In this writer's opinion, Denmark never really got its fair share of
acclaim as a breeding ground for timeless death metal. It's a shame that the
littlest sibling in the Scandinavian family still conjures Mercyful Fate and
nothing else besides in the addled brains of metalheads. Deus Otiosus are among
the Danish underground's more malevolent acts, a thoroughly nihilistic bunch
dedicated to a savage and primitive art form. In this exclusive chat with
Extreminal's prodigal son/part-time scribe, guitarist Henrik Engkjaer discusses
the band's first album, his hometown, and his musical aspirations.
I have a habit of taking down impressions when I’m listening to music. I
wrote down ‘excellent brutal shit’ in my notebook while absorbing some of your
tunes earlier. How else would you summarize everything Deus Otiosus stands for
as an uncompromising death metal unit? If you scribbled down ‘excellent’ as well I guess that says it all. But let
me try and be a bit more precise. The most important thing is not to be ‘just
another death metal band.’ It’s crucial for us to bring back some songwriting
back to the genre. So these are songs that differ from each other and are
memorable. That’s what it takes for music to make some difference for me.
Besides, too many bands are focusing on other tings like speed, technique,
production, whatever. Regarding genre I would say that we are an old school
death metal band. But again the difference is that we don’t try to sound like
any classic band. Instead we do things that retro bands would never do. I like
to think of it this way-- If the music works the way it should, it’s meant to
let you forget the last 15 years of metal, and try to write a new metal history
instead. The music is trying to take things further from how they were in ’93.
It gazes both back and forward.
How long have the different members of the band been lurking in the
underground? What brought the five of you together? I started releasing demos, etc. almost ten years ago and Hideous Invasion,
which features Peter (guitar), Sųren (drums), and Jesper (bass) started in 2004.
Peter and I are brothers and I played with him and Sųren in our former band,
Victimizer. So it all came quite naturally to play with them. I also knew Anders
(vocals) beforehand and I started Deus Otiosus with him before any of the others
came in. He [Anders] on the other hand has not really made much notice of
himself in metal underground before starting with this band in 2005.
How would you describe the group dynamics between the five of you? Even though not everybody knew each other during the first rehearsal, from
day one the atmosphere has always been very relaxed and fun. I have never played
in a band where the different personalities fitted so easily together. You can
come to a rehearsal in an awful mood, but you’ll most likely leave in a good
mood. And that’s certainly a great thing about playing in this band. While drunk
everyone has their own craziness, but we still have a good time.
Sorry I didn’t catch your hometown. What part of Denmark do you come from?
How’s the metal scene over there? We’re from Copenhagen, the capital and very east of Denmark. It almost makes
no sense to talk about the scene in Copenhagen only as the Danish metal scene as
a whole is very small. However I would say that there are some good bands here
like Hideous Invasion and Strychnos. Also worth checking out is stuff like
Undergang, Symposion, Ligfaerd, Crematoria, Blackhorned, etc. And of course
there are a shitload of bands that sound just like bands they’ll have in any
other country. You know, Burzum clones or US death metal clones or Pantera
clones and so forth. There are a few zines and underground distros and a few
small metal festivals like Kill-Town Death Fest and Metal Magic Festival. There
is really no label to back a band beyond the realms of obscure underground and
due to the economic crisis among others the gig situation has gotten worse.
There are new things happening here, but for Copenhagen or Denmark to be a
strong scene there is still a way to go.
The first Deus Otiosus album is scheduled for release this year. But why is
“Murderer” not out yet? Things didn’t go quite as we planned with the labels. There were a lot of
labels who agreed to release the album and then disappeared. Others were luckily
honest enough to say that they simply didn’t have the money to take on new
releases and instead were cutting artists from their roster due to financial
troubles. In the end we had it set for release in South America by American Line
[it came out in August last year] and in the rest of the world by another label.
That other label also disappeared however and instead we got German FDA Rekotz
to take over the worldwide release. This maneuver meant that the worldwide
version is a bit late compared to the other one. You see, the South American
version of “Murderer” is actually out now so if you can’t wait you can get them
straight through the band now, and later on they should be available in
distributions all over.
Let’s go into the details of your first album. How much of the material on it
is featured in your earlier releases? Where did the band go to record it? The only song that has been released before is "No Life." That one was also
on our demo. But I would say the new version is quite different. It has new drum
and guitar arrangements, [we've] added extra guitar solo and vocal parts as well
as a little bit of keyboard. We recorded the album in Earplug Studio; the studio
where Mercyful Fate re-recorded the songs of Melissa for the “Evil” single last
year. We’ve also had previous experience with the studio from Hideous Invasion
and Victimizer. It’s really a good place to work, the producer is very cool and
it’s half an hour from where I live. I’m very satisfied with how everything
turned out in Earplug.
Who are the band’s main songwriters? What are the seeds of each Deus Otiosus
songs? Does it start with a riff or a funny idea swimming inside your head? I am the band's main – and so far sole – songwriter. Our former bass player
Jens Nepper wrote the lyrics for the song, “Ye Pigs of Little Faith.” Everyone
is involved in the arrangements of the songs though. These are generally done
during rehearsals. The songs themselves come more along the lines of what you
describe. A song should of course express something in a coherent and relevant
way, and therefore it typically starts with a main idea or a core, usually a
couple of ideas combine and form the foundation of a song. I might have a couple
of not very concrete ideas or pieces in my head and all of a sudden things just
click in a way that I can see the potential for a relevant interesting song in
these ideas combined.
For example the real start of a song comes when I have a main riff, maybe a
couple of other riffs, a chorus, a general idea of the pace, feel and atmosphere
of the song, important components or sections and a lyrical theme. Right now I’m
quite productive and things are going fine with only me writing material.
However all the others are welcome to contribute in any manner they want and a
good thing about Deus Otiosus is that the musical field is so broad and can
probably be even broader so as long as everyone has a sense of the bands feel
there is plenty of room for different writing styles.
How would you describe the band’s work ethic in the studio? There aren’t exactly big bucks in this band and studio time isn’t free.
Since we want a good result we have quite a good work ethic in the studio. We
come prepared and know our stuff. So we work as many hours as possible and
hardly remember that the producer needs a break now and then. Most of the time
in the studio there’s only one guy recording, so there’s a lot of waiting around
anyway. But since we know how to play the songs and since we’re going for a raw
natural sound we don’t spend too much with countless re-takes, copy-pastes, beat
finding and so on. So we can record an album rather quickly.
Have all the songs on “Murderer” been played live at some point? Which Deus
Otiosus songs is your core audience most familiar with? Yes, last year, before going into the studio to record the album our set
simply consisted of “Murderer” from start till finish. Most of our set is still
made up of those songs, being our debut album and all. But since “Murderer” is
so new, I would say the most well-known song is “No Life” since it was on the
demo and split CD and perhaps “Wall Of Violence” and “Thousand Arms of the Dead”
from “Murderer” for having been freely available on the internet and various
compilation releases. I’ve already seen a few guys singing along to lines from
songs from “Murderer,” like for example the song “Ash World,” so hopefully some
people will know most of the songs next time we go on stage.
Oh yes, the gigs. Can you name some of the places Deus Otiosus has played in?
What kind of audiences congregate for death metal shows and how rough does it
get when too much beer and too much metal collide? Deus Otiosus has played different cities around Denmark but unfortunately
none abroad yet. We’ve had a couple of offers for playing in Germany, but
nothing has been possible yet. Well, metal people gather for our gigs and
sometime a few local nutcases too, I guess. Even though there’s beer and metal,
I wouldn’t say that it gets very rough. If someone comes home with physical
bruises it would be because they brought it on themselves.
Is there a lot of moshing at your shows or do people just make ugly faces, do
the horns, and grunt? We haven’t played a show yet where the whole crowd just stood there grunting
and making ugly faces, but it would be cool I think - and maybe even a prelude
to some rough behavior too? At most gigs there have been people headbanging and
sometimes moshing or even stage diving. It’s preferable if the crowd reacts in
some way rather than just stand and watch. The coolest reaction for me
personally is a bit of singing along or other reminiscent behavior that shows us
that people know and like the music. Some people will run amok over anything
that’s fast and loud and that is all good and fine, but [connecting with] people
who are into Deus Otiosus and not just any brutal band is the most important
What are some of the ideas and themes that are the foundation of Deus Otiosus
songs? I think we touched on this earlier, but perhaps you mean from a more
conceptual point of view? First of all, it’s important that the music and lyric
tells the same story, so to speak. And the themes that fit with the music that
we do are death, evil, darkness, torture, murder, disease, misery and all those
nice things. The overall concept of Deus Otiosus is of a humankind abandoned by
God and left as orphans to fate and our own cruelty. This concept allows for
quite broad lyrical and musical themes. We have a song about the Texas Chainsaw
Massacre, we have one about the Black Death that plagued Medieval Europe, Jack
The Ripper, modern warfare, historic concepts of death, the living dead, secret
cults; anything that happens in a world abandoned by God.
Can you describe life in your corner of the world? How’s the weather? Are
people generally happy over there? Where are the nice places to eat? How much
does it cost to ride the ferry to Norway? According to some surveys Danish people are among the happiest in the world,
but looking at the streets you wouldn’t think so. People seem happier in Norway,
for instance. I have no idea how much the ferry costs, as cheap airplane tickets
to Oslo are often close to 50 Euro each way. The world is so small now that the
cuisine is basically like anywhere else.
Do you still buy CDs or are you a download devotee? Do you ever contemplate
the future of recorded music? How is it possible for unsigned bands to maintain
a strong connection with their audience? I still buy CDs and vinyl and have never downloaded an album. An album is a
piece of art to me so I want the whole package – music, lyrics, artwork as a
whole and not as a stack of files. The music is of course the important thing,
but the physical format for me works as a piece of art as a whole. A download
really doesn’t. I think current bands use online social networks or e-mail to
keep in touch with their fans; and of course in order to get new ones as well.
The problem is not really that you don’t have the possibilities to reach people;
it's that so does everyone else. There are so many bands, so much news, so many
releases. How are you gonna get or keep people’s interest? I think this has
actually become a bit harder than back in the days, where information was spread
by letters and zines.
‘It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll.’ How long do you want
to keep on doing this? Me, I’ll be a metal journalist as much as I can. Maybe
I’m gonna learn to play drums next year too. What are your long term goals for
Deus Otiosus? I would like to keep on doing this as long as I have relevant music left in
me. Many have continued way beyond this point and it’s a bit of a shame. However
the music isn’t exactly my livelihood so reality plays a role as well. Our long
term goals are to create the very best music and releases we can. That is the
main priority; to really make the best and most worthy music we can.
What part of being a musician do you enjoy the most: the gigs, playing music
at home, or laying down tracks for an album? Every part has its ups and downs. Gigs have long waiting and maybe travel-time,
but the show itself is a rush of frenzied adrenaline. One of the greatest
feelings is when you write something that really sounds good, which will usually
be at home. But in busy times finding rehearsal time can be stressful too.
Recording music is a fairly slow process with a lot of waiting but along with
the creation of the songs, the recording yields one of the biggest rewards.To
have these songs made eternal.
What are your views on the music business? Is longevity still possible in
this day and age? Is Deus Otiosus dedicated to doing something original or do
you just want to play music straight from the gut? 'Original’ is a loaded word but I believe we have our own identity and
character. Otherwise I wouldn’t find the band relevant and wouldn’t release
music. As I mentioned before there are lots of old school death metal bands but
I think we’re doing something different. We try to take the old school sound
further and do things you wouldn’t expect from such a band. I also think we have
a broader sound with room for more things than you would usually find.
Songwriting is a careful and slow process so I can’t really claim that it is
from the gut, so to speak. Today everyone can reach everyone through the
internet and that has probably made it more difficult than ever for bands to get
heard. There are so many other choices so why would people find or listen to
your band? Let alone listen to it repeatedly and actually get into it?
20 years ago metal fans were always hunting for new bands, but who would check
out a new band today, if they hadn’t gotten strong recommendations from people
they trust? There is so much shit music and it’s all available on the internet,
so if you just start checking random bands out, you’ll encounter so much boring,
meaningless bullshit that it will probably soon kill your enthusiasm. Not to
mention that you would probably need repeated listens of everything for it to
have a chance to grow on you. The internet is very practical, but a two-edged
Aside from your own shows, do you attend concerts often? How about festivals? I attend concerts when there are great bands on the bill. The only festival
I attended this year was the Kill-Town Death Fest, where we played with Deus
Otiosus. The next concerts will be W.A.S.P and Watain, Destroyer 666, R.A.M
afterward. Both are just over the bridge to Malmö, Sweden.
What kind of life do you lead outside of music? I work full time and have social commitments. Time is one of my most scarce
It’s too bad this has to end. Thanks for the patience. Once “Murderer” is
finally sold thru a distro somewhere, how soon are the five of you gonna start
on album number two? Thank you for your interest in Deus Otiosus. “Murderer” is already available
from some distros as well as from the band. And we actually have some songs
written for the next album already. The best ones will make it on the next album.
I think this one will further develop on the qualities of “Murderer.”