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Carnation's Jonathan Verstrepen: "It’s impossible for us to say what Death exactly entails; and that is why it remains such an interesting theme or concept to write about or work around when creating art."

Interview with Jonathan Verstrepen from Carnation
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 10 November 2020, 11:30 AM

There have been plenty of speculations over the ages in regards to the experience of Death, and not the process of dying. When the lights go out, and the eyes are finally shut forever, no one knows what there is on the other end. This phenomenon of Death has been an intriguing enigma, with as for now, no mean to solve it. However, it doesn't mean that the imagination cannot cross boarders, coming up with assumptions, whether spiritual or brutal, about the other side. Delivering their sophomore album, "When Death Lies", the Belgian Carnation attempt to do their own exploration. Steinmetal had a talk with the band's Jonathan Verstrepen, crossing the themes of the album, the band's version of Death Metal, and more…

Hello Jonathan, it is great to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

Hi, I’ve been doing great, thanks for having me! We’ve been pretty busy packing all the pre-orders for our new album and now, I’ve finally found some time for this interview.

Earlier on, back in the first wave of Covid-19, Belgium suffered quite dearly, similar to its Dutch and French neighbors. How is Belgium dealing with the second wave of the pandemic? Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel? How have you been dealing with this crazy phenomenon going on?

Well, I’m not sure if you can call this the second wave already, but at the moment it's hard to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve spent a lot of time at home since the pandemic began, which gave me a lot of time to work on new musical projects, listen to albums and to play the guitar.

I bet that you miss performing on stage, right? How have you been holding up that urge?

Well, we actually had the chance to play a show in Eindhoven, Netherlands last month in front of a seated audience. The experience was quite different compared to a traditional Carnation show, but it did give a good feeling and it also reminded us of what it was like before the world went crazy. We can’t wait to perform in packed venues again though, death metal shows aren’t intended to be watched from a chair.

And while the world is bewildered by this virus, your band Carnation is coming forward with its sophomore album, “Where Death Lies”, in a way smoothing a connection between the shaped universe within the album and the grim reality. Talking about the vision and cosmos of the album, what can you tell about the philosophy that leads it?

Most songs on the album are connected to an overarching theme, which is of a more spiritual nature. The stories that are depicted in the lyrics are mostly about the desire to escape the flawed human body and to surpass the limitations of our physical existence. It’s about searching for ways to achieve immortality or about challenging the laws of nature to enable reincarnation.

Other than merely writing a lyrical concept that has a matching to the genre, a matter of opinion of course, what motivation, or sources, that embraced you, and your mates in the band, while focusing on the lyrical part of “Where Death Lies”?

Traditionally, lyrics for death metal tracks often would stay within the realm of gore and horror themed stories. Bands such as Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Carcass and so on have written countless songs about chopping off body parts or surgically removing vital organs. This influence is definitely present in a lot of Carnation songs, but we try to use it more as a building block instead of the entire focus. On ‘Where Death Lies’, we often combine this element with a couple of other influences, such as psychological motives or internal desires, and how far one would go to reach their intended goal.

When it comes to the spirituality that surrounds Death, do you find it as a sort of mystery that needs to be solved or may it be a research of elements that weren’t provided much attention throughout the years?

The atheist in me definitely leans more towards the scientific side of the analysis, but I can’t deny that ‘Death’ is also very mysterious. There are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding ‘Death’, and the portrayal of it in fictional works is often very intriguing. It’s impossible for us to say what Death exactly entails; and that is why it remains such an interesting theme or concept to write about or work around when creating art.

As it also can be heard from your debut, “Chapel of Abhorrence”, and of course neatly hinged, so to speak, on “Where Death Lies”, Carnation is bound by the old school attributes of Death Metal, sort of early 90s Swedish meets the American wave of the deathly extreme. What do you think that the contemporary version of Death Metal, which has been quite prominent, is of a miss in comparison to the early days?

Well, we actually don’t like to use the words ‘Old School Death Metal’ ourselves (laughs). Of course we can't hide the fact that we are highly influenced by the classic Death Metal bands, but we always like to add something fresh to our music, and I think we did that quite well on our new album. There is so much more that we would like to try and experiment with in the future. As a musician, I'm always looking for new things to get inspired by. Not only death metal, but other types of music and art as well. It’s quite hard to sound fresh as a Death Metal band and we don’t want to be one of the ‘Old School Death Metal’ tributes.

“Where Death Lies” turned out to be a reminder that if there is enough motivation, will power and the ability, old school Death Metal can reach high standards. In your opinion, what kind of progress was made on this album in comparison to the band’s previous offerings?

Well, we did experiment a lot on this album in comparison to 'Chapel of Abhorrence'. That is the most fun part of making music; it's the freedom! For example, we tried some clean vocals on ‘In Chasms Abysmal’ and that turned out great! Also, our bass player Yarne has a lot more experience in terms of recording and mixing compared to when we were working on ‘Chapel of Abhorrence’. It’s a major benefit for us as a band that we have so much internal knowledge of how to create a record successfully.

Even today, alongside the modernized version of Death Metal, there has also been a wave of reincarnated Death Metal, classic sounding, acts that pretty much have the same goal as yours. In the vastness of it all, what do you think that makes “Where Death Lies” uncanny or special?

During the writing periods for our EP ‘Cemetery of the Insane’ and our first album ‘Chapel of Abhorrence’; we were still searching for our own identity. With ‘Where Death Lies’; we seem to have found a sound and songwriting style that clearly fits us. The use of two distinctly different guitar tones, combined with a very organic drum sound and well-pronounced albeit brutal sounding vocals are several vital elements to our entity. Fans and critics often tell us that our ‘hooks’ are extremely recognizable and that this songwriting element has become a trademark for Carnation. This seems to make us special, and it makes us stand out from other acts within the genre.

Would you say that your songwriting process changed in a way on “Where Death Lies” in order to perfect yourselves?

The songwriting definitely changed, I'm being influenced by way more music than ever before! We’ve also learned a lot in comparison to the previous releases and we always remain hungry to learn more and get better.

Since both your previous releases were rather celebrated, what form of challenges did you have while writing and recording “Where Death Lies”? Was there a pressure of sorts to come up with a better result?

We had quite a lot of pressure because 'Chapel of Abhorrence' received plenty of good reviews, but the pressure was a good thing to have actually. We definitely seem to work better under pressure. I would say the time constraints are the most challenging; because fans and critics expect you to release a new album in two or three years after the previous record. I don’t believe it had an effect on our songwriting, but the deadline clearly exists and you have to keep it in mind.

The self-titled song was surely a sweet reminder of the classic era of Death Metal, back when it was in its prime element. In manner of speaking, this is a catchy, marketable kind of song. Don’t worry, not radio friendly. How do you appreciate this song? I assume that it would be an amazing addition to the live set when you guys will be able right?

It's definitely one of the songs that captures that old school vibe. We actually played the song live in Eindhoven last month and it gave us so much energy on stage. Not all songs need to be overly complex; a good and simple hook can often do wonders.

The closing track, the epic “In Chasms Abysmal”, like a variety of closing tracks that are lengthy, in contrast to the rest of the tracklist, appears to be conjuring the bits and pieces from anywhere on the album. I also liked the bit of clean vocals, Nick Holmes in pattern, near the end. This song is quite depthy, varied and shows several sides of the band. What can you tell about it?

I’ve always wanted to write a longer song and at some point I thought to myself; why not try it now, on this album. It was one of the last songs to be written during the writing process, and I still had a lot of riffs and ideas that didn't fit in the other songs that were done. It was also the perfect song to experiment with clean vocals; and Simon really surprised us with that!

With the inability to perform live, and yes that it is a hard enough nut to crack, have you considered taking the Carnation blazing performance act and channel it on stream or do you guys need that burning rush to only perform in front of people?

In July, we actually did a livestream show for the Hellgium Festival. It was quite fun, but we don’t feel like doing more of that at the moment. It will depend on how long this difficult situation is going to remain unchanged…

One of the many outcomes of this here reality is virtual touring. Instead of actually going to tour, bands perform several shows around the world, yet close IP addresses for specific locations. What is your take on this option?

These virtual performances don’t provide the same adrenaline and crowd response that you get at a real show. I guess it’s a way of trying to stay relevant; but it doesn’t fill the gap of the real thing.

Once all this is over, what do you expect from 2021? Any particular plans to try to go live? Maybe working on a new album already?

We already have some shows and festivals planned for 2021. Hopefully, these won’t be postponed or cancelled… Fingers crossed! I’ve already written some new material, since I’ve been at home quite a lot lately. But first, we would like to go on the road with ‘Where Death Lies’!

Jonathan, plenty of thanks for your time for this interview. “Where Death Lies” maintains the sensation that once driven Death Metal in early 90s, well done job. Cheers mate.

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for inviting me!


 



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