(This new interview by Comrade Aleks with vocalist/lyricist Pavel Vakhlakov from the Russian death metal band Chamber of Torture took place at a difficult time, with the invasion of Ukraine under way, but nonetheless becomes an extensive and engaging discussion about the band’s history and progress, including their 2022 album released by Svanrenne Music.)
Politics divide us, metal unites us. This death metal band from Saint Petersburg collaborated with both Russian and Ukrainian labels through its 12-year long career, and who could predict in which times their fifth album would be released? Svanrenne Music did it in late January, so here we have Phantasms of the Bedlamite, quite savage and technical death metal from members of Bodybag and Cenobite.
Honestly, it’s hard to focus just on musical themes today, so I prefer to give the floor to Chamber of Torture’s vocalist Pavel Vakhlakov.
Hey, Pavel, my first question is about your past: Regarding Metal-Archives, it reports that you started Chamber of Torture in early 2004, and are the sole original member of the band. The band’s first recording was done in 2012, how did it happen?
Well it happened, simply because the original Chamber of Torture line-up was a short-lived enterprise, if I may say so! We simply didn’t last long enough to make a record!
Also you performed vocals in Abnormal. That was (and correct me if I’m wrong) the only brutal death band in Saint Petersburg back then. You supported Cannibal Corpse in… eh… 2008? What didn’t work with the band? Why did it stop?
True, right after my band was put on hiatus, I joined the ranks of the then highly prominent band Abnormal, They had a name in our underground scene, and I was pretty nervous that I had to perform with the guys!
I remember our first gig, where I was featured as their new frontman. It happened in Moscow actually, only a month after I had joined the band. I had to memorize all the songs’ lyrics as they had been written by their former vocalist Den, and I remember that as we were on the train to Moscow I was sitting with my earphones listening and learning everything over and over again! Needless to say I was scared shitless that night!
The worst part was that we were the closing act (i.e., headliner) and we took the stage right after the mighty Katalepsy – I was like “Fffffuuuuccckkk!!! Are you kidding me? How the fuck am I supposed to be better than THAT?!!! Ha-ha! But I assume everything went well!
As for our gig with my heroes Cannibal Corpse, it happened in 2007, when they were on tour supporting the KILL album! What is interesting though is that two years previously we (me and the original drummer for Chamber of Torture) had seen C.C. when they toured behind the The Wretched Spawn album and I told Alex – my drummer — that if we continued to play, then one day we would be opening for them… Two years later I was opening for them, only with a different band.
But I can tell you one thing, these guys are the finest example of how a true metal legend and genuine human beings should behave on and off the stage! Their work ethic is as incredible as their music! Love these guys!
Now the reason I left the band, well actually there were two reasons for that. One was that at the time I wanted to go back to the university and finally graduate, I simply thought like I had unfinished business and unless I addressed it, it would always haunt me! So I quit the band, concentrated on learning and eventually got my higher education. The second reason was that I still wanted to push my band, which is Chamber of Torture!
Funny thing is that I left Abnormal during our peak. By 2008 we had played with Cannibal Corpse, Dismember, and Decapitated….
A few days ago we could have started the interview with questions regarding the release of your new album Phantasms of the Bedlamite, but now we’re all in an absolutely crazy mess between Russia and our close neigbhour Ukraine, something none of us could imagine here. How does this situation affect the band?
Oh, man! What a terrible, terrible tragedy this is!!! To say that all of us citizens are in shock and awe would be an understatement! It is as though you were tricked somehow to fight a family member, I mean, jesus, we are one and the same people! I know that not the entirety of Ukraine liked Russia and stuff, but we were never, I mean literally never, meant to fight each other, let alone invading the country. Every other family has ties with Ukraine, brothers, sisters, grandparents, spouses! What the hell is going on?
It’s going to sound trite, but I’m sure we’re dealing with the third party here, someone who wanted us at each other’s throats! Because the “Divide and Conquer” method is very effective, isn’t it? Someone needs to weaken both countries.
But to answer your question, if this somehow affected us, well it’s not even about the band at this point, this whole thing affects lives! As for the band, we have been more or less a studio band over the last couple of years, so in this regard, nothing really changed all that much to us. And yes, this whole situation is just a mess, none of us wants this war, none of us understands what’s going on! We are NOT the enemy!
Do you have some gigs scheduled for this period? Will you play there despite all odds?
Umm… well I would say that nothing is set in stone right now, the situation is highly volatile! But we were invited to play on open-air fest in August of this year, who knows…
Did you play gigs in Ukraine ever?
Unfortunately no! I wish we did though! Ukraine has a great summer open-air, Metal Head Mission, and there are some of the most passionate people, I just can’t imagine we are in this mess!
At least two of your albums, Cadaverous Omen (2016) and Necrodomain (2019), were released by the Ukrainian label Eclectic Productions. Do you keep in touch with them today?
Because everyone is so busy and we actually managed to split up as a band in the time between Necrodomain and Phantasms, we didn’t keep in touch with the label! But we really liked working with Eclectic – everything was done super-quick as far as manufacturing of CDs and all that. I would love to work with the guys again!
Let’s try to focus on Chamber of Torture. The band’s name, the music you play, and the lyrics are something pretty traditional for death metal. Which bands formed your vision of the stuff you wanted to play? How did you actually start the band?
Well, I started the band back in 2004 with a bunch of my friends. Initially we wanted to go for the modern Cannibal Corpse, Decapitated, Severe Torture sound, you know?! Fast, technical, so on and so forth. Unfortunately we only lasted for 5 or 6 months before breaking up, which was a bummer to me! We had something unique going on, for sure! We also managed to make around 5 songs which I suppose will never see the light of the day, ha ha.
Anyway it was not until spring of 2010 when I met Kostya (Internal Damage, Cenobite) and Sergey (original drummer), that I wanted to bring the moniker back as I came to audition! Those guys were playing THAT kind of music! As for the name of the band, I wanted to come up with something pretty self-explanatory, considering the music we play.
But also my absolute favorite band of all times is Dearly Beheaded (thrash, groove metal from the U.K.). Their last record was called Chamber of One. It’s an absolute masterpiece in the heavy metal genre, so I wanted to pay homage to these gentlemen too! Lyrically it’s your usual suspects (zombies, torture, murders, maniacs, you name it!) One thing though, I always wanted to be inventing descriptions of whatever I wanted to describe.
I mean I never wanted to write about how “I grabbed a hatchet and chopped off your arm, aghrrr!” — it’s stupid, boring, vulgar and plain lame! Instead I always wanted to be inventive with my ideas. Songs such as ‘Partial birth-abortion rampage’, ‘Maxillofacial Butchery’, ‘Telepathically Raped’, to name a few, are fine examples of that! Also I thought that it would be cool if we were known as Retro death metal instead of old-school death metal, just because its more original, at least to me!
As for bands forming our vision, oh man, there are plenty of influences, I can speak for myself here obviously, so to me its everything from Johnny Cash to Mr. Lif (yes, I’m a big fan of rap and hip-hop) and Slayer! It’s all over the place man!
You recorded five albums over 12 years, and that’s not bad. Were you satisfied with all of your releases?
I am never satisfied! I always want to perfect my performance, vocally and lyrically, and I’m convinced this is what motivates me to keep doing this!
Would you say that there’s a place for evolution in Chamber of Torture? Can you compare your first album Beheaded Before Interment (2012) and the new one Phantasms of the Bedlamite?
Usually I start to suspect something whenever a band starts talking about “evolution” of their sound… 99 times out of 100 it means that the new material is going to suck real bad! You see, I’m the kind of fan who wants his favorite bands to release the same material over and over again. I love when I know what to expect from my favorite bands, and therefore to me it is important to IMPROVE upon your skillset rather than “evolve”.
Therefore when it comes to Chamber of Torture my evolution is in the fact that many years later someone can say “Ahh, they’re still the same old sick bastards, I love it!” I’d hate to implement new things and thus tarnish the band’s legacy! That doesn’t mean, by the way, that I wouldn’t want to venture into other areas of music. I’d love to make a Load / Re-load type of a record(s) someday, only I’d try to do it as a new, separate project! So the answer is – yes there is a place for evolution, if evolution means improvement! But I can speak here for myself only!
As for comparisons, well actually I can. In fact Phantasms, to me at least, is like an improved version of the Behead Before Interment! Because I went with a full-fledged three album concept, beginning with our sophomore record Entorturement that is, which we concluded with Necrodomain. It was quite liberating to write about broader topics so to speak, just like on our first album, and we were almost as excited as we were back then when we did our first album, perhaps the temporary split-up was necessary!
We know what your lyrics are about, but what makes you write about this stuff? Is it just a tribute to the genre’s laws? Or is it something personal?
Um… I’d say neither. I think I just like to explore my imagination without necessarily trying to outdo someone as far as lyrical content is concerned. But then again, we are a death metal band called Chamber of Torture, and well that says it all, which is pretty much like when you see a Cannibal Corpse logo, you know exactly what you’re going to get. All their scary stories are just a form of entertainment, that’s why we do it! We entertain!
Would you write a song based on a real crime? Like that story of the freaky professor who killed and dismembered that miserable girl, his student? Or a story about Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov killing that granny with his axe? You know… a bit of local colour.
Well it’s quite an interesting question! Ok, all of my lyrics, all this gore and cartoonish violence, are directed at the real perpetrators! Maniacs, killers, offenders, all those mischievous individuals who violate innocent life, so I see all the sickest stuff I do either as horror movies or basically as “revenge in belles-lettres”.
On the other hand, we (Kostya and me) have another studio project called Bodybag. It’s more mid-tempo death metal stuff and the only real difference between Chamber and Bodybag is that with Bodybag I wanted to write dark, obscure stuff, to get my point across. Imagine that if Chamber of Torture is George Romero, than Bodybag is David Lynch, as far as lyrics and concepts are concerned. So with Bodybag we have a song called “Leather Apron”, and this one is about Jack the Ripper, so there you go!
Was this recording session routine for you? Or did you have technically difficult parts or songs in Phantasms of the Bedlamite?
I reckon this record to be our most challenging one as far as musical structures and vocal patterns and stuff. I personally wanted to raise the bar as far as grim subject matter and vocal performance are concerned! But the funny part is that it was probably the easiest session of all, only because I had a year in advance prior to going to the studio! I had like 11 months of just getting down these ideas, vocal patterns and stuff, so when I was ready, we recorded vocals in three days! As for instrumental parts, Kostya is the guy who did it all! I don’t know how long it took him, you better ask him!
Do you feel that you do your best regarding the band’s promotion and image? Honestly, it seems that lots of bands don’t give a damn about such things as proper artwork or promo photos (something what’s quite easy to do in 2022).
As far as promotion and image, honestly I’m not very bothered with this, since I firmly believe that the music should do the talking here. But again, Kostya always comes up with various decorations, images and stuff like that! He likes that stuff — he actually did the cover artwork and we have got a limited series of DIY custom-designed new album CDs!
Well, let’s stop there, okay? Thank you for the interview man and let’s hope we’ll have a chance to talk next time in better circumstances.
All right people! Thanks for having us on No Clean Singing! This is Paul and Chamber of Torture. We sincerely wish everyone of you and us, a peaceful world to live in!
Best regards, much respect!
Thanks for listening to our music!