INTERVIEW WITH MICHAL GRALL BY STEPAHNIE JENSEN
As one of the most iconic Dutch death metal bands, Sinister’s new album, Deformation of the Holy Realm, embodies the brutal core this band helped invent. European fans have already had a taste, and US fans will be able to hear this album in its entirety on June 19th.
With a legacy spanning 30 years, Sinister has endured many changes in its career, such as different lineups, but the band has remained consistent by constantly releasing heavy and ravaging material. Deformation of the Holy Realm, the band’s 14th album, is no different. You’re immediately brought into the dark world of murderous riffing, intense blastbeats, and crazy solos that punch their way into each track. Wedged into the brutality are melodic and orchestral elements that work within the album’s morbid atmosphere.
Sinister guitarist Michal Grall talks about Deformation of the Holy Realm, his contributions to the album, and the band’s plans during and after the quarantine.
How do you think fans will respond to Deformation of the Holy Realm? What do you think of the final result?
We are really proud of this album. That’s because we had new composers for this one and the songs emerged really quickly. Of course, the process was longer, but when it comes to the main guitar structures, they were written really fast. There were actually not many corrections, so the songs for us are perfect. Right now, we’re only getting great reviews. It’s like, “death metal album of the year” and stuff. Wow! It’s really amazing. I’m really curious about what fans will say because we only have two singles on the internet—“Apostles of the Weak,” the lyric video, and “The Deformation of the Holy Realm.” And the reviews are only amazing. We’re proud of it!
What songs stand out to you?
I must answer that all songs, actually. Each one of these songs is a little different from one another. They all have one solid structure, but they differ, only a little. Of course, they’re all brutal in the old school vein, yet each song has something different from each other. The album is pretty interesting and each song has its own personality. On the riffing, there are a few different structures. To sum up, everything fits the whole album. Maybe I’m closer to the songs that start the album because we play them live right now, but you must check out the whole album because there are so many nice things going on. It’s difficult to choose one or two songs.
“THE ALBUM IS PRETTY INTERESTING AND EACH SONG HAS ITS OWN PERSONALITY.”
This is your first full-length album with the band. How did you contribute?
I did some riffs of the songs and almost all of the solos. All together, we were working on the song structures, on the mastering, and on the sound. So, my contribution is the guitar parts. We were writing as a whole band. Ghislaine van der Stal [bass] made a lot of work on this album. He also recorded guitars because we were recording the album from different places. We made it as a team and that’s why it sounds so amazing to us. You can hear the teamwork on this album.
Your soloing is definitely some of the most impressive in Sinister’s history. How did you go into your solos? They’re technical, but they still fit in with that brutal sound.
It comes down to my composing and writing. It really differs because of the way I compose. I usually don’t listen to other death metal albums and I listen to many musical genres. So, my interests can be quite wide. I was born and raised as a death metal guy, but I try to compose what I feel in my head and in my fingers. I don’t follow the structures of all death metal songs. I just go with the flow and compose what suits me. That’s maybe why the solos are a little different than a lot of records. I’m glad to hear that you like them and that you think they fit. Of course, we like them as a band, and it fits everything. We tried to make the album not overwhelmed either by solos, keyboards, or choirs. These are just the add-ons to the brutal core of the music. We like to make the music a little catchy. We have some melodies, so that’s why we have the solos and some melodic riffs. The main core is still brutal metal. The other parts are just there to make the sound a little modern to add to our old school atmosphere that we were always in.
There are some orchestral elements. What do those add to the songs?
The orchestral parts were also on the previous album, Syncretism, from 2017. These are just the add-ons that make the atmosphere of the songs. Of course, they’re dark. That’s our style—the dark, dark death metal. They add some nice atmosphere to the songs. I really like those parts. There’s not too many of them. Like I said before, they’re just an add-on, but we want them to be a part of the track and not overwhelm it. We don’t want to go too into the atmospheric vein, of course.
“IT’S STILL BRUTAL AND RAW, BUT THEN EVERYTHING IS HEARABLE AND EVERYTHING IS CLEAN.”
The production is clean and high quality, but it’s also really raw. Can you go into the recording process? What production techniques were used?
I know some of the techniques. I didn’t actually work the production period with Kristian [“Kohle” Kohlmannslehner]. The way that it sounds both clean and raw at the same time is because he also used some of his own effects. That’s really nice because I don’t really like the production of some metal bands in the last few years. They sound really similar to one another. I think Deformation of the Holy Realm sounds a little different. As you said, it’s still brutal and raw, but then everything is hearable and everything is clean. Thanks to Kristian because he did a really great job!
Let’s go into your background as a guitar player. You’re influenced by a lot of different types of music and you listened to metal when you were younger. Do you have any specific training?
Actually, I didn’t have any specific training. I’m a self-learner. I started listening to metal in the early 90s, with the first Sinister album. During the first years of my metal education, I only listened to death metal. Then, other styles started to emerge. The two main styles I really love are death and black metal. Then came some electronic music—I really like some ambient and industrial stuff. Throughout the years, I was composing in different bands and different projects. I think my style is a mix between everything I’m listening to and everything I explore in music. And that’s why my riffing can be sometimes not so obvious, as well with solos, because I don’t focus on one metal style. I take metal as a whole and then start to fit it into the new record. Of course, if it doesn’t fit, because it’s not death metal anymore or something, then I don’t use it or I use it in other projects. It’s my style of composing that I don’t give any borders to myself—it’s limitless. I take influence from everything, not only from music.
You said you discovered Sinister in the early days. Did you ever expect you would be a member of the band?
No, not really. During my childhood, I wanted to be a famous musician and stuff, and my musical career became bigger and bigger with each year. But until 2018, when I joined Sinister, I never thought I could play in a band like that. Maybe it wasn’t only a matter of coincidence that I joined them. It was really fast. They needed a guitarist, and a few weeks after my first message to the guys, I was in the band. So, it was really quick.
Sinister is a very old school death metal band that has had a classic sound throughout the past couple of decades, but the new album sounds very fresh. How do you keep that core death metal sound and make it sound modern?
Maybe that’s because we were all raised on death metal. Adrie [Kloosterwaard, vocalist] is still in the band—he’s from the very beginning. We’re all actually old school death metalers. We were raised in the 80s or 90s, mainly when all of the bands weren’t old school. If I listen to bands, I mainly listen to older songs. Of course, I try to catch new bands, but there are so many bands right now that it’s really hard to catch all the great bands. So, that’s why I return to the old school ones. I don’t know, maybe it’s just in our veins and in our blood that we keep that death metal core and it’s similar to the sound that was on Cross the Styx or Hate albums or later. When it comes to fresh sounds, we don’t want to rerecord previous albums. With each album, we want to add something new. Something, like I said, more modern or something like that, but still focused on the core we are talking about. We are pure death metalers, and it must go with the sound like we have, but we also want to add a few add-ons. Because of the quarantine, we’re working on new songs. We have a few of them already. The new album will, for sure, be in the old school style with some modern elements.
“IT’S JUST IN OUR VEINS AND IN OUR BLOOD THAT WE KEEP THAT DEATH METAL CORE”
It’s amazing that you’re working on new material during the quarantine. What can you say about the rest of the year? Do you think there will be a chance to perform some shows?
It’s really hard to say because we don’t actually know when quarantine will end in different countries. That’s the main problem. For example, in Poland, where I am right now, the quarantine is almost over. Then, if you want to play in various parts of the world, it will be different in those countries. We, of course, have some shows planned for the end of this year and next year. Some are new ones and some are the postponed shows that we didn’t play in the first half of 2020. If the quarantine ends, we want to promote the new album live. It’s really strange that the album is out and we cannot promote it the usual way. So, the main focus for the moment is to promote it live. But, because we compose at home and send them to each other, we don’t have to stop composing the new album. Actually, because we will probably make another album that’s around 40 minutes, we almost have half the record done. Of course, many ideas can change. We may add something and change something. There will be so much to do and we can do it in our free time between concerts. We don’t know when the concerts will start. Hopefully, it will be clarified in the next weeks.
Say anything you want. You can promote the album, you can say thanks to the fans.
Thanks to you, Stephanie, for the interview. Thanks to everyone who waited for us and waited for the album. The premiere is June 19 in the US, so check it out! Let us know how you like it, and if you liked it and stuff. Follow our social profiles, we’ll let you know when we can start playing live. Thanks for all of your support!