Burning Witches Weave Metal Magic and Shadowy Tales On “The Dark Tower” (Interview)
Switzerland’s all-female, classic heavy metal quintet Burning Witches have been extremely prolific since its 2015 formation. On their fifth full-length album in eight years, The Dark Tower, the fiery quintet—featuring bassist Jeanine Grob, drummer Lala Frischknecht, Dutch vocalist Laura Guldemond, and guitarists Romana Kalkuhl and Larissa Ernst—have created another anthemic album loaded with the band’s consistent songwriting.
In the following interview, drummer Lala Frischknecht spoke with us about her migration from the Philippines to Switzerland, the band’s formation, the new album, and what lies ahead for the Witchy ladies.
Burning Witches is one of the hardest working bands around, and you’ve been highly prolific in your recorded output. What keeps you ladies so on the ball, determined and focused?
We just love what we're doing. It's such a great gift when you love what you do and you make people happy, it’s really priceless for us. And, of course friendship, working as a team, and treating each other like a family is the most important. No matter what level or how technical you play, character is most important, how to deal with each other and how to enjoy each other's company. Then you realize that it’s (album) number five, and you don't know (where) the time went because you enjoy your time when you're together. When we're seeing each other every second day, that’s the fun thing. We don't take it easy. We just play, and we love what we're doing.
You were born and raised in the Philippines and then moved to Switzerland. With your different culture, what’s the camaraderie and musical chemistry like between the band members?
Music is music. It doesn't require any language. Fortunately, it's like that. If I compare my musicianship before in the Philippines and here, I think I’ve learned a lot in this band. Because they are really professional, they know what they're doing. When you're young, you're playing underground metal shows, and you sit (behind) the drums on a plastic chair. In the Philippines, now we also have great bands. But they're really great girls.I learned so much as a person and as a musician.
When were you drawn to the drums? I believe you quit playing for a while until you moved to Switzerland?
I was in a thrash metal band, but before that, I was a guitarist in a punk hardcore band. Then I went to Japan and had to work to support my family, and I forgot everything. I didn't play for about 12 years, and then I met my husband in Japan, and he brought me here. After two years of living here, I thought that I’d just forget (the drums). But the stepfather of my husband was a blues drummer in a band, and he asked me to go to school. Then for about two to three months, my coach found a band that was looking for a drummer, an all-female heavy metal band looking for a drummer to form a band. After 12 years without drums, and then three months at school, I thought I’d try out. And the rest is history. Eight years in the band, and we’ve played together, and now it’s the fifth album. I’m quite lucky.
You mentioned that the scene is growing in the Philippines and that there are a lot more professional bands there. There’s such a highly brutal underground death metal scene at the moment. Why is that?
I don't know; maybe it depends upon our environment. There’s more hardcore and more death metal, maybe because of the lyrics and the brutality of death metal. It's brutal lyrics, and maybe it depends upon how your life is. Because when I was there, I was listening to only hardcore punk and thrash metal. And it gives you more energy to deal with life or everyday struggles. Maybe that's the reason.
Since Romana is the band’s main songwriter, how did the rest of the writing process for the new album go?
Usually she will send me material over the phone and then ask me what I think about it. And sometimes it makes me crazy because I will tell her, “Are you trying to kill me on this song?” (laughs). So, we will go to the band room, and we will jam. Once we figure out which part of the song fits together and where the bridge will be, then we will add more melody, second guitar, and more fills. When you jam, you don't know what’s going to happen. It can change a lot, especially in the recording process. Then we will finish it in the band room; we will record it and then send it to Laura. So, Laura will sing it. And I remember when she sent me the “Evil Witch” song, and I really loved it. It turned out to be a heavy, aggressive song. Also “Renegade,” when she sent me the material, because she was in Croatia. It turned out really well—classic heavy metal that makes you headbang and dance at the same time. We actually didn’t have much time to make the songs because we just came back from a Latin American tour. The first week of October we were here, then the recording was the first week of November. So, you can imagine how little time we had. But during our tour last year, we already had material for at least four songs. So, the musicianship came out. No matter what stress you have, or time is so short, we're so proud because we handled the situation. You don't notice the time because you enjoy every minute of it.
The ballad “Tomorrow” changes the pace midway through the album with its melodic and emotive approach compared to the other tracks. I think having diverse tracks like this one really completes the overall aesthetic of the record.
I also love “Tomorrow” because the song itself, from start to finish, is so compact. Everything is there; it starts with the great, clean guitars, the great vocals, nice chorus solo, and it ends up also with a clean solo guitar. This is my favorite ballad in the history of Burning Witches. I can listen to it the whole day. It's such a great ballad.
The album was produced by famed Destruction bassist/vocalist Schmier, who is also your manager and has produced all of your previous records. What has the experience been like working with him, and what type of sound were you trying to achieve in the studio?
It was also produced by V.O. Pulver, who has been working with us since the start of Burning Witches, since the demo. And we like how he makes our songs; you can hear everything. And, of course, Schmier is managing us and then also giving us ideas during the recording or during the song process itself. We ask our metal family what they think. The song “Unleash the Beast,” that was the last song we wrote, and that was made during the recording. And they gave us some ideas with this. These people, we cannot live without them. I's hard as an all female band; it's not that easy. Also, my husband is working with the merch. So we cannot live without these people; we owe them something. And Schmier is like our dad. Sometimes he cooks for us, and we’re a close family.
Burning Witches has always had killer album cover art. You went back with Gyula Havancsak after Chilean illustrator Claudio Bergamin did The Witch of The North. What did you convey to Gyula for the concept of the album art?
Gyula had been doing our album artwork since the beginning. But we changed with The Witch of The North, and then we went back to him because there’s no doubt that he's just an amazing artist. As for the album cover, we just thought about how we can emphasize what was inspired in our songs on the new album The Dark Tower. The album artwork is really nice; it’s really nice also for the shirts of course. All the elements are there. All the things are connected to the story of Elizabeth Bathory, which this album The Dark Tower, was inspired by. The blood is there; Elizabeth Bathory is fond of blood. You can see our faces there like a soul, and that stands for the people she killed. And then the blood is coming out from the tower, and you see this graveyard because in the story of Elizabeth Bathory, she buried some people there near the castle. Plus, Elizabeth Bathory’s story is so metal!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, Burning Witches have been on fire and have done some amazing things in a short period of time. What do you hope to achieve or accomplish next?
Romana wanted The Witch of The North to be really epic. And now with The Dark Tower, before we made this new album, we wanted it to be in the vein of classic heavy metal. And then maybe next time, we don't know what we feel. Because we don't want to be monotonous; we don’t want the same thing to happen again and again. With every album of Burning Witches, we offer something special. With tours and shows right now, we're concentrating on the album release. We will have three shows in Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium. But before that, we will go to the Monsters of Rock cruise. Offers keep on coming; we just have to settle things out. If you look at our Facebook page, we’re announcing new shows every week. And let's see when we will come back to other parts of North America.
The Dark Tower released May 5th via Napalm Records.