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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Iconic Villains, Atmospheric Darkness, and Horror Lyricism: An Interview With Aborted’s Sven de Caluwé

For two and a half decades, Aborted have been a constant force of death metal ferocity. With their 11th studio album ManiaCult having released last week, the band once again delivers a visceral presentation of bloodthirsty riffs, skull annihilating blast beats, and soul-splitting shrieks. Among their contemporaries, Aborted not only stands as one of the more prominent bands in death metal, but also one of the most chilling. ManiaCult is not only one of the heaviest records of 2021, but easily an album of the year contender.

In a conversation with Bloody Disgusting, vocalist Sven de Caluwé shares details behind the chilling figure of Wayland Thurston, what he believes makes for effective horror lyricism, his personal horror favorites, the band’s atmospheric goals on ManiaCult, and what he believes is the most important lesson in creating art

BD: What was the inspiration in writing around Wayland Thurston? Was that meant to display a love for Lovecraft?

Sven: We always do kind of weird, very limited edition [merch] for our fans. This time around, we tried to figure out what we could, and the [idea] of an action figure came up. When you’re doing an action figure, you need a figure; so we tried to come up with this central figure, who is this crazy, ‘80s –’90s based slasher, that is the one slasher to rule them all. He needed a name, so we took Wayland Thurston, because of course, that’s the narrator from Call of Cthulhu. Other than that, the [character and album] have very little to do with Lovecraft, but I think it was a nice nod towards the literary world of horror.

BD: What is the band’s writing process when it comes to horror-based lyricism? What is it that you strive to accomplish in writing horror?

Sven: The complex thing that I’m usually trying to go for… a lot of the songs have a deeper meaning that are rooted in reality. I think that’s what usually makes the best horror films too. If you look back on the ‘80s and ‘90s, a lot of those horror films that were very fantastical were always rooted in some base of reality or some sort of social subject that they were trying to bring to the table, but in a fantastical or absurd way. I think that is the strength in that time in movies, and the better modern movies do that as well. I try to [apply] the same approach with our concepts and lyrics, such as with ManiaCult. [The album] is not just about a cult – the deeper meaning there for me is the general division in society and mental health issues over the last couple of years that we’ve seen more and more surfacing.

BD: Music obviously doesn’t have a visual element to it like film or TV, so what do you think makes for effective horror in music? Do you think it is that intimacy of hitting something human, tapping into what is taking place in the world?

Sven: I think it is partially that, but [considering] the full picture – you can’t just have happy-sounding music and then just talk about disgusting, disturbing stuff. It won’t add up. I think it is the mixture of not only the death metal aspect of the music, but also the soundscapes you add to it to make it more extreme.

BD: What do you personally get from horror?

Sven: I think it’s literally both the things you mentioned. It really depends on the type of movie you’re watching, because there’s stuff that’s just – let’s just say the Transformers movies of horror films. If you’re watching a zombie film, you know it’s not going to be something psychological. You know what you’re getting yourself into. Some movies, and to name a good example, the first Don’t Breathe movie has a really fucked up plot twist towards the end. That was very interesting what they did with that. Or something like Get Out, where it’s very interesting when you understand what is actually going on; I thought that was very fresh and interesting view and made the movie so much more disturbing. Those kinds of movies are the ones I like that challenge me.

BD: Can you share some of your favorite works of horror?

Sven: A lot of the classics from the ‘80s and ‘90s. I think one of the best remakes ever made was The Fly from David Cronenberg. I think to this day, the practical effects in that movie are so disturbing; it’s crazy how powerful and disturbing that movie still is. It is a fantastic movie. Other than that, if you go more fantastical, I love Clive Barker – books and movies. In the past couple years, I thought the It remakes were actually really good. I like the old Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I thought the remake starring Jessica Biel [2003] was really good. […] The Hellraiser movies are some of my favorites. I mean, a lot of those movies that had the iconic villains, which for some reason disappeared. There are not really any new movies with any iconic figures, besides maybe [Saw’s] Jigsaw was the last one I want to say. Be that your Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, all that kind of stuff – for me, that’s what I grew up with, so I have a strong affinity for that kind of stuff.

BD: Well given that love for iconic villains, I imagine that brings a greater rush and level of entertainment in having Wayland take center stage in ManiaCult?

Sven: Oh yeah absolutely. I think he’s a mixture of all those characters I just mentioned. We used to have a guy called The Doctor in the past – we moved away from that – but it’s fantastic to have a new central figure knee-deep in our universe of horror. It’s definitely a lot of fun to play with.

BD: What is the band’s typical writing process? What were you and the band’s goals in creating ManiaCult

Sven: What we usually do before every record is analyze what we did last time. It’s more of a question of, where do we go from here? What do we want to achieve with this next album? Do we want to make it more technical? More extreme? What’s the point of writing a new record? Do we have anything new to add or not? For ManiaCult, we said we wanted to explore the darker, atmospherical [sic] parts of the band, but also bring back a bunch of stuff we haven’t done in a long time. The initial goal was to write an album that is as dynamic as possible. I think we succeeded – at least to me, but I’m biased – in writing what is to me our most well-rounded record.

BD: As a vocalist how do you like to push and challenge your voice? How much do you want to expand upon your vocals, and on ManiaCult, how did you want to experiment with your voice?

Sven: I always want to experiment because I’m always trying to come up with new stuff that works for me. There are all sorts of crazy new vocalists out there, it’s very impressive and inspiring to see these young kids doing all this crazy shit. A lot of times you draw inspiration from that, or you’re recording and joking around, and you discover some sounds that make you go, “Wait a minute, this sounds pretty cool, what can I do with this?” And that’s what I did on ManiaCult, I’ve been experimenting with – dare I say – a black metal register and adding some more like, what is based on “old school” [death metal] vocals. So I’m trying to add those elements in there and see what they do with what I already do.

BD: How do you and the band avoid burnout?

Sven: It depends because we have periods where we are not really writing; when we are intensely touring, we just can’t. We don’t have the time. When we are home in between those periods, we just enjoy not being on tour and not being occupied with music. But whenever we start thinking about the next album, that’s when the [creativity] kicks into gear. Whenever we have breaks from touring, that’s when we will get to the writing. This last period of [writing] has been very challenging because we haven’t seen each other since the start of the pandemic; we had to write this record without even meeting. We recorded it all separately. I think actually, one of the biggest helps for the band during this last period was working on this record – it was the only way we were still connected to the band and music in general. In a way, it was very cathartic for us to do this record, and have it turn out the way it did was fantastic for us.

BD: With Aborted playing and performing for two and a half decades, what lessons have you learned at this point in your career?

Sven: I think the most important lesson you can always learn, or that you should learn, is enjoying what you’re doing and having fun. Because if you’re too focused on the business aspect, success or whatever – the downside of being a musician – if you’re playing this kind of music, you’re not going to last. You’re playing very extreme music; you’re playing something that is not mainstream. If you’re not in it for the right reasons, it isn’t going to work. Whatever you do, make sure that your heart is in it and you have a good time. That is the most important lesson for anyone.

ManiaCult is available now and can be purchased via IndieMerchStore


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