Hemelbestormer have recently unleashed their second album A Ring of Blue Light on the world, and what a listen it is. This is an album that takes the listener on a journey to the far-flung reaches of the cosmos and into exotic, exceptional worlds. Heavily atmospheric and filled with textured wonders to explore, A Ring of Blue Light is a very fulfilling experience indeed.
Want to find out more about the journey before you take it? Read on…
Introduce us to Hemelbestormer
Hemelbestormer is an instrumental post/doom/sludge band from Limburg, Belgium. We started out in 2012, initially with five members, but after our electronics/samples wizard moved to the UK we became the four piece we still are today. Our first release was a collaboration/split-album with Italian shoegaze band Vanessa Van Basten, but we also released our part of the music separately on vinyl. In 2016, the first full length “Aether” was released and our second and latest offering “A Ring of Blue Light” came out a few weeks ago.
What are your influences?
I guess there are many “influences” in terms of “more or less similar bands we like”, but we certainly try not to copy them or make those influences too obvious. As musicians, we all have different backgrounds. Our guitarist and main composer Filip is mostly black metal minded and is relatively new to the post rock/doom/sludge scene. Bass player Kevin grew up on hardcore and also has a strong affection with 80’s post punk. Our other guitar player Jo has a more alternative rock background and he got into the more extreme stuff as he grew a bit older. Usually it’s the other way around, haha! I myself am more of an all round metal head, but with a strong tendency towards doom and stoner. My musical taste has always been somewhat eclectic and I can enjoy many different styles, as long as it’s good and has a soul.
Name five things you’ve listened to recently that you’d recommend
Now this is a difficult question, since music is very “present” in my life. I’m listening to music whenever I have the chance and I’m always on the lookout for new stuff. But let’s give it a go!
First up, there is the new album by Carpenter Brut, “Leather Teeth”. Very dark, very haunting and you can dance to it, something I normally don’t really like, haha. I really like the whole 80’s revival thing with Carpenter Brut, Perturbator and shows like “Stranger Things”, and I truly hope there won’t be an overkill of the stuff.
Au-Dessus, a post-black metal band from Lithuania, also comes to mind. Their latest album “End of Chapter” is getting regular spins here and I can really recommend it.
An artist that I really must mention here is Chelsea Wolfe. She totally blew me away at last year’s Roadburn and her album “Hiss Spun” is one of the finest records of 2017.
Next up: Russian Circles! Technically, this is not really a new or recent discovery since I’ve known them for many years, but no matter how much I listen to their albums, they’re still fresh and exciting and I keep hearing new things every spin. It should be the law to own at least one of their albums, period!
Finally, I’d like to mention an album that hasn’t come out yet, namely “Our Raw Heart” from Yob. Their brand of scorching, epic doom is transcendental and practically godlike. “Clearing The Path to Ascend” was simply stunning and I expect nothing less from the new effort. Also an amazing live band!
Tell us about your latest release. Give us a bit of background to A Ring of Blue Light– any particular concepts or ideas you want to discuss?
“A Ring of Blue Light” is inspired by Hoag’s Object, a galaxy that literally looks like a ring of blue light. It consists of approximately eight billion stars and is a part of the constellation Serpens, more specifically the part called The Serpent Bearer. The sheer vastness of the universe and all its phenomena are a perfect match for Hemelbestormer, a Dutch word that literally translates as “Sky Stormer” or “Stormer of Heaven”, so it’s not really strange that we use these themes and images to create a visual counterpart for our music.
Musically, I think the album is a logical follow-up to “Aether”, but overall more dynamic, layered and melodic. It still is very heavy, dark and intense, but there are also more glimpses of light and more room to breathe. There are far more details and layers and because of this, it’s a more interesting album to listen to. I think it’s a typical example of expanding your sound without turning your back on it.
How do you feel that you fit into the wider metal scene?
That is a good questions, albeit a difficult one. In general, I think we are considered to be “post-metal” or something like that with obvious comparisons to bands like Neurosis, Cult of Luna and Year of No Light, but I think something like “heavy atmospheric music” is a far better description. We played on post-rock festivals like Dunk and Arctangent, stoner/doom gatherings like Desertfest, pure black metal bills like De Mortem Et Diabolum and events like Roadburn where all these things come together. Each and every one of these shows was great and the reactions of the crowd were simply amazing. Borders between styles and genres are fading and that’s a good thing. Due to the many different aspects of our sound, we are able to play with a wide spectrum of bands without being totally out of place. So basically, I think Hemelbestormer can appeal to everyone with an open mind.
Tell us about the album artwork
Like all previous records, the artwork contains mountains (or monolithic rocks) and the sky. The sky (or space) stands for vastness and something we can’t fully grasp or understand. From Earth, you look to the sky and almost instantly you feel insignificant and ignorant. I don’t think the human brain is capable of “getting” something enormous like the sky or space or the infinite and ever expanding universe, so naturally this is something very appealing. The mountain on the other hand stands for greatness and purity, but in ways we understand. It’s a symbol for the exact opposite of the hectic society we live in. A society where the meaning of “real life” has changed. Nowadays, everything has to go fast and everything has to be finished before the deadline. We don’t, or can’t, take the time to enjoy things anymore because there is always something that has to be done. The mountains stand for the connection with nature, where you can find some peace and quiet, away from it all. Both images tell us how futile and insignificant it all is: no matter how many contracts we close, how many products we manufacture or how many profits we make, in a few years we will all be gone and forgotten, while the mountains will still stand tall, majestically and unaffected and the universe will be just as infinite and mind blowing as it was before.
How do you go about writing your songs?
Our guitarist Filip is the main composer of Hemelbestormer and he practically writes all the songs on his own at home. Our music is very layered and depends a lot on atmosphere and this is very difficult to create during a rehearsal with four people. Filip likes to be alone, away from all sorts of distractions, when he writes songs, so he can focus all the way. Afterwards, he presents complete and detailed songs to the rest of the band so we can all have our say. I guess when we don’t like what we hear, the songs will be adapted, but so far that has never happened, haha! It proves that, despite the fact that all music is written by one person, the four members of the band share the same vision and can easily agree on the direction the band should take.
How is the songwriting influenced by the lack of vocals? In other words, what would the band do differently, (if anything), if you suddenly had to incorporate vocals in your songs?
Well, since we can’t use words or vocal lines to tell a story, we have to put enough details in songs to deliver the message. Most of the time, this means there are a lot of guitar melodies on top of the “regular” riffs and specific samples to enhance the general mood of a song. I don’t know if we would change this if we were about to use vocals. Maybe strip things down a bit to give them a little bit more room? But I guess not even that. You see, there were plans to use vocals on one song of “A Ring of Blue Light”, but due to circumstances, the person we had in mind couldn’t do it after all. The way you hear the song now on the album, is the way the song was written. No alterations whatsoever. If the collaboration would have happened, it would have been the exact same song, but with the addition of vocals. So no, we probably wouldn’t change a thing if we would ever use vocals, haha!
What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
I love all songs on the album, because they all have a different feel and vibe but still form a consistent record. It is very hard to pick only one and most likely my choice will be different tomorrow, but right now I’d go for “Redshift”. For me it’s the most intense song to play and I can go totally berzerk on it. The second part of the song is also the darkest and most suffocating bit of the entire album and a perfect example of the essential atmosphere I was talking about earlier.
How did the recording process go?
For me personally it was a smooth and relaxed process because we were well prepared and there were no unexpected “surprises” or problems to deal with. Also, the guys from the Blackout Studio were very easy going and, very important, they understood our music. They knew exactly what we wanted and needed in the sound department and they really did an amazing job. There were no setbacks, fights, endless discussions or anything like that, so there is really not much more to tell here, hehe.
What lessons have you learned from the creation of A Ring of Blue Light that you’ll take forward for any future releases?
The most important thing is that the next record won’t become “A Ring of Blue Light Part II”, just like this one didn’t become “Aether Part II”. To make the same album over and over again is rather pointless in our eyes, so we’ll try to develop our sound even more to keep it fresh, dynamic and interesting. And we’ll probably give ourselves a bit more time to come up with a new album. There are two years between our records, but we already started the preparations for “Ring…” ten months after the release of “Aether”. I guess we will give this one more time to breathe, hehe.
Looking back to Aether – how did this record influence A Ring of Blue Light?
It sort of set the bar. We were happy with it, obviously, people out there apparently also liked what we were doing, so we had to do better. Maybe not necessarily to please the people, but to please ourselves. Like I said, there is no real point in repeating yourself, but there is also no point in taking a step back. So we simply had to do better, we had to take “Aether” to the next level. And I think we did.
What does the future hold for Hemelbestormer?
There is no real master plan or anything. Obviously we will promote “A Ring of Blue Light” on stage, but this doesn’t mean we will tour for months on end or play every club and festival in Europe and beyond. First and for all, we want to have a good time. We’re all good friends and we feel truly blessed that we can do all these things together. So if we can continue doing all this cool stuff among friends and in good health, that would be great. Everything else will be an extra. We’ll see what happens. We’re open to everything, but nothing is mandatory.