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AFTER ALL:The Next Level for Belgian Thrashers

Interview with guitarist Dries Van Damme of After All in October 2012 by Vera

After All has been our Belgian thrash metal pride for years. They are making albums on a regular base since 1995 and you can always find them somewhere on stage. Sometimes it is a cosy club show, other times they support one of the headliners of the world’s thrash metal icons. In 2012 their eighth studio album ‘Dawn Of The Enforcer’ was released and we found out that they were signed at CNR Records/Roadrunner. Great news! We talked with composer/guitarist Dries Van Damme to find out about their current hopes and plans.

The album ‘Dawn Of The Enforcer’ has been out for some months now. What were the reactions so far and how could you see that After All has taken another step forwards?
That is pretty hard to say. I think, in general, the response on this one has been better than on any other album from the past. Well, it is a long story. Our first album ‘Wonder’ came out in 1995, seems like eternity. This is our eighth album, so we have had an average output of releases every two years, more or less, and step by step we have followed our own road. Of course it is fine to notice that, after all these years, it is still getting better. Between 2009, with our former album ‘Cult Of Sin’ and now, it is not just a small step, it is a huge leap forward at any level. The response is really much better than ever before. We have been among the top ten of the editors of Rock Hard in Germany. We had an interview and a gig review of one of our shows with Sacred Reich. As well as abroad as in Belgium or the Netherlands, we got the best reviews ever. Finally! We had something like: all or nothing. It was a new start with a new singer, bassist and a new label. When everybody had preferred the albums of the past above this one, I think it would have been our end station. When this did not work out, I do not think we’d survived it as band. Fortunately the opposite happened: it was a shot in a bull’s eye.

It is not that easy to get famous in Belgium…
That is true, although we never had any reasons to complain. We got our share of attention with every record. We have been around for a long time and people respect us. We have our place in the Belgian scène. It is not easy to compete with young bands, we are nearly the oldest band I guess, but we feel genuine respect and that is fine!

That is probably partly due to the list of well-known bands you have toured with in the past: Agent Steel, Forbidden, Exodus, Overkill, and recently opening for Saxon and Judas Priest at Sportpaleis in Antwerp…
Indeed, because everybody knows how hard it is to get there. For us it has been a long road. When you should have told me in 1995: you will once play at the Sportpaleis with Judas Priest, I should immediately sign for that. It only took a bit longer than we hoped (laughs). At that very moment I felt a kind of recognition for what we have been doing all these years. Not every band can do this, tasting a kind of bliss at that next level, even if it was only one show. I was really aware of it, I am also aware of the position of the band, very humble, but everybody enjoyed it. We met the Priest, the crew was superb, they have helped us with everything… It was amazing to be there on stage!

How did you finally get signed by Roadrunner?
Roadrunner has been following us for a long time, especially the Belgian office showed interest, but we had a contract with Dockyard 1 at that time. ‘Cult Of Sin’ was our third record for Dockyard, and actually we were very satisfied with them. The former one, ‘This Violent Decline’, was really treated as priority release by them. We got a lot of press and attention. We toured a lot for it. With ‘Cult Of Sin’ we expected to put one step further again. There were no problems at all with the label at that moment. It was a kind of weird story. Suddenly we did not hear anything anymore from them. Books were closed, so it seemed. Nobody knew what was going on; they seemed to be vanished from earth. All this happened when the album was just released. When we had known it before, we could have looked out for another label with our finished product, but now it was released and impossible to find in the shops. It was a kind of lost product. Few months later Dockyard was closed and Locomotive in the US as well. We were back to zero. There hasn’t been much promotion and only here and there you could find the CD in a shop, with a lot of luck. That was bad luck, a ricochet. The contact with Roadrunner was already there. We started to write new songs, then we had the line-up changes, another vocalist and another bass player. We took the time putting everything back on the rails internally. We made a promo, we made a second promo EP and meanwhile we kept on touring, even without contract. With Sammy as new vocalist we did the tour with Fear Factory and later in 2011 we did the European tour with Overkill, Destruction and Heathen. In the meantime we kept in contact with Roadrunner. They came to our show in Antwerp and actually it was more or less decided to work together that evening. We have written a couple of new songs more. This album was not made in one time. It was always growing with a couple of songs, recorded several times in between the gigs over a period of one year and a half. Finally we had an album, ready to release and the story began anew more or less, since Roadrunner had problems then…

Indeed, that was frightening…
It was in the air for quite a while, since Warner Music had bought Roadrunner and decided to close some of their offices. We were lucky to have signed via the Belgian office. Finally the impact was not so big on us and our record. Roadrunner was for the Benelux anyway and for the rest of Europe we are signed at Van Records, a German label. They have also released a special edition digipak and the vinyl version. They have Vanderbuyst and The Devil’s Blood for instance. That is how we managed to cover all areas. It is not so easy these days, sometimes you have to focus more on those things than on music, but finally everything was arranged. The promotion in Germany was very intensive and has led to good results. Germany is an important market. Many people who had seen us in 2011 with Overkill and Destruction, remembered us when we returned this year with Sacred Reich. They could buy our CD and merchandising now, that is a step forward. We noticed that we slowly build up a crowd of fans and that’s heart warming.

You have worked with Dan Swanö for the second time and now the artwork was done by Ed Repka. That is also a famous name for many thrash metal adepts…
Indeed, we got lots of positive reactions on our cover artwork this time. It was a logical choice. We are all raised with the albums of the eighties and all these albums have artwork from Ed Repka. Everybody knows the works he has done for Megadeth, but there are many underground thrash metal bands with his signature art too, things we all are fond of like Toxic, Evil Dead, Death, all these drawings are so amazing and so much linked with this music that, if you see a drawing of Ed, you know which kind of style the record will be. In that sense it was a good idea to contact Ed: firstly it is cool because we are fans of the man and secondly, people who did not know our music can see they are dealing with thrash metal by the cover. That is a point of reference. And it seems to work in reality indeed. We got a lot of remarks and positive criticism about that and questions to create T-shirts with that cover. Thus those were ready for the tour with Sacred Reich. The demand was huge.

How did you approach Ed Repka, a man with a reputation?
These days it is not so difficult to reach somebody, with Facebook and internet… Well, I just sent him a mail with our question. My hope wasn’t high. I thought he might get ten mails like that a week. But he answered promptly. Then I thought he would have lots of unused drawings from the past and we could choose one, but no… he has designed a new one especially for the album. He asked a lot of things: our style, the ideas we had, the subjects of the record and so on, only then he made an exclusive sketch and it did not need that much changes before using it. You see the difference when artwork is made for specific that record.

How is your experience of working with Dan Swanö?
We have worked with different other producers in the past and most of the time it worked out nice. No bad words about anybody. However, you feel it when they are just doing their job, or when they are a music fan. Dan is a real music fan. When I tell him that I want a kind of effect used by Sacred Reich or Queensryche or whatever… he immediately understands. In addition we have exactly the same background. He is as old as I am, we grew up with the same albums and we perfectly understand each other. The click between a producer and me was never on that level before. It is a luxury that he understands what I mean right away and he is able to realize that. He is a musician himself; that makes a difference. And he is a perfectionist, just like me (laughs).

You have shot a video clip for ‘Parasite Within’. What about this shooting and what are the plans for the near future?
The guy from the video is rather unknown, but very talented. I am pretty sure you will hear from him in future. His name is Jeroen Mylle and he also took care of our new promo photos. Usually I direct everything for the band, controlling everything production-wise, but here I gave him total freedom and the result is perfect. We are going to shoot another video clip with Jeroen for the song ‘To Breach And Grieve’. From January 2013 on, we start writing material for our next album and from the Spring on you can see us again on stage! We hope for a new European tour!

Geplaatst door Vera op donderdag 15 november 2012 - 11:23:37
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