Interview: Fluisteraars (2020) / From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Fluisteraars

Even though there’s often something irritatingly inaccurate about the notion that the last album by a certain band is always their best one, Bloem certainly does justice to that stereotype. It appears that everything that defines Fluisteraars in terms of sound and identity has never been quite as developed as on this particular album. Would you agree that this is your best one yet?

Bob Mollema: That’s a tricky question. For us, each album is kind of a photo from a period in our personal life. For example, the album Dromers brings us back to a kind of open-minded existence in which we wanted to fly high, while the Luwte album took place more in a period in which we were all busy with work and life in the city. Our latest album, Bloem, is yet another proverbial photo for us to link to a lifetime. Perhaps this period equates to creative explosions and being open to influences. Albums are different for us than they are for listeners, so you may be able to answer this question best yourself, and you have actually already done that.

Still, if you were to deconstruct your sound and identity and break them down to the bare basics, what would be those most essential signature features without which Fluisteraars wouldn’t be the band that it is?

Bob Mollema: What would remain is a drive and an urge to translate our sense of society and our sense of nature into a scream that should symbolize the clash between the two. This is already possible with a very basic sound and a very basic identity. Personally, I think we are already quite undressed in that area and that we don’t have to deconstruct it further, but because you ask, I’d say drive and urge.

The front cover of Bloem features a few corn poppy flowers and what appears to be not quite clear, but still rather pleasant spring sky. When I was just a wee little boy, my grandma used to warn me about both, telling me to keep away from those corn poppy flowers, as smelling them might cause a headache, and to keep in mind that spring sky can often be deceptive and turn into a rainy one at any moment. That said, there is a significant, if not enormous disproportion between the sound of this album and the tranquility the visual on the front cover projects, that hardly anyone would associate with a black metal release. What, in your opinion, makes that image and the music complement each other?

Bob Mollema: It is a nice fact that many people have memories of flowers. Besides that, it is a pleasant cover to look at, but it is also menacing. The flowers are about to die. In addition, they are recorded from below so that they are also somewhere. They perish proudly because they have been completed. The interesting thing about flowers is that they also pop up again. Actually just like people. Only people often do not go down proudly, but anxious, scared and insecure. The music translates this train of thought. The cycle of life.

Speaking of contrasts, even though you’re a black metal band that essentially screams and makes noisy music, regardless of how profound that noisy music may sound compared to some other less refined noisy music, you named the band Fluisteraars, which means whisperers in Dutch. When you were making that decision, what made you think that the word Fluisteraars, with its rather gentle connotations, would be a fitting name for this band, presuming of course that you knew precisely what kind of band you wanted Fluisteraars to become in the first place?

Bob Mollema: Since we were young, we have been fascinated by the legends of the area we came from. On cold winter evenings, our grandparents told us these stories at the edges of the dark woods. Through this upbringing and hunting memories, the forest of our region has come to life and the old stories live on in our heads. As we got older, we went to look for the edges of the dark forests ourselves until at some point we dared to cross the border and started taking night walks. Looking for the places from the old stories so that we could feel the mystery. The presence of the invisible is clearly tangible with these memories, knowledge and receptivity. When we became fascinated with black metal, we thought that this local theme could find its place in it. There is a book by Jacob Gazenbeek called Fluisteringen Van Het Verleden, or Whisperers Of The Past in English. This book gave us the idea that we were Whisperers who resuscitated the stories and sent them into the modern world. With the hope of slowing down the speed of modernity and keeping it under control.

Bloem sounds warm and organic to the point that it almost feels like an aural equivalent to eating organic food, as if one’s health could benefit from listening to it somehow. The natural feel of the band playing in the rehearsal room has been preserved perfectly, the drum sound in particular. Was it difficult to record this album and make it sound the way it sounds, without having anything even remotely sterile or synthetic about it?

Mink Koops: From the start of making this album we knew we wanted it to sound like this. We wanted all to sound open and warm. The hard part was to record everything as close to how it sounded in the room as possible. For the drums we used an early ’70s Slingerland kit with mainly room mics in a big room. For the guitars we used a Fender Vibrosonic with a tape delay for the open high tone and the low-end next to an Orange Rockerverb for the mids. For the bass we used a Fender Bassman for the warm low-end next to a Sunn Model T for the rough mids with quite some gain. We made the whole mix on the desk working only with the outboard gear the studio had.

Both during the more violent, aggressive sections and parts when you slow down a bit and allow yourselves to be sentimental and mellow, you execute with a similar, almost equal competence. Apart from the fact that you have presumably spent countless hours listening to countless different bands and styles of music, did you ever actively partake in other genres, as musicians? It is hard to resist the notion that 95% of indie bands, for example, would sell their mothers for the first 30 seconds of, let’s say, Eeuwige Ram or Maanruïne.

Mink Koops: We have already had a lot of mothers, fathers and entire families on offer. We kindly showed them the door. Both of us were involved in another project called Dr. Duval. That was music in a different style than metal.

Speaking of different styles, what are some of the most important bands beyond the boundaries of metal that you love dearly and feel had a significant impact on you both as people and as musicians?

Mink Koops: A small selection of musicians who are very appealing are To Trips, Dead Can Dance, The Kinks, Death In June, Amon Düül II, Deuter, The Associates, Lee Hazlewood, Bushmans Revenge, Kaleidoscope, Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh. This music affects us as people, and therefore our music. The mentioned musicians dare to go to the bone, lay new paths and chase the lions away from their path.

Not unlike many other moments on Bloem, that psychedelic sequence halfway into Nasleep, with the trumpets, sampled screams and electronic breaks, for some reason brings to mind the beginning and the overall atmosphere of Atom Heart Mother album by Pink Floyd. On the second thought, the album covers of both albums bear a certain resemblance as well, minus the cow. Now, presuming that Atom Heart Mother probably wasn’t one of your conscious influences while writing this album, do you think that this comparison makes sense regardless? Can you see, hear and feel those supposed similarities?

Mink Koops: We’ve never been really big Pink Floyd fans. The album you mentioned is described as a classic, but I think more interesting albums have been made in the side streams of that genre. I may say that easily because I never listened to that album. We would personally feel more about the solo work of Syd Barrett. For example, The Madcap Laughs. And if you would like to compare it with an overall atmosphere, then you are missing the point. I think you should listen to our album Bloem as an autonomous whole and if you notice that the album appeals to your own frame of reference, then you should be happy with that opening because apparently it also creates the sense to rediscover things. I think when you hear our album everyone has different associations and hears references. In any case, it is nice to hear that it tickles and opens your creative archive.

Do you find it hard to recognize the boundaries when you are trying to think outside the box while, at least declaratively, belonging to the genre that has a very low tolerance for those who dare to think outside the box?

Bob Mollema: I think people who don’t dare to think outside the box don’t understand the genre at all. The genre is the soundtrack to worldwide rebellion against the set order. If there is no change within that genre, how can we ever change the world? If people don’t agree with our approach or don’t think it’s true enough, that’s fine. In the perfect world, there should also be cellars where people can sit in a uniform to peel bats and gargle blood.

Straight from the opening riff of De Doornen it was immediately evident that Fluisteraars is not just another black metal band without taste and smell, that is merely going through the motions. When you take a look back at your debut album Dromers, do you feel that all those little subtle nuances that make Fluisteraars stand apart today were already present in your sound back then, but in their earliest stage of development?

Bob Mollema: We have always had an open look at different music styles, literature and art. It makes sense to us that it resonates in our music. I find it difficult to answer this because this is more of a question that can be answered by someone who looks at the story from the outside. It now appears that what feels normal to us feels abnormal to you. I think that tension makes it interesting for our listeners. What comes naturally to us cannot be taken for granted.

Which album aged better in your opinion, Dromers or Luwte?

Bob Mollema: This is the same as comparing apples with oranges. You can make delicious jam from both, but on Friday I prefer the apple jam.

When you write music, do you tend to throw away and discard many of the riffs before finding those few right ones that you feel are worthy enough to end up on an album? How difficult, time consuming and emotionally draining that process is?

Mink Koops: We write at least twice the amount of material that we release. Lots of ideas are great on themselves but don’t seem to fit the overall picture. Actually the songs seem to write themselves. You have to find a start and from there it evolves naturally. If not and it takes days to make it work, most of the time that’s the point to just move on with a different idea. When the basic version of the song is written, we don’t listen to it for a few weeks to clear our minds and when we come back to it you immediately know if it is good. And if not, we don’t use it.

Once you record it and release it, how often do you revisit your music and do you find it difficult to step aside and appreciate it impartially, without unnecessary criticism?

Mink Koops: Whenever we complete a project we always leave it alone for a while. Often we meet again after a few months and we listen to it. Sometimes it is very difficult to listen to it and to be an audience yourself. You always hear and see things you would like to do differently. The trick is to appreciate the choices you made back then. The spirit of the album was the most active during the making process. So you just have to believe that the choices made at the time best fit the album. The itchy feeling of I would like if we have done this differently actually means I feel like making a new album.

When you take into consideration all the hard work you have been putting into this band over the last ten years, are you satisfied with the amount of appreciation and recognition the band has been getting? Do you think that your visibility matches your ability, so to say?

Bob Mollema: We are very happy that we receive so much positive attention and that people understand our music and message.

When bands change their sound and style of playing dramatically halfway through their career, and their fanbase doesn’t get it and doesn’t appreciate the change, is that, in your experience, more often the sign of a certain band’s decline or their audience’s need to evolve?

Bob Mollema: You have to see the product separately from the maker, as an autonomous product. The listeners should consider it as something that is there and in which they can find themselves. Of course there are also those who say that the first album is always the best and that bands that change are subject to label’s and the audience’s demand. I don’t think that’s true. People change and with them, their art changes too.

 

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