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FireForce's Erwin Suetens: "We know how the virus behaves and what we can do to fight it, we will never know that from human beings. One day they're on your side, the next day they put a knife in your back..."

Interview with Erwin Suetens from FireForce
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 28 November 2020, 10:18 PM

History teaches, at least from certain points of view, that sometimes to peace can only be achieved, or even protected, by means of violence. It is kind of like to enforce peace by means that are necessary. Diplomacy should always be the aspiration, yet as history shows, violence came forth and took over. With hopes that are society will continue to evolve to find solutions without the use of force, Belgium's FireForce made a quick reminder so folks would never forget the past, even though some never really forgot, with their new album "FireForce". Steinmetal had a chat with guitarist Erwin Suetens about new beginnings for the band, the album's concepts, natural evolution of the music and more…

Hello Erwin, it is a major pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing kind sir?

Sir? Come on, I'm just a “normal” guy! Haha! I've been doing fine so far, and I hope it'll stay that way considering the times we're living in.

It hasn't been easy on anyone as the pandemic is at its second wave, ascertaining its position in the social order of countries that have been getting into renewed lockdowns. What is your input on the situation? Is the Belgian government doing enough in order to lower the infection rates? How is the public responding to these means to save it?

The government is doing something, but I don't think it's enough. They should close down everything (and I mean *everything*) and reopen after three weeks. Now we're in a situation where we're doing *something*, but never enough. Which is why after 8 months, culture and recreation are still in a state of complete “standstill”. Come on… They're counting on “good citizenship” and “common sense” from the public… That will never happen.

FireForce has been a band known to be quite active in its own Metal scene and of course in Western Europe. Since the pandemic is still heavily relevant, there is no culture life, therefore, no shows. Other than the album period, which already concluded, how have you been personally keeping yourself busy from not going insane?

Well, I'm working in an “essential” industry (a big chemical company here in Antwerp with roots in Germany), so for me nothing has changed professionally. On a cultural level, on the other hand… sad. I'm very lucky that the main work for our new album was already done before the lockdown, and there was still a lot of planning to do for the release. Between two lockdowns we recorded the videos for the album, did photo shoots, recorded three extra songs, and changed record company. So not too bad yet, but things have to change in 2021… Please!

In the last couple of years the wind of change stuck upon the ranks of FireForce, with your iconic vocalist Filip Lemmens leaving the band, Søren Nico Adamsen (ex-Artillery) taking the helm of the vocals yet not staying for too long, lead guitarists changed but all came to a close with the arrival of Nightmare’s stringer Matt Asselberghs, which also took on the vocals. How do you conclude this rather challenging period of changes when it comes to the FireForce lineup?

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I'm the kind of person who tries to make positives from every negative. When Søren and Rooky (Marcus Forstbauer) joined the band, it was a giant leap forward, and that's why we recorded the “The Iron Brigade” EP. When Søren changed jobs, he couldn't find the time to travel abroad for shows anymore. I respect that. He was there when we needed him, and that's why he's deserving of my eternal gratitude. The same goes for Rooky. After a change of job, things got a lot harder for him. He also is professionally and contractually involved in other projects, so a lack of time was also an issue. He wasn't available, but we both knew Matt, and that's how Matt became involved. After a while, we realized that Matt was also a great singer. We gave it a try, and the rest is history!

With the prospect recruitment of Asselberghs, also known as Hawk, FireForce signed with Rock Of Angels Records, for the release of its fourth album, “Rage Of War”. Quite a move that was done after being bound to Limb Music. What are your expectations from ROAR!, in particular when it comes to the promotional process of “Rage Of War”? What did you find in the ROAR! Crew that made you sign the papers?

ROAR! came to my attention after it became clear there was no more future with our former label. ROAR! made some great promotional proposals, and they're generally just really great guys. And on top of that, our producer's band Mystic Prophecy is also signed with their label – so what could possibly go wrong! Haha!

FireForce, as a unit, has always been infested by the conceptual intrigues of war, upon its manifestation. What are the pinnacle stories and lessons that you paid attention to on “Rage Of War”?

I've always been interested in history. If we don't learn from history, the same mistakes will be made over and over again. I think stories from individuals who single-handedly changed history are very interesting. Sometimes their great deeds changed the outcome of a battle, while others did something stupid and were forgotten. Stories like that intrigue me. Then there is the ruthlessness and cruelty of how some leaders treat their people… A lot of people around the world today still have to put up with tyranny.

For example the song “108-118”, it's about the Kursk. 108 meters deep, 118 lives lost. It could have been less if the Soviets had allowed help from other countries, but they didn't… Or “A Price To Pay” - it refers to a tweet from a person we all know, in response to a chemical attack… The people guilty have to pay a price for that, and later *they* will be saying "they'll pay a price for that"… and so on… This way it will never stop. There will always be a price to pay for someone…

“Running” is about Zulu warriors that could run very long distances, and still have enough energy left to charge their enemies when they arrive. Incredible… If you're curious about the other songs: read the lyrics on the album! Haha!

Going a little general here, with War being a theme also made to teach lessons of past mistakes, other than simply telling a story for the thrill of it, have you ever thought of perhaps coming up with solutions, through songs, to reshape the social order of mankind to prevent the horrors of war?

No, I haven't. I always try to live with respect for other living creatures, animals or humans, on this planet. That's a basic rule for living in peace. Still, if they try to harm me or my family, I will fight. It's not always possible to solve problems without violence, sadly…

When you listen to the album, along while thinking about the themes that you came across while writing the material, do you believe that Mankind learned a lesson or two and perhaps it has a chance to reach a utopian future of peace?

I don't think so. There are too many egos and too much greed on this planet. That will never change…

As the chief lyricist of the band, what do you believe in when it comes to mankind always with that weird will to destroy itself?

People are always willing to believe that a bad situation is someone else's fault, instead of their own. "The other guy is wrong, not me!" This sows the seeds of hatred and war. It'll be like this forever.

FireForce’s straightforward swiftness is once again on the pedestal with “Rage Of War”, however, it became steel solid, delivered in a higher level of performance and proficiency. Would you say that this record is a pivotal change in the band’s career, taking it forward further steps to become stronger in Europe?

I really hope so. It's just a progression in how I write songs, I think. I never realized I did something different than before, but everybody says I do! Haha! It's the complete picture that makes it what it is now. Studio, producers, singer, attitude… All these small pieces make one big “thing”. Everybody is just a piece of the larger puzzle, even me…

Would you say that the musical process of making and shaping up “Rage Of War” was a needed aspect for the band?

It evolved naturally. Everybody felt they had to do their best, and nobody was complaining “Oh no, do I really have to practice for this? Do I really have to re-record this again?”. We all had the same goal, to create something that would be worth listening to! And so everybody gave it all they had – their absolute best!

How would you summarize the Hawk’s contribution to the album’s stellarness? Other than being a prominent guitarist, Hawk’s vocal delivery cannot go unnoticed, making the FireForce direction to become heavier, rough yet no less melodic. What is your input on this notion?

Hawk played all solos and melody lines on the album, for starters. And as soon as we did the first demo-recording with his voice, I knew. "This is it!" Warm, heavy, melodic and with feeling… lots of feeling… We all felt like we were reborn!

It is quite evident, whether due to the sound, and to some of the songs’ approaches and directions, that Mystic Prophecy’s R.D. Liapakis had something to do with it, and I am referring to him on a positive note. How would you describe Lia’s influence on the album’s making process?

We did the instrumental recordings in Belgium, in Bob Briessinck's Breeze Inc. Studios. He's our sound engineer, and fortunately he was available. He did a tremendous job. Vocal coaching is something different though, and that's why we went to Germany again, to record the vocals in the Prophecy and Music Factory studios. Lia, who is a very good friend of mine, knows how to coach a singer like no other. After all, it was the first time Hawk would record vocals for a real metal band, so we decided it would be the best choice. And because Hawk was eager to learn, and was open to changes, it became a success!

Since I am all in for crushing skulls kind of Metal, I fell straight away for “FirePanzer”. This is a kind of a kick in the teeth that I needed from FireForce. However, other than being a mere speedster crusher, it also has its emotive touch, which is quite interesting for a song dealing with the old German steel beast. What is your take on that?

The song is cross-pollination between reality and fiction. It's about the first days in September 1939 in Poland. Polish lancers armed with lances attacked German tanks on horseback, and were decimated. At least, that's the story.

In reality, the lancers attacked German infantry, only armed with light weapons, and butchered those. The lancers did not only carry lances, but also machine guns, rifles, and even anti-tank rifles. After this attack, two German armored reconnaissance vehicles came out of the bushes with blazing machine guns. That's when the Polish lancers were butchered.

Both sides used it as propaganda. The Germans said “Look how stupid those Poles are, attacking tanks with lances!”. The Polish said: “Look how brave our soldiers are, they attack tanks with lances!”. Both were talking bullshit… I used my imagination and made the German tanks into the mystical “firepanzer”…

The “emo” part you should see as one of the lancers lying on his back in the grass, wounded, staring at the sky and wondering from where this steel beast, spitting fire, came from.

“Army Of Ghosts” takes a slightly similar direction to the former mentioned tune, yet with a stronger, somewhat atmospheric and deep, kind of chorus that spews drama all over. What can you tell about this tune and its creation process?

This song is based on the movie "The Railway Man". It's about the Japanese internment camps during the Second World War and their atrocities. You surrendered, so you're not worthy of humane treatment because you're a coward. And cowards only deserve to work and die… As soon as I saw the scene where one of the prisoners uses the phrase “We're only an army of ghosts”, the song came alive in my head…

I could only guess that “Forever In Time” has something to do with your country’s history, such a sorrowful tune, as if a sung epitaph. What was the event in question? How do you feel about it personally?

Yes, it's Belgian history. Ten Belgian blue berets (paratroopers from UNAMIR) were murdered, butchered, and slaughtered in Rwanda on April 7th 1994, while on a peace keeping mission.

“Their Achilles tendons were cut so they couldn't run. The Belgian soldiers were then castrated, and died choking on their own genitalia,” said one of the murderers…

They were sent on this mission with little ammunition and no backup, they were not allowed to bring heavy weapons – there was no danger to them and it would only be a couple of hours. That's what the Belgian government said, as well as the UN. When they were surrounded, they were not allowed to fight back. A few of them survived the first atrocities and could retake their weapons and make a last stand until they were all killed. Some of the main officers drove by the place where it happened, and they did NOTHING. They never apologized for this drama…

On April 15th 1994, the last of the Belgian troops pulled out, soon to be followed by the other UN-contingents. When the paratroopers descend from the plane on the Belgian military airfield, some of them took out their knife, ritually cut their blue UN-caps to pieces, and vowed never to fight under the UN-flag again.

I personally feel very bad about this. How can a country (or at least its officers) betray their own men like this? They were there for peacekeeping, and they weren't even allowed to defend themselves? They were paratroopers - normally they would never turn in their weapons unless they were ordered by higher a ranking officer to do so… It's appalling.

With the emergence of “Rage Of War”, how do you relate the happenings on the record with the current Covid struggle that the world faces? Is there a fine line between an actual battlefield and the ongoing war against a virus in your opinion?

There's one big difference. We know how the virus behaves and what we can do to fight it, we will never know that from human beings. One day they're on your side, the next day they put a knife in your back…

Were there considerations by the band to take its show online, at least for the moment?

We have a planned a live release show in Germany in January. But right, now we're not even allowed to rehearse here in Belgium. I don't have a clue what will happen in the future. Online? I don't know if that's even possible. Hawk's from France, we're in Belgium. And as said before; we're not even allowed to rehearse…

Erwin, I wish to thank you for your time and input, I enjoyed the record very much, and I believe it to be your best to date. Cheers.

Thanks a lot for your interest in Fireforce – hail to you!


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