FeaturesBurning Witches – Beware the Blood Countess

Burning Witches – Beware the Blood Countess

Another year, another album for Burning Witches. To those of us who savor the classic, traditional heavy metal sound, these ladies keep the old school aesthetic in mind while delivering performances that hopefully can turn on a current generation to these harmony-laden traits. Their latest record The Dark Tower continually showcases the quintet striving for those twin-guitar passages, thunderous rhythm section mechanics, plus powerhouse vocals that get fists flying high, headbanging until you collapse. We reached out to singer Laura Guldemond who happily provides insight into the horror/serial killer lyrical theme for this record, including specific stories of the blood countess – beyond tour memory discussion, special fan interactions in Latin America/Europe, future goals, and bucket list hopes that include touring with some of their heroes.

Dead Rhetoric: The Dark Tower is the latest Burning Witches album. Having now established your style over the previous four albums, what is the aim and vision for each new record you release? Where do you see any minor (or major) differences in this effort compared to the previous discography?

Laura Guldemond: For this album, we just wanted something dark. We felt that the last album was relatively light. We were all thinking that we wanted to do something darker, horror-related, so we all came up with this theme of the blood countess. This creepy character as the inspiration for the album, we looked up some cool themes around it. I was looking for the witch again. This blood countess, she took in servants, young girls, and if they would do something wrong, she would basically torture them to death. It was her hobby to kill people. The numbers went from just a few to over six hundred. Nothing is really clear, but one thing is for sure – she is the first recorded serial killer. That’s a cool fact that came about. Some people thought she would drink the blood to stay young. Other people thought she tortured them just for fun. One of the people who helped her do this was believed to be a witch. The album overall has a slightly darker feel to it. Maybe a bit heavier as well than the previous albums.

Dead Rhetoric: With this theme, how much research do you do personally? Are you going into history books to get actual facts, or do you sometimes twist the tales to fit what you are looking for in terms of atmosphere?

Guldemond: I do twist it a bit. That’s the beauty of it too. If you look at all the stories that exist, that is what a storyteller does. You make it nicer, or creepier. Or more unbelievable than it already is. It’s also very unsure. Some of the more trustworthy sources I tried to look at the story from, they even said not everything is certain – there’s a bit of a story surrounded by mystery and legends. It was okay for me to draw inspiration from all the stories around it. I didn’t go that far into looking up all the real facts. One of the stories for example, and I totally believe this is a real story, is that she would bury some of the girls around the castle, and sometimes some of the dogs would dig them up. She also tried to keep it quiet, there were priests who would come around to say the last prayers, the last rites for the girls. This is pretty believable.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your work personally as a vocalist, were there any songs on the record that were more of a challenge than others? Is a ballad like “Tomorrow” a little bit more of a challenge than some of the heavier tracks?

Guldemond: Ah! I think it’s the other way around. I have been super used to singing raw by now. Once upon a time long ago, I wasn’t as able to sing as raw. Because we are doing things darker and heavier, this is the album in which I sing the most dark and heavy. During the recordings, they wanted me to try more the most powerful voice I have. It’s hard to say if it worked. This album, we really tried to do a bit more harmonies together with the guitars. It has a bit of this Priest-vibe now and then, because of the solos. I think that’s cool.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve shot videos for the title track and “Unleash the Beast”. How did these video shoots go, do you work hand in hand with the directors as far as the treatments and what do you want to get across with these songs in a visual medium?

Guldemond: Yeah, we knew that they could do a good job because we saw already what they were able to do. There was a talk with Dreamfilm Factory, if we gave some ideas. We wanted this thing for “The Dark Tower”, the blood countess to be locked into this tower so you can see she’s locked up, because of the chorus. Some fans are already joking about this, they want to scream now when they see a tower. Someone made a home video with him screaming along with the tower in the background. We wanted to show this side too. Together with them, they made great stories and helped us come up with some ideas. I think for me, and for everyone, we had so much fun doing it. We were also playing little parts, acting a bit with some fans. One guy arrived in the morning, and we told him he was going to torture everyone. Great!

Dead Rhetoric: Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák returns to do the front cover, who the band worked with for three out of the previous for albums. How did this concept develop, and do you enjoy how he is able to incorporate all the faces of the members in the background to give it a more haunting touch?

Guldemond: Yeah. We thought it was cool because, as a band we really love this bigger than life comic style that you can see the band members also as part of the artwork. We asked for that, but we give him the video clip, this is happening in the album, these songs, and we asked him to do a lot of artwork so we can do a lot with it. In the booklet, on stage. He made some really cool things – he drew a lot of inspiration from the last album, or the skulls, he made a pentagram full of skulls. A lot of people get killed in the story – he gave it the right look of a haunted castle.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the specific cover choices made with “Shot in the Dark” from Ozzy Osbourne and “I Wanna Be Somebody” by W.A.S.P. for this record? Do you enjoy not only paying tribute to legends of the hard rock/metal scene from the 80’s, but putting your own stamp on the songs to hopefully get Burning Witches followers to dig deeper into these artists?

Guldemond: We wanted something that fits, it’s always a search for the right cover. It’s the Prince of Darkness, let’s put a cool song of his as a cover. It was fun, the song is a bit different, a catchy song. And “I Wanna Be Somebody” from W.A.S.P., when I started listening to metal, it’s been one of my addictions. This W.A.S.P. song, I thought it was a cool song to do also. I don’t know how many young fans listen to us because we are of course more old school. People probably discover us the other way around – they search for one of the many well known old bands and they see we do something with this style. It would be cool if some fans maybe discover, some young fans at a festival maybe discover one of these older bands. I think it’s less likely than the other way around.

Dead Rhetoric: You got the chance to North America last year in an opening and headlining capacity – how do you believe the tour went, what were some of the most memorable shows/moments, and do you feel that this territory is one you want to continue to make a priority over the years as far as touring?

Guldemond: Yeah, it was really cool to be there. A priority, it kind of depends on everything. We made it the last time, it’s hard. You need to see what your best choices are at the moment. We have some plans in the making. We had a lot of fun, saw some new faces, and had fun with the Iron Maidens the last time. Let’s go back, we haven’t been to the West Coast, we did the East Coast, so maybe that will be the best thing for us to do.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you think touring is going now coming out of the pandemic, especially in mainland Europe? A lot of people had to get other jobs when venues shut down, are things starting to progress back to a level of normalcy?

Guldemond: Yeah, indeed what you are saying, progressing to normalcy is the correct term. Because it’s still in a process. It’s close to normal again, so I’m happy about that.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you think is most difficult for the average Burning Witches fan/follower to understand regarding some of the music or business decisions that you have to make not just in the short-term, but for the longevity of the group?

Guldemond: Oh, that’s a difficult question. Let me think. One of the things that we are doing this year is doing bigger gigs so we can get more money and we can get quality-wise better shows. We are planning now to get our own sound guy, and this wouldn’t be possible in the past for every gig, because the money wasn’t there budget-wise. Now we are just not taking those gigs, we will have our own sound guy, our own crew- and this will help us have better quality for the audience. I think it’s also better for the band to show the quality that we have. It’s one of those choices that maybe fans… the fans, we are asking for more money with fuel prices going up, it’s not the easiest year for us to decide to do this. It potentially could mean we end up doing less gigs than we did last year, that’s the only way forward for us to show the quality that we offer.

Dead Rhetoric: What would you say have been some of the best fan interaction stories you’ve had now being a part of Burning Witches for a few years?

Guldemond: A recent one for me, we were going for the first time to Latin America. For me already, it’s something new and special. We were there for a few days in a cool hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a new experience; fans were actually at the hotel in the morning (laughs). I woke up, I’m going to get a coffee outside, and people were there. I had to comb my hair and put some makeup on. There were two guys that had a Venezuelan flag, and we didn’t even play there, but they were in front of the hotel. It’s something new that stood out to me.

Dead Rhetoric: Does it amaze you the travel lengths that some fans will go to when they want to see the band play live?

Guldemond: Yes. It always amazes me to see how many people travel a long time to go to bigger festivals. At the end of the European tour there was one fan who was there for seventeen gigs, for more than half of the tour. We called him on stage, and that was something.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a preference for the club tours versus the festivals – or do you enjoy both equally for different reasons?

Guldemond: I do enjoy both. With the club tours, most of the time it’s a bit more work. We had one time that we had to perform seven days in a row, and if you do seven days in a row and have one day off, that one day off is like, ‘when is the soundcheck going to start?’. It’s weird, you are confused. With most of the time festival shows, you have a bit more time to enjoy yourself. It depends on the situation and what a tour looks like. With the comparison, I enjoy the festivals more due to that free time. You can look at bands you haven’t seen before. Having time to chill. For meeting the fans, it’s the club tours – you have closer interaction with the fans. At a festival, maybe you have a signing session, but it can be hasty. It depends on which way you look at things.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the bucket list of goals, or places to visit, that hasn’t been accomplished to date for Burning Witches?

Guldemond: We would love to go to the West Coast of America, and Japan would be awesome. I think it would be so awesome to tour with one of the old school bands that are our inspiration. A little bit of a dream come true, but maybe Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. It’s one of those things that would be cool. What else? Tour the whole world, to do headline tours all over the world is one of the end goals.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think as a result of playing a style of music that is more old school, it is harder to appeal to a younger audience – whereas the older fans are more familiar with this style of music you play?

Guldemond: Yes. You almost want to look at statistics, and I don’t know where you would get those statistics. I wouldn’t dare to say, but the old school people from this time, it’s like coming home to them. Their type of music. It will always be easier to appeal to them versus the younger people because they love it. My guess would be there are fewer young people that like this style.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you think humanity in general is handling life coming out of this prolonged pandemic? Were you able to get into any new hobbies, passions, or interests during the downtime outside of what you do with Burning Witches and your career?

Guldemond: I did have more time, I started to do my own nails. They have some glitter now. I’m a bit of an introvert, but for me this down time was even a bit too much. I needed to call people that I hadn’t heard from in a long time and ask them if they wanted to do something. They were afraid they would kill their family. I did some livestreams; we did a live stream with Burning Witches – there was room for different things. We were thinking about using it for a DVD, maybe in the future we will release some material from it. We did an acoustic recording. I did it at home, a one-take at home – they did it in the studio or the rehearsal room. Those were our new hobbies – living online.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for activities, touring, festivals, or other items concerning Burning Witches (or other personal musical endeavors) for the next twelve months?

Guldemond: For the next twelve months, we have some release shows planned. In May, in Switzerland, some small release shows in Germany, Belgium. Then the festival season will start, we have some festivals going on. The best thing is to look at our website or our social media sites. On Facebook we have all the events there. We have a gig in Mexico in December – who knows, maybe we can do a bit more in Latin America. It’s all in the making. We are thinking about going to do more shows in America. We are looking at the best possibilities, as we want to guarantee the quality that we give live. It has to be good.

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