A Crusade into the Macabre - Helmuth of Belphegor

Helmuth, founding guitarist of blackened death metal act Belphegor, is a man who knows what he wants. Hot from the release of Walpurgis Rites - Hexenwahn, he chats to Metal as Fuck about the intense production, and his upcoming plans.

If you’ve ever made a list of some of the most enduring blackened death metal bands to emerge from Europe, Austria’s Belphegor has to be somewhere at the top. Forming in 1993, they have released over eight full-length releases and four EPs in their long career, touring their native Europe, North America and South America, supporting giants such as Gorgoroth, Vader and Nile, as well as headlining in their own right. They've been winning over fans with their black and death metal crossover style, still resolutely evil, and as punishing as ever.

Usually an exception rather than a rule, Helmuth Lehner, founding guitarist and vocalist of the band, has seen multiple line-up changes right from the start; yet he has remained as the band’s solid foundation. Seemingly either writing, recording or touring, their reputation as a workhorse band hasn’t rubbed off on Helmuth, as he reacts to such claims.

“I don’t know what to say when I hear that,” he says in his deep Germanic brogue. “I don’t think we ever had a plan for that, you know. I think we’re one of the hardest touring bands around. We spend a lot of time on the road and in the breaks we’re always writing new songs, going into the studio, create some new shit, you know.

“But we never really plan it like that. It’s always about chaos and stuff like that,” he chuckles.

Something that they definitely never foresaw was their new record, Walpurgis Rites – Hexenwahn being described as their best work yet, even hitting the Top 100 album charts in Germany as well as in Austria and the US. More importantly for the band, keeping the production of the record – from music and art to recording – satisfying to produce is also a priority, as Helmut explains.

“I think the most important thing is for the music and the artwork and everything like that to fit together perfectly – if we work our arses off and give life to something like this, it’s the most important thing for me. It’s like my life.

"I mean, if I could work twenty-four hours a day on the band, I would.”

Working on this album was obviously a labor of intense passion considering the artwork, lyrical themes and production share all the hallmarks of a concept album. Helmuth and the band pride themselves on going beyond the strictures of Belphegor, pushing them to hitherto unexplored musical territories while keeping some things suitably familiar, Helmuth says.

“I’m really very picky, and I know what I want. So we chose the artist, Marcelo and we worked very close with him because really we didn’t want something that doesn’t fit. It’s very important to keep a sort of concept together, especially for the last album," he said. "Everything must fit together; the music, the artwork, the lyrical content. It still has to be totally insane and offensive, of course."

Breaking taboos isn’t the modus operandi of Belphegor, however; Helmuth insists that attracting controversy is merely a consequence of the style of music they play.

“I mean it fits perfectly to the music. Back in the old days it was more about provoking people, to fuck with them a bit. But now I don’t really care about it. To write some good, conceptual albums, that’s what is important for me, you know.”

Working with long-time collaborator Andy Classen as producer also ensured a hassle-free and smooth process.

“Working with Andy was great because he knew exactly how a guitar should sound,” Helmut says. “He was also in a metal band called Holy Moses before so he knows what’s going on. The first time we worked with him was in 1995 and he did our last three albums, and he always gave a good sound for us.

“When we entered the studio he made us sound very organic, very direct. We experimented a little bit with the songs, with the sound, to keep things fresh. We don’t want to record each album the same, you know. We always want to go a step forward with the production, working on each detail. We wanted it to grab you by the balls, to be very powerful. It’s exactly how we wanted it to be.”

Tying up their intensely focused production efforts, they also produced a video for Der Geistertrieber, the first to feature a professional production crew.

“We were really pleased with the results,” Helmuth recalls. “We rented a cottage high in the mountain for three days. It’s a cool clip; the song is totally in the German language. It kind of sounds like a dance with death or something like that. It was a good thing, it was a cool experiment. A challenge is always welcome.”

The band is preparing to play a huge tour, encompassing the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Europe in January, and its something that Helmuth revels in.

“We really love to play live. We’re going to tour for about three months [straight] and we love playing our music to a crowd.”

Belphegor fans from Down Under would eagerly await their presence, although Helmuth has his own macabre reasons for coming down other than playing a show.

“I always was fascinated with Australia because you guys have a lot of fucked up shit like murders and stuff like that. I always was interested in that,” he laughs.

Unfortunately for fans in the East, they might have to wait a little longer to see them.

“Japan and Australia are always on our list but it’s just a fucking problem for us to get to,” he says. “I don’t know; it’s not easy to go there. We really want to play in Australia, to play in a new city; I really hope we can do it in 2010."

Belphegor's Walpurgis Rites: Hexenwahn is out now on Nuclear Blast/Riot. You can get your hands on it here.