From Gentlemen To Serpent....

SERPENTCULT hails from Ghent, East Flanders in Belgium. From all doom metal bands, they really stole my heart! Not only because their slow rhythm sets the right pace, but also because of the great female voice of Michelle, who actually adds something to their sound. And the great seventies atmosphere, that the band creates in their sound, makes them very special. SERPENTCULT finds its roots in another Belgian doom metal band, called THEE PLAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, who already had a big fan base in the doom metal scene. This fact and their most recent CDs; “Trident Nor Fire” (EP – I Hate Records 2007) and “Weight Of Light” (full-length CD – Rise Above Records 2008) are some subjects, that are part of a very interesting interview, which you’ll find below. Read all about these doom masters from Belgium, because SERPENTCULT is about to rule the scene! Well, at least they are mentioned in gold in my book of personal faves for that matter…..

When did you start out as a band and how did you meet each other?
Michelle: “Fred, Steven and Cozy knew each other from THEE PLAGUE OF GENTLEMEN and ofcourse, we all know what happened to that band... After THEE PLAGUE OF GENTLEMEN split up, they immediately knew they didn’t want to stop making music with each other, because it clicked very well in all possible ways. Ofcourse without their former singer they continued making music. They also deceided they wanted something different, something more melodieus but still heavy. They wanted the opportunity to make music without bounderies, which often means, doing something unorthodox. When looking for a singer, they didn’t really had the ‘this is it'-feeling. Eventually, they came up with the idea of maybe trying some females, but they didn’t knew any, which weren’t doing the ‘gothic-singing’ thing and which wouldn’t fit the band at all. I knew Cozy from a local metal bar, where we became good friends very quickly. I also did THEE PLAGUE OF GENTLEMEN’s merch a few times. And on a lazy Sunday noon, Cozy called me to ask if I wasn’t interested in trying out. At first I thought they were going crazy, so I deceided to show up to help ‘em out looking for a male singer. Fred nagged me so hard at that rehearsal, that I did try something out, which I hate, because I don’t like to just improvise something out of nothing and I was very shy... But I did and it seemed to work out very well.”

Who came up with the name of the band and why did you decide to call the band SEPENT CULT?
Michelle: “Serpentcult” was the name of THEE PLAGUE OF GENTLEMEN’s album that didn’t ever see the daylight. I think Fred came up with the idea using it for the band’s name. Looking back, that was a very good decision, because it sounds perfect for us, I think.”

Some band members come from the well-respected doom metal band THEE PLAGUE OF GENTLEMEN. Can anyone tell us what happened to the band and why did they actually split up?
Michelle: “The singer was arrested for some really unexpected and even more unacceptable facts, which no one could appreciate at all. It was clear no one wanted to have anything to do with Steve anymore, so they left everything that had anything to do with him, including the band.”

What are some of the influences of SERPENT CULT and maybe you can tell a bit more about the influences of each band member individually here, too?
Michelle: “I think our biggest influences are CELTIC FROST, PENTAGRAM and ELECTRIC WIZARD, to name some. We are all quite open-minded and we listen to a lot of stuff within metal, but also stuff that isn’t metal at all. For me personally, I think METALLICA, PANTERA, LIFE OF AGONY, BLACK SABBATH and DIO have influenced me a lot and they still do. Those were the stuff I began with and they never faded somehow. Also stuff like AFTER FOREVER (I love Floor’s powerful voice!) or MORBID ANGEL, ANATHEMA - all kinds have influenced me. I think, Fred is the guy that likes old stuff, especially the old doom metal bands . He doesn’t like too many modern bands and for some reason, we can’t always blame ‘em, can we? He’s into PENTAGRAM, CELTIC FROST, IRON MAIDEN, etc.etc. Steven is the biggest black metal fan, I think. He’s into stuff like VED BUENS ENDE and a lot of other cool weird stuff. He likes stuff like BURZUM or BAK DE SYV FJELL… Cozy is the stoner LED ZEPPELIN man, I guess and he’s influenced by stuff like RAGING SPEEDHORN, SLUDGE, BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB, etc.etc.”

What were the press reactions like towards your first four track EP “Trident Nor Fire”?
Michelle: “You never know what to expect on a first release and the reactions were mostly beyond expectation! Most reactions were awesome and we are very grateful for that. Most bad reactions were about the voice, because it can sound a bit weird, I guess. Some of them still turned and like it a lot now and others hate it. Well, we can not all have the same taste, so I don’t mind that at all.”

The URIAH HEEP cover “Rainbow Demon” was very well chosen. However, it’s definitely not one of the most well-known HEEP songs. Why did you chose to record this particular song on the EP?
Michelle: “Fred came up with the idea and we agreed immediately and wanted to give it a try. After a few tries, we knew this was a great cover for us. It’s a great song and we can make our own version out of it, so that was the perfect song, I guess.”

Have you got any idea how many copies were sold of it? Michelle: “No idea about that, to be honest.” You recorded your full-length album “Weight Of Light” in Birmingham, England. Why did you chose for the Priory studios to record this album?
Michelle: “Greg Chandler (ESOTERIC) completely knew what we were about and what we wanted. He seemed the perfect person to give us the result we needed and indeed he did an awesome job. He is also very good at what he does and he is an amazingly great person. We also wanted to just go for it for a whole week. Only working on the CD, no other influences, obligations or distractions. That ment we wanted to go away from our normal daily lives. It did work out really good for us that way.”

Are you confident with the final result or what would you change, if you had the chance?
Michelle: “I think, we are all satisfied with the result. Of course there are always things that could have been better. You discover these things, because you listen very critical. For me personally, it can be a bit more filthy. I want to have it even more heavy and more filthy what concerns the music and definitely the voice.”

Who did the artwork for “Weight Of Light” and what does it actually represent?
Michelle: “We all sat down and talked about some ideas. There was no other way with these songs and this CD title – well, it had to be something heavy and dark. We also wanted something symmetrical. Finally, we came up with the idea and Jeroen Pede (ALKERDEEL) just gave us what we wanted by just seeing some of our ideas and hearing some feedback. “Weight Of Light” is about having to deal with society’s demons and your opinion about that. When you are a pionier or you think different, you know you will not walk the easy road. Some songs on the album are about the Templars, who are seen as a secret society. Maybe they just had other thoughts or thoughts that were forbidden to think out loud... It’s all the same now at this moment. If you see too much, you will have to carry the weight of the light.”

Who came up with the idea to release the album on grey vinyl, as well as on black and white splatter (limited) vinyl and how many copies were made this way?
Fred: “Well, it was actually Rise Above, who came up with that idea. We wanted a vinyl release in any case, but all these different editions is just great! I’m a vinyl freak myself, so it’s a nice addition to my collection, heh! I think, there were about 300 made of each color, so that makes 900 and recently there’s been a repress in apple green and transparent of each 300 copies more.”

This particular release also contains an extra seven inch with a cover of HIATUS and a live track. Are you a vinyl freak yourself, because this will definitely please every vinyl collector?
Michelle: “I have a lot of METALLICA’s on vinyl, also a lot of bootlegs. I think, it’s great to have a vinyl from a band you really like or from something that’s really rare to find. For me, they can put everything on vinyl as well. With the technology right now, it’s no problem to put your favorite stuff from vinyl on Ipod, so you can listen to it everywhere. The sound of vinyls sounds warmer to me as well.”
Fred: “Yeah, I used to be a collector, not anymore. I enjoy my collection, but I don’t go out hunting anymore. Vinyl just brings back so many nostalgic feelings that adds so much more to the music. I couldn’t imagine listening to “To Mega Therion” (CELTIC FROST) for example without the cracks in between the songs.”

A second pressing of the “Weight Of Light” LP is available this very moment at Rise Above Records and this time you choose for clear frosted (300 copies) and apple green (300 copies) vinyl. How come?
Fred: “Well, I guess, the first pressing is close to selling out, so Rise Above decided to do new pressings. And why not in different colours, if you have the opportunity anyway?”

What’s your favorite SERPENTCULT song and why?
Michelle: “That’s a hard one. I think I like “Red Dawn”, “Weight Of Light” and “Serpentcult” the most. I like singing those vocal lines very much and they sound powerful, heavy and epic at the same time. I think, those are the songs that have a feeling I can connect with the most. “Screams From The Deep” comes close as well.”

Who writes the lyrics for SERPENTCULT and what are they about?
Michelle: “Cozy writes most of the lyrics. He is also an English teacher and he reads a lot of books with stories or facts, that are very well connactable to the band’s sound. Most of the songs are about the sea and secret society’s and visions in life.”

Are you inspired by life itself, when writing lyrics, or do you also put some fiction in these lyrics as well?
Michelle: “A lot of these songs are about real things, like the secret society’s. “Screams From The Deep” is based on Moby Dick. We are very inspired by life or death (“The Harvest”).”

Michelle, you are one of a very few women in the doom metal scene. What is it like to be singing in a doom metal band and don’t you miss some female competition? Or maybe you see yourself as some kind of ‘pioneer’ in this genre?
Michelle: “I am happy not to be 13th in the dozen, but to call myself a pioneer is a bit too much. There are some doom bands like COVEN, that had female singers and there are quite some doom bands with melodic voices with men behind mics. I think, I kinda like being a ‘loner’, because it’s good to be original. On the other hand, I am very happy to see other doom bands with some great female voices rising. For example THE DEVIL’S BLOOD (NL) and JEX TOTH. Hail to those ladies!”

What is it like for you to operate in a mainly men-dominated genre? Is it hard for you to become ‘one of the guys’?
Michelle: “For me, it isn’t hard, because I don’t have to act differently. I am one of the guys. I don’t want to be treated like a doll, that doesn’t know anything about music. I know what I like and I know what I want. Most men also seem more dominant than they really are. I can’t really complain, because I get a lot of respect because I am a woman with balls and a strong opinion, taste in music and I can actually sing. Sometimes they think ‘oh no, a girl singing’. That reaction often comes from females as well. I don’t like being prejudiced, although I understand that reaction completely because of the overflow of crap (female) fronted bands. Or you get some sexist remarks... Well, I wear a bandshirt and a jeans on stage, because I want to sing in a decent band and not be a BRITNEY SPEARS popstar singer or whatever.”

Let’s have a closer look at your live shows here, if we may… What can people expect, when they come to see a SERPENT CULT show?
Michelle: “A thick, low wall of sound from guitar, rumbling bass and drums from the depths, heavyness making you shake and tremble, with a fiery she-devil warning you for your doom. SERPENTCULT is all about bringing this music to life on stage, action on stage and hopefully action off stage.”

Can you tell us with whom you shared the stage already?
Michelle: “We are very lucky to say, that we shared the stage with bands like DOWN, CANDLEMASS, ELECTRIC WIZARD, WARNING, KONGH and GRAND MAGUS.”

What’s the biggest crowd, that you have ever played?
Michelle: “Doom Shall Rise 2008 in Germany, Vlamrock 2008 in Belgium, Roadburn 2008 in the Netherlands and the Rise Above 20th Anniversary Show in London were the biggest.”

Do you use any show elements at all?
Michelle: “We just play. We like to give it all on stage! Don’t know, if that counts for show elements...”

Do you play any covers on stage or do you just stick to your own-penned material?
Michelle: “We play our own songs mostly. Sometimes we play URIAH HEEP’s “Rainbow Demon” and we did play BATHORY’s song “The Lake” a few times.”

What’s the most memorable gig, that you have done since your existence?
Michelle: “For me, it's the same as the biggest, because they were also the best and we got the most energy from the crowd then: Doom Shall Rise 2008 in Germany, Vlamrock 2008 in Belgium, Roadburn 2008 in the Netherlands and Rise Above 20th Anniversary Show in London.”

What’s the metal scene like in Belgium? Are there many clubs where you can play live?
Michelle: “It’s mainly death metal, gothic metal or black metal and for the youngsters there’s the metal-core stuff and mainly the populair stuff. There are a few metal bars, but they are not that big, not that well-visited or visited by the same five people every day - hahaha! Playing live in Belgium is not really rewarding, if you aren’t a big band. If you’re getting bigger, there are some nice venues indeed, but that’s for bands with the proporting of DOWN and so on...”

Any interesting gigs on the agenda for SERPENT CULT? We heard, that you guys are supporting THE GATES OF SLUMBER and ZOROASTER in North-America this summer (August), which must be very exciting for you?
Michelle: “We just got back from the Stoned Hand of Doom festival in Rome, Italy and we have played with KONGH in Germany this week. Next up is the Hell’s Pleasure Metal Fest in July and than the North-America tour!! Can’t wait! I always wanted to visit America and now I’m going to tour there, so that’s even better!!!”

What are the future plans for SERPENT CULT on the long and short term?
Michelle: “World Domination - Uh! Hahaha ;) No, seriously, we’re writing some new material for the next album and we are planning some further gigs in England. Hopefully, it will progress like it has been progressing until now, then we can consider ourselves very lucky. Let’s see where it brings us.”

Did you write any new material yet, and what can people expect from the new songs, when you compare it to the material on “Weight Of Light”?
Michelle: “Yes, we did write some songs. At this moment we got some, but most are still unfinished. It think, it will sound more stoner then “Weight Of Light” and I think the singing will be more filthy and agressive as well.”

Do you have other hobbies or interestsm besides playing music in a doom metal band?
Michelle: “I love philosophy, music and I love playing guitar. I love recording, I love documentaries, especially about WWII and I love gaming (medal of honour, metal gear solid and ... yess, I do love world of warcraft). Also, I love English series, like Bottom or Little Britain.”

Michelle, do you think that ladies in heavy metal music still need the special attention that Metal Maidens like to give them? Or do you feel that you’re already getting the attention and recognition, that you earn so well?
Michelle: “It’s really cool, that you like to give us that special attention. For me, it doesn’t matter if bandmembers are male or female, as long as they kick ass.”

Metal Maidens is based in Holland. What do you think about our country and do you have any special memories about our country, maybe because of any special gigs you played here or something?
Michelle: “I live fifteen minutes from the Dutch border. I often go to Maastricht and Hell yeah, the Roadburn festival in your country is the best!”

Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
Michelle: “Hope you’ll enjoy SERPENTCULT and hope we’ll be able to discover some great female-fronted (or male-fronted) bands together!”

The last words in this interview are for Michelle and SERPENTCULT...
Michelle: “Be ready for the Cult of Snakes! Uh!”

copyright: METAL MAIDENS
interview by: Toine van Poorten, Metal Maidens 'zine / May 2009.

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