Martyr – Raise Those Horns

Thursday, 24th March 2022

Dutch act Martyr originally hit the scene during the 1980’s, releasing two albums before breaking up towards the end of the decade. Underground interest sparked a reformation, giving the band a second chance at glory. They’ve released more studio records, gained the chance to play festivals and tour Japan a few times, arriving at their fifth studio album for Planet Metalhead. Incorporating a mix of heavy, power, and speed metal influences, this material has enough bite and passion for the classic generation to treasure, while incorporating modern tones and production values that can appeal to a new audience.

We caught up with guitarist Rick Bouwman and producer/drummer Rick Valcon who happily discuss the work behind the latest album, the global licensing strategy, the chase for commercial success in the 80’s and where the band comes from in its current form, plus special hobbies/interests, and future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Planet Metalhead is the fifth and latest studio record for Martyr. Discuss the songwriting and recording sessions for this effort – and where you see the major differences in this set of tracks compared to previous Martyr albums?

Rick Bouwman: Regarding the songwriting, I think it was done a lot like the previous albums like the You Are Next album from 2016 and the Circle of 8 album from 2011. That means most myself and the vocalist Robert van Haren were writing the demo and scratch tracks for the other band members. We bring it to them and make the songs whole. But for Planet Metalhead we did things a little different. The approach was the same, Rob and I would write the songs, but then we transferred the files to Rick Valcon, Vinnie Wassink on bass, and Geoffrey Maas on guitar. We would make drum computer files to give Rick an idea but let him execute them because he is better than any drum computer, he can think for himself. That gave us a lot of new inspiration to complete the songs and make the songs even better than the original ideas.

We started in the same way but finished in a different way.

Rick Valcon: We had a lockdown, and one particular moment we weren’t even allowed to be in the same room with more than two people. We worked all from home, except for the vocals from Rob I put up a vocal set up in the rehearsal room. I live 150 miles from where the band practices. I put a nice tube amp with a mic and everything in the rehearsal room, so Rick could help Rob with the recording of the vocal tracks. For the drums, I have a special location it’s like an old bar, everything made of wood with all crooked corners. I recorded my drums there, sent the drum parts to Rick, he would rearrange things. What’s really special about this record is we finished every song from recording to mixing and mastering before we went to the next song. It wasn’t an assembly line of work. Every song was separate. It was out of necessity. I recorded my drums on another kit with a back up cymbal pack. When the COVID restrictions lifted, I could take home some of my preferred cymbals to be able to record the next song with a different set up.

I’m the producer, but it doesn’t matter how much time we have, I didn’t want to use any cutting or pasting in the process. We would do things multiple times; everything is recorded in an old school kind of way but with modern sounds and technology that we have now. The first video clip, “No Time for Goodbyes”, when that video clip was shot, we had not finished the recording and mixing sections of the second song. That’s how it worked this time.

Bouwman: It was a different way of working, one song at a time, but it worked well for us due to the COVID-19 situation. And the techniques we had at our home studios. This was a perfect fit, and I think you can hear that as well. We could make things perfect, and then go onto the next song. Every song had the attention that it needed.

Valcon: And its own identity. You can have eight to ten songs, and they all sound completely different. Every (song) has its own essence with the instruments. We tried to do that a little bit. When the whole album was done and I had to remaster the album a little bit, it was a coherent product. Those were small steps to do.

Dead Rhetoric: Keeping the recording and production duties within the band, how does this help a veteran act like yourselves when it comes to the final product? Is it advantageous to record at your own pacing versus the days of the 80’s and 90’s when you were on the clock in bigger, more expensive studio situations?

Valcon: I never went on the clock in the 80’s. Forgive me, I am not that old. My first band, we were on the clock, and we didn’t know what we were doing. With the technology now, people know how to program drums, record guitars. When a band comes to record with me, I never charge by the hour. I always charge by the song. I want to give a good product and get the best out of the musicians. If the singer comes in and has a bad day, we will work with him on it tomorrow.

Bouwman: The advantage was us doing it home versus being in the studio with the hours and the prices, we could really focus on the quality. Valcon is our drummer, and the producer of the album. When he receives our tracks and puts on the producer hat, he tells me to do things better. We weren’t paying per hour, and we could do that. If I wasn’t in the perfect shape, we could do it again, on the weekend if I am more relaxed, you know? When you are in the studio, you will say it’s good enough, it’s a lot of money. I think that accounts for the quality on this album.

Valcon: Also, a producer needs to take his time to get to know the band. He has to know what the band wants. It took me about twenty years to get the drummer cap and producer cap on and off. Even a monitor mix on stage, you are used to that 50% of your own instrument is in the mix for yourself, because you want to hear yourself crystal clear. You have to learn when you are too loud in the mix, and I know what the band wants to do with the songs. The band knows what (they) want, and the producer knows what the band wants.

Bouwman: We wanted it to sound like a heavy metal album, and that’s what we got in the end. Not only with the songs, but also with the production.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the importance of aligning this record with various licensing with other labels across the world – does this broaden the chance to the band of gaining a wider audience due to other individuals pushing the release in those specific countries/territories?

Bouwman: The label that we released this album on is the same label as the previous two albums, PT78 Records. We didn’t do label shopping for this album. We had a good deal, the guys that run the label are good friends of ours. The discussions are easy. What we wanted for Planet Metalhead, we realized during the recording process that this is something really good that we have in our hands, we wanted people from all over the world to get easy access to the material. We tried to find licensing deals with other labels, in the US for Animated Insanity Records, also South America, China, Japan, Europe of course. We did a deal with a Dutch label No Dust that will release a fine vinyl package. Everybody needs to hear it in an easy way. We didn’t want to have people paying crazy import prices.

Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the standout moments when assessing the career of Martyr – either specific albums, recording sessions, tours, and festival appearances where you knew you were making an impact with your work?

Bouwman: The highlights of our career are every release of an album. When I started with this band in 1982, the first real highlight was releasing our first EP. Every album is a highlight, especially with the new guys within the band. Seeing and receiving the tremendous positive feedback, it makes me very proud. Playing Japan for example, which is a dream come true when you are a musician from Europe starting a metal band. It is a totally different country, different kind of life, and when you tour Japan, we have done it three times.

Valcon: For now, I think it’s the Live in Japan album. I produced the album, it was brought out on double vinyl, that was an absolute highlight.

Bouwman: When you listen to it, you feel that it’s a real live album. Even some mistakes are left on it, because that’s what it is. The atmosphere you feel when you put on that record is real. It’s a killer sound.

Valcon: People can feel the honesty of the album. I guess people feel it, every time the same riff is played, it may be a little different. That’s what I stand for in my productions.

Dead Rhetoric: How does the band handle the changing promotional landscape with social media platforms and instant communication technologies when it comes to the work of Martyr? Do you believe it gives the band a greater chance for self-promotion all at your own fingertips – and how do you end up standing out amongst the numerous bands/releases as a result?

Bouwman: It’s difficult because on the one hand, social media and the internet, it’s an advantage. It’s easy access to your followers. On the other hand, there is so much, everyone can do it, everyone can release and promote their album on that same platform, there is an overload of information. How do you stand out with your information, your posts, your album, your news items? It’s sort of difficult. The advantage is, Martyr already has a following. We have it from the 80’s. That makes it a little easier for us. When we release an album or have news to post, we have an audience already, magazines that know about us, labels and promoters that know us.

For newcomers, how good the band is in terms of quality or the release they are promoting, it’s very difficult to get your own identification within everything that is happening on social media. Because it is a lot.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you say some of the setbacks and obstacles that took place with Martyr during the 1980’s set up the resurrection of Martyr these days in terms of a proper focus and outlook to handle things in a better way?

Bouwman: We released two albums in the 80’s. We were featured on some compilations. After the last album in 1986, we had a management company that wanted Martyr to make a step up higher into world fame. Let’s put it that way. It was a large company and (they) wanted us to be more commercial. This was 1987-88, where Bon Jovi and Europe were the big bands here in Europe. Also, in America. That major label wanted us to sound a little different, we also thought it may be a chance to become a big band. When I started Martyr, my goal was to make it a speed, heavy metal band. I followed that with the first two albums. Then other labels told us we could be bigger, but we would have to change a little bit. I tried that, but it didn’t work. You lose your own way so to speak. Always do your own thing, believe in what you want to do, believe in what you can do. Don’t follow what others tell you what to do. That happened in the 80’s and it will never happen again.

What we are saying now, we write songs that we want to write. We want to be 200% perfect for us. We ourselves have to be proud of the songs that we write. And then the audience, if they like it as well, perfect.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your abilities at your respect instruments currently compared to your early times developing your craft? Where do you think you’ve seen the biggest growth either mentally or physically when it comes to those instruments?

Bouwman: When we started, I was fifteen years old. I felt like my techniques are more mature. It helps in songwriting, in how you think about creating music. You are more mature, more skilled, band members in the band as well challenge each other. Valcon challenges me to do things better. I don’t want to fail in that. We are anxious to make the best album we can do at that moment.

Dead Rhetoric: What outside hobbies, interests, or passions do you like to engage in when you have the free time and energy away from music? And do you have the proper support from your families and relationships in the work of Martyr?

Bouwman: I have 100% the support of my family. It’s never been different. I was already in Martyr before I met my wife, so she knows nothing else as my kids as well. They all support it tremendously. Regarding my hobbies, I focus a lot on this band. I like to go to concerts whether they are famous bands or smaller bands. I like going to the movie theater, a great restaurant, and drinking.

Valcon: My passion and my hobby are also my job – I am a live engineer. I record bands and albums, mix bands live. It’s my job and also a hobby. I am a bit of a sci-fi nut, I like reading. I read many sci-fi series. One of the things I like the most, we have a college for kids who want to go for music. When they have their exams, I’m one of the sound guys, these guys come back every year and I get to see their growth. Around summer vacation in the Netherlands, most people have six weeks. We have this band camp kind of thing; they get coached in a few weeks to play instruments and do a performance onstage in front of their parents and family. Things like that, you see the kids have a future and there is enough interest in playing real instruments. I find that very satisfying. I get five or ten bands from blues to metal, and they can be disillusioned – but the kids give some hope for the future.

Dead Rhetoric: What has heavy metal meant to you personally? What are three specific bands or albums that helped shape your outlook and viewpoint on the genre as a whole?

Bouwman: Heavy metal to me is everything. When I started as younger musician, it was Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin I was listening to. When I discovered bands in the mid-70’s, I still listen to mostly only heavy metal. That’s been going on throughout my whole life. How I want to play this music myself within this band. My main era is the 1980’s, I started Martyr in the 80’s, it’s an important aspect for how I listen to the metal genre. That’s my foundation. I also appreciate metal nowadays, all the new techniques and sounds. That’s what we try to incorporate in Martyr as well. We don’t want to sound like our first EP – it was recorded on an eight-track. We are forty years further than that.

Valcon: When Rick was talking, my first interaction with rock/metal sounds was the kids tv shows in the 1980’s. The soundtracks were kick ass. I was still into marching bands, then I went to college and the first real metal I listened to was “Can I Play with Madness” from Iron Maiden. Then I listened to a lot of 80’s Manowar, and in 1992 there was Triumph of Steel. Rhino was on drums, there was a monster drum solo, and if you listen to some of the parts on our album there is influence from him. Also, Mike Portnoy, and I am a sucker for Saxon. I love the early stuff until Killing Ground from 2001. I love the old Nevermore stuff, Dead Heart in the Dead World. I love Gene Hoglan from Death, Nigel Glocker of Saxon, and Rhino from Manowar.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see things shaping up for Martyr over the next twelve months or so? Has work begun behind the scenes on the next record as far as compiling ideas and songwriting – and if so, what direction do things seem to be taking?

Bouwman: We’ve done a lot of work for Planet Metalhead, the album just came out. We are focusing only on this material and promoting it. We have done a lot of interviews, magazines reviewing the album, it’s exciting. We have some good licensing deals. We want to gain more interest to tour in those countries. We want to go to South America, exploring new territories. That would be for the upcoming twelve months. Things are finally opening up in the Netherlands, festivals are coming up in the summer. We are a real live band; we want to go back on stage. It’s time to get back up there and promote this album.

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