Hell’s Ambassadors: Belphegor
Austrian death metal act Belphegor’s frontman Helmuth Lehner on how beating a serious illness inspired their recent album ‘Conjuring The Dead’ and their India debut at Bangalore Open Air
Death metallers Belphegor’s frontman and founding member Helmuth Lehner doesn’t prefer the term fans, choosing to call them soldiers and supporters instead. Nor does he refer to his band’s shows as gigs. Says Lehner from Niederosterreich, “It is more like an insane ritual. You will see it and hear it in June, and understand what it is all about.” Lehner and Belphegor, who started out playing blackened death metal in 1993, are talking about the latest in a long list of countries they can cross off a world map ”“ their debut India show at the fourth edition of metal festival Bangalore Open Air on June 6th.
Lehner doesn’t add that they’re bringing their stage props for the “insane ritual,” which usually includes mangled goat heads and a gas mask, but talks with the enthusiasm of a young metalhead, even though he’ll hit half a century soon. He says that Belphegor can’t wait to “death-blast our tracks to the Indian audience with utmost brutality.” For their Bangalore Open Air set, the band “will shred all the important tracks such as ”˜Conjuring The Dead,’ ”˜Lucifer Incestus,’ ”˜Black Winged Torment,’ ”˜Gasmask Terror,’ and more.”
About four years ago, age was catching up with Lehner, who had a serious bout of typhoid and lung infection, which required a life-saving operation in 2011 that left him unable to perform or write music for an entire year. But he becomes his characteristic self again and quotes their 2011 song “Rise To Fall and Fall To Rise,” adding with a laugh, “But I don’t pray to any god for giving me a second chance. What the fuck, ever. The high standards for medicine in Austria and well-trained doctors saved my life.” After fully recovering, Lehner did realize that he can no longer continue living what he jokingly referred to in his previous interviews as “fast exciting suicidal lifestyle.” Says Lehner, “I had to slow down. Yes, the suicidal lifestyle is gone. I celebrated it [for] 20 years… [it’s] probably enough. I wonder how I’m still here.”
His illness and recovery influenced their next album, Conjuring The Dead, which released in 2014 on Nuclear Blast Records. The band celebrates diabolical death metal, with a nod toward the melody and pace of New Wave of British Heavy Metal, pioneered by the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Lehner adds, “My health issues and recovery did affect everything regarding the new album, the band, my life. That’s why the songs on Conjuring The Dead sound way more brutal, edgy and raw. We concentrated on sick death brutality with obscure melodies.” Recorded in Florida with heavy metal producer Erik Rutan, who has worked with death metal’s greats, including Nile and Cannibal Corpse.
And like Cannibal Corpse and their death metal ilk, Lehner admits that they have faced a bit of backlash for their controversial graphic, gory artwork for their first three albums Blutsabbath , The Last Supper  and Necrodaemon Terrorsathan . He cryptically says, “An honor ”“ this horror.” But he adds more seriously, “You have to deal with that shit as a band and as a person. I don’t waste much time to thinking about things like that, I never did.” But they’re still taking their music across the world, touring Japan and China in May and previous travels including South Africa, Brazil and the U.S. Lehner says enthusiastically that the goal for them is to not do it for themselves, but for their supporters. Says Lehner, “It’s all about the demons who visit our shows and celebrate extreme metal music with us. There are many places around the world where the metal spirit is strong and will exist forever.”
Belphegor will perform at BOA on June 6th at Royal Orchid Resort. Tickets at Rs 2,000. Buy tickets here