Extremity. The furthest point or limit to something. Many bands strive to hit this point, to be the fastest, heaviest and loudest that ever was. But no band comes close to knocking Austria’s Blackened Death titans Belphegor off the throne. OVERDRIVE spoke with guitarist / vocalist Helmuth Lehner ahead of the release of the band’s 11th studio album, Totenritual, which will be released September 15th via Nuclear Blast.

Starting off by talking about the recording process of the new album, Lehner explained how the band is always changing things up when it comes to recording time. “We never stick to a formula, so we changed a lot of things. Changed studios, producer and all this other stuff. We recorded everything in Europe then sent it to the USA to get mixed and mastered there which we’d never done before.” He continued, focusing on the guitar recording, “We also never tuned our guitars so low like we did this time to reach a new low end tone so everything sounds a little bit more obscure. That was a great decision and it opened a new world to me having the guitars so low.”

Further commenting on the Belphegor’s approach to changing things up every time they record, Lehner had this to say: “It’s boring if you always stick to the same formula. We always try to go new ways, new paths, and that’s what keeps us alive and going. It’s the same when we play our live shows, we always try to get more intense and bring a bigger show. That’s the main goal in Belphegor. To create and overcome things. As an artist you have to leave your comfort zone, it’s very important. It doesn’t matter if it’s music, you can be a painter or an author but you always have to challenge yourself or else you just repeat yourself and that has nothing to do with art. It’s just trash for the masses. Feeding the fucking sheep.”

In the months leading up to the album’s release, the band have been promoting it as “the most brutally heavy offering we have consecrated thus far.” When asked if this was the goal for the album from the get-go, Lehner stated, “Yes that was the goal. At first we wanted to make the most brutal and heavy album that we’ve ever done, and we also wanted to have this ritual vibe throughout the whole album and I think we achieved that. I’m really pleased with the outcome and everything sounds exactly as we wanted.”

“We always have problems with things,” said Lehner, referring to the mix. “The bass guitar for example. Because we play so fast and everything is shredding on maximum strength, there’s always an issue getting the bass guitar in the mix. But I think did it, you can hear the bass consistently through the whole album, which is great. We’ve never had a sound like that, which is so brutal and intense. You hear the cymbals, the snare, you hear fucking everything. Each guitar, each lead. There was a lot to sacrifice but I think it’s our best album so far. I won’t say it’s our fastest one but for sure our most brutal.”

Helmuth Lehner

Touching on the album’s lyrics, which feature the occult themes many would consider to be a staple in Belphegor’s music, Lehner confirmed his personal interests play a big role in the band’s lyrical content, stating, “I’m interested in almost everything that’s non-conformative or obscure. Life is always stranger than any fiction. I travel the world, I see so many people. I hear and see a lot and that’s what I learnt on the road. No fiction can go as low as humanity, there are so many crazy people out there. There was always chaos and the essence of creating such extreme music is to keep the chaos. So many bands have lost their teeth nowadays and I really try to avoid that. Where most bands have always marched in the left direction, we’ve always gone in the right direction.”

Metal fans around the world know Belphegor as one of the most brutal and heavy bands of all time. When asked if the gear they use has anything to do with that, Lehner had this to say: “It’s not about the amps at all. It’s about the fingers and the practising. This is the most important thing. I can play a guitar for 10,000 Euros or a guitar for 500 Euros and it sounds the same. You create the tone, the amp just helps you.”

When it comes to writing a Belphegor album, Lehner emphasised the importance of keeping the ball rolling, saying, “We don’t take time off the road to write. We try to keep busy all year round and mostly write in between tours because it’s good for the band. When we’re playing shows we stay excited and hungry. In between tours we might take 2 weeks off to rehearse and try new arrangements, which we do again and again until we reach new levels of extremity. We meet in the rehearsal room and practice our asses off until we vomit the songs. No talking shit, just practice and rehearse.” When comparing that to the way of writing an album in a more produced environment, he expressed his disgust. “Nah that’s fucked up. You can hear the difference.”

The band has often described their live show as a “ritual” of sorts. So we took the chance to ask Lehner what it takes for him to get in the zone before the band takes the stage. “It’s easy. We get into the blood stuff, which is real by the way. We try to stay authentic with everything. The blood, the sweat, it’s all authentic. So when I do my face I get into this mood, like the switch of a button. It’s like I’m in another dimension or another room. For me it’s like Jekyll and Hyde, transforming for an hour or so, which is one of the best things in life for me. I really enjoy shows and everything. Sometimes it’s even better than sex (laughs).”

When asked if the fans saw their live show in the same way, Lehner said, “Some people like it, some people don’t. I don’t care so much. I’m always pleased when people come a Belphegor show and support us, but for me it doesn’t matter. If people like it, it’s really appreciated, but if people don’t like it, whatever. It’s all the same to me.”

Closing up the interview, Lehner was asked if the Totenritual tour cycle would bring the band to Australian shores for the first time. Excitedly, he was very optimistic about it, stating, “I hope we can finally come. It’s the only continent that we’ve missed and I’ve heard a lot of good things about you guys. So it’s a big wish for the band that we can march in and finally play Australia. Definitely in 2018.”