Interview: Hades Ghosphell
We don’t have issues with gigs either, as it is always very friendly. There is, however a strong societal weight on anything or anybody not going with society's flow.
The land-locked nation of Laos, or in full ‘Lao People’s Democratic Republic’, is not a place known to be brimming with heavy metal artists. There is a thriving underground scene happening and interaction between the south-east Asian countries occurs often. One of those bands is Hades Ghosphell.
The band plays black metal, which does make them stand out a scene that is overwhelmingly death metal of the more brutal kind. The band was kind enough to answer some of my questions about playing metal in Laos.
Photo credits: 906 Photography
E&D: Could you start by introducing the band? How did you guys get together, can you give me a bit of a history of the band?
The current line-up consists of Lounty (drums), Tun (bass), Ben (guitar) and Aof (vocals).
Ben: The band was initially formed by Aof and me. I was in Laos for 2 years already and was desperately looking for an underground scene, to no avail. One day a friend brought me to a fun little bar, where there was an acoustic duo playing covers. The singer went on break, grabbed a beer at the counter and asked the owner to play some heavy shit. That was Aof. We spent the rest of the night gulping beers and talking about metal, about the local scene, and how we definitely had to start a band. That’s how Hades Ghosphell started.
We struggled a bit to recruit a drummer and a bassist but eventually managed to cover a couple of classics and organized our first concert (and the first black-metal concert ever in Laos!) in October 2010. I then moved to Thailand for 3 years and our vocalist has had some serious health issues. But we are now back in full force, with a new line-up ready to lay down some devastating shit!
E&D: Do I understand correctly that you are French? So how did you end up in Laos?
Ben: You understood correctly indeed, je suis Français. I came to Laos 10 years ago as a Trainee for 2 months (on a hydropower project), as part of my university graduation in Supply Chain. The Project then proposed me a 2-year contract at the end of my internship, which I immediately accepted. I joined a logistics company afterward, moved to Thailand for 3 years, then moved back to Laos 3 years ago and here I am!
E&D: What made you guys get into metal music and which influences do you consider your most important ones for the sound of Hades Ghosphell?
Ben: Morbosidad, Proclamation, Black Witchery, Archgoat, Blasphemy, Tsjuder.
E&D: Where does the name Hades Ghosphell come from?
Ben: It was proposed by our singer, Aof, and it was immediately adopted. We liked how the imagery of ritual chants in honor of the Underworld could be interpreted in several ways, both literally and figuratively, as our humble and dedicated contribution to the underworld that the metal scene is.
E&D: Did you play in other bands before Hades Ghosphell?
Ben: DCS (punk-HxC) back in France, Sapanakhith (brutal death metal) in Laos, REMAINS (thrash metal) in Thailand, Dissevered (brutal death metal) in Laos.
Tun: Acclaim of Sinner (slamming death metal), Rotkin (brutal death metal), Buddhlust (brutal death metal), Dissevered (brutal death metal) and another dozen bands. This guy is everywhere!
Lounty: Morrana (brutal death metal), Killerz Virginal (grind/death).
E&D: What story does Hades Ghosphell tell in the music? What sort of themes do you weave into your own works?
Ben: The main themes are centered on the denunciation of religious fanatism, the deceptive and manipulative aspects of any religion under their great holy truths. Desecration, basically. We will talk a bit about our personal battles, as a band, in our future works as well.
E&D: Are you currently working on any releases? If so, can you tell more about it?
Ben: We are currently preparing a demo and should start recording real soon. We are truly itching to record our first material after so many years and so many struggles. The current line-up is working very well, we have a good alchemy and shitloads of energy to insufflate in our songs.
E&D: What is available from you guys this far, is a couple of covers of true originators of black metal. Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem. You even have the pigs heads on stage. Are these bands your main inspirators and how far will Hades Ghosphell emulate that sound and feel in their music and live shows? Or are you intending different directions?
Ben: These classics are undeniably a special influence, among many, many others. But as said, we now have a solid line-up and are more able (and inclined) to pursue our own sound, our own style. We have been and will continue going for an even rawer sound, more black/death vocals, war drums and incisive riffs.
E&D: The original black metal wave fiercely rebelled against Christianity. In your country, Laos, the dominant religion is Buddhism followed by Laotian folk religion. There’s hardly any Christianity to rebel against. How do you look upon these religions in relation to the satanic and profane in your music?
Ben: There is a quite consequent Christian community in Laos, but nowhere near important or influent as the Buddhist main base. We are more in an open rejection of the holy, the sacred, and all the deviances it brings and justifies. Buddhism here is very much tainted with Animism, which is more a belief, than a religion as such. It’s an acceptation that spirits exist in all things and that they can manifest or that you can interact with them. Ethnic animistic ceremonies are more rituals, animal sacrifices are pretty common and it can sometimes be related to black magic. There are a lot of folk’s tales about ghosts, evil spirits and it really can make a good inspiration or base for our materials, as the underworld, the dark and incomprehensible side is omnipresent.
E&D: I’m curious about the metal scene in Laos. How big would you say it is and where does it center mostly? What sort of styles are dominant in your country?
Ben: It’s definitely still a small scene, with its positive and negative sides, gathering around 30-40 core members. Everything metal happening is in the capital, Vientiane. The good thing is that it is pretty much united, there is no segregation between genres, as soon as it remains underground enough. Everybody knows each other and each concert is like a kinda family reunion hahaha.
But that also means a limited musician pool, with many bands sharing the same guys. Our bass player, Tun, is playing in almost all the bands here! You always have some bitching, people that used to play together and for some reason came to hate each other’s guts, but all in all it remains a very united scene. Brutal death metal is big here, there is also a bit of thrash and Hades Ghosphell for black metal. People do listen to quite a wide spectrum of underground music and usually know their stuff, just not enough musicians to represent more styles.
E&D: Can you give me a bit of history of metal in Laos. How did metal come to the country, which bands pioneered the scene, are there any important venues or festivals?
Ben: There are some old-schoolers, like Sapphire and The Exile (Canada & US), who played during the 90’s and are actually considered the pioneers of the heavy stuff here. It’s more heavy-metal, but all generations of metalheads here acknowledge and respect them. Very few die-hard metal fans at that time but they never gave up and although not playing music themselves, they always supported and continue to support the scene. Big Joe is the most prominent figure in this respect.
Then came the next wave circa 2005 (Sapanakhith, Hades Ghosphell, Dictator, Awaken the Dreamer…) and the beginning of the Metal Destruction shows (THE metal event in Laos), organized every year by Big Joe.
Today there are 6-7 active bands, including some youngsters from the new generation who are willing to take on the torch. The Vientiane Death Fest was introduced in 2016 and a new 2018 edition is under preparation, mostly for brutal death. All concerts are organized at bars/discos/restaurants, whose owners are somehow related to the metal scene and are willing to sponsor the gigs.
E&D: Do you face any sort of censorship in Laos by the government or other institutions? And how does society look at metal music?
Ben: Censorship is real in Laos but luckily the metal scene is not big enough to attract Big Brother’s eyes, so we are not exactly bothered by the communist institutions. We don’t have issues with gigs either, as it is always very friendly. There is, however a strong societal weight on anything or anybody not going with society’s flow.
As you may know, the weight of social rules and regard is pretty important in Asia as a whole, and Laos is no exception. Losing face or appearing shameful to the eyes of society is a much greater humiliation or failure than breaking the law for example. In this context, the external appearances and the musical violence of metal in any form do stand out. As a result, a lot of kids actually stay away from the scene, precisely not to stand out. I personally believe it takes a lot more balls and commitment for Laotian kids to get and stay into metal than, say, in Europe or in the US.
E&D: Perhaps a weird question, but is everything easily available to you? Like music, instruments, rehearsal space, recording studio and venues to play live?
Ben: Music and merch are now easily available thanks to online stores and it’s really easy to import from neighboring countries, Asia or even internationally. Instruments are another story: there are very few shops and they usually don’t carry a lot of stuff designed for metal musicians. There again we have to rely on import, but it’s always tricky to purchase an instrument/parts without testing beforehand.
The one thing that is easily found in Vientiane is rehearsal studios. There are quite a few and it’s pretty cheap (~5 $ / hour). The equipment provided is crap, but as soon as you have your own gear, no problem. The recording is not an issue either, with a couple of really talented guys for recording & mixing. We are very lucky to have our own rehearsing & recording space with my other band, Dissevered, so we can take all the time needed for practice and recording, it really is super convenient! We plan to record there with Hades Ghosphell, maybe even mix ourselves.
As said previously, all the concerts are organized through connections with bars or discos. They mostly lent us the venue for free, with a percentage of the entrance fees. Plus they are guaranteed to sell quite a nice amount of beers.
E&D: Are there any bands from Laos that people should really check out? Can you name them and explain why?
Ben: Dissevered (brutal death metal). It’s the first Lao band to sign and release albums on an international label (New Standard Elite, USA). Both Tun (bass) and Ben (guitar) play in this band. Straightforward, ultra-brutal stuff! Buddhlust (brutal death metal). Another spearhead of the brutal scene here, they just recently joined Reality Fade Records (Ukraine) and are to release their debut album in 2018. Rotkin (brutal death metal). With just a demo available for the time being, they are the youngsters of the metal scene. Great dudes and tracks, a debut album should be released soon.
E&D: What sort of connection do you have with the metal scenes from surrounding countries? Is there any sort of contact and cooperation happening?
Ben: Most definitely, we are in touch regularly with the neighboring metalheads, especially in Thailand. No language barriers as Lao people all understand the Thai language. Metal shows in Laos will always see Thai counterparts joining the party and Lao metal heads regularly attend major shows in Thailand. But we also have good friends and contacts in Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia…
It’s a small scene everywhere (except in Indonesia where metal, especially death metal, is huge) so it is pretty common to have gigs with regional bands.
E&D: I’m interested in what the connection with Thailand in general is. I’ve noticed that a lot of metal musicians from surrounding countries have moved there. Has this got to do with liberties?
Ben: On paper, it is not exactly a good time for liberties in Thailand with the current regime. But in reality, nobody really gives a fuck if you play in a metal band or organize metal gigs, it is just another form of music. So yes, unless you criticize or instigate hate towards the monarchy (which is really not recommended), I would say that the freedom of speech and of being yourself completely is better in Thailand, compared to most of its neighbors. Plus the scene is good, the public is good, there are some really active organizers who manage to book great international bands… Traveling to Bangkok from surrounding countries is usually pretty cheap and easy, and staying there for a couple of days will not bleed your bank account dry. You will not have any visa/immigration issues on arrival even if you carry your whole drum set with you. So yes, all-in-all, Thailand is an easy place to go or to be for underground musicians.
E&D: What future plans does Hades Ghosphell have?
Ben: A demo very, very soon. Then more composing, more shows too if possible and why not a debut album within early next year… we are back from a long slumber and more eager than ever get things moving forward!
E&D: If you had to compare Hades Ghosphell to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
Ben: A cured ham. One that you forgot you had, until the day you discover it hidden in a dark corner your fridge and devour it with tears of joy in the eyes.
E&D: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Ben: Thanks for the interview man, and keep an eye (and an ear) on the growing Laotian Metal Scene!