Nightmare – Everlasting EvolutionMonday, 2nd November 2020
Change can be hard for metal followers to accept – especially if the band has a history that dates back to the late 70’s. Although Nightmare may be originally known for their 1980’s output Waiting for the Twilight and Power of the Universe – since resurrecting in 1999, they’ve released nine more studio albums, gone through numerous lineup changes, arriving at their latest effort Aeternam. Those willing to embrace a bit more of an aggressive slant and dynamic atmosphere to the proceedings will enjoy this record – it’s still heavy and powerful with plenty of melody, but also contains a bit more modern aspect that could appeal to a wider, younger generation.
We reached out to guitarist Matt Asselberghs, who was very happy to fill us in on the making of the record, the video shoots, honest discussion about band chemistry/lineup changes within the band – and thoughts on how the Rocky movie franchise that has helped fuel his life, outlook, and workouts.
Dead Rhetoric: Aeternam is the latest Nightmare studio album – and your fourth with the group since joining the band in 2012. Where do you see this record slotting in the Nightmare discography- and where do you assess your abilities as a guitar player and songwriter for the band?
Matt Asselberghs: Aeternam is for me… all the bands say that their new album is the best. I really believe that this album is I guess the most atmospheric, and this album has something special that the other albums didn’t have. It’s been eight years since I’ve been in the band now, and with the exception of Burden of God I was not involved in the songwriting process. I joined the band and just played the solos on the album because actually the songs were already written. With Aftermath I wrote half of the songs, Dead Sun, and with Aeternam half of the songs are mine.
This album is something special and unique. None of the previous albums had this (atmosphere).
Dead Rhetoric: I agree that you went into atmospheric as well as heavier aspects on this record. Did you pay more attention to the details, especially in terms of production and tones, this time?
Asselberghs: The writing process is kind of the same with each album. Franck (Milleliri) the other guitar player and myself are writing ten songs – we are writing the whole song with drums, bass, and guitars, and then the bass player comes up with the lyrics and vocal melodies while another guy does the keyboards. In ten years, it’s always been the same way of writing. What’s different is maybe the sound – the production because it’s the first time in years we have a real guitar sound, very warm guitars. For me especially, my solo sounds are wow – when I heard the first mix, I was really proud of the sound. I think the sound helps with the album to be more mature, more atmospheric and more brutal in a way.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you secure the services of Madie from Faith in Agony as the new Nightmare vocalist, and why did Magali Luyten leave the band? Where do you see the differences in terms of their voices and approaches for Nightmare?
Asselberghs: As you said Magali left the band. I’m not going into this, it’s just a matter that in your life you go through different feelings and you need to be at one place at one moment. I think Magali at one point was not at her place anymore, within herself. So we tried Madie, the new singer, and actually it ended up well. Of course the voices are not the same. Maggie had this rough, bold voice, this heavy metal voice that I really liked by the way. Madie is more of a pop singer in a way. She has less roughness but she can go higher.
Dead Rhetoric: You choose to shoot official video clips for the title track and “Divine Nemesis” from this record – what can you tell us about the video shoots, and how does the band arrive at what specific songs to release as the first ‘singles’, is it a collective effort between the band, management and the record label to arrive at the best choices?
Asselberghs: The shoots, we’ve been doing this near our hometown with a friend of mine. Everything went well, I’ve been working with this guy with my other bands. When you make a decision like this it’s important to choose the right song(s) for the audience and for the people. You have ten songs on an album, and you have to choose three of them. You could try to do an album’s worth of videos, but I don’t think this would work in the budget. Choosing only three songs was very hard, and in this case we gathered ideas together and we asked the label, because they are putting some money into this.
For me, I really believe that there are several songs that we could have done videos for. “Crystal Lake” for example would have been great, “Anneliese” with the three different characters, but it’s also a matter of money. Creating and shooting videos costs a lot of money, and due to the corona stuff and all the business that is going down, Nightmare chooses three of the best songs and of course the label they believed in those songs.
Dead Rhetoric: You held a meet and greet session recently prior to the album’s release – how did this event go, any surprising events occur and did you get some great feedback from the fans and press corps regarding the record?
Asselberghs: I will not be able to answer this as I was not there at the meet and greet- I was working actually. I was working because Nightmare doesn’t earn any money, we are not living from the music. What I heard is that the feedback was good – and in France, it seems like people are opening their ears to Nightmare. Nightmare has been a French band, and existing since the 1980’s. But that’s the problem also – the fact that we are a band from the 80’s, and a lot of people are stuck in the 80’s. Nightmare is an 80’s band – but there have been a number of albums out since. It seems that it went quite well. Since Burden of God the feedback and promotion with AFM Records has been better than ever.
Dead Rhetoric: How conscious is Nightmare of the legacy created being a band that started in the late 70’s – and the importance of keeping the flag of heavy metal alive in France?
Asselberghs: For me, that’s a weird situation to deal with. There is an 80’s part of Nightmare with two records. Then a break, and we came back in 2000 with Cosmovision with the same lineup, kind of. And a lot of albums, and I really believe in France Nightmare is not as well known. Since Cosmovision and the other albums, we’ve been touring a lot in Germany and Europe. In France, classic heavy metal is not the thing that young people want to hear. They are more involved in deathcore, hardcore, and black metal – the more extreme genres. Nightmare has never been a part of that scene. Maybe with this album we can touch some new people. Really I hope so, I’m only 29 and I really believe if I heard Nightmare with this album back 15 years ago, I would act like ‘this is fresh, and it sounds good’.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you are nearing the end of your twenties, how would you assess your outlook as a person and a musician? Where do you think you’ve been able to grow, and do you believe you are continually learning to better yourself personally and professionally?
Asselberghs: Sure, because the path of the music business and music life, from afar it seems like holidays and fun. But when you put yourself in for real, music is my passion and my life, I want to make a living from it but it’s hard, even harder nowadays than ever before. Each album with Nightmare, was not fun to be honest. The writing process with Nightmare is not fun at all. Each album, you grow. It’s really like that. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff over the past eight years, touring the world and meeting a lot of great people, opening for great bands. I really love that.
I think Nightmare made me grow a little bit faster than my age is, actually. It’s the real deal, it’s really harder than it seems actually.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider three of the most important albums that shaped your impressions of heavy metal, and what was the best concert that you’ve ever witnessed purely from a fan perspective?
Asselberghs: Well, only three? That’s difficult…maybe five. I will try, but I have a feeling after the five I’m going to think I forgot one here and one there. So let’s see for me, Ride the Lightning by Metallica is one of my favorite records of all time. You can find everything in (that record). The atmosphere, the way of the writing, an instrumental with “The Call of Ktulu” I really love. Bad Reputation from Thin Lizzy. Doomsday Machine from Arch Enemy. Michael Amott is a friend of mine, he really shaped my way of playing. We have the same musical background and we play the same way, it’s pretty disturbing sometimes. Judas Priest- the live album from the Turbo tour. Because this album was, I had the DVD when I was younger, and I wanted to do the same thing in my life. Let’s say Rainbow- Rising also, it’s a masterpiece of music.
A special concert memory was at Wacken 2010, the festival. It was Immortal, and they were outstanding. A band that I really like, I’m a person that loves when you put atmosphere in your music, you feel it going into your soul. And this concert was perfect, the musicians were awesome, the lights, the set list was amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you gain the opportunity to also be a part of Belgian band FireForce this year – as you will be coming out with a new record soon on Rock of Angels Records? How do you balance out the activities between these two bands and your other work in the music field?
Asselberghs: That’s a tough question because there is lots to say, so I’m going to try not to forget. I joined FireForce last year as a full member. They are friends of mine since 2012, we did a small tour in Belgium with Nightmare. Two years ago they asked me to replace the other guitar player, he was not able to do a show. I did one show, then a second and a third – in the end, the singer left the band also. They were looking for another guitar player and a singer. I love to sing, that’s another part of my musical stuff I like to work on. They asked me to give it a try, and it worked. We just meld together very well.
All the songs were written, but I wrote all the melodies on the guitars, I wrote all the solos, and I did all the melodies on the vocals. Erwin wrote all the lyrics. I’ve been doing this at the same time as the Nightmare album. I went to Germany for one week, Prophecy Studios with Lia from Mystic Prophecy, who taught me how to sing a little bit better during the sessions. Everything went so well, and I’m a full member of FireForce. There is a small project here in France called United Guitars, especially for guitar players. It’s a bunch of guitarists who are making music together. I wrote a song for the album – on this album there is Doug Aldrich from Whitesnake. It’s coming out also before Christmas. And then I have an acoustic duet to play in bars, to make some money when it is possible.
Nightmare is always the priority. Every tour is rescheduled, or cancelled. For now, nobody knows what’s going to happen, and that’s the main problem here. I’d like to believe that we didn’t write these albums for nothing. I love what we did with Nightmare – but if you don’t promote the album by touring, by selling some merchandise, we are going to die. All the bands, so for now there are no priorities because there are no gigs. The biggest priority of course is Nightmare for now.
Dead Rhetoric: On your personal Facebook page you chronicle your journey to staying in shape with a lot of your workouts – and you provide insight into your love of the Rocky movie franchise to keep you motivated and on track. Can you talk more about your workout philosophy, and how much the Rocky series means to you, allowing you to push beyond where you may think there may be limitations?
Asselberghs: That’s a great question. I’ve been growing with the Rocky franchise. When you are young you just view it as a fight through the eyes of a young child. The more I was growing in life, the more life was hard with me – and the more I started watching the movies. Those movies are not only about boxing and fighting, those movies are about the meaning of life, the meaning of fighting for something that’s very important for yourself, and the fight to be happy and well. People are different and people can find happiness in anything, but for me at one point music was not my best friend anymore. As I told you before, writing albums with Nightmare was a heavy job, and music was more like a nightmare for me than anything else.
The more I grew up, the more I get closer to the character of Rocky Balboa. I’d like to think that sometimes when I watch the first movie, in my life I’m in Rocky I – but if I win a contract I would be in Rocky II, and compare myself as this character that earns his happiness by being himself, always fighting for the best stuff. Those movies are just about life – how life can beat you down and you can get back on your feet and just keep going. It really helps me a lot, because I don’t have an easy life.
The workouts – I used to be a fat guy, I think it’s a blend. I needed to feel better with my physique to feel better in my life. The workout helps me go through a lot of the pain, because I was using the pain to let it go. Instead of going mad at your house, I was at the gym using some heavy weights and letting the fear go away.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about being in Nightmare – and how would you describe the band chemistry these days?
Asselberghs: The atmosphere in Nightmare has always been weird. I’m a very honest guy, and I don’t like to lie. Its easy for people to lie in interviews and say that everything is going well, and that everybody is in love with everybody. That’s not really true. With all of this lineup changing, Nightmare went into some really dark places. When you have a lot of troubles with lineup changes, friendships that can go along for 30 years can break, and you find another singer it can be tough. We had another drummer years ago, he was my best friend and he betrayed me a lot. It was a heavy period, not very nice. With Nightmare (what) is really positive is, when we are on tour – everything is good. These days it’s weird, as I told you with the corona stuff, nobody knows what’s going to happen. Even if AFM is doing nice promotion, if you don’t do any gigs, I don’t know where we are going. We are a small band. Iron Maiden, Metallica, Arch Enemy, In Flames – the big bands – can somehow handle the situation. Small bands like us, I don’t know where we are going.
The chemistry between us is good, better than it ever was. To be honest, this situation is not helping. I hope we can tour, and promote our album, and this album will not be something in the wind.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the more common mistakes or missteps that metal musicians make either in the studio or when it comes to live performances that should not be made? How did you personally handle any setbacks or failures that may have happened in your journey so far in the music business?
Asselberghs: I don’t know if it’s a mistake, but I notice something that I don’t really like and don’t do by the way. In the world, I see a lot of young guitar players that are only playing well through YouTube. It means that, they are doing seventy hours a week to build up video on YouTube, and explain why David Gilmour is not as good of a guitarist as you think. That’s the main problem here – there are always studio musicians and live musicians. That’s not the problem, a lot of guys are existing through YouTube and the internet, and they can be more well known than a band. That’s the main mistake here – music is something you have to throw to people – give people something, if I write a sad song, I hope someone will feel it. Or a happy song, everyone will jump. Years ago there weren’t YouTubers, more videos about how you could play this and that, even from Alexi of Children of Bodom for an example.
Nowadays, people aren’t creating as much music together. In the 70’s – Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, all the bands were creating together. There were no fake elements. When you see YouTubers playing fast, it’s a recording and then they play over it. I appreciate bands like Spiritual Beggars that record together in the studio.
When you are really into music, and you love it, and put your heart on the table and feelings into a song, it helps you to go through some moments in your life. Personally, it’s hard to answer, I went through really heavy moments over the past three years. On this latest album there’s a song “Crystal Lake”, it’s not about Friday the 13th the movie, because I wrote this song because I was feeling so depressed in my life. And controlled by the dark entity, surrounded by darkness. It was so heavy. At the time, I was not in an addiction with drugs, but easy to take some at that point. “Crystal Lake” is about that little demon who tries to push you through your fears. That’s something you can’t notice if you didn’t listen to the song.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for your activities over the next twelve to eighteen months? How have you been handling personally the global pandemic, and what do you think it will take for life to get back to a level of normalcy?
Asselberghs: I’m not a negative person, but I am someone who is focused on the future. I’d like to think about it with intelligence, and I don’t like to rush everything. The world is going through something you can’t control anymore. For the music business, I don’t think we will get back on our feet for a couple of years. All the music business is going down, the government is going crazy. We have a huge metal festival in France called Hellfest. Do you think in six months you will be able to be around thousands of people watching concerts together again? Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Where I see myself in twelve months? I don’t know. There is no good perspective on that. The Rhapsody (Of Fire) tour we have is rescheduled, but I don’t know if it will even happen. Wacken will have live shows with the green screen. If that is the future of music, I’m not going through this. It’s a little solution to give some people entertainment.