By Cosmo Lee
Photo by mithrandir3

It's funny how metallers can be so godlike onstage and so down-to-earth in real life. Martin Van Drunen is case in point. His roar scorched the first two albums by Pestilence and Asphyx; it returns in fine form on ...Of Frost and War (Metal Blade, 2008), the debut by Dutch death metal supergroup Hail of Bullets. When I interviewed him for Decibel (#46, Judas Priest cover), I found him to be straightforward, sensible, and a dedicated metaller. We focused mostly on the album's World War II theme (specifically Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union). The outtakes below capture the remainder of our conversation.

Hail of Bullets - Red Wolves of Stalin

Is Hail of Bullets a reaction to the death metal of today?

It's not meant as a reaction. But maybe subconsciously, yeah. We are all old-school fans, and the reason why we did the style that we do is because we think that nowadays there's not too much good old-school around. There's [a lot of] bands who delve into blastbeats and so-called cookie monster vocals. Not much of us are really into that genre.

How would you compare the feeling of old-school and newer death metal?

In old-school death metal, you find a lot more groove than you do in a lot of nowadays bands. There's a lot of speed in metal at this moment. I think that speed is not really heaviest. To me, heavy metal is more into playing slow and deep than playing fast.

Asphyx and Pestilence have both reformed. Is something going on in Dutch old-school metal?

Gorefest have reformed as well, you know. I don't know. With Asphyx, it was more or less a coincidence because the Party.San festival was pushing us. They desperately wanted us, and we said OK. That wasn't really planned. I'm not sure how it is with Pestilence or Gorefest, but I think that it's not something that you force yourself to do. You have to find a lot of fun again and enjoy yourself. That's more why I think these bands are doing it again. And obviously, there's a demand for it. If there's no demand for it, you might as well not reform.

How did you come to work with [mixing and mastering engineer] Dan Swanö?

Ed [Warby], who is the drummer of Hail of Bullets - he worked with him a lot. He's also drumming on Dan's Demiurg project. Dan was very interested in what we were doing. He more or less offered himself to produce the promo, and he blew us away. He knew exactly how to translate our songs and sound.

What was working with him like?

We weren't working "together." We recorded here in the studio. After that, the files were sent to him, and it all went on .wav files to us, and we checked the mixes. I've never met the man, you know. It's a weird way of working, but that's how it goes nowadays. It's better to do it that way than to fly the whole band in and fly back again. You save a lot of expenses, especially the record company.

How's Metal Blade working out? I remember you not liking Roadrunner in the past.

Metal Blade is really fantastic. It's the best label I've ever worked with. Everything goes smoothly. There's not one thing now that's not going well. The interviews, the whole stuff with financing everything, the contracts -- we were all in different bands, so you have to adapt the contract now because you have to work with different publishing companies [when] you work with different record companies -- to Metal Blade, that was no problem at all. They changed everything in the contract that we wanted to change. They just wanted to sign us, and gave us all the freedom that we wanted.

You're pretty self-critical; you once said you'd redo the vocals on Pestilence's Consuming Impulse. What do you look for in death metal vocalists?

First, variety, and second, [understandability]. I'm doing my best so you can understand what I'm saying, so you can hear a bit of the lyrics. A lot of singers, they swallow whole lines. They start with the first word and end with the last, and in between they're not saying [the text]. Try to put some variety in your voice. Everybody can try some high and try some low. And a lot of strength from the belly, really.

Have you seen the Melissa Cross DVD [an instructional video for extreme metal vocalists]? [Discussion of DVD ensues.]

Well, she should see the amount of beer and cigarettes that I consume. She would probably first tell me to stop that. But to be honest, you need a certain technique to keep up this voice. And I think I have a natural technique, but it's really hard for me to explain [it] to somebody. I can't tell what's going on in my body. It's hard to describe it in words. Just give me a microphone, a lot of noise from stacks, and then I'll perform and give it my best shot. I couldn't stand in a room with no music and train. I need the music. I need the volume.

You're in your 40's now. What do you see in your future?

I feel really good. I enjoy life. It's like a little rebirth. I enjoy everything I do at this moment very much. There won't be a lot of difference between now and 20 years. The strange thing is, there's a big difference between 21 and 41. But there's no big difference between 41 and 61. If you find your personality, you'll still be the same person. But between 21 and 41, you can change a lot. I changed a lot. I just hope that I continue the way that I'm living now.


Official site
Artist page @ Metal Blade