During the four days of maritime metal mayhem that was 70,000 Tons of Metal earlier this month, I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Sven de Caluwé, vocalist and founding member of famed Belgian death metal band Aborted. As the mastermind behind songs about serial killers, medical deviance, and (strangely enough) even poop, Sven has led his minions through albums like 2003’s iconic Goremageddon and, most recently, 2016’s warmly received Retrogore. Jittery with fanboyism (and more than a few Fosters) Sven was kind enough to overlook my obvious amateurism to talk about the band’s past, their upcoming Devastation on the Nation tour, and even some juicy details on the new album. Strap on that cadaver apron and read on!
Thanks so much for taking time out of your cruise vacation to talk to me.
So first off, this your first time doing 70,000 Tons, right? How’s it feel to be doing it?
Double. Cause I mean I’m really happy to be here but I’m also sick which kind of ruins it a little. But it’s super cool, I’ve been sleeping most of the time so I haven’t gotten to enjoy all that much of it, but I hope that goes away soon and I get to enjoy it a little more. It’s bad timing. Thanks, shit body.
Big Pool Deck stage debut tonight, right?
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, let’s hope people will be up.
I definitely will be!
Awesome, thank you.
Any bands, in particular, you’re excited to see?
Excited to see Benighted, as usual. They’re good friends, so it’s always a party. Saw Exhumed yesterday, it was really cool. Meshuggah, later on tonight, I suppose. And Septicflesh. I have no idea when they’re playing, my brain’s a little hazy still. Yeah, but Septicflesh, all that.
And you guys have done some work with Benighted in the past right?
Yeah, I was on Asylum Cave and Julien [Truchan, Benighted vocalist] was on the Termination Redux EP and Global Flatline. And actually, they’re doing an anniversary record for the band this year, which I’ll be guesting on a song. Julien is going to be on our next album too.
So in addition to 70,000 Tons, you guys have a big tour coming up, you’re doing Devastation of the Nation this summer, so how’s it feel to be doing that? It’s going to be a big headlining run, lots of shows in the U.S.
Yeah, we’re stoked. It’s been a few years since the last time we were in the states, so it’s cool to come back and it’s really cool to once again tour with Psycroptic. They’re good friends of ours. And the lineup’s pretty killer, so we’re very stoked to be a part of it.
Awesome. So I’ve been listening to you guys for a while, I’m a huge fan, and you’re actually one of the bands that got me into death metal…
Oh wow, thanks. That’s quite a compliment.
…and one of things I noticed is that you guys have always been pretty prolific, but there was kind of a gap between Strychine.213 and the Global Flatline album, with the exception of the Coronary Reconstruction EP in between there. And I noticed with Global Flatline, you guys came back and almost adopted more of a retro 80s horror vibe as opposed to the more realistic gore vibes with serial killer themes from the previous albums. Was that a conscious change or what brought that about?
Well, Strychine to me is kind of the he-who-shall-not-be-named of the albums, since it kind of musically and personally embodies a really shitty period for the band. The lineup wasn’t really great and the vibe in the band was really shitty. I never was happy with that record. So many bad decisions into one. So that’s also why there was such a gap between the two records. At that point it was really necessary to rebuild the band and, for me, to go back to the essence of what made this band fun and why we’re playing this kind of music. What Aborted should be about, what’s the essence. And that’s also why the EP was called Coronary Reconstruction…
Yeah. It makes sense! It was a plan! [laughs] But that’s why we did the EP, that’s why it’s called that, that’s what the lyrics of the song are also about. It’s basically the band going back, well not really back, but the band realizing that, okay, this is what Aborted stands for. It’s extreme music, it’s heavy, and we love fucking 80s fucking horror movies, so let’s embrace it.
Speaking of reconstructing the band, you guys have had a lot of lineup changes over the years, and obviously, you’re the constant member. How do you maintain the Aborted feel through different members?
Through very severe dictatorship. [laughs] No, I’m kidding. Well, the lineup’s been stable since Global Flatline actually. Ken [Bedene, drums] has been in the band for almost, what, eight years now. And he’s also a big part of the songwriting process. Mendel [bij de Leij, guitars] has been there since 2012. And most of the people that join the band were fans of the band so they were also like ‘We want to join this band, but we want to bring our thing to it, but it’s also that we like the band, so the band has to sound like the band.’ So I guess it’s partially that. And then I sound like myself, so that helps I suppose.
When members are coming up with the riffs, do you guide the songwriting or come up with a lot of the ideas yourself, how does that work?
Well, everybody writes stuff. We’re all using I think, Cubase, it is, to make demos. And Ken also plays guitar, so everybody plays guitar but me, I’m the talentless hack of the band. So they’re all writing riffs and putting the songs together with programmed drums or real drums depending on how much time we have. And then we all chime in together. And that’s more or less where I start coming in more, where I’m commenting on structures, on riffs, saying ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘I don’t think this fits.’ We’re all kind of producing the songs together until we get happy. And actually, since Retrogore, I think, the producer we’ve been working with is also more involved. He also gives comments on the demos we do. Actually, for this coming record now is the first time we’re going to do pre-productions of everything. So that’s a first, going that much into detail, which is interesting.
So for a non-musician, what does that mean exactly?
We record everything before we record it. I know it sounds retarded, but basically, we record demos, I will actually put down vocals for all the songs that we wrote, which I think right now we have 18…
…yes, shoot me. And then once we have everything done and recorded and added samples and everything we have a much clearer view of which are the best of those 18, to then condense it to the best album we can possibly make.
Is that normal to have that many songs written for an album?
I think we had like 30 for Necrotic Manifesto. Yeah, but I think we’ve been way more critical with shit. Like even for Retrogore, I think we had maybe 14 to 15 songs and then we scrapped 3. But this time around we have more songs, but we also have never been this critical so it’s been challenging and interesting at the same time because everybody really wants this next record to step it up a notch from Retrogore. So it’s kind of taking the elements that we introduced in Retrogore and taking them a step further, but at the same time, everybody wants it to be next level if that makes sense. I don’t know, I’m sick and stupid right now. But that’s why we’re so critical. And it’s challenging and cool, but frustrating at the same time because the feedback is very harsh from everybody.
What do you think were those new elements you introduced in Retrogore?
I know melody is the wrong term, but… yes. I would say we took the band to a place where it’s very high velocity, it’s more technical, but at the same time we introduced these slower, darker, melodic parts to it, and I think we expanded the whole dark atmosphere into the new songs even more. While they’re just as extreme, there’s just a lot more shit going on. It’s way more old school at the same time.
Oh wow, very cool. Are you going to continue the 80s retro vibe with this one?
So Aborted obviously uses a lot of horror movie samples in your music. What are some of your favorite horror movies?
Well, Hellraiser’s pretty obvious, cause I think there’s not a line in the movies we haven’t ripped yet. Yeah, Hellraiser, Evil Dead, of course, geez, I mean, so much fucking good stuff from back then. Nightmare on Elm Street… the iconic slashers really stand out a lot.
Any modern movies that you like?
Yeah, there’s been a few. Get Out, I thought was a very interesting concept. I don’t know if that’s straight horror, but it’s a really cool concept. I really liked Don’t Breathe, that one was pretty cool. The new Hellraiser actually does look pretty cool. There’s been a trailer…
Yeah! I just saw the trailer for that.
It looks pretty interesting, so I’m really stoked to see it. I thought the remake of Evil Dead was pretty cool. I really like the TV show, actually, that was cool. There’s a bunch, I just can’t come up with it.
So what sorts of bands did you listen to when you were younger that inspired you to make music in the first place?
Whew, that’s a long time ago. Well, for me personally, I can’t speak for everybody in the band, but for me personally, that would have definitely been bands like Suffocation, Carcass, Entombed, Dismember, Slayer, even Hatebreed, just like a lot of different things. I mean, that’s really what kind of shaped the original idea of the band.
What specifically inspires your vocal style? Because to me, it’s very unique, very brutal, but almost has a demented feel to it if you will.
[laughs] Well, as you can see, stupid, so I get the demented part. No, I’ve always wanted it to be extreme and heavy but at the same time just try to be me. I’ve never really tried to mimic anyone. Personally, my main influences were always Frank Mullen from Suffocation, Bo Summer from Illdisposed, and Jeff Walker from Carcass. So initially, those three. But I don’t think I exactly sound like them. So I guess I just try to be me, somehow, I guess, I hope.
So getting back to the writing process, you guys have members from all over the world. Does that make it difficult to write and produce a new album with members from all over the place? Do you get together in person or…?
We don’t since we live too far from each other. But the Internet’s a wonderful thing, you can write music through the Internet. You can do more than just order a bride. So we’ve fully embraced that option since that’s the only thing we can do. In a way, it’s hard not to be in the same room, but in another way, I guess when you hear something, you hear it with a fresh ear, so you have a little bit more distance from the material. But for the Bathos EP, both songs were written by Ken, Ian [Jekelis, guitars], and myself at my place, so we were together for a summer and we worked on the songs. Mainly them, they would write the whole day, and then I’d come home from work, and listen to shit with a fresh ear, and we’d go over ideas and structures and shit, and that’s how those two songs came together. So that was a very nice way of working. The one thing I really miss was that we don’t really get to jam the songs together as a band before they’re recorded, so sometimes it’s harder to get a proper grasp of if a song’s a live song or if it’s just a cool record song. I think everybody in the band misses that a bit. But that’s why when we’re writing now, we’re trying to imagine ‘How’s this going to go over live?’ Or like ‘Hey guys, here’s this cool thing, it’s retarded and it’ll be cool on record but let’s never play it.’ So we’re consciously trying to keep in mind what we’re writing and what it’s for.
So when you’re coming up with a setlist, how do you decide what songs you’re going to play live? What determines what’s a good live song and what’s a good record song?
I think it’s a little personal taste. Like for example, once a record’s done, we’ll all get our own favorites, and then we’ll see which songs get the most votes. We sort of work it out that way. Or usually, once the vocals are on there, once everything’s recorded, we’re like ‘Okay, this’ll work, the flow of the song.’ Sometimes we’re wrong. Then it gets out of the set. But it really is once after we practice everything, it’s like ‘Okay this’ll work,’ or ‘this won’t.’
Going along with that, how do you determine track order on an album?
Well, once everything is done, I guess, it’s like making a Spotify playlist. We put all the songs in order and then we mess with them and everybody creates their own ideal list and we kind of make a mish-mash.
So what’s your opinion of the current metal scene? Are there any bands out there now you enjoy or think are pushing the envelope?
Oh yeah, there’s always great music. I mean, I’m not a grumpy old guy that’s like ‘I only listen to the demo!’ or old shit, so I’m always listening to new shit. Last year, there were two Swedish bands that share members that really caught my attention. One is Humanity’s Last Breath, I don’t know if you know them?
No, never heard of them.
Really, really cool weird shit. Very weird shit. And the other band is In Reverence, which shares the singer and the guitarist. And it’s kind of like a more black metal version of Bloodbath.
Oh wow, that sounds cool.
That album’s fucking phenomenal. Really cool stuff. Other than that, I think Revocation are doing a good job at combining that Annihilator thrashy vibe with death metal, and it’s kind of technical death metal too. I’m always super stoked when they release a new album because I know it’s going to have really cool riffs, but there’s a really specific groove and feel to the songs. You never know what they’re going to put out, it’s never the same thing, and it’s really cool. I love that band.
I was actually able to interview one of the guitarists of Revocation last year, and one of the things that surprised me was that at least the guitarist I interviewed, was a huge fan of really dissonant black metal, like Deathspell Omega and stuff.
Oh yeah. Dan?
Yeah, Dan [Gargiulo], exactly. I thought that was awesome, I love that band as well.
Yeah, they’re awesome.
So any other tidbits you can give us about the new album?
It’s going to be called Terrorvision. It’s going to be very 80s, we got Marc Schoenbach doing the artwork, who’s known as Sadist Art Designs. He did the new posters for Halloween and stuff like that. So it’s a guy that’s super into the 80s, does great artwork that way. We have been talking to some retro-synthwave artists to contribute to the record. So we’re gonna go full retard 80s and mix it with the death metal here and there and see how that turns out. Mainly some intros and shit to really create that horror 80s vibe. And we’re recording in March, so it should be out September 21st.
Awesome, that makes me super excited. Well, that’s everything I had. Anything you want to add or say for our readers?
Well, as you know, we’re doing the Devastation on the Nation tour, we haven’t been in the U.S. in three years. So if you want to see us, come check us out, let’s party!
Awesome, well hey thanks a lot, really appreciate the interview.
No problem! Hope you’re having fun.
Postscript: I’d like to personally thank Sven for taking time out of his Caribbean trip to chat with me! I wish him and his bandmates best of luck on their upcoming tour and future endeavors.