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GODKILLER - Interview, Part I

GODKILLER - Interview, Part I

This extensive interview in three parts with Duke Satanaël was originally published by webzine Obsküre in French language in summer 2022. With their permission, we translated the talk into English. Click here to read the original version.

On December 9th, the compilation "We Are The Black Knights" containing all songs from "Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam" (1994) and "The Warlord" (1995) will be released for the first time on vinyl, CD and digitally. This interview grants unique insights into the formative years of GODKILLER and the first releases. The second and the third part will be published in the coming months.

In December 2020, the LP "Lullabies For Babies" was released by a mysterious entity, named A PRAYER FOR THE WORST. After discovering this music thanks to the magic of Bandcamp, it became clear that a certain Herr B lurked hidden behind this obscure release. In the past, this man was better known as Duke Satanaël. Abandoning his old name, he rose from the ashes to present music which continues the legacy of his previous albums. However, after more than ten years of silence, the new sound is now heavily inspired by Electro music. Not content with knowing so little about this new entity, we talked with Herr B about the past and went as far back as to investigate his earlier projects GODKILLER and URANIUM 235. In this first part of the interview, Herr B/Duke Satanaël narrates about him discovering extreme music and the birth of GODKILLER.

Q: What was your first contact with music? You went from the Goth genre to the Metal one, how did the transition take place and what bands were you listening to at that time?

My very first contact with music dates back to the records my parents played at home. My father, a music lover, listened to a lot of jazz and classical music. My mother, more a literature than a music lover, was more versed in singer-songwriter material, sometimes French, sometimes Anglo-Saxon (LEONHARD COHEN). Then came my brothers – I have two of them – who had a great influence on my tastes. The older of the two, Frédéric, went to London in 1985 and brought back vinyl records of the music which was played there: "The Head On The Door" by THE CURE, for example, which had just been released, "Burning From The Inside" by BAUHAUS, released two years earlier, as well as DEPECHE MODE, which I discovered through the track 'Shake The Disease'. This was the real starting point. Soon after, my other brother, Olivier, became a big fan of THE SMITHS … and so did I. I immersed myself in this purely English music which formed my musical basis. Quickly afterwards, I drowned myself in SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, COCTEAU TWINS, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS, DEAD CAN DANCE, VIRGIN PRUNES – in short, all the music that we did not yet call 'goth' at that time and era. It was simply the alternative – sometimes underground – music of that time. IRON MAIDEN also played an important role. We had the tape of "Piece Of Mind" (1983) and the vinyl of "Live After Death" (1985) which we bought when it came out and listened to many times. Afterwards came "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son", in 1988.

After this initiating period, I continued my path by moving towards harder and harder music. Firstly, American Rock (which was later called Grunge, but it was in fact a revival of Punk): SONIC YOUTH, NIRVANA, BABES IN TOYLAND, UNSANE… Then, I drifted towards SWANS, BIG BLACK, GODFLESH and so forth which led me quite quickly to Metal. It all started with SLAYER, SEPULTURA and PANTERA, then from there to Death Metal (the classics like DEICIDE, MORBID ANGEL, and others), and finally Black Metal. The first record I bought is, if I remember correctly, "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" from MAYHEM. There I found a style that combined the brutal music of Extreme Metal with the dark imagery of the first groups that I had loved. But my quest did not stop there! Black Metal was only a fairly brief passage. Basically, what brought me to Black Metal was the search for ever more extreme music. Besides that, I also listened to Electro and Industrial sounds (WUMPSCUT, SUICIDE COMMANDO, SKINNY PUPPY, THE KLINIK, DIE KRUPPS, et cetera).

Q: In May 1994, you founded GODKILLER. What motivated you to move from listening to becoming an actual musician?

I started playing the guitar at the age of fifteen if my memory serves me correctly. From the very beginning – even if, like everyone, I started with covers – the goal was to compose my own songs. The music very quickly became my passion – it still is – and my way of expressing myself. It is a way of shaping and giving form to my feelings, my thoughts, my anxieties. From the earliest adolescence, my brother Olivier and I had already founded a band. We called ourselves THE PATH. We both played in our room, him on the synthesizer, me on the guitar. A little later, a friend and I created another band, THE PUPPET, which my brother Olivier eventually joined, first on synths, then on bass. I had also set up a parallel project with a female singer. In fact, since I started the guitar, I never stopped composing. So naturally, with my changing tastes, I ended up creating GODKILLER.

Q: Was the one-man band model self-evident?

The experience of playing as a real band with Olivier and this friend was a very good time. We did a lot of concerts. But our tastes evolved in different directions: I was the only one who liked Metal, so I started this project, GODKILLER, all by myself. That said, I had always composed alone. While we had our band, everyone composed their songs and then we played them together; however, the creative process had always been a lonely journey. Musically, I find it difficult to compromise, so I don't know if I would manage to compose 'in a band'. I like to take care of my projects from start to finish, being present at all stages of the creative process (from the composing of the music to the imagery and the cover artwork, including the writing of the lyrics, the choice of typography, etc.), even if some tasks interest me less than others. The mixing, for example, does not amuse me particularly.

Q: GODKILLER is the first Metal band from Monte Carlo (Monaco), and at the time it even was the only one. Yet you are often quoted in the acknowledgments of the demos of different bands. Moreover, in an interview for the Scribe du Rock, the band IN ARTICULO MORTIS affirms that "the first French Black Metal groups were born in the south: MALEFICUM ORGIA, GORGON, BLESSED IN SIN, FUNERAL, GODKILLER, MÜTIILATION and ourselves". It's true that the scene in the South was abundant and very active. It was the beginning of Black Metal in France. How did you experience this period? Was there some interaction with the rest of the French Black Metal scene?

It always makes me smile a little when I hear that GODKILLER was the only Metal band from Monaco, because Monaco is nothing. I mean, it is a two square kilometer strip where not much is going on... There has never been any kind of music scene, whether it's Metal or any other genre. Monaco is a bit of an old people's home. Coming to your question: it is true that, thinking about it, there were quite a few groups in the south. That said, I never felt like I was part of a local scene. I was isolated in Monaco. My contacts were made exclusively by the postal system at that time (the internet did not exist yet) and were established all over the world. I have to admit that you are teaching me something when you tell me that I am often quoted in demo acknowledgments. I did have some contact with French bands, but infrequently and not on a regular or prolonged basis. And since 1998 and the "The End Of The World" album, I don't think I had any contact with the Black Metal scene at all. How did I experience this period? I have good memories of it. It was really DIY at the time, keeping the Punk spirit alive. Everyone made their little recordings on cassette, we exchanged them, or we sold them; there were little fanzines, little radio stations. And, when looking back, it was fascinating that it was a global phenomenon. I was in contact with people from Western Europe, of course, but also from Poland, Russia, the United States, Brazil, Israel, Thailand, et cetera. We were all passionate about this nascent – or resurgent, shall we say – music and our goal was to stay between us. We wanted to exist in the network that we had built and that we fed. It was quite exhilarating. However, the atmosphere and the fun turned sour when the 'mainstream media' got involved: everything was looked at through the small end of the telescope, only the clichés were shown, the murders were talked about, church fires and kids digging into tombs. It was never about the music. I have a very revealing little anecdote on this subject: The M6 French television channel had a program in its roaster whose name and nature I have forgotten. But it does not matter. The journalist wanted to do a report on Black Metal, its musicians and its followers in France. It must have been in 1997 or 1998. The channel had contacted me and wanted to film me. After one or two discussions on the telephone during which I had been asked a lot of questions and during which I had told them that I was studying at the University of Nice, they made me the following offer: to film myself coming out of the Faculty, a studious and tidy little boy, for the first scene, then, second scene, they would film me in my rehearsal place, dressed in leather and trimmed with nails, face scribbled with makeup, screaming into my microphone. It was obviously an absolute grotesque idea. Needless to say, I declined to participate in this show. But that says a lot about what the Black Metal 'scene' was becoming. Some had been attracted to the limelight and had compromised themselves with their commercial attitudes. Those were the very same ones which still rejected all that a few months earlier. And I am talking here in particular of the most important Norwegian bands. It was a disappointment.

Q: Your first demo "Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam" was released at the end of 1994. It mixes Black with Death Metal and even adds a Medieval touch à la SOPOR AETERNUS. One can hear here the foundations of what GODKILLER will become later. What were your influences at that time?

I had discovered Metal, in the broadest sense, just recently during this phase and I was still mixing influences from PANTERA, SLAYER, Death Metal and already, a little, from Black Metal. The Medieval side came more from DEAD CAN DANCE, JORDI SAVALL, and authentic music from that period. A record that I listened to a lot, and which was in my father's collection, is "Late Renaissance Dances In Hungary", which, incidentally, offers music from after the Medieval period itself.

Q: For the cover, you choose an illustration by Félicien Rops from the Sataniques series entitled "Le Calvaire". Were you passionate about the author in particular, or did you choose the illustration for its symbolism?

For a long time, I have been fascinated by the end of the 19th century. This counts as much for literature as philosophy or even Arts in general. The 19th century in itself is interesting, but the last twenty years are particularly fascinating because an unbridled imagination, very original and 'gamey', as they said at the time, inhabits them. It is the Decadent movement, co-existing with Symbolism, and, therefore, the continuation of Black Romanticism and Marquis de Sade. It is a prelude to Dada and Surrealism. Félicien Rops is one of the representatives of this quite remarkable fin-de-siècle spirit, alongside Odilon Redon, and, a little later, Alfred Kubin, Aubrey Beardsley or the too little known and captivating Gustave-Adolphe Mossa (a native of Nice) – and so many others. I think I discovered Rops through Joris-Karl Huysmans, the author. He is one of the most outrageous painters of that time. There are many skeletons, naked women, pigs, obscene creatures, Christs gone mad or demonic to be witnessed.

Q: At the beginning of 1995, you released your second demo, "The Warlord". The style is refined, and the music is moving towards a Black Metal vibe inspired by the sound of the Medieval times. Moreover, you chose a 14th century illumination representing Yvain the Knight with a lion for the cover. You also speak of Paganism here for the first time. Is there a stylistic turning point to be found here?

It is a stylistic turning point, absolutely. The influence of the Norwegian scene is felt and heard. I completely abandoned Death Metal and replaced it with pure Black Metal. But, indeed, the most important element stems from the Medieval influence. I even had started, simultaneously, a project without guitars, with neither drums nor voice. I only used strings, flutes, bells, the brass and orchestral percussions, as it is also audible in the introductory pieces of the two demos. I didn't complete this project. All in all, it was really this Medieval atmosphere that I liked, and the attempt to mix this music inspired by ancient and purely acoustic sounds with electric and contemporary approaches. Two seemingly unnatural pieces of music meet to generate a Rops-like creature.

Q: There is a title in Norwegian, 'Bren Det Hvite Riket', which can be roughly translated as "Burn The White Kingdom". Was this a tribute to the Norwegian scene?

Absolutely. It's a shame, because, at the time, it was not well understood. Some have accused me of wanting to plagiarize the Norwegian bands, while it was simply a tribute to this scene. Also, we may not forget, since the Norwegian artists basically revived a musical movement themselves, it is also a tribute to the origins of the genre – those were Swedish (BATHORY), British (VENOM) or Swiss (HELLHAMMER/CELTIC FROST).

Q: For each demo, you selected the cover artwork carefully. This also accounts for the jackets of the two tapes and the color sleeves. For this task, you received support from your brother for the artworks as well as from Lilith who drew the logo. Did you have a precise idea from very early on of what you wanted in terms of professionalism? How did you benefit from the help of people stemming from your inner circle? How much did they contribute to GODKILLER?

Very quickly, I wanted to stand out from what was being done at the time and I wanted to present a successful, professional work. I found a tape with its classic transparent plastic case and a photocopied cover quite banal and uncreative. I wanted to present a complete work of Art, on which music and artwork respond to each other. My brother Olivier, who has always been keen on computer graphics, helped me a lot. He worked more or less on all the covers of GODKILLER. As for Lilith, my girlfriend at the time, she created the logo for GODKILLER and shot the photos of me, at least all those that can be found until "The End Of The World". At the time, she was studying at an Art school. It seemed normal to me to share my projects with my inner circle, insofar as it could bring me things that I would not have been able to do, or not with as much skill. However, from a musical point of view, I have always done everything entirely alone.

Q: About the packaging: for the demo boxes, you chose a special format which actually was the one from the Sega Megadrive games. Why this choice? Are you a big video game player?

So, you are teaching me again something! I was totally unaware that this format was that of the Sega Megadrive games. To be completely honest – and although it is a bit prosaic – I had found these cases at Fnac in Nice where they were sold empty, in sets of five, if I remember correctly. I bought all of them. These boxes offered an original format, larger than that of conventional boxes; you could slip in a larger pocket too, and so it was possible to craft something out of the ordinary. It was a bit of a 'luxury' object, in a way. We had the impression of having a unique version in our hands, as there are limited series of certain records or objects. But it had nothing to do with a commercial approach, it was purely artistic. Finally, to answer your question about video games: we started very early, my brothers and I, with the TV-003 console – only old people will remember that. Then, the Commodore 64, brilliant at the time; then the first PlayStation, et cetera. I hardly play anymore today, but I remember spending a lot of time on Civilization or Final Fantasy VII, in particular.

Q: In the process, the demo of your parallel project, URANIUM 235, was released in January 1996. It initiated a change towards a more radical Black Metal approach. Why didn't you release this demo under the name GODKILLER?

The idea was far away from the one behind GODKILLER. I wanted to make primitive and raw music. When we said 'raw' back then, we meant ultra-fast, short, without melodies or synthesizers. Basically, it was the exact opposite of GODKILLER. At that time, it was not extraordinary to have multiple side projects. Since the fundamental intention was so different, it seemed quite appropriate to me to use another name. Conceptually, as the title of the demo suggests ("Total Destruction"), it was a desire for total destruction, by any means imaginable. I called for a destruction of humanity and the world, and probably even a universal destruction. Which, today, makes me think of this passage from Marquis de Sade in "120 Days Of Sodom" where he imagines using the sun to set the world ablaze. One can also think of a Cioran text from "Sur les cimes du désespoir" (On the Heights of Despair), aptly titled 'Apocalypse'.

Q: Two paths were available to you, so to speak, between an uncompromising Black Metal approach or a Medieval Black Metal sound. Could the first one have ever been an orientation point for GODKILLER?

To be honest, no. For GODKILLER, I wanted to keep a melodic aspect, more 'catchy', more melancholic too, something in constant evolution, while staying within a certain framework. URANIUM 235 is the emergence of basic music, brutal, wicked and without feelings. Its spirit is nihilism pushed to its climax. It's not surprising that there was only one demo, when I think about it. The project was self-destructing with the aim of destroying everything. Basically, it makes perfect sense. It would have been absurd to offer a sequel or to make it a permanent project.

Q: A deal was planned with the French label Embassy Productions (GORGOROTH, VLAD TEPES, BELKÈTRE), but in the end it didn't happen, why?

Well, you have a better memory than me! I had completely forgotten about this offered deal with Embassy. Unfortunately, I'm sorry, I can't remember the details. It's been more than twenty-five years!

Posted on 09-27-2022 | Category: Godkiller