About 10 days ago we were halted in our scurrying tracks by a video for a song called “The Last Howl” from Savage Lands, a metal charity project whose goal is to help preserve the forests of Costa Rica and the creatures that live there.
Savage Lands and that song have already gained a lot of attention, in part because of the people who participated in making it. The Savage Lands project was founded by drummer extraordinaire Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, Scarve, etc.) and musician-turned-activist Sylvain Demercastel (a current resident of Costa Rica). For “The Last Howl” they brought in guitarist Andres Kisser (Sepultura) and vocalist John Tardy (Obituary), as well as vocalist Poun and bassist Etienne Treton from the French band Black Bomb A.
The song was great, and so was the video (and we said so here), and so we jumpted at the opportunity to interview Dirk and Sylvain as a way of helping to spread the word about a very worthy cause, and very worthy music. That conversation follows, but you really should take in “The Last Howl” first:
Thank you Dirk and Sylvain for making time to answer our questions. Dirk, I guess the most obvious one is, how did you become interested in protecting the ecosystem of Costa Rica from deforestation?
DIRK: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve fostered deep feelings for animals and nature. At age seven, I brought a dead bird home to my parents so they could help me bury it. Treating our planet and its inhabitants with respect and kindness has always mattered deeply to me. Naturally, when my old pal Sylvain Demercastel, a long time Costa Rica resident, reached out to me with the idea of putting together an NGO aimed at preserving and reforesting, I was immediately on board.
How did you come to know Sylvain? Have you made music with him before this project?
DIRK: Sylvain was the guitarist/vocalist of Artsonic, a French metal band. I was their drummer in 1997-1998 and played on the band’s second album, Fake. The first time I ever crisscrossed France in a van to play shows was together with Sylvain – quite the adventure! Eventually, I left Artsonic due to some inner turmoil. We were all young and inexperienced, and not the best at communicating with each other. I also wanted to focus on my own band, Scarve. Sylvain and I lost touch after I left, but we reconnected a few years ago and have become close friends.
Savage Lands’ first single, “The Last Howl,” focuses on the threats of deforestation to the howler monkey. I was fortunate to make one trip to Costa Rica about 20 years ago, and I’ll never forget the sound of them in the forests at night. I was stunned to see in the video for the song that over the last 15 years Costa Rica has lost 50% of its population of howler monkeys. How did you decide to make them the subject of this first song?
DIRK: The steep decline of the howler monkey population is emblematic of the issues Costa Rica – and to a greater extent our planet as a whole – faces. Real estate development tends to go unchecked because money talks louder than everything else. The contradiction is that if we destroy what makes Costa Rica so special, properties will end up devaluing because of it, and everyone loses. That’s why it’s so essential to build a sustainable way forward. We’re not trying to stop people from buying land and building homes – rather, we’re sharing with them the importance of preservation and implementing a system that allows for a major portion of the forest to be protected.
The video includes lush forest scenery of course, but also some very parched and desolate landscapes. It’s a striking contrast. Where were those scenes filmed?
SYLVAIN : Most of the footage was shot in Costa Rica, Death Valley and Sierra Nevada in the United States, and also in France. We received help from the park rangers who helped us find the right spot. They were happy to collaborate with a nature preservation video project too!
You got some very talented collaborators involved in the recording of “The Last Howl.” To focus on the two who are most familiar to metalheads (besides yourself), tell us the story of how Andreas Kisser and John Tardy got involved in this?
DIRK: We officially launched Savage Lands at Hellfest in the summer of 2022. Sepultura was playing there, and as long-time fans of the band, we approached Andreas. He immediately and wholeheartedly embraced our mission; his generosity and kindness was remarkable. We’re so happy with his amazing guitar work on “The Last Howl”. As for John, the idea of contacting him came to me while we were writing “The Last Howl”. I’ve been an Obituary fan since I was a teenager, and the main riff in the song has a strong Obituary feel. John’s voice seemed to me like it would be a perfect fit. He graciously accepted to work with us and really brought the song to life. We couldn’t be happier with the result!
Two members of the French band Black Bomb A – Poun and Etienne Treton – also made significant contributions to “The Last Howl”. What led to their involvement?
SYLVAIN: Etienne and Poun are permanent members of the composing team for Savage Lands. They work closely with me, helping the project to get more musical material for each opportunity. Also, they are present for the live exhibitions of the band, alongside other available featured musicians when possible.
Who was involved in writing the song, and would you describe the songwriting process and how it was recorded?
DIRK: I recorded the drums in Los Angeles with my good friend Adair Daufembach, one of the best producers in the game right now.
SYLVAIN: It’s a teamwork and most of the time we send each other material and ideas as we’re all living in different parts of the world. We also work with Stephane Buriez from Loudblast, who manages most of the pre-production and is an early believer of the project.
Are there plans in the works for more Savage Lands songs? If so, what can you tell us about them and when they might be released? And do you anticipate having different guest performers?
SYLVAIN: Definitely, music is one of the assets of our organization. We are currently preparing a full album with many other good surprises, but it is still too early to reveal everything 🙂
Savage Lands is a non-profit organization as well as a musical collaboration, with the royalties plus donations and other fundraising efforts dedicated to supporting the preservation of Costa Rican forests. What types of projects do you envision supporting with the money raised by Savage Lands?
DIRK: We’re in the process of purchasing several parcels of land, ensuring that 90% of those parcels remain wild and under protection of local authorities. These purchases are part of our brand new approach to conservation, which Sylvain has spearheaded and which is really starting to take shape. In the past year, Savage Lands has made huge strides in helping buyers and people across the globe understand what’s at stake, and how to move forward in the best possible way. It simply makes the most sense to develop properties while preserving and caring for the trees, thus saving the monkeys and other wildlife who are a huge part in making Costa Rica such a desirable place to live.
Thanks very much for your time, and best of luck in your cause.
Thanx for your interest in our project, we are looking forward to sharing more news and music with you!
We’re grateful to Season of Mist for their support of Savage Lands and for arranging this interview. To learn more about the project and to donate to the non-profit Savage Lands project, check out the locations linked below.