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SAMMATH Talks War, Back Metal & “Across The Rhine Is Only Death”

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2019 has been a massive year for metal and black metal in particular, with the exceptional releases from the underground making it impossible for most of us to create a definitive list of the best black metal albums of the year. Across The Rhine Is Only Death by Dutch black metal band Sammath is a serious contender and in a nutshell, is TOTAL WAR! I caught up with Jan Kruitwagen, founder and lead-vocalist of Sammath to ask him all about the success of their latest release and all that inspired its creation.

Hey Jan, thank you for chatting with me. Sammath banded in 1994 and you guys have a fairly mixed culture within the band. Tell me about the cultural dynamics of Sammath and how your band formed?

“Hey Kelly! No worries, thanks for the interest and the bloody nice review also! I moved over to Europe from Australia in 1990. Right after year 10. The metal virus I caught in Australia. I could name 200 bands here I love from back in the day and still listen to. But it was the first Kreator and Deathrow I heard first. Once over in Europe, I was in many different bands for fun, but those bands aren’t worth mentioning. Great blokes, but music-wise total shit. In 92 and 93, Sammath took form and over the last 25 years, we have done 6 albums, each different up unto Godless Arrogance in 2014. The new album Across The Rhine Is Only Death stays along the same lines, war and fast! This time we stripped away even more melody so that all that remains is death!”

What is it like for a Dutch/ Australia black metal band hailing from Germany? Since your start, have you always had a strong fan base in Germany?

“Over here people see us as Dutch black metal, which we are. I live 200 meters across the border into Germany. The rest of the band also lives in The Netherlands, and our first albums were also written in Dutch. But because we were on German Folter Records for the first 18 years we did get great following in Germany.”

“Compared to 1994 when you first started, how have you seen the metal industry change? Be it for better or worse, and why? The internet made it huge and also killed it in some ways. The amount of hipster idiots online is beyond insane. Someone who in real life wouldn’t even dare approach you makes tough-ass comments, or people commenting on reviews and interviews in general. Look at lots of the YouTube comments on metal bands, it is pretty bloody strange. People getting into arguments sitting behind their shitty computer or phone about how good this or that band is or isn’t and they have never been to a show and don’t own any CDs. On the other hand, I now get to talk to folks from anywhere on the planet who live for extreme metal. Sammath gets orders from Mongolia to Canada and Norway to South Africa, so that’s good. The amount of releases is insane though, and without trying to be a cunt, the amount of utter crap being released is also huge.”

Your latest release, ‘Across The Rhine Is Only Death’ Is aggressive, intense and the sounds of total war! Where does your inspiration come from? Are your themes based on any specific significant battles in history? And if so which ones?

“Thanks, the inspiration is always around. I can pick up my guitar any time of day and start writing riffs. Mostly by night, I throw away 90% of them but that’s the way it is. It’s in my blood haha. This last CD deals with the Rhineland campaign Feb march 1945. The first time the Germans were fighting on home ground. This all happened where I live and I even found shell casings in my backyard. In the beginning, I was much inspired by the early Norwegian bands with all the middle ages crap, but along the way, after the first release it pretty much quickly changed into war-themed no bullshit extreme metal. The new CD has a limited-edition wood box which included a shell casing I unearthed on the battlefields.”

There is a lot of anger and a lot of hatred within your lyrics and music… yet you guys seem like nice folk. Where does the anger come from?

“How do you conjure up the spirit of contempt to produce such devastating sounds and hostile lyrics? I have no idea. I get this question many many times a year. When we are booked for shows the bookers are afraid we are some sort of evil elitist assholes but are pretty much the opposite of that. We are a friendly lot. Maybe I’m friendly because of the music. I can get pissed of easy and I don’t have much patience but only when called for. And as I grew up in Australia I never run away from a fistfight and am used to fighting. Over here in Europe, things are a lot friendlier. Wim and Rudd also, friendly dudes.”

How have fans and people in general responded to your latest album? Has it been a success for you since its release? And how do you gauge this success?

“Good and bad but mostly very very good. We sold out the first 500 CDs in 8 days, also the limited edition of 100 wood boxes and 300 vinyl were gone in those 10 days. So it pretty much overwhelmed us a bit. Some just can’t handle the fact that there is no mystery to our music. No stage names, no gimmick crap, no hoodie-wearing imagery. It’s just not us, we do this exactly how we want to. No candle burning bullshit. Just fast as hell black, death war thrash grind metal. So for some, it’s just to strange, not real black metal or not real war metal. The greatest thing is that it’s always been, so love it or hate it.”

Outside of Germany, where have most of the purchases of ‘Across The Rhine Is Only Death’ come from?

“Hard to tell. The only info I got is from the limited edition, half of those went to the USA. I would say The Netherlands, Germany, France the rest of Europe and outside of Europe and also Australia we sold lots of the new album too personally through our Big Cartel. I was pretty bloody pleased the last limited edition went to a bloke in Australia. It’s where I grew up and I still feel Australian, that’s never gonna leave me.”

Tell me about the production of your latest album? Were there any challenges you had to face as a band to pull this album together, and if so, how did you find resolve?

“Many challenges but that’s half the fun. I built my own rehearsal room three years ago. A proper room with great audio, where we can play 24/7. Hammerheart gave us a bloody nice budget to get the album recorded. So instead of going to a studio, we let one come to us. I told the producer what we wanted to do. Record this as honest as possible. No cutting parts, no drums editing, 1 take tracks. The producer set it all up and all we had to do when recording the drums is press start, and when Wim was done press stop. He would fetch the recordings at night, listen to them, adjust things until it was perfect and then we recorded everything. This way of recording, at home, with great gear made it all sound very natural. Even though it took me 6868489 takes for some tracks, it’s still all 1take, Even if the drummer had to puke or fingers were bleeding, this is honest music. That’s why it sounds so bloody aggressive…because it’s real.”

One of my favourites from Across The Rhine Is Only Death is track 7, “Bitter Fighting Amongst The Dead” – this crushed me. Can you please explain the story to this track, where it derived from?

“Thanks, that track is also my fave, not only to listen to but to play, it’s insane. I’m just starting to get the hang of it now without my fingers falling off every time. The level of sheer pounding torment in the drums, bass and the riffs is almost the max of what we can do. This track deals with the first 2 nights where the Canadian troops were entering Moyland woods, (where the shell casing from the limited edition was unearthed from) Once the road was crossed those men faced hundreds of fanatic German soldiers defending their homeland for the first time. In the night, bitter hand to hand fighting took place in those dark woods. We found buttons, shell casing, pieces of clothes, shrapnel. That place was hell on earth those days in February of 1945. Everyone knows about D-Day but asks the soldiers what the worst time of the war was and many would say, the first month of entering Germany. The CD builds up from the crossing of the border into Germany to finally reaching the Rhine river and crossing it. This is where the CD ends but the war and the mass slaughter were far from over.”

Sammath is no stranger to the live arena. Are there plans to tour your new album outside of Germany? And if so where can fans expect to see you play?… Australia maybe?

“We are playing Russia, Romania, Italy, Germany, and The Netherlands this winter. We only do live shows in the winter because of my job and we don’t want to lose the level of hunger. 10 shows a year is the maximum. Bring us over to Australia and we will play for free!!! haha”

For some of us, who might not get the chance to see you live, walk us through a live show from Sammath? Tell us about your stage ferocity and what you like most about playing live gigs?

“This is something that has only really just started to take form the way it was meant to be and most befitting a Sammath show. In the past, I only played the guitar live and always felt strange. We had a great vocalist but he was more a death metal vocalist and not my voice, so we didn’t sound like Sammath live. We also had Hanna from Asagraum on 2nd guitar for some years, and our old drummer Koos. But live, the 3 piece we are now is total perfection. I do the vocals and guitar, Ruud bass and Vocals and Wim drums. It sounds exactly as the album and its simply ferocious as fuck.”

Formerly signed with Folter Records, you are now signed with label heavies Hammerheart Records who at some point has also signed the likes of Dimmu Borgir, Pestilence, and Kampfar. Some would see this as a hierarchical step up the ladder for you guys. How has the change of record label helped Sammath as a band? And how imperative is an open working relationship between band & label?

“I really couldn’t believe it when Labelboss Guido called me in 2013 and asked if Sammath would like to join Hammerheart. I was with German Folter Records for 18 years by that time and felt like a dick leaving him. But Joerg from Folter Records is a great person. He told me to go and join Hammerheart. Though, my other band, Kaeck is still part of the Folter Records roster, which is great. Hammerheart is huge, worldwide distro, great huge bands. For Sammath it was a huge step. So many bands I respect on this label, it’s nuts. I also promote Hammerheart Records now and have done since 2015. So, I also promoted my album, that was weird but I just didn’t sign promotions with my name. It’s great to be part of Hammerheart Records in many ways now.”

Your previous album Godless Arrogance is a heavy ball breaker, yet your latest album seems even more amplified to another level and is pure weaponry of lethal content. Is this a sign that Sammath is progressing into something even more extreme within the black metal sub-genre? What can fans expect next from you guys? Will this aggressive fire keep burning for more albums to come?

“I have no idea, to be honest. When I start to write riffs for a new album I simply write. I don’t sit down and think, well this album is going to more death or black. I believe that we are just getting warmed up now really. This is the beginning of something. Wim is also taking part in the writing process, more the arrangements, Ruud always has. And I write all the music but with two assholes telling me this or that sucks.”

What does black metal mean for you, and as a band? And how have you seen it change and or progress since your starting in 94?

“Black metal is a way of life. I’ve been into metal since 1987 and black metal since 1991. Its all a matter of being your own man in my view. Of course, it must be different for everyone. To me, black metal has always been about strength, total freedom and doing things exactly how I want to. Also, my work, I’m self-employed, don’t have a boss and can simply fill in my life as I want. As a band, we have made many natural changes, but always faster and more aggression is felt within every album. We are progressing into a monster.”

Jan, thanks mate for your time – and thank you for creating absolutely bone-crushing and back-breaking black metal for our ears. Is there anything else you would like to say to the people reading this interview?

“Support your local record dealer! Keep up the good work Kelly, the scene needs you!”

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