Mike might indeed be partially responsible for the fact that Belgium has such a vivid underground scene nowadays. His label put a lot of bands on the map, and certainly on festivals like Incubate and Dunk! Festival. More releases will follow soon, including the new Jozef Van Wissem album. But where did it begin for Mike? What are his stories? We asked him and he provided us with a nice insight.
This one comes off the Covenant album by Morbid Angel, and that one was in fact the very first album I bought with my own pocket money. I was raised on hard rock and classic rock. From Sabbath to Zep. When I was easing myself into my teens, I needed to form my own musical taste, and to some extent rebel against my fathers musical preferences. Electronic music never really was my cup of tea, so I dove into the deep. God of Emptiness, and the cool video clip I saw on MTV’s Headbangers ball (because in those days there was actually music on MTV), somehow struck a nerve and awoke my thirst for brutal and hard music. Via Morbid Angel, I got to know other death metal bands like Deicide, Bolt Thrower, Dismember, … And from then on, I was hooked.
Having explored the death metal scene, all of a sudden a jolt was going through the entire metal scene. It was only more or less a year after I got into metal with the release of Morbid Angel’s Covenant, and I was still relatively new to the scene, but there were sounds coming in from the north that were utterly disturbing and of course very intriguing to a young teen boy. The stories of church burnings and murders preceded the music, but when Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was released it was clear nothing would be the same anymore. This truly is one of the albums that changed the face of metal, in my perception. Sure, Darkthrone and Burzum also had a profound (and lasting) impact, but as I remember De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was all people were talking about. Freezing Moon was the first track I heard, and it immediately crept under my skin. The thin and icy sound, and the extremely weird growls of Attila Csihar, together with the mysticism involved, really grappled my attention. To my ears, there was a lot more going on and a lot more diversity in black metal as opposed to death metal, and I started to fully explore the genre. Immortal, Marduk, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Emperor …. I discovered gem after gem, leaving me stranded in the metal scene for quite some years.
In the late nineties I did grow tired of metal. From black metal I digressed to thrash metal and ended up with more traditional heavy metal, but in the end it all started to sound the same. Or rather: I had a feeling I heard it all before. I lost interest, and when a friend of mine introduced me to post rock, I felt energized once more. It really sparked my interest in the more alternative and experimental side of rock music. East Hastings by the Canadian post rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor was one of the first (if not the first) track I heard of this — to me — whole new and exciting genre. This track is still one of my favorites within the genre, as the epic build-up actually reminded me of metal music (apart from the obvious: they could turn heavy and brutal too!), but is was more indirect music, more layered, and it took its time. The music got the chance to breathe, to grow, to come life, and to consume you whole. I was thoroughly shaken to the core, and listened to nothing but post rock and experimental rock for several years.
A friend of mine told me in the early years 2000 to check out this band called ISIS. I actually got to know the band via their album Oceanic, and I thought it was very interesting, but I was still too much engulfed by post rock, so I let it pass. A while after that, Panopticon was released, and when I heard the opening track So Did We, I dropped whatever I was doing. This one just clicked. All the pieces fell into place. It had the intensity and the brutal force of metal, but it was intricately layered and intelligently built. This song was the aural equivalent of being struck by lightning. I listened to bands like Neurosis as well, but only after ISIS’s Panopticon, I started to listen to that music with fresh ears, and somehow gained a new appreciation for that kind of music. From there on, I noticed that a lot of interesting stuff has happened during my absence in the metal world. A lot of musical genres started to experiment, and adopt the “post” aspects into their musical practice. Not only other bands like Cult of Luna piqued my interest, but also bands in other genres (like Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and the new and improved Enslaved) made my jaw drop. ISIS also proved to be my gateway into doom and sludge, making me appreciate bands like Unearthly Trance, Ramesses and Electric Wizard in a whole new and profound way.
Having firmly rekindled my love for (adventurous/experimental) metal, I was looking for something similar in Belgium. In the mid 2000’s, not a whole lot of interesting stuff was going on. But there was this one band though. A mysterious band called Amenra. From Birth to Grave was the first song I ever heard from Amenra, off the Mass II album. This one hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. How was this possible? In Belgium of all places? This was just as good, if not better, than a lot of international acts. Shortly afterwards Mass III was released, and this was such a ground breaking album. It’s insane just how good this album is! I was more than convinced, and I also had the chance to see the band live on a couple of occasions. Of course, they played more modest venues than nowadays, but the intensity and - there’s no other word - devotion they brought to the mix was nothing short of astounding. In the years after me getting to know them, they just kept on evolving and growing, leading the way for a whole new generation of adventurous and more experimental metal bands. Amenra is one band that has earned my utmost respect, and they will be in my heart forever.