF SUBJECT MATTER CONSIDERING YOUR STRONG LOVE FOR LIKE WORLD WAR II THEMES. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHY YOU CHOSE THAT?
The thing with Asphyx is we love our gore songs with a lot of humor in it, which, you know, always has been the case in death metal. So I thought it was a funny one. I don't have any social media, but sometimes you get these young girls that are 17 or 16 or even younger complaining that they don't think their nose is cool. And actually these girls look good too. They'll say, "I'm depressed. If I don't get a nose correction…" And it's like, What? Go to a war-torn area or somewhere with Ebola and then you will know a bloody depression. So I wrote a song about this topic, but then of course everything would go wrong with the surgery and someone would wake up looking like the daughter or the son of Frankenstein.
ARE CLASSIC HORROR FILMS AN INSPIRATION TO YOU?
They are, but also I try to think up a horror idea myself. On "The Feeder" from the last album [2016's Incoming Death], I came up with an idea where there was a guy that was into obese women. This guy would keep feeding them until they exploded. It's just a bit of humor, but that's death metal. When we were younger, we would go to horror movies and laugh at all the brutal scenes. You know, just being death-metal heads. Nowadays I've lost track of horror, but back then it was really important.
WERE ANY SONGS DIRECTLY INSPIRED BY THE PANDEMIC?
Towards the end, Paul came with one fast riff that we turned into a song. I remember that when everything happened. I said to the guys, "This whole situation, this pandemic, it's like a full death-metal scenario." I kept "Full Death Metal Scenario" as the song title and wrote a quick lyric over it in Motörhead rock & roll style and made it about everything that was happening: people fighting over toilet paper and bullshit like that. So we made a bonus track out of it. That's the only place where you can see that the coronavirus did have an impact on the album.
DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL FAVORITE TRACK ON THE RECORD?
That's real tough one. I mean purely music-wise, I think it's "Three Years of Famine" because it's such a beautiful, different song from the normal thing that we do. But when it comes to heaviness and the impact: "Molten Black Earth" and "The Nameless Elite." There's just a bunch, but I love them all.
YOU'RE AN OG OF THE DEATH-METAL SCENE WITH THREE DECADES-PLUS EITHER LISTENING TO OR PARTICIPATING IN THE GENRE. I'M CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR LISTENING HABITS. DO YOU LISTEN TO METAL ANYMORE?
Of course I do! I'm still discovering new treasures. The last Centinex [Death in Pieces] is a great album. From the Netherlands we've got Graceless, Soulburn just made a new record … It's impossible to keep up with everything. Usually, I'll bump into things coincidentally or people give me something or one of the guys plays it in his car and then I go, "Wow, that sounds nice." But yeah, I do keep up with metal, but there's also a lot of other things that I like too. For example, when we're mixing our album we'll hear it over and over for a week or two weeks. After a bit I'll need a small break and put on some blues or stuff like that. But yeah, I was a metalhead kid — and I'm still a metalhead — and I will take that with me in my grave.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STREAMING CULTURE AND THE LIVE MUSIC SITUATION WE'RE KIND OF LOCKED INTO RIGHT NOW?
I think for certain bands it's absolutely a necessity to do so. You have to find different ways to show yourself to the audience, that you're still doing something and you're still out there. But on the other hand, for me, I'm a live animal — that's why I still love to do this. I need to go onstage. That's why the situation is hard for me because I'm a stage junkie. For me this streaming thing, and I haven't experienced it myself because we haven't done it, but for me it will be really weird to not have an audience. That said, we did some special shows during coronavirus, and I had my scepticism about it. Metalheads sitting? But then they were raging in the chairs, going completely berserk and I thought, Wow. It was different but it was still really cool to do.
YOUR VOCAL STYLE IS INCREDIBLY UNIQUE. IT SORT OF SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE REALLY STRAINING, WHICH IS ONE OF THE MOST BRUTAL AND ATTRACTIVE THINGS ABOUT IT. DO YOU HAVE ANY ROUTINES THAT YOU DO TO KEEP IN SHAPE? ARE YOU A DRINKER? DID YOU QUIT SMOKING, THAT SORT OF THING?
Well, I mean, we will never quit drinking. I don't think Asphyx will be able to make albums like this without any alcohol. So it's definitely a big part of it. Hopefully one day we find a good sponsor [Laughs] … And besides, I like to have a couple of beers before a live show. It kind of greases the voice. And I never quit smoking because I like my cigarettes. At this point I've been doing it too long now to quit. I think the main thing is keeping the voice warm and I can do that at home whenever I want.
AS A VOCALIST, WHO ARE SOME PEOPLE THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU?
One of my favorites is being able to do those fast lines like [Slayer's] Tom Araya. He summons up these lines and it's bloody crazy and I love that. Sometimes I try to do that as well. It's really interesting to get the pace of John Lee Hooker. Someone like Howlin' Wolf is really on the rhythm of the riff, but John Lee is not — he's constantly too fast, then he's too late and you just can't get a hold of it. It's really interesting. It's fantastic. But yeah, as hard as I try to listen to John Lee Hooker's songs, I just can't replicate the rhythm that this guy has and that's challenging.