(Comrade Aleks has been a busy interviewer, and we have his second one in as many days, with this conversation he had with members of the Belgian doom-death metal band Marche Funèbre.)
Marche Funèbre is one of representatives of Old World doom death scene who shows good stability, releasing strong works and naturally progressing from album to album. Their debut To Drown (2011) wasn’t an album of the year, but their development on Roots Of Grief (2013) is something you couldn’t miss. Since 2017 they’ve continue to work at a good pace: a third full-length, Into The Arms Of Darkness appeared in 2017, followed by splits with A Thousand Sufferings (2017) and Eye Of Solitude (2018), alongside killer EP Death Wish Woman (2018).
Marche Funèbre is one of the very rare European bands who managed to play a tour in the USA, and as they performed a gig in my home city of Saint Petersburg less than two weeks ago, I saw it as a right time to interview them. Arne Vandenhoeck (vocals), with some help from Kurt Blommé (guitars), are ready to tell a few things about doom, death, and being happy in misery.
Hi gents! Marche Funèbre returned from Russia just two weeks ago. How do you feel? Did your metabolism serve you well after that trip?
Arne: Hey Aleks, it was another great trip with the band. I feel really good actually. For once we had quite some sleep, or at least I had. So yeah, left home with signs of an upcoming cold, and returned almost reborn. Our drummer has another story though^^
What made you hit the road this autumn? Usually bands go on tours according to an album’s release, so what was it? What are your impressions?
Arne: Autumn is and always was a good time for us to do some gigging. We got some cool opportunities to play a couple of great shows, and since songwriting for the new album is finished, we could fully go for it.
Set-wise, we are still promoting our last releases (we had a total of 4 in 2017 and 2018). That cycle is coming to an end as we will release a new full-length album in 2020. I guess we did something like 50 shows to present Into The Arms Of Darkness in some great countries (US, Russia, Greece, Malta, Holland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland…).
Most shows were actually very enjoyable, and we also met a lot of cool bands, and cool people altogether. Highlights were for sure our show with Primordial in Arnhem (NL), with Bell Witch in Seattle (US), and our last show, in beautiful Saint Petersburg (RU).
Did you have time to walk around? How often do you have free time during tour just to relax and watch the surroundings?
Arne: This time, we got some time to do some sightseeing indeed. It’s always nice when that is possible, but our first objective is doing a great show, obviously.
So free time is usually rather rare as we have to travel a lot, wait for sound checks, wait for this and that. We call it the waiting game. Easy to say we are experts by now.
What did you visit in Russia? Was it your first time here?
Arne: Two guys in the band stayed a little longer and did some serious touristic stuff, but me and the others stayed only 3 nights, so we didn’t see a lot. Did some cool metal/punk bars in Moscow the first night and a nice walk in between. Second day we did the mandatory Red Square picture. After the show we took a night train to Saint Petersburg, where we also had a nice walk in the historical city before sound check.
Our bass player Boris was born in Moscow, but hadn’t visited his native country since he was 5, and for the rest of the band it was the first time, although I don’t think the last time.
Marche Funèbre – Crown of Hope
How often do you prefer to tour with Marche Funèbre? Do you tour because of a love of travel, meeting people you know, or is it about channeling your songs in live mode?
Arne: Since most of us have a family with kids back home, and are working full-time, we can’t tour that much, so it really needs to be worth it.
We all love almost all aspects of being on the road with the band. Visiting new places, meeting old and new friends, tasting new beers or local food, having our laughs with the most stupid things (crab chips!), and of course playing killer shows in great venues.
You’ve mentioned your gig in Seattle — actually I skipped this news, but how did you get there? It’s always a problem for European bands to get a proper tour in the States!
Arne: Well, we got there by plane, obviously, haha. Seriously, we did a 10-date tour last year in March with our brothers of Eye of Solitude (RIP). The entire West Coast. It was a fantastic experience, and well worth all the hassle to get there, as we did it the official way, with a working permit and so on. Besides all the paper work, we had no issues at all. Luckily we got some financial support as well, otherwise it would have cost us too much I’m afraid.
One of the band’s features is a combination of clean melodic and harsh vocals. Is it technically difficult to switch from one manner of singing to another during gigs? Do you have some rules to keep your voice in proper condition?
Arne: My singing is very natural to me, and usually I follow the mood of the music with my vocal style. So, it doesn’t feel difficult at all. Obviously, I need a lot of training (rehearsals) to get to a level of being at ease at any given time in the songs.
Next to that I drink a lot of … water, try to sleep enough, and I can’t party too hard during tours. And whenever I think I need it, there is Lemmy to the rescue (Jack n Coke, without ice^^).
From the very beginning the band was known for complicated song structures and intensive, both harsh and clear, emotional delivery. How difficult is to build proper songs and keep the dramatic level balanced?
Arne: Interesting question. Most songs are written during jam sessions. So, they grow organically, usually around lyrics we already have before.
Also, after more than a decade of writing songs together we know very well how it works best for us. As you might know we had only one real line-up change, years ago, so we know each other very well. This continuity makes it really easy to create music that sounds like us.
So far, we genuinely never had a writer’s block or problems finding inspiration.
Kurt: Indeed. No problems finding inspiration. For the upcoming release we actually had too much song material. And if Peter wouldn’t have started his second band, who knows how many songs we would have written.:-)
And technical-wise? How often do you have problems in the studio?
Arne: We learned a lot during the years. Also, since 2015 we have been working with the same engineer/mixer/producer, which makes things really easy in the studio nowadays.
There are three full-length albums and five smaller releases in your discography. Can you name the one which was most difficult to record?
Arne: That’s an easy one: our second album Roots Of Grief. We never managed to be totally on top of things, due to us not preparing enough, and our engineer not finding the sweet spot for us.
Kurt: I think we had our difficulties with both To Drown and Roots Of Grief. For To Drown we did lack the experience of studio recordings and we were less skilled musicians than we are now. For Roots Of Grief the production process really took a long time. But we learned from each experience and that’s the most important thing to remember.
Marche Funèbre – Lullaby of Insanity
Speaking about Roots Of Grief… Was it your first time in Motormusic? What disappointed you most in this session?
Arne: Yes, we choose that studio because it’s located in our hometown of Mechelen, and it’s a top-notch studio with a crazy amount of big names recording there. Unfortunately the guy behind the knobs wasn’t fit for our style. Lesson learned, and after that fiasco we went to Markus Stock (Empyrium, The Vision Bleak) and have done three full recordings and two mix sessions with him, and the next recording session is already planned for February.
Do you have periods when you don’t feel it’s even possible to write or play Marche Funèbre songs?
Arne: No. Being around with the five of us is always good.
What kind of qualities should be obtained by a proper death-doom band from your point of view?
Arne: It all starts with a solid sound. Next to that there should be some really doomy/moody parts, some distinguished melodies, preferably some more heavy/up-tempo parts too. Also, some unique characteristics, as we have enough copycats out there. And an interesting voice obviously.
What about lyrics? Do you care about it when listening to other bands?
Arne: Honestly? I’m a music-first man. For our own songs I really try to invest in good lyrics, but I rarely delve into the lyrics of someone else. The times I’ve tried it, I usually failed in getting where the lyricist was taking me.
Do you see each of Marche Funèbre’s album as a complete story or a chapter of your life? How much of your own is in the lyrics?
Arne: We are both constantly writing and evolving, so it’s hard to say each album is a completely different story, or chapter in life. We try to make our albums cohesive in some way. One of the tricks we use is to build the lyrics around some theme, for instance on Into The Arms Of Darkness that was darkness in some of its outings.
“Deprived” was my last real personal lyric, and it was the first song we wrote for Into The Arms Of Darkness, so it’s been a while. I really hope to write some more personal stuff for album #5. Writing for our fourth album is done anyway.
Your most up-to-date release is the Death Wish Woman EP which saw the light of day a year ago. Did you aim for this smaller format from the start or did you just have a number of ideas which you wanted to imprint?
Arne: We wanted something special for our 10th anniversary, and we had a few up-tempo song ideas lying around, so at an early stage we decided to record an EP for the occasion. Into The Arms Of Darkness was only just released a year earlier, and there was the tour split with Eye Of Solitude too. So yeah, some really productive years we’ve had recently, with another album almost ready, while we have been doing gigs all over the place too.
The Death Wish Woman EP’s lyrics are based on the novel Broken Wings by Kahlil Gibran. What attracted you to this story? It’s tragic but it demands a good level of empathy to feel it through, as a story of a mother in grievous circumstances losing her child isn’t a common thing for such a grim and serious genre.
Arne: Peter stumbled upon the story and felt we could use it, although not for a full album. The aforementioned EP was the perfect format for this.
When I read the novel, I was both attracted by Gibran’s writing style and the story itself. Its a very very sad story, so it perfectly fit our style according to us. If others have a different opinion on this, that’s entirely up to them.
Marche Funèbre – The Garden of All Things Wild
Three songs and a Paradise Lost cover built for a concept based on this novel. What was people’s feedback? Do the band’s followers get your intention?
Arne: Most people really liked the music. We inserted some new elements (thrash!) and went generally a bit faster. This was encouraged by a lot of our followers for sure, as they like the way we always sound like us without repeating ourselves too much.
Earlier you said the band has finished a new album. How far did you go, in comparison with your debut To Drown?
Arne: Wow, dragging To Drown up here… like I stated earlier, we evolve track by track and record by record, so we’re light-years from where we were when we wrote and recorded To Drown back in 2010. I think the main elements are still there. We still mix styles (doom, death, black, heavy) whenever the song asks for it. We have gotten better as musicians, better as composers, and also our sound is more powerful, dynamic, and what not. Stylistically the new songs are both a continuation of Into The Arms Of Darkness and the more compact, aggressive direction of the Death Wish Woman EP. We tried some new things as well, so we are eager to record album No. 4.
Last year Marche Funèbre celebrated its tenth anniversary. How would you sum up your experience of being part of Marche Funèbre for ten years?
Arne: It has been a fantastic ride so far, with countless highs and only a few lows. So yeah, we are all excited and thankful at the same time to be part of this amazing adventure, which exceeds any other band-related things any of us did before, by far.