It’d be hard to think of a more fitting moniker for a brutal death metal band than Serial Butcher. The name itself pretty much tells you everything you’d need to know about the outfit. It’s kinda hard to imagine a bubblegum pop group calling themselves Serial Butcher, isn’t it? When you come up with a name like that, you’d better be ready to back it up with the type of brutality that that designation calls for. Fortunately for fans of the extreme, Belgium’s Serial Butcher has waded through more than enough buckets of blood to comfortably earn the rights to such a killer handle.
Since forming in 1995, Serial Butcher has steadily built a name for itself through two crushing EPs and LPs. The band’s output might not come frequently but when it does, fans are guaranteed a selection of the highest caliber brutality that death metal has to offer. The band’s last album, 2015’s Brute Force Lobotomy, might have come out eight years ago but very little between then and now has been able to match it in terms of intensity or quality. With the 2023 retirement of their vocalist and a new era of Serial Butcher on the horizon, I recently caught up with the band via email to get the story of how Serial Butcher got started and where they are going.
First off, how did Serial Butcher get started? How did that first lineup meet and what made you all want to start a death metal band together?
Nico Veroeven [drums]: Formed in ’95 by me and Hendrik [guitar], two friends who met at a Slayer concert in Brussels back in ’94. Vocalist Steven lived in the same street as I and joined quickly because he seemed to have a very guttural heavy voice, perfectly fitting the music the rest of the guys were aiming for.
Bob [bass] was added through an advertisement in a local paper where he was looking for a heavy metal/trash band such as Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest, etc.
The other ones were big fans of old Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Suffocation. Nevertheless, Bob liked the even more brutal style and even came up with the band name. And so, Serial Butcher was born.
What got you guys into death metal in the first place and who are some of your bigger influences for the band?
Nico: Besides Bob, the other ones were born in the mid-seventies and became influenced by the pioneers of brutal nineties death metal acts as mentioned before.
Those were the days of milestones such as Tomb of the Mutilated, Blessed Are the Sick, Legion, Effigy of the Forgotten, etc.
You guys started out in the mid-‘90s, which was a rougher time for death metal. What was it like getting the band up and going where you’re from during that time period? How much change have you seen in the death metal scene since you first started?
Kenneth Keysers [guitars]: I was not in the band yet, but these were some different times. In that period, you had to have the chops, if you know what I mean. If you were a good band then you got noticed and got to play shows.
Now, with the Internet, it is more about how popular you are on social media and how good you are at getting yourself out there, despite the quality of the music. These days there are way too many bands, quantity over quality, and a lot of people don’t seem to mind this, especially bookers and organizers who seem to profit on this, where they demand that bands play for the smallest fee possible, expect they provide a backline for all the others, play an opening slot, getting three drinks a person and be happy with that because you can play with that certain band… many bands jump on this shit like flies. This should not be the case. Remember, without the bands there is no crowd in your venues drinking the beers you serve to earn your money with!!!
What’s the music writing process like for the band? Has it changed at all over the years?
Nico: The tracks on the first demo and the Exhumed Rotting EP were made by Hendrik, later on I made some riffs completing songs from Hendrik on the Butchers Forever demo and so I gradually took over the songwriting on Genocide Landscape up until Brute Force Lobotomy.
On the Crash Course LP, the first track from Kenneth appeared and on Brute Force Lobotomy, half of the tracklist were songs from his hand and he did all the basslines and most vocal patterns. Also some lyrics [were] written by various friends of the band.
For the moment it’s still Kenneth and I who are making the songs.
Kenneth: Yeah, as far as the process goes it’s either Nico or me that come up with a song and [teach] it to the rest. Both of us can play multiple instruments so it’s easy to deliver a demo track with programmed drums and all instruments and vocals already on it.
What’s your lyric writing process like? You guys have really killer lyrics that tell intensely gruesome stories. What appeals to you about writing about the darker side of life? I’m assuming you’re big fans of the horror genre!
Nico: Concerning the lyrics, it’s all about finding a funny catchy title with a story built around it. It can’t be brutal enough.
Kenneth: Indeed, nothing to be taken too seriously in our lyrics, and yes you could say we are fans of the horror genre, which we take some of our inspiration from, of course.
Our music is even featured in a horror movie, (alongside music from Motörhead!) which we are extremely proud of! [The movie is] Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High AKA Volume 2 from the biggest cult and horror movie company Troma Entertainment!
We also provided music for the upcoming movie Cement: The Final Brick In The Wall by Belgian cult director Rob Cues that will be released in the near future.
You finally got to record your first full-length, A Crash Course in Cranium Crushing, and released it in 2010. How did getting to record that first LP come about and what did you learn from the process? Looking back on it now, are you still happy with the record or is there anything you’d change?
Kenneth: At that time there were enough quality songs to release a full album. I think it was then bass player Koen Van Goethem who suggested that we go to Berno Studios in Malmö, Sweden because there were a lot of killer albums recorded there with a great sound. For me, it was a great experience, being two weeks in a studio just focussing on recording the music.
What I also learned is that getting a more known studio engineer does not necessarily get you the greatest results. You actually pay more for the name…many established engineers tend to get lazy because it has become a routine for them and you don’t get exactly what you want, but you get what they are used to doing in their workflow.
Listening back to this album, I am still happy with how it turned out, but would definitely change many things. The production on the follow-up record, Brute Force Lobotomy, speaks for itself compared to this one.
Your most recent record, Brute Force Lobotomy, was another killer outing. Was that an easier writing/recording process being that you already had one LP done? What was the writing/recording process like for that one?
Nico: I think much better preparation through rehearsals, playing in a stable lineup for some years, and more variety. A better result, even with a lower budget.
Kenneth: The process for this one was entirely different. This time the writing was done 50/50 by me and Nico. I recorded the guitars and bass at my home studio (Badass Audio Mastering), so we could really take all the time we needed to get the best results, going back and forth at rehearsals to get the perfect tempos and really getting the tracks down.
We also did a demo recording of the drums at my home studio so Nico could really take the time to listen back and analyse and change some drum parts if needed.
Then I [laid] out most of the vocal patterns and recorded them with Kurt, also at my home studio, whenever he would have the time.
After all of this, we went into Hearse Studios with Lander Cluyse to record the final drums, re-amp the guitars and bass, and do the mixing. This time I was a lot more involved in the producing and mixing process and also did the mastering myself.
Between the two LPs and since the most recent one, there have been longer gaps without releasing material. What leads to those hiatuses and is it difficult to find time for Serial Butcher? When you guys do get back together, is it ever hard to get back into the process of writing/recording with the band or is it an easy return?
Kenneth: We never really stopped playing, always rehearsed on a regular basis and doing shows, but for writing songs, I think it is just because we depend on two writers, me and Nico. And the fact that everyone has their own busy lives and work, some of us have kids, we also play in other bands and only so many hours in a day, and then you still need to have the motivation to pick up the guitar and be lucky that you get creative and get a song out.
I can tell you that for me, the last five years when coming home from work I had little to no motivation to do anything, because i did not like my job and it took all my energy to get around the day being around people you don’t like, plus the whole COVID situation didn’t make things any better.
So it’s just all about being in the right mindset when you have the time, but the hard part for me seems to get these both at the same time. Also, the fact that I am very selective about the music I write does not make it any easier.
Being that you’ve been going since the mid-‘90s, how do you keep a healthy band dynamic? When you’ve had openings before, what do you look for in a new Serial Butcher member?
Kenneth: Well that’s a tough one. You have to be good at your craft, obviously, and in general just being a nice guy to have around, the chemistry has to be there, if you are an asshole or an egotripper, it won’t work.
Being in the band since 2007, I have experienced one member change [in the] beginning of 2015 with then bass player Koen Van Goethem, who was replaced by Koen Verstraete, so we had a pretty stable lineup over the last 16 years.
Sadly enough, we have gone through a lineup change as we speak, our singer since 2004, Kurt Termonia, has decided to hang up the microphone beginning of 2023 because of hearing problems and a lack of time. We are lucky to have found a replacement this quickly in Sven Van Severen, who will take over vocal duties from now on. It is never easy replacing someone, but every time we need to, the band gets better than before, so we are ready for the next chapter.
What’s your local scene like? Is it pretty active and do you feel it has shaped the band at all?
Kenneth: Many bands in Belgium, many great, many not so great. Now there are so many bands around and concerts happening at the same time, sometimes it’s overkill.
Everyone wants the gig and lowers the standard so they can play, if band X won’t play for these certain conditions, the other one will. And if you don’t have connections, forget it. And that gets many not so great bands being overrated and placed in the spotlight, and so many great bands out of the spotlight, and I think that’s a shame.
I don’t think it has shaped the band in any way, because we always did our own thing on our terms. A lot of bands have come and gone, but we are still around, so that means something, right?
Being that you guys have really gruesome lyrics, do you ever have to worry about censorship or backlash where you live and when you play out? Have you ever had to deal with any kind of negative response from people out there?
Nico: Never for me personally. It’s all about the fantasy, some tales even to laugh with, at a certain point.
Kenneth: Not really, except from people that are not into metal, they do not always understand why the lyrics are so gruesome.
Lastly, what’s next for Serial Butcher? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Kenneth: For the moment, we have a few big festivals that we are going to play…on April 29th at Brutal Swamp Fest in France, July 29th at Stonehenge Fest in the Netherlands, and on 11th of August at the biggest metal festival in Belgium, Alcatraz Festival.
Up next is focusing on writing some more new material in between gigs. I can tell you that so far we have five songs as good as ready and some more material to compose, another couple of songs, so hopefully we get the time and energy in the right moment to continue and finish the writing process.
Photo at top: Brute Force Lobotomy album cover.