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), Søren (drums), and Jesper (bass) started in 2004. Peter and I are brothers and I played with him and Søren 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 thing.
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 sword.
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 resources, unfortunately.
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.”