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Codex Mortis's Mathieu Westerveld: "This superstition or these mysteries of life, death and everything in between is great fiction, but personally I believe life ends with a worms’ bacchanal"

Interview with Dirk Willems & Mathieu Westerveld from Codex Mortis
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 01 January 2022, 10:29 PM

The experience of the afterlife is merely projected through either books, movies and paintings. How does Death feel like? Time's endless question, which might never be answered. Maybe it is simpler than anyone think, yet there are those who choose to make it more than it is. The newfound Dutch Black Metal band, Codex Mortis, which became an inspiration for its two founding members for a continued exploration of their music, released its debut album, “What Befalls of Tainted Souls”. Steinmetal had a talk with Dirk Willems & Mathieu Westerveld about the new band, the creation of the record, a little pandemic and more…

Hello gentlemen, it is quite the pleasure of having you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how has life been treating you mate?

D: Not bad at all. Working, kids, music, friends, drinking, CrossFit. Enough to keep busy with.

M: Fine, could be better for obvious reasons.

Since I have several contacts in the Netherlands, I know that the situation with the pandemic hasn’t been easy, generally speaking. Since this phenomenon, other than being a health hazard, has also been influencing people’s motivation to do anything, how has it affected you in person?

D: Not really. I mean, in the beginning (about 2 years ago) it was weird, new and strange, but now I am used to it, and it has become a part of everyday life.

M: It hasn’t affected my motivation, but you must be creative to practice your hobbies, or you feel a bit powerless at the most when things like the curfew and social distancing prevent you from making music or enjoying live shows.

Your band, Codex Mortis, which I saw that is from Amersfoort, a town which I really like, and been there several times, hasn’t been out there for long. What can you tell about it in short? What is the band’s overall vision? What can you tell about its image?

D: That’s good to hear and you're always welcome to come back! Well, Mathieu and I played in Baatezu for about 22 years and share, besides the obvious 80ies and 90ies death and black metal, a common passion for classical music. I since played in some other bands, but it never quite felt quite right. Mathieu had written a lot in that time (an album and then some).  So, it was a no brainer to start something new after our first band ceased to be. In his process of songwriting, we talked about the vibe it gave and what should be added or stored for later use. But for me, it was mainly about the feeling it gave. Next, we took our time finding the right bandmates. The most important thing we agreed on was that we would never hurry anything. We’d rather spend time writing and saving up for recording than compromising on things.

M: In previously working with Dirk as a singer, it became clear to me, I had to redirect the style of music to be more in the Black metal spectrum to make the best of his voice. He has this fantastic way to tell a story instead of just blabbering lyrics when he knows and feels what he is singing. To emphasize all that is to a story besides the words, like intonation, emotion, etc. and maybe therefore some lyrics are in Dutch as well, since I guess it’s easier to express yourself in the native tongue.

Signing with a local label for starters, finding a home within Vidar Records, you delivered your debut album, “What Befalls of Tainted Souls”. Did you know right from the start that you wanted to begin by signing closer to home, a local label that speaks your language and understands your musical prospect?

D: With a new band it’s always the question of “who wants to take the risk”, signing considered. We already knew Vidar from previous bands and gigs, and he was willing to take the risk, and we are grateful that he did.

M: Working with Clemens and Ed from Vidar surely has been great so far, and most of the band were already acquainted with them. Being an ambitious band, we sure have the wish to sign a greater label in the future, but things must fit. Also, editing, mixing and mastering of the album took quite some time and was finished just before the pandemic. By then we had completed the compositions for our debut’s successor, so at the time, I really wished to keep things going.

The colourful, and literature driven title, “What Befalls of Tainted Souls”, other than having a good ring to it, looked to me like a part of a chant, opening a portal into a darkened chasm, the void. What do you make of this phrase?

D: Mathieu and myself both wrote the lyrics to this album. I made a set-up and he finished where I had a block. When writing (which takes forever I might add), a certain feeling forms a mental image as I listen to our songs over and over, and then we discuss this. I have no ambition to be the next ‘anti-Christian-Satan-worshipping-lyrics’ band and since I am personally very fond of old European folk stories, myths and legends that was the way to go.

M: After the lyrics were done their source of inspiration obviously seemed to contain tainted spirits, restless souls or occult entities as a common denominator. Combined with our name “Codex Mortis” (Book of the Dead) these are tales of those souls written down in the Codex, which also explains the cover art.

Does the overall theme of the album exemplify your version of what happens to corrupted souls and where those are destined to forever suffer? Is this a kind of version that is closer to hell, or is it actually hell?

D: That is the question, who knows? But I do believe that bad energy stays attached to a place or thing and definitely in the mind of those that stay behind or read about it later. We all create our own version what happens after or during death, but we are all influenced by what was written and said by the people and societies that came before us.

M: According to the folklore and myths which inspired the lyrics, people have a hard time accepting the inexplicable. This superstition or these mysteries of life, death and everything in between is great fiction, but personally I believe life ends with a worms’ bacchanal.

The dossier mentions something that I found true interest in, and I believe that it wasn’t just a line to market the album. It tells of the resurrection of dead composers. Who are they? Is it a sort of tribute to past Metal musicians that created the extremity in Metal or ancient legends?

D: It is more of a tribute to the people that came before them; the classical composers of the 17th and 18th century.

M: Yes, we get inspired by classical themes and this translates into my songwriting, hence the resurrection. For instance, the end of Fallen is a thematic editing of Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28 no 20 in C minor.

Is there a relation between what happens within “What Befalls of Tainted Souls” and the pandemic outside the listener’s spectrum or is it rather a means to escape a harsher reality only in order to face a different one in kind?

D: No, there is no intended relation. The album itself and the lyrics were finished long before the pandemic.

The album’s artwork is literally an open book. However, I would like to know your side of the story in regards to what we are looking at. Please elaborate.

D: It is in fact the Codex Mortis itself with the stories and souls escaping from it.

M: Correct, the haunted faces or skulls I depicted in the artwork resemble the different stories within the Codex: By opening this book filled with vile necrotic conjurations the restless souls trapped within are set free once more to haunt all those unfortunate enough to meet their sickening wailing.

I believe that labelling the musical happening on “What Befalls of Tainted Souls” as merely Black Metal would be a bitter mistake, might even add a mislead. It would appear that you explored beyond, adhering Death Metal, courting atmospheric elements here and there while also embracing melodies as one of your prime efforts. Since you guys have experience from various bands, how would you say that “What Befalls of Tainted Souls” developed your songwriting skills?

D: Well, I think we never bowed to a certain style or genre in our first band, Baatezu, which was a mix of different styles and influences. We just did what felt right and the same goes for Codex, not be limited by what a genre wants or expects. As a band, you certainly will be labelled a specific genre because we humans want order and its easier that way. To be clear; I don’t mind being put in a certain genre, if someone wants to call it black its fine with me, I really don’t mind either way. It’s the vibe it gives that’s important to us.

M: True, we make the music for our own likings, not those of fans or critics. Sure, it’s nice to be appreciated, but we have no intentions to write songs to please others. On the other hand, this makes it kind of hard to label your music when asked to. As Dirk mentioned with our previous band, we did not confine to one specific genre, but songwriting was more like adding great riffs to the pile. I think my songwriting matured most with Bodyfarm as I learned to write that riff-writing should be done more in service of the song, so to balance it out more and know when the music needs to climax and when not to. But still, I have a hard time killing my darlings hahaha.

What can you tell about the mood swings going on in “What Befalls of Tainted Souls”? How did you find the right angle to connect the music with the general feel of each of the songs?

M: In music I enjoy a certain diversity, and I think when writing songs, the conjuncture of melodies, rhythms and tempos within an album can lift it to a higher level. When all songs sound the same the good songs won’t stand out. I’m not saying you should write bad songs, haha, but one or two slightly different songs completes an album in my opinion. As Dirk mentioned before, on What Befalls… our songwriting starts with discussing my riffing and complementing this with Dirk’s lyrical ideas.

We talked about the melodic features on the record. How do you capture the importance of melodies as a driving force for your music? Would you say that it is perhaps one of the album’s main events?

M: Yes, this might be the result of me starting with riffing and not with the lyrics. I often look at the instruments as part of a classical piece, for instance a lot of the twin guitar parts were created with string instruments like violins in mind. For me, as a musician the best compliment is when you catch someone humming your tune, when it still sticks with them an hour or so after the first listening. I kind of brainwashed my girlfriend and daughter already, but they have been subjected to multiple involuntary listening sessions. I found the melodic features as you call them of more importance than making it sound brutal. With Dirk in our ranks, I worry not for ‘sounding brutal’ to be more than okay.

What were your biggest challenges working on “What Befalls of Tainted Souls”? How did you know how to confront these obstacles while the album was in the making?

M: I guess the recording process. For me it had been quite a while since I last did studio time, a lot has changed in the 15 years. But luckily, we found in Jan-Willem van Voorst a very dedicated sound engineer, and learned a lot.

D: The first challenge was for the (then new) band members to learn to play the music and for us to get them in the right mode, hahaha.

M: True, but we fixed that when we found Jeroen and Steven (both guitar players) and we were already familiar with Alex (our drummer).

Usually it isn’t that easy to find gratifying catchiness within your direction of music, nonetheless, I believe that you found a prospect, which would also make a great live tune, in the image of “Fallen”. What can you tell about this song and its creation process?

D: It is one of my favorite songs and makes me think about a good friend of us that died few years ago (Thomas Wouters). The lyrics are not about him directly but carry certain thoughts.

M: In fact, this was one of the last songs written if I recall it correctly. When writing the album, I felt something was missing, the slower tempos were not that much represented to make a well-balanced album. Together with a more song-driven approach where Dirks story-telling capacities could excel this was for me the moment to incorporate a heavy classical influenced ending.

One of the meaty, heavier chunks of the record, yet also the most articulate tune, is “The Drowned”. I believe that it encompasses the band’s wide range of musical abilities in a single offering. What is your take on this particular track?

M: Mmm, in contradiction to Fallen, that was one of the first tracks I wrote, and some parts even predates Codex. It sure has a lot of different elements. Personally, I really like the lead in the end of the verse with the two different underlying rhythm-guitar parts, one in 3s and one in 4s. Also, Dirk displays a great variety in vocals. Upon reviewing our album, we got asked if we surely have only one singer.

D: I would agree with you. Though it is not my favorite track, it has a lot of different elements. As a vocalist it gives you a lot to play with and lets you go all out.

The records’ sound is a sort of meeting between old and new, which is a direction that numerous bands have been using in order to emphasize a cohesion of both worlds, the new and old. Who engineered your release? What is your appreciation of the work made and of the band’s sound?

M: The recordings, mixing and mastering were all done by our buddy Jan-Willem van Voorst, who we knew as Bodyfarm's sound engineer and did a great job recording Graceless. We set for a similar sound as we have in the rehearsal room, being honest, using our own amps and gear, and not sounding overly produced. The guitar parts for instance, are analogue recordings and we even experimented with a room-mic to give it a more natural or old-school feel, so except for the solo’s, no re-amping was done. Jan-Willem worked his magic and we fine-tuned this to everybody’s liking. He did a great job, and I praise him for his patience.

Do you even consider going live this year or do you rather wait for 2022 to bring better news?

D: Well, it’s almost 2022 and as we speak, we have a new lock down, but we hope to play a few shows next year. We have one booked for April and we are open for other bookings, so we’ll see. For now, we are working on the live set with our new drummer Quint Meerbeek and recording our second album which is well on the way with all the drums recorded and almost all guitar tracks.

M: 2021 was a heavy year for several reasons, Covid being the most obvious one for outsiders. The first year of the pandemic left us without a drummer, Alex decided to fully focus on his other band Phlebotomized. A talented drummer like Alex is not easily replaced so in the meanwhile we teamed up with Pestilence’s Michiel van der Plicht to record the drums for our upcoming album but were without a drummer for almost a year. And not being able to rehearse that much with the ever-changing government measures wasn’t helpful at all finding one. Also, Jeroen had a some serious health-issues from which he luckily recovered. On a happier note, we welcomed Quint Meerbeek this fall to fulfil the drummer vacancy. For 2022 I wish we could finally bring ‘What Befalls’ to the stage together with our new material, which is going to be awesome.

What do you miss most about the cultural life in your area? What is the first thing that you would do given the chance that everything opens up?

D: Go to the pub, hahaha. And besides drinking with our mates and brothers we really want to start playing live with our new line up which besides Quint on drums also includes Arjan van Dune on guitars.

M: I would add visiting shows or festivals, without being seated. But sure, the pub first, as soon as it opens.

Guys, I wish to thank you for this interview and for your efforts. You made an amazing debut record, and I could only hope that you would continue laying down great material. Cheers

D & M: Thank you Lior, Happy New Year



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