How to Philosophise With a Hammergod
CoC interviews Angelcorpse
by: Paul Schwarz
[intro by: Gino Filicetti]

They've been away seven years so we figured one more wouldn't hurt -– and getting Paul Schwarz to work fast is like walking a cat: it doesn't work. In the late '90s, Angelcorpse helped lead death metal toward a glorious new dawn. Then they disappeared. We were left with three seemingly inexhaustible testaments to brutality which helped blur the lines between death and black, led the way forward for many so-called 'war metal' bands and highlighted the drumming talents of both John Longstreth (Origin, ex- Skinless, ex-Dim Mak) and Tony Laureano (live drummer for Dimmu Borgir and 1349, ex-Nile). They also introduced the world to Pete Helmkamp and Gene Palubicki, figures shrouded in some degree of mystery, regarded with more than a little suspicion by many, and regarded by more than a few as minor-league geniuses in the field of extreme metal-making. Read on to find out in detail how the duo's reunion with John Longstreth came about and how last year's _Of Lucifer and Lightning_ was created; to see what happened when Pete Helmkamp was confronted with the charges of racism that have been thrown at him over the years; to learn of the tragic and traumatic events which accompanied Angelcorpse split; to find out how metal it really is to live in Tampa, Florida and, you guessed it, much more besides. You can even find out how John Longstreth first hooked up with Origin. And if you get tired, you can always wordsearch. We won't tell.

REAWAKENED MEMORIES

"The hammergods are those / who can't be struck down"

You wake up with the words ringing through your head. Where have you heard them? What deliciously demented, death metal-flavoured paean to destruction did that come from? Surely it must be Angelcorpse. And it is -– in a way. In fact, it would seem that these words are not intentionally spoken on any Angelcorpse album -– perhaps any album ever, for that matter. But listen to "Consecration", the mad and ravenous beast which kicks off their 1995 debut, _Hammer of Gods_, and after the Slayer-via-Ken- Russell's-"The Devils" backward masked emanations which accompany its rabid and ripping 'fanfare', "The hammergods are those / who can't be struck down" are the second and third lines you may well hear. The point is that, what with Angelcorpse having recently reformed and released a new album (if you hadn't heard about it, the question has to be -– what's your excuse?) these words have resonance, despite their apocryphal nature. So before we begin our tale, let us feast on some more apocrypha: an esoteric telling of Angelcorpse's history to date, constructed by doing a merciless hack job on lyricist Pete Helmkamp's delicately constructed texts for "Begotten (Through Blood and Flame)" and "Smouldering in Exile", with a view to approximating what a 'poetic fragment' found two thousand years hence might offer us for wisdom.

The prophesied sign in the heavens
A balance of firebolts and solar virtues
Cleaves through the darkness of matter

Pregnant lightning shatters frozen joy
Foul frost creates from that which destroys

Rites of scourge- immolated flesh
Imbibe the sorrow storm of impiety
A serpent entwined in the horns of the goat
Of withered angels wretched debris

He who leaps the loftiest of mountains
Pride and proscription now abhorred
Smoldering in exile- eternal

Yet the memories endure
Of the final Avatara
Through the flames of the great end
Where lightning rains from the heavens

Winged shadow simulacrum
Tenebrous dirge- ensanguined drums of war
Iron, blood and blasphemy affirmation
With grinning sepulchre as altar

Tyrant of solitude and desolate beauty
The scaled and blooded claws of the mighty
A king for kings to victory betrothed
Vestige of mercy with filth befouled

And glory wakes to walk proud
Through rites ripe with blood and faith
Upon inviolate mountain peaks
Where shines the rising sun

RISING FROM THE ASHES

Much lauded in these pages and still fondly remembered by those who feasted well on the fruits the latter half of the '90s offered to the intertwined interest spheres of death and black metal, Angelcorpse originally dissolved mere months after the current decade began. Torn apart by the pressures of touring with injuries and then being struck by tragedy; the frustration of becoming a 'name' band in the metal underground, yet receiving no genuine financial reward for all accolades heaped upon them; and the underlying issue of disagreement on the part of its two key creative voices -- bass-playing vocalist Pete Helmkamp and guitarist Gene Palubicki -- about where next to take Angelcorpse, the four-piece split in profoundly unpleasant circumstances: right in the middle of a US tour. Tempers having obviously frayed in buses and backstage rooms in the weeks before the split announcement came, Angelcorpse went out without dignity or fanfare. A few news posts on the Internet, a few frustrated, misguided snipes at the 'scene' whose support was perceived as inadequate in those final months and, it seemed, that was that. It was not the end any would have chosen for the band, but though critics mourned their absence and fans hoped against hope that things would somehow turn themselves around, the years that followed seemed to consign Angelcorpse to the pages of history.

Pete Helmkamp moved on, with ultra-feral war metal mongers Revenge most prominently. Gene Palubicki released a compilation of Angelcorpse live material titled _Death Dragons of the Apocalypse_, and disappeared back into underground obscurity. Tony Laureano (recruited just a couple of years earlier, after he'd been 'hanging out' down in Tampa, Florida whilst Angelcorpse were recording 1998's _Exterminate_ with original drummer John Longstreth) got his next big gig playing with Nile and has now risen to become American death metal's answer to Nick Barker -- as recent, much-lauded stints in Dimmu Borgir and 1349 illustrate. Touring guitarist Bill Taylor hooked up with Immolation not soon after Angelcorpse crashed and burned, and remains there today. And it seemed like the world had moved on, too. The dreams of the late '90s had come to dust -– or, to put it less melodramatically, reality had caught up with them.

Death metal's failure to ascend into the better-known echelons of popular music during its first spurt, which spluttered out around 1995, had failed to deter many bands both new and old from forging ahead during the latter half of the decade -– and as the new millennium dawned, a bright future seemed to beckon. For those of us who had missed the original Florida explosion, picking up on death metal only after the '90s were already half-over, times were finally exciting. We'd seen the drought -- metal's so-called low-point, circa 1996-7, which coincided with death metal's own, in terms of popularity and general recognition. Of course, we'd also watched albums like the peerless _None So Vile_ and the impressive _De Profundis_ appear even as the naysayers were scoffing at the idea that death metal still had any relevance. So in our smug, self-satisfied minds, it made some sense when Nile -- by no means alone but certainly most significantly -- seemed to blow things wide open for North American death metal with their second album, _Black Seeds of Vengeance_. It was only a month or less after that momentous moment that news of Angelcorpse's demise floated down the wire.

In retrospect, we should have seen it as a portent. For though death metal has not died in the last seven years, much of the greatness that was revealed in the ten years following that 'low point' so ironically marked by Cryptopsy's towering testament to the inventive potency of unparalleled brutality has gone, some of it forever. Chuck Schuldiner is now dead: it's a fact any death metal fan with taste has to live with. Cryptopsy have gone off like bad meat since Jon Levasseur and Mike DiSalvo departed: it's a truth any death metal fan with taste should learn to live with. There are many more, but let's not get too sidetracked. The point is that things have changed. The new vanguard of North American death metal which charged forth as our present decade began (comprising Nile, Cryptopsy, Angelcorpse and Immolation most crucially) did not find life in the real world any easier than their predecessors. Their existence is still supported by the hard work and comparatively frugal living of musicians who are technically amateurs, but are in many instances among the most proficient players of their instruments to be found anywhere in the world. The point is that Angelcorpse being back isn't going to change anything. We have to accept it for what it is: a welcome return from a band who managed to never make a bad album, and are still holding their streak.

"We went to a place called Audiolab", Helmkamp explained on February 27th, 2007, down the line from his home in Tampa, Florida. "That's where we recorded a lot of the covers we did -- Judas Priest, Sarcofago, the re-recording of "When Abyss Winds Return", we did all that stuff at Audiolab. Basically, Morrisound is a really, really expensive studio. We had some other options -- we could have worked with Eric Rutan at his studio or some other stuff like that -- but we just decided to go with Audiolab, honestly because they don't really do stuff like Angelcorpse very often. So we knew there wouldn't be some imprint that would automatically kind of get put onto the band, even subconsciously, from an engineer or producer that consistently works with death metal bands. We wanted our album to sound like our album, and not like a slew of other albums that have come out of the same place."

If there is one thing that can be said for certain about _Of Lucifer and Lightning_ (the album in question, which had only just been finished when Helmkamp was interviewed) it's that it is Angelcorpse through and through. But despite the virtues of the material on offer, the overall sound seems somewhat lifeless when compared with previous Angelcorpse recordings -- even material recorded at Audiolab, like the aforementioned (and awesome) re-recording of "When Abyss Winds Return". Despite their individual ticks, all previous Angelcorpse recordings shared in common the quality of sounding like a band going at it together, hell-for- leather. The problem with _Of Lucifer and Lightning_ is that it doesn't sound like a band that is entirely together -- and indeed, there is a very good reason for this.

"John actually tracked his drums up at Max Trax studios in New York. The recording of the album was literally totally absurd. We never actually got together and rehearsed. Gene had drum-machine tracks -- you know, demos of all the songs. He sent them to John, John learned the music, played to those tracks and recorded them, sent the drum tracks down to us, and then we played to his drum tracks. So I mean, it was almost the most backwards way to record an album. At least we did the drums first. But still, we were used to playing along with a drum machine track, and then once you get the human element in there, all of a sudden it's like, 'Oh, there's a brief pause on this riff'. You know? Now John was fantastic on the album, don't get me wrong, but we then had only three weeks to basically re-learn the songs. Not that they were radically different by any means, but just little things, little fills that you'd got used to hearing in a certain way now appeared differently, and it meant you had to think about it and that sort of thing. Trust me, we're not gonna do it that way a second time", assures Helmkamp before breaking into laughter.

"It's a bit of an unconventional way to record an album", confessed Gene Palubicki on March 3rd 2007, from his home in Tampa, Florida. "John recorded the drums at a studio up in New York, where he lives, and the only thing that he had was a pre-production demo tape that I made which basically mapped out all of the songs and all of the drum parts. So in effect, for this album I more or less wrote all the drum parts as well, though with a drum machine. John basically took that and did everything with a metronome click track in the studio to reproduce what was on those tapes. He then sent the drum tracks to us and then me and Pete went into the studio here, in Florida, and recorded our parts. The weird thing is that what Pete had was those same tracks that I made for John. He learned the songs from there. So the strange thing about doing this album was that none of us ever rehearsed any of the songs together, as a band. So to try to get it together to where everyone was on the same page was weird. But y'know, with the technology that's available these days, we can actually get away with that. Preferably, I'd rather have it where you have a band that go into a rehearsal room and play the songs for a couple of months to get things together, and then go into the studio from there. But with where everybody's at right now with having to work jobs and where we live, we weren't able to do it that way. So I think we pulled it off rather well."

UNEASY UNION

Palubicki is not wrong. Though _Of Lucifer and Lightning_ is undoubtedly not as great a record as it might have been because it was not made by a band as such, its material is of similarly impressive quality to what we have come to expect from Angelcorpse. In fact, Helmkamp's lyrics are if anything structured yet more gracefully in terms of their phonetics. But more on that later. What we need to get out of the way first are some hard truths, the hardest of which is the potentially tentative nature of Angelcorpse's reunion with their original drummer.

"The Angelcorpse reunion thing I kinda got out of a prank -- a prankster mentality, anyway", revealed John Longstreth in the back room of London's Islington Academy on March 2nd, 2007. "Last Summer, I was in Memphis, Tennessee with Origin. We were staying with Tino LoSicco of Epoch of Unlight. I thought the reunion seemed kinda cheese-dick really, because Gene had put out this statement saying, 'The next two albums are gonna be recorded with Gina Ambrosio', and a couple of days later Pete puts out a fuckin' interview where he said, 'We are doing new albums, but she's not gonna be a part of the band -- so if anybody's interested, e-mail us.' So I was like 'Ha ha ha, take a look at this!' and I sent them drum cam footage of Origin playing at The Pound [in San Francisco, 28th July 2006]. I think I titled the e-mail something like, 'Drummer available, can do whatever you guys are capable of writing.' So I sent them that video and just said, 'Hey, it's John. Ha ha.' I wasn't expecting them to be interested. I figured they'd just say, 'Ha ha -- fuckin' punk'. But Pete e-mailed me back and he was like, 'Wow, I haven't talked to you in a while. What do you really think? Are you interested in doing it?' I was like, 'On a limited basis? Sure.' So we'll see what's up.

"I mean, as soon as I started talking to the Angelcorpse guys about this I was like, 'First off, as far as priority: Origin is my priority. Origin is the live band, the band that's doing all the touring. When there's time, if there's a possibility for me to do live stuff with Angelcorpse, we'll do it.' They were totally cool with that. We've only kicked the idea of live setlists around a couple of times. You know, it's difficult for us to even entertain that kind of possibility yet. They did mention something about doing maybe three or four songs from _Hammer..._ and _Exterminate_ and maybe one or two from _The Inexorable_, one of them being "Stormgods Unbound", I believe. If I had my way, it'd be "Smouldering in Exile". We'll see. I think they were talking about "Wolflust" too. It's a bit of a 'hit', apparently. It does have that anthemic quality to it."

Much as it would be thoroughly awesome to see Angelcorpse perform live with John Longstreth, we may well have to content ourselves with seeing other sticksmen (the relative unknown JR Daniels for last year's US mini-tour with Watain and Nachtmystium) take his place alongside Helmkamp, Palubicki and whoever they get on guitar. Some might speculate that the prospect is the more unlikely because of what happened around the recording of the last album Longstreth recorded for Angelcorpse during his original stretch, 1998's _Exterminate_. Rumour-mongers have for a long time poured scorn on the idea that the performance presented is really Longstreth.

"We did a few shows just before we did the _Exterminate_ album and we realised that at that point in time John just wasn't capable of reproducing live what we were able to try to do in the studio", says Palubicki. "We knew that we needed to have a drummer that could do live what people were hearing on the records. Then when we recorded the _Exterminate_ album, there was a lot of work that needed to be done with the drums to get it to sound the way that it needed to. Without some of the correction and fixing that was done, it wouldn't have worked at all. It was mostly the double-bass, the footwork and all of that. That's where the biggest trouble was. At that point in time it was very important to us to have members in the band who were basically operating at the same level that me and Pete were looking to operate at. Jon wasn't really sharing in a lot of our feelings about the music. So there was a bit of a separation there. We didn't really gel as just three members."

"There was some trickery done in the studio for _Exterminate_, but some people like to say that it's like the whole album was Pro-Tooled and fixed and everything, which really wasn't the case", says Longstreth of the affair. "There are some obvious things. Basically, it was in a lot of the double-bass that I wasn't able to, y'know, fuckin' do it. <laughs> So we had to fix some double-bass, and the whole idea was: there's really not much of a problem with fixing drum tracks in certain spots, if you can go out and do it live. At that point in time I wasn't able to go out and do it live. So Pete and Gene were like: this isn't working out, Tony [Laureano] is going to come up and join the band.

"At that point in time I think I wanted out of the band anyway. I think if I'd really wanted to hang on to the band, then I would have been able to have justified taking the time to actually make the material work a lot better and all that stuff. But instead of that, Gene wanted me to be over to practice a lot more, and I didn't wanna go there and practice and all that kind of stuff. So, y'know, after a while, it became apparent: I wasn't meant for the band and they needed somebody better. That was kinda where it went from there, and I took some time off from even doing anything. I just jammed out with some friends for a while. I think I was twenty or twenty-one when I left Angelcorpse. I was in the band from the age of nineteen through to twenty-one or twenty-two. I can't really remember. You don't know what you're doing at those ages. At that point in time I didn't really understand -- I was too young to understand what Gene and Pete were really after in a drummer. So it was kinda amazing that they put up with me that long. In hindsight, the whole Angelcorpse thing: at that point in time I was a kid."

"I think he just wasn't quite ready to do the stuff that we were demanding from him as a performer", Helmkamp agrees. "I mean, the experience with _Exterminate_, we wasted a lot of extra time in the studio having to go back and do a lot of cheating and fixing on the drum parts and it was kinda one of those things where it made us realise, you know, this is really, obviously gonna remain a problem. So the best solution for us was just to go ahead and replace him. We spent time and some money having to do that fixing. It's one of those things where, you know, I don't wanna talk bad about him, but he has readily admitted that he was in over his head at that point in time. He has obviously gotten plenty of work after that and he's well-known and he's a great drummer, so I think it kinda was... in certain respects it kinda gave him or maybe taught him a lesson in a way, you know? I guess he learned the right lesson from it 'cause he didn't just fall under a rock and give up. He obviously took that as an important message that he could utilise."

Having done quite literally incredible [I'm sorry, dear readers, VERY sorry. I fucked up but good. Enough that it was worth swearing. Sorry. Longstreth's work is NOT -literally- incredible. That would imply (or, as it were, mean I did, unintentionally, imply) that it doesn't sound like he's actually playing it. Anyone who has seen Origin or Skinless or whoever you choose to name live with Longstreth at the helm will tell you that the kind of drumming other drummers dream of delivering there and then is the type of material this man eats for breakfast. My bad use of language is not here excused, but noted as a stern reminder. Thanks for your patience.] work for Origin, Skinless and Dim Mak, to name but a few, since departing Angelcorpse just as he'd become legal to drink throughout the 52 states of the US, there seems no way that the illustrious Mr. Longstreth would have trouble keeping up with the pace of Pete and Gene's ideas nowadays.

"Right! Exactly", laughs Helmkamp. "But I think everybody... Angelcorpse was pretty much probably his first real band, so I mean... Nobody wants to get kicked out of a band, you know what I mean? It's embarrassing. That's how I ended up feeling towards the end of the Order From Chaos days because yeah, the band did split mutually, but there was so much bad blood, and I kinda got blamed for a lot of things that... You know, of course there's two sides to every story, but from that same understanding I know how it feels to be 'kicked out', or whatever."

PORTENTOUS BEGINNINGS

Of the members who originally made up Angelcorpse, only Pete Helmkamp was in any way known back in 1995, when they formed. Helmkamp had already been playing with the aforementioned Order From Chaos for a number of years when he met Gene Palubicki, a fan of the profoundly Voivod and Sodom-inspired Kansas City, Missouri death metal power trio who approached the bassist vocalist as an aspiring fan,

"The way that Angelcorpse originally started was that I had the beginnings of a band in about 1991, and I went to the Milwaukee Metalfest that year with a demotape of some stuff I was doing at the time, with a drum machine and all of that", recalls Palubicki. "I was really just looking around for people to start bands with -- just to get out and try to find other musicians, 'cause i was living in Minnesota, where at that time there really wasn't any kind of scene or whatever. So I was basically looking for anybody who was into the shit I was into. Order From Chaos were playing the Metalfest, and they were one of the bands that I gave a tape to. So that's where the correspondence between me and Pete got started. After a couple of years of us corresponding, Order From Chaos released a 10", and I ordered it from Pete through the mail. In the package he put a letter telling me that OFC were recording their last album -- that they were going to break up."

"Order From Chaos split up in about May of '95", Helmkamp clarifies. "Gene and I had always been basically writing letters and talking to each other on the phone for years, so we really understood each other's musical background and we figured, 'Well, it would definitely be worth giving it a try'. We both were into the extreme stuff, and it's always difficult to find other people that are gonna be like-minded when it comes to what it is you're trying to do. But he wasn't in Kansas City, where OFC were based. So eventually we kinda were like, 'Well, let's just go ahead and give this a try'.

"So I moved from Minnesota to Kansas City in June of 1995, right after OFC split up, and we just started working on music", continues Palubicki. "John was someone that we just met up with in Kansas City at that time. Originally, the idea of starting a band was going to be me, Pete -- and at the very beginning we were playing with the drummer from OFC. He decided that he wasn't interested in the material, so we needed to find someone else. Now, being that we were in Kansas City, Missouri, there wasn't really a metal scene. So basically we had to really look around locally to find anybody. Talking to some people at a party, we were told about John, so we called him."

"I just came out of highschool and went straight into playing with these crazy fuckin' death metal bands", says Longstreth, who was poached from Kansas City's Possession when he joined Angelcorpse.

"We finally got John pretty early in '96", says Helmkamp. "We then recorded _Goats to Azazel_ in March of '96. We got signed immediately, so it was pretty quick. Definitely fast."

Amusingly, it was at this earliest point in Angelcorpse's history that the confusion of how to render their name first came about.

"We put it as two words on the demo, so Osmose learned it that way. But that was just a mistake at the printers", reveals Helmkamp. "It was one of those flukes. But it is just a single word. It's funny that you asked this question, 'cause I actually sent an explanation of that to Osmose this time around and said, 'Please change it everywhere you can. On the spine of the CDs, please put it as one word.' It just seems to look more visually pleasing as a single word. It fits with the phonetics: we say Angelcorpse, not Angel Corpse."

As did the many underground extreme metal fanatics who were watching Angelcorpse's progress within a year of the July 1996 release of _Hammer of Gods_. But the strange thing was that though in the US Angelcorpse were generally hailed for being like unto an unleashed force of nature -- a band following in the proud tradition arguably established most firmly in death metal circles by Morbid Angel's _Altars of Madness_ -- over in Europe they were more regularly lumped in with the distinctly retroistic thrashings of such bands as Bewitched, Gehennah, Infernö and others, many of whom had been formed by members of known and semi- known black metal bands. There is a distinct irony to this. Though sporting none of the telltales which characterised such bands -- an intentionally lo-fi production; shallow or absurd lyrical content, in some cases (Infernö) intentionally constructed to mirror the famously bad English of German thrash bands like Kreator, Destruction and Sodom; having at least one riff or songtitle per album that was directly lifted from a pre-'86 thrash record -- Angelcorpse's approach struck a very significant chord with both fans and creators of black metal, at the time very much the extreme metal style in the ascendant in terms of popularity.

"Angelcorpse has always been one of those death/black metal bands that really work both sides of the equation, and add a bit of punkish attitude to it as well. That's one of my favourite bands from that period", said Dimmu Borgir's Silenoz on 28th September, 2007.

The confusion came about because Angelcorpse's French label, Osmose, had been releasing almost nothing but retro thrash around the time they also unleashed the skull-smashing scourge from below that was _Hammer of Gods_. "Our first album came out at the same time that a lot of those records came out. So I think that's why that happened", affirms Palubicki. In fact, until Vital Remains' titanic _Forever Underground_ poked its head out in mid 1997, Angelcorpse were just about the only death metal band on Herve's books. So it was probably a surprise to most when the band's second album, the aforementioned _Exterminate_, caused such a stir.

"For _Hammer of Gods_ we did a two or three week tour in Europe with Impaled Nazarene with John, and after that we only did a few more shows before Jon left", recalls Palubicki. "We played at the 1997 Milwaukee Metalfest and did a couple of other shows here and there. By the time we got to the touring for _Exterminate_, that's when Tony became our drummer."

STANDING ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER

It was thus Tony Laureano who was charged with bringing the rabid gospel of _Exterminate_ to the death metal masses. But how did Angelcorpse first come across the drummer, they being from Kansas City and he being then resident in Tampa, Florida?

"Well actually, it was while we were recording the _Exterminate_ album", reveals Palubicki. "The place we were staying down in Florida, there'd always be people around at night after we'd get out of the studio. Tony would always be there; hanging out, drinking beer, doing whatever we were doing, y'know. And Tony talked to me there. I mean, he didn't flat out come and say that he wanted to be the new Angelcorpse drummer, but he basically made it known that he was a drummer that wasn't in a band."

The sole Angelcorpse album created with Laureano bore his distinctive stamp. Sporting an ultra-fast, tight and thoroughly consistent performance, _The Inexorable_ was certainly nothing to complain about. Fanatics lapped it up -- many proclaiming upon the release of Morbid Angel's subsequent album, 2000's disappointing _Gateways to Annihilation_, that Angelcorpse (alongside Nile) had beaten the masters of death at their own game, even despite the fact that by that point Angelcorpse themselves were no more.

"Most of the drum parts that Tony did on _The Inexorable_ were the kind of patterns and styles that he would use, and he didn't intentionally try to reproduce a style that John had done on previous albums", says Palubicki. "That was actually something we wanted to make a point of on that album, because while we did all of the touring for the _Exterminate_ album, Tony was basically trying to mirror the stylings of the drum parts from the original albums. When it came around time for _The Inexorable_, the only guidelines that I had given Tony were like: have that be a double-bass part, have that be blastbeat part, or have that be a thrash part, etc. As far as how he'd like to put it together, and put drum rolls and fills and all of that in, that was up to him."

Only those who had been particularly enamoured of Longstreth's own, somewhat different style were reserved in their proclamations on Laureano, but it would certainly be fair to say that not everyone was bowled over by the new sticksman's work.

"Gene sent me a copy of _The Inexorable_. When I got it I noticed that there were a couple of riffs that Gene and I had worked on right before I left, and that they had re-recorded "Wolflust"", recalls Longstreth. "So when I listened to that album I was like, 'Big fuckin' deal! So Tony can play fast and straightforward!' I hadn't realised that was what they'd been looking for the entire time. And not only was Tony fast and straightforward, he was solid and consistent, so he held the band together well."

Laureano's talents, of course, only applied to when the band while they were onstage.

"What happened was that there was a tour that were on in late '99 and through to 2000, during which a couple of events occurred", says Palubicki of Angelcorpse's split, which occurred less than a year after the release of _The Inexorable_. "But it wasn't just the events that had happened -- there was a car accident that we had; something happened to a girlfriend of Pete's at that point, a crime occurred against her. It was that all of this transpired while we were on the road, and basically it just stressed things to the point where Pete decided that he wanted to separate."

It was unfortunate timing, certainly. As was discussed earlier, death metal's proverbial surfboard was cresting a wave which seemed to be building to a veritable tsunami, at the time.

"It's interesting, 'cause we did have everything going for us, but at the same time, there were so many elements within the band and just pushing against it as well", offers Helmkamp. "I mean, I was the one that ended up snapping and quitting. But I mean, it was only -- and I've said this before, it was only a matter of time before somebody was gonna depart. Eventually, Tony I'm sure would have left and gone to a bigger gig, because that's obviously what he does. And that's fine -- that's how he earns his living and that's what he does, but that's what he did when he joined Angelcorpse. That was his step up. Also Gene was wanting to do stuff that, at the time, was a lot more technical -- not that much more technical, but certainly going further off in that direction -- where I was starting to wanna simplify things a lot. You know, try to strip down. So we were having a real hard time collaborating musically and we had -- I wanna say we had two or three songs written when the band split. But we were really at a loss as to what we were gonna do, and the last thing we wanted to do was to do is what so often occurs: you put that album out that has two or three great tracks on it and then the rest of the material is filler -- and all of a sudden, you get stuck in that rut. You do the album just so that you can give that to the label so that they can put you out on the road again. We had conversations. We said we needed to tour more, but then we were told: we're not gonna put you on tour if you don't have product. You know what I mean? It's kinda a Catch 22.

"I mean, it was an ugly, abrupt way to have the band come apart, 'cause I quite whilst we were on tour", he continues. "The girl I was with at the time, she got stabbed. Also, we crashed the van the first week of the tour and I got busted up real bad. I tore a bunch of ligaments and smashed a buncha bones in my ankle, and not having health insurance and knowing what anybody was gonna tell me -- you need to stay off your foot -- I just limped around, literally for a year. My foot was black from the toe to the knee after that accident. So I'm already hurt, and then I get sick because I'm hurt, so I'm just having the worst time ever on this tour, and I think I took it a little too personally. I think that I was expecting that Angelcorpse was gonna be more widely received at some of the venues, and I know that I went on some rants after I was out of the band about how I felt that we'd been betrayed by our fans and that sort of thing. But in retrospect, that was just me being angry and frustrated and all that. But once the girl got stabbed, that was it: I was at the end of my rope. I was just like: I can't do this anymore."

UNDER FLORIDIAN SKYS THEY ARE REFORGED

"When we started Angelcorpse, we decided that if either Pete or I are not involved, it's not Angelcorpse", says Palubicki of why there was no question of Angelcorpse continuing without Helmkamp. "Basically, the division in the band is that Pete writes the lyrics and 99% of the music is all mine. So if you take one of us out of the picture, it's not going to be the same thing. So what happened was that after the split, I still continued to write songs. I mean, I even had songs right at that point that the band stopped that would have been on the next album. Some of those are on this new album. Even though there has been a six or seven year gap, musically the material that is used on this new record is material that was intended for the next record anyways. Note for note, actually. It's not like it's a complete changeover or something that's going in a different direction to where we were going before. It's pretty much what would have happened had we done another album after _The Inexorable_.

"Pete had spent some time doing some other projects, and then after he did the most recent Revenge album and they went on tour in Europe a lot of people were bombarding him with questions about Angelcorpse", claims Palubicki concerning the impetus for the reunion. "So when he came back, he started asking me about whether I was still interested in doing something. I had all these songs, about three or four albums worth, so I was like, 'Sure, let's do it.' At that point there was a chance that I was going to start a different band -- we're talking 2002 to 2003 here. But I didn't really like the direction that band was going, so I just basically ended that and started working with Pete again. It's taken a bit of time to get things to where they are now."

"Gene and I have always been friends and we hang out", says Helmkamp, telling his side of the reunion story. "You know, he had been writing music and some of it he was kinda turning into the Blasphemic Cruelty stuff and other stuff was like, 'Hey, this could be Angelcorpse material!' And I was just like, 'Well, let's do it. Let's put the band back together.' Gene wrote all the material on the new album, but getting it all to work took us two years. If we'd put this band back together two years ago, when I suggested that we do it, it would not be this album. It took two years for us to really collaborate -- get everything, put it all together, write and rewrite songs, write and rewrite lyrics, and then just find the physical time to actually get together and learn the stuff. You know, he and I, our schedules don't mesh up very well. It's just... It sounds funny y'know, because we both live here in Tampa, but we might as well live in a cave somewhere because neither one of us are like, out and about."

Helmkamp and Palubicki relocated to the well-known home of Morrisound studios back in 1998, the year of _Exterminate_.

"We had just finished the Cannibal Corpse tour in the US and then we basically packed up our stuff and moved down here", Pete remembers. "I'm from Kansas City, Missouri which is sorta the midwest, and as every other death metal musician seems to, y'know, gravitate towards Tampa at some point or another in the States, that's what I did."

Did you find the move to Tampa was successful? Did it achieve the things you wanted out of it? Had Tampa changed a lot since the halcyon days of the early '90s we hear told of in myth and legend?

"I hear stories about how things were ten or fifteen years ago. How much better they were and how many more fans there were", he continues, somewhat dismissive. "I think there's always been a surplus of musicians here, which I think is primarily what's been beneficial for me. But I think, and you can see it when you just go to a show or whatnot, that the younger fanbase is kinda drifting away into other styles of music and whatnot. But still, there's a big pool of musicians to work with here, so that actually is good; where you're not having to, you know, just try to pull through with such a small pool of musicians in like just some average midwestern town. You've got a place where everybody on the Eastern half of the country has moved to; to be available to work with other people that are doing the sort of thing that we do; so that they can actually have the possibility of getting into a band. Either a band that's already established or one that they're gonna form themselves."

It's interesting. It often seems that there never was that much of a 'scene' as such in Tampa itself, but rather a large pool of musicians all looking to make it in death metal who worked from there.

"I think it's a little bit of both", says Helmkamp. "I always think that the numbers are inflated, but according to what they tell you, five years ago -- make that fifteen years ago, counting from now -- you'd get 800 people at a show, and now there's only 150. But at the same time, I've never really been like a big, big fan of the Tampa death metal scene, so I don't really know a whole lot about it. But even back in the day, most of the bands came from somewhere else. I'm not sure why they ended up coming down here. I don't know what the impetus was for that.

"If you compare Tampa to a city like Chicago, Chicago is actually the one that's a lot more like a European metal city, where there are clubs and bars and places where people actually do go and hang out", he adds. "There's nothing like that here in Tampa. I think that really throws a lot of folks for a loop. They don't quite understand it. Of course, there are places that people do go, but there isn't a metal club in Tampa. There isn't a metal bar. You're not gonna go anywhere and hear metal playing on the radio. It's just not gonna happen."

LIVING IN THE REAL WORLD

If there's one thing that's worse than a reunion that doesn't happen, it's a reunion that promises too much and ends up burning itself away in a cloud of frustration fuelled by unreasonable expectations and unrealistic 'planning'. The good news is that Angelcorpse's reunion does not seem as if it will promise things it will not deliver. The bad news is that people, especially over here in Europe, really are going to have to be patient if they want to see Angelcorpse play live. For whatever hype you may feel they received upon the release of _Of Lucifer and Lightning_, working with this band is definitely not a career in itself.

"We realised relatively quickly that if you weren't one of the five or six top-selling bands that started out in the early '90s, you could not live off this music", says Helmkamp. "We know we're never going to be able to make a living out of Angelcorpse, like Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel can."

Though they were very happy to complete a mini-tour of the US with the esteemed Watain and Nachtmystium in May 2007 (featuring the aforementioned JR Daniels on drums) Angelcorpse's touring plans are as yet sparing, both core members very much having to focus on working jobs and having plenty else on their plates besides. But whatever the limitations of growing up and taking on greater responsibility, there is no doubt that Angelcorpse are very happy to be back in business.

"Like I was saying, if we'd done this two years ago, it would not be this album", says Pete, returning to his previous theme. "So what I feel like what we've accomplished is that -- even though we didn't jam or rehearse or whatever bands do -- knowing each other and knowing what we were capable of, we scrutinised once and again and again and again the music and the lyrics, and decided what the best way to put the album together would be. So, you know, I think every song has been worked over so many times, so in way it's almost as if you get a first album. You know what I'm saying? When a band has a good first album, it's because they have a great first album. Personally, I think _Hammer of Gods_ is a bit of a premature first album, but y'know, that's neither here nor there."

There are still people who swear by _Hammer of Gods_: people who think it's still the pinnacle of Angelcorpse's career.

"Right", Pete accepts. "But I look at it like: if we'd had another six months to work on those songs, they would have been that much better. We've had two years to work on these songs and dammit, I think they came out just perfect, man. I mean, every single one of them. Any album is supposed to flow, in my opinion; each song needs to stand on its own but, the album in general has to have a flow to it. You can't have three songs that just barrel along. You can't do that. I mean, I know people do it all the time, but to me that's utterly pointless. I want it to be where you can individually hear a few notes out of a song and know that it's the second song, or the third song, or what have you. It used to be the kind of thing I'd know with bands I liked: 'that's the first song on side A' and 'that's the first song on side B', but we don't live in that world anymore."

Thinking about it, Angelcorpse seem always to have written albums with that two-movement vinyl schema in mind, nonetheless.

"It just seems to work", returns Helmkamp. "You wanna to have an ebb and a flow. You wanna have a rise and a fall. It's like a symphony. What are you gonna do? You can't have a first movement for eight movements. You've gotta have all these different steps that take the listener through the process and in that process you're gonna offer them all kinds of different ideas. You don't wanna go too far into leftfield -- ever. But at the same time you always wanna kinda just expand and grow and fix things, and then obviously you want to bring it all to a good ending. That's the way any album is supposed to be. That's the way your setlist for a live gig should be. It's just... It's a musical opus and people, I think, have really lost sight of that. But they probably don't even listen to that kind of music. I mean, I don't know what they're listening to. But you know, I think that so many bands are just so far away from that concept. I mean, I hear a lot of modern death metal nowadays and I could not tell you if there's a melody in any of the songs. I mean, I know there's a melody, but I sure don't remember it. It's not supposed to be catchy like an AC/DC riff, but dammit it's gotta have something going for it. It has to have movement. Direction. I call all that stuff math metal. It's like those guys are all just showing off to each other about how many notes they can play and how many sweeps and arpeggios and whatever else they're doing on their guitars they can cram in there. And I'm just like: you know what? It doesn't move me, man. It's bland. It's totally redundant. You know?"

You know, don't you? If you haven't, my pick for most redundant death metal album of 2007 has to be Mithras, _Behind the Shadows Lie Madness_: when two clearly proficient guitarists get together in a room and play scales a la Azagthoth to a drum machine, an album it does not make. Songs are important. That was always and ever one of Angelcorpse's greatest assets: they knew how to write a good song. And in every one of those songs, there was something to which you could hum. Often you would find yourself humming over a two-inch-tape-sized, detuned death metal squall -- picking up on a damned catchy melodic progression or exquisitely intonated lyrical passage which was bursting forth from those dense depths -- but still the compulsion to hum was irresistible.

"That's good, because that to me is exactly what this fourth album is all about", says Helmkamp. "We wanted it. I mean, I felt like, 'Man, we're having to climb the mountain!' You know what I mean? We have to top _The Inexorable_, _Exterminate_ and _Hammer of Gods_. If we're gonna bother to do this, we can't do this in any way shape or form that isn't absolutely monumental. That's what I feel that we've achieved. I could be wrong. I'm the artist looking at the painting, so there you go. I'm pretty damn happy with it."

For those of you who've used those three previous minor classics of death metal as intravenous shots of liquid invigoration time and time again, _OLaL_ will not disappoint. It will give you some more of that 'good stuff' that you need. Be warned though: like watching "Conan the Barbarian", the pure charge that comes off an Angelcorpse album can be temporarily dulled by hideous overuse.

"So you're one of those guys too, huh?" says Pete, laughing so much that he sounds like he's going to fall out of his chair. "I haven't watched that film in so long, but I used to watch that shit every week, man! I mean, it came out when I was probably 14 or something like that. I was just dumbstruck, like, 'What is this? This is fantastic!' You know what I mean? I always loved the fact that there was so little dialogue in the film. You don't need it. It's grandeur and music! It goes back to the kinds of things invoked by Soviet architecture, and Nazi architecture for that matter, as well."

DON'T MENTION THE WAR

The time has now come to explore probably the most thorny issue surrounding Angelcorpse: that of Pete Helmkamp's political leanings. Since Angelcorpse began, and even back in the days when Helmkamp was still a part of Order From Chaos, there have been rumours floating around that he was some kind of neo-Nazi racist. Indeed, for many raised in a polite, middle class and overwhelmingly politically correct environment -- used to suspecting anyone who conforms to stereotypes (shaved heads; militaristic imagery; Nietzsche references; lightning-bolt symbols) and isn't careful what they say and display, Helmkamp seems like an open and shut case. After close examination of his lyrical work, I myself concluded that such views probably were the kind of thing in which Helmkamp believed: it's all too easy to be cynical about someone who isn't as self-conscious as you are about topics that are so sensitive and stocked full of reactive potential. Imagine how glad I was to find out the truth.

"I never really quite understood and I still never really know how to answer these questions, because I am so far removed from any of those things", says Helmkamp, asked what he would you say to people who seek to label him as a bigot, or as specifically a Nazi or a Fascist. "But at the same time, certainly I'm fascinated by any kind of extremist mindset, because of the fact that it is so extreme. So I think, in a lot of ways... How can I put it? Extremism is -- no matter what it is, it's such a false path, in a way. It blots out everything else around it and it says, you know: this line is the only way it can be. So in a way, if you could temper that, you know, that belief, and spread it out and apply it to other things [it could be useful]. But then I guess it's no longer extremism. I guess it's that, you know, slug walking on a straight razor."

Helmkamp is intrigued by the amount of power such extremism can harness. His view of the inevitable doom to be found in following an extremist mindset is not far removed from the view Karl Popper takes of totalitarianism in general in "The Open Society and its Enemies" -- that its claim to know what is good for society leads it to create a closed society, founded upon falsehood and destined not to be for the overall betterment of mankind.

"Extremism and totalitarianism must, therefore, operate on the 'scapegoat' principle", Pete says, continuing the line of thinking. "So when is it gonna end? You're going to be quote-unquote 'at war' forever. Now, there are certain things to be at war with forever, such as ignorance. But at the same time, that's not what they're at war with. They're at war because it's what defines the justification of the society. If the war is won, then people are gonna be able to question other things. I honestly feel like, in my country, that we're having -- and I don't want to get too into the politics, but we are being asked to see things like that in a lot of respects. With all of these strange things going on in congress and what people can and can't say and how they have to preface any type of critique about the Iraq situation with, you know, how they are not not supporting the troop, how they are not talking badly about the troops, and blah blah blah. Just the whole concept of even having a discussion about that is viewed as treasonous, in a lot of circles."

To paraphrase opening of the brilliant documentary series "The Power of Nightmares - The Rise of the Politics of Fear", written by Adam Curtis and originally produced for the BBC: where politicians used to offer us a vision of a better world, they now offer to protect us -- from nightmares...

"Yeah. Exactly", agrees Helmkamp, having not seen the series in question. "Because that culture of fear, that's how everything is justified."

One could imagine a situation in 50 years where it's said that 'The War on Terror' has always been going on -- that countless conflicts of the past were simply part of this larger, perpetual whole.

"Just think of 'The War on Drugs'. That's been going on for 25 years now. Yeah, it's gonna be the same thing. I mean, I made commentary about this fifteen years ago. I knew. I could see, in the States, just how fundamentalist, Christian and right wing things were going. I mean, the average man, woman, child on the street in this United States is probably just about like everybody else anywhere in the world, to a certain degree. But people are pretty religious here and... I mean, they're not religious like people that strap bombs to themselves and blow up school busses. But by the same token, that is really something that politicians tap into. They use that, and it's just... It's just so obvious. We have these absurd debates about gay marriage and stem cell research, but when we have serious, serious problems that need to be addressed in this country, those aren't even subjects that anybody's worried about. They're going for these, just total knee-jerk reactions from people that are basically extremists. You know: you can't have an abortion; you can't do this. It's like what you were saying about keeping your mind open to see what's gonna be the best thing for the society or the whole or whatever. I think all of us -- unconsciously, we all have our own knee-jerks: where we may not even realise it, but we paint the world in black and white. I know I do sometimes."

The older you get, the more you tend to do it.

"Right. But the ability to at least think about it, and to recognise that you might have that character flaw -- surprise surprise -- is the first step of trying to conquer that."

The modern scourge on good sense that perversely remains monickered 'political correctness' -- a movement which once played an important role in cracking certain aspects of the pejorative racial discrimination which was ingrained in aspects of everyday language -- does not represent a mode of thinking which is very able to recognise its own genuine flaws. Rather it tends to constitute a totalitarianism about language which is every bit as chilling as the doublespeak of Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four".

"It's a sort of anti-extremism extremism", muses Helmkamp on 'political correctness'. "It's the same kind of extremism; where people are looking for any single thing to pick out and then crucify you for. And it's needless to say, but once you're branded, you're going to have a devil of a time getting that erased."

Being 'known' as a bigot is like getting accused of being a paedophile. You might be acquitted because of a complete lack of evidence; someone who was, indeed, utterly falsely accused -- like a Guantanamo Bay detainee who was working in Currys at the time he was alleged to have been seen with Osama Bin Laden in the Middle East, you might say. But though people are apt to forget a lot of things, their memory of an initial accusation often remains, assuming guilt via that particularly prevalent, wrong- headed use of analogy: there is no smoke without fire.

HOW TO CREATE CONTROVERSY AND INFLUENCE METAL

So we know for sure now. Pete Helmkamp is not a Nazi. It's depressing to think that some people were disappointed when they discovered this. Take the following interviewer, quoted on the message board of the neo-Nazi Internet community Stormfront.org:

Interviewer: "One of Angel Corpse's [sic] live pics feature you wearing [a] Blasphemy t-shirt. As far as I know, this band consists of 3 jews and one nigger... Don't you think that they don't even have a right to call themselves 'black metal'?? [sic]"

Pete Helmkamp: "I don't give a **** [sic] who is in the band: they are one of the most brutal and black bands on the planet, so **** [sic] off if you are only interested in the race of the members!"

Posted in 2003, this exchange evidences that I myself could have known the truth about Helmkamp four years ago. We all make mistakes. But there's another side to this. Certainly no-one with any sense would say that Pete Helmkamp has single handedly brought this on himself -- much of it is doubtless tied up with the reputation of heavy metal as a whole. However, like many of their predecessors (going back at least as far as KISS's use of the lightning-bolt double-'s', Motorhead's Iron Crosses, Slayer's Auschwitz references, and right up to Phil Anselmo's ill-advised attempts to encourage white people to be proud of their whiteness) Angelcorpse also did not walk as if on eggshells when approaching controversial subject matter. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that Pete Helmkamp must have had at least an inkling of the brushes with which the band would be tarred. The more interesting question is: how deliberately did Angelcorpse court controversy? For this tactic has served many death metal, and indeed black metal musicians very well indeed. Two words: Glen Benton. Seven more: Dave Vincent's glorious leader of the past. Certainly, no-one with as much intelligence and sense as Helmkamp showed over our 90-minute phone conversation, could have written about 'proud iron youth / of the noble cultures of the past' who are 'tough as burnished leather and as hard as Krupp's steel... A Volk of purity and vigour' without knowing that some hackles would be raised -- and some neo-Nazis would sieg-heil in appreciation.

"Well most of those lines actually came from -- actually, I don't even know exactly where they came from -- but from some speech or something. But by the same token, I guess -- and this is, once again, the slippery slope that I'm finding myself on: by singing about something or writing about something or talking about something, do I therefore become a proponent of that? Or am I just..."

Possessing a character?

"Right. Exactly. You know what I mean? 'Cause I think particularly with those types of references I make it less concrete, so that might actually make the slope that much more slippery; where maybe a song like "As Predator to Prey" is about Genghis Khan. It has historical references. I mention Samarkand, Bukhara, Nishapur, all that stuff. So it's very concrete. But, to be honest -- and this is something that I thought I needed to do just specifically for even types of questions like this: there are no lyrics like "Stormgods Unbound" on this new album. There's one war song, "Extermination Sworn", and it's actually there because in the past three or four years I've just become completely fascinated with the First World War. So I've done a lot of research about that. In the early versions of "Extermination Sworn", I even had references to maybe one side or the other. But I decided to open the song, 'Two warring dragons and destinies' and just leave it at that, because it's not a World War I song: it's just a war song and it's just kind of these two dragons and destinies pitted against each other. So it's not an "Into the Storm of Steel" or a "Stormgods Unbound", that obviously has some obvious references and stuff to that effect. Lyrically, I think this album has got... it has got some... See, here I am, now, thinking about actually what I've written on this album", he laughs. ""Antichrist Vanguard" and "Machinery of the Cleansing", they're gonna offend anybody, one way or another, if you are against this 'Will to Power'-type mentality. There just won't be a signature swastika sitting there for people to pluck out and wave in my face. <chuckles> But then I also specifically tried to write some satanic, blasphemous tracks. "Hexensabbat" and "Saints of Blasphemy" are both right up the "Wolflust" tree. It's total Venom imagery. It's fuckin' nuns masturbating: that sort of extremity and perversion, all done very OTT. The same sort of thing as I did with "Phallelujah" and so many different tracks. This time, I kinda tried to do that a little bit. "Lustmord" is sorta sexual deviancy and torture / murder / rape. "Shining One - Rex Luciferi" is also just another Satan song. Literally, I wrote those lyrics three weeks before we went into the studio. I was actually planning on using a poem called... I think it's called "Shining One". Maybe not. It's by the artist, Rosaline Norton. Destroyer 666 has used her art. The artwork on _Terror Abraxas_ is hers, as is the artwork on their original demo. She's dead, but she was an Australian witch or pagan priestess or whatever. Just a crazy woman in the '40s and '50s. Totally scandalous. You know, she kinda came up in her years. She kinda started to wear the mantle of a witch just to scare people and stuff like that. But needless to say, she wrote a poem which had this really awesome imagery in it, and that's what I was gonna use for the lyrics, 'cause going back also to tradition, I like to sometimes take classic and quasi-classic literature and utilise that, you know. I did that with "The Scapegoat". That's from Aleister Crowley's "Hymn to Pan". I try to do that periodically. I figure, 'Well, that'll be our token song'. But in this case, the lyics just did not fit with the music whatsoever. I just realised that I was beating my head against a wall. I realised that I just had to start from scratch and re-write the song completely. I'm actually quite pleased with those lyrics. I mean, they're pretty simple, but I think the imagery is great and I really, I think, lucked out with some of the words and combinations of words. I'm pretty specific about the way words sound when spoken out loud as lyrics. You can't just read lyrics.

"Any poetry that I ever write I'm really particular about", he continues. "I drive my wife crazy sometimes 'cause I'm like, 'Oh my gosh! Oh my God! You gotta listen to how this is phrased' You know? And she's just like, 'What the hell are you talking about?' She's got an English degree so I mean, she knows what I'm talking about, but at the same time she's just like, 'Man! Leave it alone!' You know? But it's all about just the way the consonants and the vowels flow together and the syncopation and all that. Everything! It's so, so important -- and I agonise over like, which adjective to use before the other one, and do I reverse the order of this line just to make it either more subtle, less subtle, more obscure, less obscure, you know what I mean? Little things like that.

"I don't really got back and listen to our old albums very often at all, but I do go back and read the lyrics just to kinda get the spirit that's captured in there, because they stand on their own just fine", he adds. "They're supposed to: that's the whole point. Every single element in a band -- you know, it's like, it's not just music. We all are really into the music and that is kinda the first thing that draws you into any particular song, 'cause particularly with death metal, black metal, whatever -- where everybody's screamin' or, you know, their voice sounds like a brick scrapin' on the ground -- you're not necessarily picking up on the lyrics right away. But those of us that really like to delve into the nature of a band, that's where we go once we get to know the music, because we're like, 'Man, what is this band talking about? What are they thinking about? How are they doing it?' And it has always been extremely disappointing to me when you get a band that you're just like, 'Man, I wish I'd never read those lyrics... It just ruined it for me! Yeah, they're still killer, but now I've just... they're twelve! They're morons! They're idiots!' You know what I mean?"

Two words: Glen Benton.

QUESTION AUTHORITY

"I wrote a lot of the lyrics basically just on top of the songs, not actually ever singing 'em and playing 'em and rehearsing 'em that way. So that was also a little bit experimental, where I'd go into the studio and try something out and then I'd say, 'Well, you know, I don't really think that's gonna work. Maybe I'll try this part there...' Strange little things like that you usually don't think about doing, but because of the circumstances that's what we were forced to do.

"It's interesting, 'cause some of these lyrics had been sitting around for years and other ones I literally came up with three weeks before I went into the studio", Helmkamp continues. "I guess that is pretty standard practice for what goes into making an album. To me, it seems like _OLaL_ has the same kind of materials that we've always worked with. There's a few of the blasphemous songs. Obviously, "Antichrist Vanguard" is one of those: the title says it all. Then there's "Lustmord", which is basically like sexual deviancy and torture / murder / rape, that sort of thing. I've never done a song like that before for Angelcorpse. So I always try to give myself some good ideas that I think will fit under the umbrella of Angelcorpse. There's always gonna be certain core elements that you're gonna see in Angelcorpse lyrics, but we still allow ourselves the freedom to try something a little bit different. You know, if it's done well, if it's done properly, then it also can fit under the Angelcorpse umbrella."

There's more than a few things Pete Helmkamp did differently with Angelcorpse's lyrics on _Of Lucifer and Lightning_.

"I think this is the first album that I've ever put 'Satan' in the lyrics", he reveals. "I've never actually used the word 'Satan' in Angelcorpse lyrics until this time around, but that's a little more in keeping with the title of the album and the cover art, which is phenomenal [see Appendix 1]. The general theme of this album, at least in my mind, is a little more of a Satanic, in the capitalised 'Satanic' sense of the word, than something like _Exterminate_ or _The Inexorable_ ever was. You know, "Shining One - Rex Luciferi", that's reference to Satan there. Diabolis and Satan are mentioned, The Great Harlot, all that type of stuff. We never really talked about that subject matter before.

"I always felt like Angelcorpse allowed me a lot more room to work than Order From Chaos ever did", he contrasts. "With Order From Chaos, once we kinda got our parameters set up we were like, 'This is gonna be rigid. This is pretty much what we're gonna write about.' With Angelcorpse, we've never actually done that, so like I said, you're always gonna have the standard topical elements that you're like, 'Oh yeah. Okay. That's Angelcorpse' and then you're going to have something a little different."

So what were the parameters for Order From Chaos?

"Um. I think we were... There was a lot of just, for lack of a better word, just kinda the ideology that's in "The Conqueror Manifesto" and a lot of that. You know, 'The Will to Power', that sort of thing. When you kinda start basing almost your entire band around that then it does become like the propaganda that you have to perpetuate. Otherwise people are gonna say, 'Why in the world are they writing a song about this when they've got five or six other songs that are all about, basically, the same kind of idea -- the same template, so to speak?' You know, Revenge is like that too, but basically Revenge is all about what Revenge is about, and there's never gonna be a deviation from that, because Revenge is so stripped down and non-subtle and you know, just, there it is. So you can't... You know, there's very little room for manoeuvre in a band like Revenge."

One of the genius strokes to the way Helmkamp's lyricism is deployed in Angelcorpse's work is that he always manages to highlight certain key phrases or words -- little snippets of the bigger picture which one might fleetingly join in with as if they were the hook-lines to a pop tune's chorus. Lines as general and simple as 'My cup runeth over' (from the mighty "Christhammer") or the simple cry of 'Exterminate!' in the chorus-esque section of "Into the Storm of Steel" serve as way-points on initial listens through Angelcorpse's albums. Being able to inlay such lyrical hooks into a death metal holocaust as unrelentingly savage as Angelcorpse's is a rare gift. Few to no American practitioners are quite as proficient as Helmkamp; some of us would even say that the work of Morbid Angel's Dave Vincent (remarkable for its impressively measured moments of seemingly momentous, and often potentially controversial, comprehensibility) is at most on a par.

"I've never been a really huge Morbid Angel fan, but I've always understood that they really know what they're doing", comments Helmkamp, before being suddenly interrupted by an excited music journo who has discovered another Angelcorpse song where an extant text provided the framework for lyrics: "Embrace", from _Exterminate_, which is based on HP Lovecraft's "Phaeton". "Oh yeah, that's right", exclaims the lyricist. "Actually you know what's funny? Those were actually really old lyrics, from back in the Order From Chaos days. They just never made it into a song. I've done that, actually, several different times. That song is a particularly good example. The song "Begotten" -- actually, that was never an OFC song but it was one of the first three songs that Gene and I wrote, in 1995. Then I ended up totally revamping it, adding quite a few new riffs and that sort of thing, but I mean, if you think about those lyrics and you think about the riffs, you can kind of tell that I was coming straight out of Order From Chaos -- with that kind of concept in mind. That's why it never really appeared anywhere else. I mean, it never appeared earlier, because it just seemed so out of place alongside, say, songs like "Perversion Enthroned". You know: the kind of stuff that Gene was writing. But yeah, once I ended up adding all the new riffs and kinda changing it up a bit, it seemed to fit in pretty good."

The lyrics to "Begotten (Through Blood and Flame)" do have a fantastic, 'trial by ordeal' feel: the idea of persevering through hardship and struggle was a resonant theme in much of OFC's material.

"Right, exactly", Helmkamp concurs. "I said this many years ago in an interview at least once, but in a way it's funny to me that the lyrics I wrote for Order From Chaos are far more complex and grandiose than the stuff that I've done for Angelcorpse; and that in a way, it's like Angelcorpse can be like the introductory class, as far as lyrics, for the OFC stuff. I think I did that somewhat purposefully, so that I could give myself more ideas and more things to write about, and like I said, not wall myself in so early on in the band's career that I'd be just thinking: man, I'm gonna be writing the same songs now for every single album! You know what I mean?"

OFC was characterised by a sort of lyrical gigantism -- the all-encompassing scale evoked seeming almost to echo the gigantism of Stalinist-period Soviet architecture. This was a band who talked of a 'Plateau of Invincibility', let's remember. "Exactly", laughs Pete, applauding the comparative evocation. "Yeah." In the aforementioned "Begotten" we hear how 'Pregnant lightning shatters frozen joy' and 'foul frost creates from that which destroys', in a ritual which occurs 'Upon inviolate mountain peaks / where shines the rising sun'. "Right." It makes you feel like you're standing on some grand mountain top. It has a particular grandness to it.

"I still pull that out on occasions, if I think it's warranted", adds Helmkamp. "Personally, two of my favourite sets of lyrics I've ever written are "Black Solstice" and "Smouldering in Exile". Because to me, whatever I did, however I phrased everything, it just evokes exactly what I am trying to talk about. In a weird way, they're really about the same thing. I mean, "Smouldering in Exile" is just about some essence of blackness. Out there. That's just waiting to come back. And "Black Solstice" is a lot of the same kind of idea where it's just -- it's an eclipse of the sun, which is the same idea. Just total darkness conquering light. You know, put it on terms like that and it doesn't sound very impressive, but I just -- for whatever reason, those lyrics are some of the ones that I'm most proud of."

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF SIMPLY WANTING TO BE

A recurring character in Angelcorpse's lyrics is the figure of Azazel. Described in a mistranslation of Leviticus 16:8 as 'the scapegoat', Azazel was in fact the demonic being to whom 'the scapegoat' (one of two goats Aaron was to cast lots on as an atonement, the other going to the Lord) was to be sent. John Milton uses the name for the standard-bearer of the rebel angels in "Paradise Lost" [Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 16th Edition, 2001, p.79]. But Azazel has also been characterised more recently in Neil Gaiman's groundbreaking "Sandman" comic book series; which also introduced a rather fascinating personification of Lucifer, who later gained his own eponymous title written by fellow Brit, Mike Carey. Since Angelcorpse began at a time when "Sandman" was gaining popularity and titled their first demo _Goats to Azazel_, it seemed pertinent to ask Pete Helmkamp whether there was a connection.

"I've never read comics", he returns. "I do know who Neil Gaiman is, but I've never read comics. I think the whole Azazel thing is really not -- there's nothing really too concrete there. But from what I've done, research-wise, that's one of the oldest Judaeo-Christian version of Satan, The Adversary, The Devil, The Scapegoat. The demo, _Goats to Azazel_, I don't recall who came up with that, but it was more than likely Gene. He normally always comes up with the album titles, and I come up with everything else, concept-wise. Maybe because he can just come up with a nice synopsis of everything and just throw it out there for me: I never would have seen it. You know what I mean?"

When you're really engrossed in something, it is often things like that which evade you.

"Right", he agrees. ""Shining One - Rex Luciferi" and "Hexensabbat" both have references to Azazel. So to me that's our little... That's one our themes that we like to just continue."

So Pete wasn't influenced by comic books. What about John Milton? Certainly the idea of Lucifer as independence -- as the free-thinker, if you will, of "Paradise Lost" -- seems to chime better with Helmkamp's idea of the character than does his more commonly ascribed role as 'The Evil One'.

"Yeah, that's sort of the idea I had in my head, but I've never actually read Milton. That's crazy but, I mean, I prefer non- fiction over fiction any day of the week. But yeah, I've always kind of understood the Luciferian concept as being the chaos. It's the random. If you look at that dialogue between God and Satan -- those entities, you know, those concepts -- in a way Lucifer falls in the middle; where to me, God and Satan are both gonna be the extremes -- and back to what we've talked about earlier. But with Lucifer you have free will. I think in essence Lucifer is supposed to be that representation of man. That stuff, you know: 'His sin was pride'? 'He just wanted to be'!" Helmkamp tails off the quotations with rising, excited incredulity. "Now that to me is so obviously... In my mind, that's idiotic to oppose. God is gonna throw him out of the heavens because he simply wants to be? That's makes no sense to me at all. To me, that's the essence of what life is all about, and if you want to put a term on it then therefore, Lucifer is life, in a lot of respects. That kind of comes into play even with the title of this album, _Of Lucifer and Lightning_. I mean, lightning is destruction; creation, but mostly destruction. So Lucifer could therefore be life, and then you have that cosmic balance once again, that is supposed to be everything. We're always in this struggle with all that, you know? You can't just simply create. You can't just simply destroy. But they are both integral elements that have to occur, and you can't shy away from either one of them. I think that's what's so... For lack of a better term, that's where the morality or the ethics of the world have totally gone astray, where they don't understand that it's about balance. The two things work in union. They don't fight each other. They're partners."

One could apply this to the attitudes of ordinary people -- to the way in which so many seemingly refuse to accept that some loss must often be incurred to gain a greater good. One could use the microcosmic example of the least well off, who consistently tend to vote for lower taxes -- ultimately against their own interests.

"Exactly."

Abstracting further, one could view the general metaphor as also highlighting a point similar to Popper's: that there is never only one road on which progress may be made.

"Exactly", agrees Helmkamp. "You know, it doesn't have to be level all the time, but there has to be the willingness to have it be able to bend. If that's impossible then, one way or another, it's like the rudder of a ship -- you're gonna be going in circles. The ultimate path is forward in every, you know, ideological sense of the word. You don't wanna be going in circles. You wanna move forward -- whatever that entails. That's the whole problematic thing: to figure out what that entails and then to make sure that, for lack of a better word, the fewest are injured or hurt or, you know, denied by that prospect."

APPENDICES

Appendix 1: The Cover Art to _Of Lucifer and Lightning_

Pete Helmkamp: "We decided to go with Funier, the artist that's done some stuff for Osmose. He's done a ton of work. He's a French guy: JP Funier. It is an absolute masterpiece. I think it's the best piece of cover art we've had so far. We initially sent in an old woodcut with just a Satan figure in the centre and some flames and corruption and what-not. You know, our idea was just, 'He can just paint this, right?' He decided that he was basically gonna re-do the entire thing, and it's just brilliant. It's not concrete enough that it just looks like some little devil guy, you know what I mean? It's a little more abstract in concept. But in actual style it is like, just dead on. He did Axis Of Advance, _The List_, _Nihil_ by Impaled Nazarene and a whole lot more, like the heavy metal band type album covers -- swords and warriors and that type of stuff. I don't know about all of it. I haven't looked at his website in ages. We lucked out. He was really, really easy to work with and he was a really good guy. We're sold. We're sticking with him, that's for sure."

Appendix 2: The Style and Tuning of _OLaL_

Gene Palubicki: "Of the songs I've written over about the last six years, the songs that were picked for this album range in influence from some of the fastest material that we've done previously to material that's more primitive and slower than anything we've ever done, even from the first album, which had some slightly slower parts. It's primitive to the point where it's almost like something you'd hear off of a Hellhammer record, and it also sounds more primitive because all the songs on this album are downtuned. Whereas the first and second albums were all on six-string guitars, half a step below standard tuning, now the only guitar I play is a seven-string, so all the songs are downtuned -- I guess guitarists would understand it as B-sharp or A-flat, or whatever. But the thing is, it's not that drastic a change, because on _The Inexorable_ we had two songs that were in that tuning. It sounds really primitive because there's really no higher range for the guitars, so there is a constant, steady grind to every track. Even the technical songs sound that much more horrible because it's so downtuned. It almost harkens back to the kind of abrasive type of sound that you would have heard maybe on the first and second Carcass albums, only a lot more technical and a lot better played."

Appendix 3: How John Longstreth Joined Origin and Then Skinless

John Longstreth: "I met Origin at a show -- a really bad Six Feet Under show. About ten people showed up. Paul gave me their demo and told me to check it out. I went home and listened to it, was pretty blown away by it, and joined. That then ran its course through about two albums and at one point in time I thought the band was in really, really bad shape, moral-wise. We came off a bad tour, and it seemed to me like everybody had some personal problems they needed to take care of. I had some personal problems I needed to take care of, and since I got offered to go up to New York and help out Skinless with the recording of their album, originally just as a session guy, I went and did that. But as I started working with the Skinless guys, I realised I'd quite like to do a couple of tours with them. So that kinda, sorta, unintentionally left Origin hanging. They had no choice but to search for a new guy. I remember leaving because no-one had really told me what was going on with the band. So at that point in time, I got angry and Paul and I had some words. It was like, 'Alright! I'm done! I'm gonna go tour with Skinless!' <laughs>"

Appendix 4: The Problem of E-Mail Interviews

Pete Helmkamp: "I'll be the first to admit: an e-mail interview can just become complete propaganda. You don't have to answer any questions you don't wanna answer; you can phrase everything how you want. And I do, I'll admit it, I do it! I craft my answers, just as I would if I was writing lyrics. If it's there and if it's in print, they got it forever. I make sure nothing is set-up wrong, you know."

(article submitted 1/31/2008)


CHATS
10/12/1999 P Schwarz Angelcorpse: Relentless Angelic Cadavers
11/17/1997 A Wasylyk Angelcorpse: Hammer of Metal
ALBUMS
8/4/2007 J Montague 4 Angelcorpse - Of Lucifer and Lightning
3/13/2001 P Schwarz 8 Angelcorpse - Iron, Blood and Blasphemy
12/9/1999 P Azevedo 8 Angelcorpse - The Inexorable
9/1/1998 P Schwarz 9 Angelcorpse - Exterminate
2/4/1997 S Hoeltzel 8 Angelcorpse - Hammer of Gods
GIGS
1/15/2000 P Azevedo Marduk / Angelcorpse / Enthroned Night of the Living Corpses
1/15/2000 M Noll Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Angelcorpse / Aeternus / Defleshed Two Corpses, One God and No Flesh
6/7/1998 P Schwarz Immortal / Angelcorpse / Desecration London's Underworld Holocaust
RSS Feed RSS   Facebook Facebook   Twitter Twitter  ::  Mobile : Text  ::  HTML : CSS  ::  Sitemap

All contents copyright 1995-2014 their individual creators.  All rights reserved.  Do not reproduce without permission.

All opinions expressed in Chronicles of Chaos are opinions held at the time of writing by the individuals expressing them.
They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else, past or present.