Operation Frankenstein: How Two Metal Bands Merged (And One Folk Singer Was Blown Away)

Still too hard. The manager of the Utrecht concert hall Ekko has already walked in a few times before, but warns again: “You are going over the limit.” The ten musicians who blow the seams out of the walls pretend to turn the knobs of their equipment and promise to get well.

“WROOAAAAAARGGH!!!!”

Until Joost Vervoort opens his throat again and lets out a cracking sound that sounds like a concrete mixer, circular saw and air raid siren all rolled into one. Immediately the door flies open again. It really should be softer.

That’s what you get when two drummers, two bassists, four guitarists and two grunting singers join forces and bring the underworld to life with heavy riffs. Here the Dutch pioneers Terzij de Horde (Utrecht) and Ggu:ll (Tilburg) do their devastating work during a four-hour practice session in which they fuse black and doom metal in a swirling cocktail of primordial din. Then of course you can never manage with a hundred decibels.

And there’s someone else. Among the black-clad guitarists who rock in sync in front of their amps is one strange duck – in dungarees and a blue-and-yellow striped shirt. A banjo hangs around his neck, in which he has stuck a microphone with duct tape. Only in this way does he manage to strum above the dark violence. Brother Dieleman is a peace-loving folk troubadour from Zeeland, known for his moody polder ballads in which he sings in dialect about jackdaws and harriers.

Among the black-clad guitarists who rock back and forth in sync in front of their amplifiers, one strange duck: Brother Dieleman.
Photo Bram Petraeus

High mass of heavy music

What does all this mean?

The answer is: Roadburn. This Tilburg festival is regarded as the worldwide high mass of all heavy music. Since 1995, deafening metal and stoner bands have been ravaging eardrums during a four-day pilgrimage that attracts visitors from all continents and sells out in record time. But while mainstream metal festivals have been booking the same boomers for decades, Roadburn focuses on the forefront of the scene. The specific gravity of heavy guitar sounds has become less decisive: more and more artists play who are not so much ‘heavy’ in terms of volume but in terms of intensity – say: avant-garde hard.

To celebrate the experiment, symbioses are formed every year in which seemingly incompatible musicians try to bridge their conflicting biotopes. That is exactly what Terzij de Horde, Ggu:ll and brother Dieleman are doing this Sunday afternoon in March.

“This is our first date,” says Ggu:ll drummer Bart Waalen, who initiated the project together with Terzij de Horde guitarist Jelle Agema. “A Frankenstein event”, Agema calls the operation to unite their bands. Because although they are not inferior to each other in decibels, there are indeed fundamental differences.

Ggu:ll allows mountains of languid distortion to rise in slow motion, about which singer-guitarist William van der Voort gurgles that all is in vain: „All said. all done. The feast is over.” When guitarist Gert-Jan Kerremans urges his unaccustomed colleagues for the umpteenth time that the snail’s pace at which they play the song ‘Waan’ really should be even slower, he manages to articulate the band’s poetics crystal clear: „The slower you play it, the harder it hits it.”

Poet Hendrik Marsman

Terzij de Horde is a hyper-intellectual band, named after a stanza by the poet Hendrik Marsman that aptly reflects the mission of the quintet: to do what no one has done before, away from the crowd. Vitalistic black metal, they call the frantic clamor in which they interpret the poetry of their godfather as well as address the refugee and climate crisis.

Where the first generation of black metal bands consisted of Scandinavian church burners who attacked the outside world, themselves and the competition with petrol, matches and (stabbing) weapons, Terzij de Horde uses the letters. In the inner sleeve of the album Self (2015) a 27-title reading list of thinkers and poets has been printed: The Monstrosity of Christ by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, next to Simon Vestdijk’s apocalypse novel The Waiter and the Living

ggu:lldrummer Bart Waalen (left) and Aside from the Hordecolleague Richard Japenga
Photos Bram Petraeus

The band members don’t make it easy for each other, they admit. “We are often very grumpy at each other,” Agema says. “Because then we have made something that is not interesting enough.” Guitarist Demian Snel: “You think you’ve made up a cool riff, until someone starts singing along: pèèèèpèèèpèèèèèè.” Bassist Johan van Hattum: „Then everyone is sour. But we must all stand behind it. Why else would you do it? There are already so many bands that are cowardly in their guitars.”

That assertiveness explains why the recently released album In One of These, I Am Your Enemy had to wait seven years. Agema: „We keep pushing each other until everything is right. That is why recording always takes ages.” And let that now be a large common denominator with Ggu:ll, of which the last album Error came out six years ago.

When the bands discovered during their one-off merger negotiations that they had already recorded drum parts for new songs, Ggu:ll drummer Waalen had an idea: „Why not swap? Normally you write a song with piano or guitar, and then the drummer colors it. But now there were two drum tracks that could serve as a starting point and of which the other band had no idea what went with it.”

Every provincial grew up with metal

clatter of arms

In this way the musicians swapped backbones, as it were. Terzij de Horde wrote a hymn to Waalen’s slow blows. Ggu:ll forged massive chords about the infernal clatter of arms of Terzij drummer Richard Japenga. To maximize the effect of this metal makeover, they actually switch drummers live, who – surprise! – then sits down to play the same part again with his own band, but in the original arrangement. Thus, successively, there are two compositions that, although they have exactly the same rhythmic framework, are still very different from each other as the crow flies.

That’s the plan. Now only the implementation remains.

That takes some getting used to, as Ggu:ll stumbles on the first attempts at Japenga’s inimitable tempo changes and rattling blast beats.

“That went too fast,” complains the band. “You came in too early.”

“You don’t really play well on the beat either,” replies the drummer.

“Yes, indeed”, bassist Dave van Beek shouts back. “But that’s our count.”

“That’s counting from Brabant,” jokes Terzij guitarist Snel. “They come just a little later.”

Van Beek starts to sing: „Brááá-bantse counts are láááááng.”

“The precision still needs to be planed,” concludes Van Hattum. “But very cool that you finally have a fast number!”

Tonnie Dieleman looks on with a chuckle: “Hard man, everything vibrates!” The presence of a folk singer with banjo is less illogical than it might seem, he explains. “Every provincial grew up with metal. I’ve seen a lot of bands. And I like the audience: all nerds.” He previously performed at the twentieth anniversary of the Flemish doom metal gods Amenra.

With Terzij de Horde he interprets ‘The first son’, a diatribe about the biblical Cain who not only killed his brother, but also threatens to destroy the planet. As soon as the singing Dieleman raises his voice, Vervoort starts to scream mercilessly.

“The neighborhood always likes it when I do that at home,” the singer explains afterwards. “My neighbor said, ‘I thought someone was being killed in your house, but then I just saw you standing in the living room with your headphones on.’ †

“God, what a blast,” says Dieleman as he takes off his earplugs and walks outside to smoke. “I’m not used to that at all, man!” This also applies to the phenomenon of rehearsing, he admits. “I do not like it. They want to meet three more times after this, but I think once is enough. It should also remain a bit spontaneous. Then it will be all right, right?”

Bad news

That is not the case, because in Operation Frankenstein he unfortunately loses out.

“I have bad news,” he emails to the rest more than two weeks after the practice session. “After many fives and sixs I have decided not to participate in Roadburn. My ears hurt for a week after practicing and it’s a risk I just can’t take if I want to maintain a music career. I’m very sorry, for you and the effort you put into it, and for myself, I thought it was great and would have loved to perform with you. Hopefully you will find another form, without me, that will make it a nice concert experience. Love Tony.”

Still too hard. Roadburn has been warned.

Festival Roadburn, 21 to 24 April, Tilburg (with Ulver, Liturgy, Slift & Emma Ruth Rundle). Apart from the Horde and Ggu:ll play Sunday, 2:10 pm. Inl: roadburn.com