Latest release: Scriptures (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.facebook.com/benedictionband
Benediction have been invoking intense mosh pits with guttural vocals and ferocious riffs for decades. Their devotion to a rigid template for pummelling music has remained intact, as has their ability to engage with their loyal, fervent fan base with intense live shows. The relationship with their audience is almost symbiotic with regards to energy, which serves to cement their intent to deliver tight, intense metal music.
It has been well over a decade since the album Killing Music was released. Now that a solid line-up has come to fruition, Benediction are back in the game during these unnerving pandemic ridden times by releasing a new album of merciless death metal with the suitably titled, Scriptures. Loud Online spoke to the Birmingham based stalwart, co-founding guitarist Darren ‘Daz’ Brookes about the latest, long awaited musical blessing from the respected, firmly established extreme metal band.
It’s great to finally hear a new Benediction album. It’s been a long time coming. What were the reasons for the delay?
Various reasons, there’s been line- up changes and we’ve had serious trouble replacing Neil Hutton on the drums. We’ve had Perra Karlsson and Nick Barker and we’ve had some decent drummers but no one that has really fit the bill or has wanted to give 100 percent, sort of thing. There’s the fact that Rewy [Peter Rewinsky], my other guitar player, no longer lives in Birmingham, so writing became a bit more difficult but I think that the main reason is that unfortunately for us, Benediction doesn’t pay the bills so we have to have day jobs. Rewy and I are doing quite well in our particular jobs and they have to take precedence because obviously, when you’re young and starting out the band, you’ll quit your job and nothing else matters but the band. But, as you get older, you know, with a wife, kids, house, mortgage and so on, it kind of takes over, so you’ve got to put that first. We’re doing that in the week and we’re still doing the stuff gigging and we’re still touring the world playing God knows everywhere, every weekend and that doesn’t leave any time whatsoever. A couple of years ago Rewy and I sat down, had a meeting and said, ‘Right, see you next time, it’s time we focused on our nearer and dearer.’ It is just time and money, I guess.
Fair enough, do you find it funny when doing new material live, that the diehards want the 1990 era songs?
You know, that’s another reason as well. We’ve not done so much touring over the last 12 years. It has been mostly festivals and all the festival promoters want you to do is just the old stuff. You know, ‘Can you do a set list with just Subconscious Terror and The Grand Leveller?’, ‘Can you do just Transcend the Rubicon?’ So, there has been no draw in from the promoters for us to do anything new and you kind of get that is the impression that is all the fans want. They do want the old stuff, you know, but you speak to them and over the last few years they have been asking us when the new stuff is coming out? But yeah, it has been a draw for the old stuff. All of these bands that are doing the whole album from this era or whenever else; I’m not particularly interested in doing that. There has been a draw in for that recently but I have had enough of that now, I am ready for some new stuff. I am not sick of the old stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing it but I just want to do some new stuff now and I am eager to get out there to play it.
The latest album, Scriptures, is impressively tight, even with all of the rhythm changes.
Yeah, that is down to Scott [Atkins], the producer [at UK’s Grindstone Studio]. He was insistent that we get everything nailed on. He didn’t want it to sound too polished but he wanted the recording to be absolutely bang on. So he would make us go over and over it and then do it again. There might be say four more takes so you do four more takes and then he’d say, ‘Okay, let’s do two more!’ and you’d say, ‘I just did four!’, but he’d say, ‘Okay, let’s just do two more’. So you’d do the two, put the guitar down and then he’d say, ‘Oh, just one more.’ I wanted to kill the guy, I was just, ‘Leave it, enough’ and he would keep pushing us and pushing us. In the end, he was right, he got it as tight as you like. It is important for Benediction, we don’t just want to build a wall of noise and be as fast and as technical that you can possibly get. It is important that you hear the riffs that we’re playing and it is important that you hear the time changes because Benediction have always had a bit of groove or a bit of movement. It is not always about speed and power. So it is important that you hear that and I think that he has absolutely nailed it. I guess it is down to Scott.
The tone is also important; you can hear it in certain riffs and rhythm parts where chords ring out. Even the bass tone is excellent. A lot of bands today effectively dial in their tones. I’m guessing you’re still old school.
Of course, everything is old school about us. We don’t change anything; we’ve never changed our style. We were told to put keyboards on the recordings at some point and told to put female vocals on The Dreams You Dread. Benediction is never changing style. Not many bands sound like Benediction. There are a million death metal bands that sound the same but I guess we sound unique, we are a bit different to other bands, a bit old school. We do not try to be the fastest. We’re onto a good thing so we stick to it because that is what has worked for us, that is what gets us up in the morning. We are not following any trends and we are not doing what the record label says as such, I’m doing what Benediction want to do and that sound is important to us. It has got to be hard and it has got to be our thing.
One of the songs that has that kind of tone and a distinct Benediction feel is In Our Hands, the Scars. Does a song like that take a lot of pre-production or do you just get in there and hammer it out?
Not really, we are not particularly technical and we have never wanted to be technical, when we write music, we write it to see what it looks like. I know that sounds crazy but if I write a riff or a part of a song, I want to imagine what the four of us are going to look like onstage. That is kind of how we write our songs. In Our Hands, the Scars was Rewy’s riff but that was meant to be a simple as you like Benediction riff. We toured with Death a couple of times and as much as I love Death, the difference in the crowd between us and them was incredible. When we were on, the crowd was going nuts, when Death were on, everyone would stand and watch. Fuck, you know, that’s perfectly good for them but that’s not the sort of band that we want to be. We want to be the band that is going nuts on stage because we feed off the crowd. That is kind of how we do it and In Our Hands, the Scars is a pretty simple riff to play. It is a pretty simple tune but it just means that we can get on it and act like idiots on stage and just go nuts, man.
Yeah, you certainly get a gallop happening too, such as with Tear Off These Wings, and even have a groove within Embrace the Kill.
Yeah man, like I say it is important to us, it is a visual thing. I don’t want to be standing there dancing all over fretboard and it’s a guitar lesson showing off, ‘Look how many notes I can play in x amount of time.’ I’d rather see people knocking over the front of the stage rather than showing off at how technical I can be. It is more about the groove for Benediction. It is more about the feeling; picking the audience up, shaking them about and then throwing them back out there.
Even Embrace the Kill, there are some harmonised guitar lines in there but it is done slowly so there’s no shredding. In fact, on the whole album, there aren’t really any solos, other than that.
We’re not particularly into solos. Rewy and I purposely never had any guitar lessons, we’ve taught ourselves and we’ve got our own sort of style. I guess, if you start getting lessons off a certain guy you start sounding like that guy and start writing stuff sounding that way and I guess that is the way we look at it. We write exactly what we feel and think, and solos have never been our thing. Again, I don’t want to be standing in one spot on stage playing solos, going, ‘Wow, look at me!’ I’d rather just be playing a powerful riff, banging my head like I am a nut job and watching the crowd follow suit.
The album’s clarity is good. Tremolo riffing and picking can get muddy in a live situation.
Absolutely, that is what we try to avoid. We’re not wanting a wall of noise. It is important that you can hear everything that we play with all the chugging, picking and whatever else. To hear everything, Scott making us go over and over, he even got me top change my plectrum halfway through recording things, I thought, ‘You’re fucking joking, aren’t ya?, and he’d say, ‘No, try this plectrum’ and I’d say’ ‘That is not going to make any fucking difference, mate!’ and obviously I caved and don’t tell him I said so but he was bang on, right.
There is some pretty impressive drumming as well. Can you talk a bit about Giovanni Durst?
Oh yeah, Gio is superb, man. I mean, Neil was an incredible drummer, but he had family commitments and with two young kids, he had to stay at home. So we’ve had problems in replacing him. Perra Karlsson was the closest we had to him. Nick Barker is a machine but he was too much like a machine, he wasn’t free flowing, sort of thing. Gio just fits. He has got the rhythm and he has got the groove that we have got and he has a similar sort of sense of humour but man, the guy can really play and he is so enthusiastic. He is a lot younger than us so he has loads of energy and he just wants to get onstage and show it. The unfortunate thing with this album was it was pretty much written before he recorded and I think he was only with us maybe six to eight weeks before we recorded. So he was trying to learn the live set and trying to learn the songs to record. But the stuff that we write at the minute, I am bouncing it backwards and forwards to Rewy and once that is done, we can send it over to Gio and then he can put his little dances all over it and he can put his stamp on it properly this time. He is an amazing drummer.
Giovanni still snuck in some tasty little drum rolls and flourishes into the album as well.
Yeah, yeah, he’s done some bits and there are a few bits that he changed as well. There’s a few bits where he asked, ‘Can I double this part up or have this part?’ and we’d say, ‘Yeah, well, give it a go,’ and then he’s tried a few things which have worked on the album. So, he has had a little bit of input. Next time, he’ll get a full bunch of songs and we’ll see how he feels if there are little bits he wants to drop in or take out or add. He’s a really good drummer and he’s a really great guy.
The album has a lot of variety – it’s not just a barrage of riffs. It is well done and well arranged. Do you think much about which songs follow which, in other words, the order of the track listing?
Well, I arranged these songs with the vinyl format in mind. I was told that we were going to have a double gatefold vinyl release and that there was going to be, obviously, four sides. So with twelve songs I thought I’ll try to get an epic one, a short one, a mid-paced one – trying to make each side stand up on its own. That then makes each side say twelve to fourteen minutes, rather than having all the short ones together and have to play with space. So, it was kind of laid out with that in mind. It is difficult to do though. Do you pool all of best songs first or put all of your fastest songs together? I guess Benediction songs are like the song content. They’re not all the same speed so even the songs start off slow and then build up or the other way round with them compressing in and slowing down in the middle. So, we kind of like the variation. I guess that the slower songs sound more powerful if they’ve got a faster bit either side of it and vice versa. As I said earlier; pick you up and drop you then repeat – that’s kind of what we want to do.
Is that the sort of thing you were thinking about thirty years ago or was it just get out there and smash them?
To be honest, mate, thirty years ago we thought we were going to be a demo band, and we were going to play a few pubs and that this death metal scene was not going to catch on, people are not going to take to this vocal style. We were just doing it because we thought it was cool to do and we were really into it. We never really expected anything like this and then bands starting getting signed up and then we got signed up and things started happening. We thought, ‘Hang on a bit, there might be something in this,’ and then thirty two years later, I’m talking to you. It is nuts, man. Crazy.
I gather that death metal wasn’t hugely popular in the UK in 1990 compared to say Northern Europe?
Yeah, it wasn’t. Weirdly, I think that it was really popular in places like Malaysia, the Philippines and Brazil. In the early days, we used to do all of our business through tape trading because none of us were signed up then so we did it all on cassettes and just mailed it to each other. We got the singer in through that. He heard it and it was kind of like we were all friends and we all kind of knew each other. It was really weird and then, like I say, one band gets signed up and then a few bands get signed up. Unfortunately, in the nineties, because no record label wanted to miss out on the next big death metal band, I think everybody that did gruff vocals kind of got signed up and for me, the scene got really saturated with really average and poor bands. Most of them lasted like ten minutes and then fell by the wayside. Then you’ve got the other side of the coin were for the bigger bands, when the scene got kind of difficult, they kind of dropped off and then made a comeback. Dismember and Dominion are making a comeback and everybody is raving about them and they are bigger now than when they were together in the nineties. It is kind of strange. That’s not our style, when the death metal scene fell on its ass, man, Benediction carried on because, you know, we’ve never wanted to be rock stars or superstars or be mega rich and famous. It was always about the music for us so regardless of whether the scene was doing well or not, we were going to stick around.
Do you think that is an attitude that goes back to the influence and origin of Black Sabbath?
I guess so, yeah, maybe it is a Birmingham thing, maybe there is something in the water around here. I don’t know, man, but Sabbath, they refused to give in and Judas Priest are still refusing to give in. We’re refusing to give in. I don’t know, maybe it is just that attitude or mentality but I’m claiming it though. Ha-ha.
The new album has Dave Ingram back on vocals. How did that happen?
Yeah, man. That was because, when we finally decided to get this album ‘on the road’, Dave Hunt, who was with us on vocals then, once we started writing songs, it became apparent that this new album was definitely going to happen, so he told us he needed to carry on with his PhD and he’d got Anaal Nathrakh. He was really busy and sort of didn’t commit to the sort of time that Benediction would need to promote the album, with touring and God knows what. So he said to us, ‘I need two years to do this,’ but we couldn’t wait two years so he said, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to leave the band.’ It was a tough decision when he decided to leave the band. He gave us a six month window and said, ‘I’ll leave on this date,’ but we still a few gigs booked in after this date so I phoned Dave Ingram with the proposal to just do a few gigs. That’s because when he left in 98, he kind of left fairly abruptly to go to Bolt Thrower and he never got to finish his Benediction career, sort of thing and he never got to finish the Grind Bastard tour. So, we thought we’d get him in and he can do the gigs, say goodbye to the fans, it is good press, blahdy blah, and then he can go and then we’ll get a new singer in. But within the first phone call it was clear that he was like a kid at Christmas and it the best thing ever that I had phoned him up and he was keen on doing everything else. So, by the end of the conversation we were talking about demos and him recording the album. It was fairly quick which is kind of weird because I hadn’t spoken to the guy in twenty years. It was like I had spoken to him yesterday.
Going back to the nineties and thus the early days, did the band name of Benediction cop any flak from anyone into Catholicism?
No, I don’t think so but weirdly, we only picked that word because it had a ‘shuhn’ [as final syllable]. That is the God’s honest truth, it was a ‘tion’ word and we just wanted something like Defecation, Suffocation or something like that. It was ridiculous. So, there was no real reason for that name. We had a friend we used to drink with who was an artist and we were just doodling with him in the pub and we came up with the name of Benediction and asked, ‘What can you do with that?’ and he came up with the logo in a day or two, brought it back to the pub and said, ‘What do think about them lot?’ and we said, ‘That’s wicked, man,’ and then we stuck with that. We’ve never had any problems and I kind of like it, with the good nun and the bad nun, I mean, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re not a black metal band that stands in front of mirrors, preparing themselves forever to go onstage, with the right stage clothes and all this. We just go on with jeans and t-shirts and knock it out of the park.
The artwork of the latest album is interesting. Is that a spiritual comment?
No, that was based purely on the logo. I mean obviously Benediction is a religious term so we’ve always had the nuns on the logo but we’ve got a good nun and bad nun, you know, it is not all doom and gloom. On the album, you’ve got the good ghouls on the left and the demons on the right and the nun, obviously in the centre, holding the scriptures with some of the lyrics on there and with a couple of references to our history. It is a cracking album cover, man, I love it, and that was done by a guy Simon Harris aka Wolven Claws artist, and he played bass for us in 92 on the Bolt Thrower tour across Europe and not a lot of people know that. He stopped playing bass and he started doing artwork. I met him in the pub a couple of years ago and I asked, ‘What are you doing now, Si?’ and he said he was into artwork and so I just flippantly told him, ‘Send me some stuff and we’ll see if we can get you to do some artwork for the back of a t-shirt or something,’ and then he sent me some of his portfolio. Some of the stuff in there was incredible. So when it came to artwork we went round to him and had a cup of tea with him, sat down, told him we wanted some vibrant colours of red and yellow and it’s got to mean Benediction, it’s got to look nuts on a t-shirt. Yep, he got it, man. I think it is brilliant, it is absolutely awesome.
Being a guitarist, how would you say that guitar tones have changed in death metal over the past thirty years? Early on, amplifiers weren’t really that well modified for that style of music.
No, they didn’t because people didn’t know about it. When death metal first kicked off, nobody knew what the hell it was and to be fair, I don’t think we even knew what it was; we were all experimenting and trying to find out. We all had our guitars turned up and our distortion at maximum and we’d have a pedal banging more distortion through that. It was proper muddy. I guess, once death metal bands found their feet and decided it wasn’t going to be a mess and just a wall of noise, we decided that we wanted some clarity. I just use a Mega Boogie Triple Rectifier. No pedals, no effects, nothing, just full gain on the amplifier. It is clean and it is powerful. You were saying earlier about guitar tone just ringing out. If you hit an open chord, it needs to just stay there whilst I’ve got my hand in the air, Angus Young style, the amplifier needs to just bring it and I love some of the sounds I’ve got now, I really do. I used to like it muddy but considering Benediction’s writing style, we need clarity but we need power.
Is there a track or even album out of your discography that you’re most proud of at this point?
Oh Jesus, that is a tough one. I guess it is Subconscious Terror as that is the first track we ever wrote. that is the one that means the most to me because that is the first one where we got together in rehearsal and said, ‘Right, that’s our first song, that’s Benediction’s first song,’ and I don’t think we have ever done a gig and not played it. I am kind of sick of playing now, after thirty two years but I guess that is still the one that means the most to me. But you know, my album favourites change daily as do my favoured songs on Scriptures. One day I love Stormcrow, the next day I love We Are Legion, or Embrace the Kill. It is the same with other albums, the next day I’ll love Transcend the Rubicon. But the good thing about Benediction is that we’ve not changed our style too much so all of the stuff for the last thirty years is relevant. I could write a song now that could flow into Subconscious Terror, so I am happy with it.
Thanks very much for your time and having a chat.
Wicked. Listen, thanks for your support and to any old Benediction fans there, thanks for looking in and for any new Benediction fans, welcome to the party. If there is ever any chance of us getting down to Australia, I would love to do that because it is one country that we never visited. It is ridiculous. If we do finally come over, you come and introduce yourself and we’ll have a beer together.