Interview with Rituals of the Dead Hand

Interview with:
Lykaios – vox/guitars/samples
Isangrim – drums/samples/lyrics
Beleth – bass/backing vox/lyrics

Interview by Graeme Smith

Band Website: 
Band Shop: 

Rituals of The Dead Hand are a 3 piece black/doom metal band from Belgium. On their second offering ‘With Hoof And Horn’, Rituals Of The Dead Hand walks the same path of no-nonsense, old-school extreme metal updated in a modern and contemporary atmosphere. It’s a sinister Belgian/Dutch folklore story about the ‘Buckriders’, a savage group of criminals who terrorized the borderlands of Germany, Holland and Belgium in the 18th Century.

In this interview we discuss the bands inception, their new album, their influences and hobbies, playing gigs/touring, opinions of free music and the bands future plans.

How did the band all meet?

ISANGRIM: Initially, we started out as a duo, being Lykaios and myself. We also play together in Hemelbestormer and on our way to shows or rehearsals we almost constantly listen to (and talk about) death- and black metal, both old school and new school. We both come from this background and while Hemelbestormer is much more post metal, doom and sludge oriented, our love for these genres remains unaffected. During one of these drives, the idea of doing something more brutal and extreme again just popped up. Merely a few months later, a first album was written. It was just intended as some sort of studio project, but once the album was recorded, we were so pleased with the result that we decided to play live as well. For this we needed a bass player, so enter Beleth, and old friend who shares our love for this music and also helped out on a Hemelbestormer tour in the past.

What is the meaning behind the band name?

ISANGRIM : Rituals Of The Dead Hand refers to the so called “Hand of Glory”, a severed hand of hanged criminals that was used in several ways. Sometimes it was made into a candle and used by thieves, burglars and robbers. When burning such a candle, residents of a house wouldn’t wake up, so thieves wouldn’t be caught in the act. According to legends, this so called “Dead Hand” was also used for the initiation rites of the Buck Rider Cult (“Bokkenrijders” in Dutch), the main inspiration for our lyrics and themes.

 You’re about to release your second album. What is the concept behind the album and how did you discover the story?

ISANGRIM : Well, as stated in the previous questions, our main theme is the Buck Rider Cult, a gang of vile robbers that sold their souls to the devil and rode by night on the backs of flying billy goats. It’s a very well known legend in our parts, although there are also various historical reports of such gangs. However, these reports and tales are far less spectacular than the legends and folklore. During the 18th century, there were indeed several gangs of robbers active in our parts, but in hindsight they were little more than mere petty criminals, often desperate because of poverty and social injustice. Since we don’t intend to give our listeners a history lesson, we focus more on the supernatural and folkore aspects of these tales. Apart from the obvious dark and grim tone of the subject, it was also very important to me that we used something we could, in a way, relate to. I love bands who explore and incorporate history into their music. And I especially adore the ones that explore their own history, heritage and folklore because in my eyes that makes the most sense. Why should we, a band from Belgium, sing about Norse mythology or something like that? Although very interesting there’s no real connection. The Buck Rider mythos however, is a perfect match. These legends are from our parts and even the historical gangs were active very close to where we live. For example, the place were a number of trials and executions were held is only a few miles from my home. That sort of authenticity is very important to me.

Often a band’s 2nd album is a difficult one to make. What makes this album different to your debut?

LYKAIOS: We are all veterans in the scene with a lot of live and studio experience. This might be the 2nd album for Rituals of the Dead Hand, but it must have been the 15th or 16th album that musically comes from my hand. So in a way we’ve learned about all the difficulties and traps that often comes with a follow up album. Rituals of the Dead Hand’s style is rather clear as well: old school black/death metal updated in a nowadays vibe. Both albums are more or less alike, though maybe “With Hoof and Horn” sounds bit more musical and bit more ritualistic than “Blood Oath”. Don’t expect any big changes in the future as well.

Who does your artwork? Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with, be it an artist/photographer or producer? etc 

BELETH: The ‘With Hoof and Horn’ artwork was done by me. The explanation is quite simple; next to playing bass I also teach drawing and painting courses at an art academy, so we didn’t have to look far. LYKAIOS and ISANGRIM were very satisfied with the design. I tried to create some less typical black metal artwork, yet I wanted to keep the black and white vibe. And so, black Pierre Noire pencil on Steinbach paper yielded a magnified staring goat eye (which is strangely beautiful on its own). By showing only a part of it, instead of depicting it completely, I tried to capture an eerie atmosphere, consequently linking it to the vibe of the album.

What is the procedure of producing a new album? Do you have a set way of doing things?

LYKAIOS: The red line of the songs are already made up in my head before taking the guitar and record pretty much high end and detailed pre-productions at my home studio. Next on the other guys provide lyrics and propose some musical changes if necessary. After doing the vocals at home I continue to write songs until there’s about 40 minutes (the perfect length for vinyl) ready. For me it’s important to record the first take when doing vocals. I don’t want to overthink the lines. They have to come straight from the gut to keep the primal feeling. When the full pre-production is finished Isangrim hit the studio to record the drums, while Beleth and I re-record everything here for the final product. Mix and master is done externally. For both “Blood Oath” and “With Hoof and Horn” we didn’t really had the time to rehearse. Isangram and I had just 1 rehearsal and played only 2 songs together. Beleth didn’t rehearse the new album, even not once. So there’s a lot of dedication and discipline needed.

Have you toured at all and do you have any plans to gig/tour once the pandemic is over?

ISANGRIM: For our previous album, we played a grand total of three shows. Like I said before, there weren’t any plans to play live when we started this, but blood is thicker than water, right? Still, we wanted to keep things rather exclusive and we saw each show as a sort of one-off. For this album, we want to turn it up a notch and play some more shows, so anybody who can offer us a good deal should feel free to contact us.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?

BELETH: Sulphur is my favourite, no doubt.

ISANGRIM: I don’t really have a favourite, I love the album as a whole. The epic ending of “Sulphur”, the ferociousness of “Inception”, the sheer and crushing heaviness of “The Defiling Days” and the ritualistic, almost haunting vibe of “Vuurstaeck”, they all make this album what it is.

Where do you draw your influences from when it comes to producing new music/lyrics? 

BELETH: For the latest album, I wrote about 3/4th of the lyrics, and I tried to stay true to the topic of the first album, for which ISANGRIM wrote all the lyrics: the cult of the buckriders. I am very fond of the over-the-top conversations from movies such as Lord of the Rings and old school horror movies, and I find inspiration in the way they were written.

ISANGRIM: For the next album, I think it would also be interesting to explore different aspects of our local folklore and legends. There’s a lot of dark and twisted stuff around but it is all nearly forgotten, even by the people who live here. The riders, however, will always be a big part of our concept. They’ll always be around in some way.

What is the music scene like where you are based in Belgium? 

ISANGRIM : In general, there’s a pretty thriving scene here with a lot of quality bands in different styles. Wolvennest, Alkerdeel, Emptiness, Pothamus, Psychonaut, Voidian, Serpents Oath, Antzaat, all great acts that released good albums the last couple of months. Definitely worth checking out!

Do you think image is important when being in a band? 

ISANGRIM: It depends, I guess. A certain image can enhance the feeling and spirit of the music, but there’s a very thin line between image and gimmick, or between serious and ridiculous. Each band should decide this for themselves, of course. I think it’s far more important that you show ethics and integrity and don’t become a parody of yourself.

Being a Belgian band, have you attended or played the Graspop metal meeting? I’ve gone the last 3 years and it’s a fantastic festival. What has been your favourite gig to date and why?

ISANGRIM: I attend Graspop almost every year because it’s good fun and in 2019 me and Lykaios performed there with Hemelbestormer. Great experience to say the least. There are always some great bands on the bill and each year there are a number of surprises, but in general they play it really safe. They mainly focus on international and more commercial bands, and from a business point of view this is very understandable. But if Hellfest in France can prove that you can draw lots of people with a lot more underground bands on the bill, then why should Graspop hesitate to do so as well? Of course, this is reasoning according to my own taste, but you’ll probably get my point. As for Rituals-shows, there aren’t that many to choose from. For me our best show was Culthe Fest in Germany. A smaller, underground festival with Sulphur Aeon, Panopticon and Eïs, among others. Great vibe, great crowd, great everything!

Is the music industry how you thought it would be when first starting a band? Do you think it’s important for a band to be signed to a label to be recognised in today’s society? 

ISANGRIM: When I started my first band, I was 13 years old and times were different back then. Getting signed by a label was a big deal and quite an accomplishment by itself. Bands that had a deal were almost worshipped, because when a label signed you, you had to be really good, right? However, through the years you become less naïve and you set different priorities. Today it is a lot easier to make an album or to spread your music, but the “competition” is also a hundred times bigger. There are literally millions of bands who want to make it big and sometimes they lose sight of what is really important: the music and how you feel about it. You have to believe in the things you create, not just make something to become a “thing” on YouTube or whatever. Integrity is very important. That being said, I think labels are still quite important. The golden days of labels selling millions of copies from band X might be a thing from the past, but they can still support bands financially and logistically by means of their network. You shouldn’t underestimate this. A label with a good reputation can still open a lot of doors even if you don’t sell thousands of copies.

What are your views on bands who give away their music free on social media? Do you think this is a good beneficial marketing idea, or should fans be paying to purchase tracks? 

BELETH: Platforms such as Spotify, Youtube or Bandcamp are great places to share music. I mean, where you can listen to it without paying. Then again, holding the actual album is another thing. If you really want to support a band, buy their shit. Nothing beats the feeling of opening a vinyl record and giving it a spin for the first time on the record player. At the end of the day, it is a moral argument, really. Most bands don’t make any money from their music, on the contrary. But they don’t complain. However, wouldn’t it be nice for the bands you listen to, if they could recuperate – even if it is a fraction – some of the heaps of money needed to make an album? Yes, it would.

What genres of music do you like to listen to personally? Any new bands that have caught your attention recently?

LYKAIOS: I’m constantly listening to old and new (almost solely extreme) music. This month I’m listening a lot to Morbid Angel (the A-B-C-D albums), Mare, Concrete Winds, Abysmal Lord, Angelcorpse, Blasphemophagher, The Ruins of Beverast (pre Blood Vaults), 13th Moon…

BELETH: I have quite the eclectic taste, ranging from the darkest parts of the 80’s and 90’s (Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, Front242, Tool, Das Ich, Calva Y Nada) to more contemporary bands such as Amenra, MGLA, Wiegedood, Der Weg einer Freiheit, Behemoth, Solstafir, Sinistral King, Gaerea, …) and from old school death metal such as Morbid Angel, Nile, Benediction, Carcass,… to fucking Beethoven and Mozart.

ISANGRIM: My taste is also quite eclectic, but extreme music is represented the most without a doubt. The last few weeks it was Krypts, Wolvennest, Koldovstvo, Mare Cognitum, Forsmán, Musmahhu, Dead Congregation, Bolt Thrower, Fossilization, Void Rot and so on. I’m also constantly on the look- out for new stuff. When I want to tone down a bit, there’s always God Is An Astronaut, Lunatic Soul, Nick Cave and Crippled Black Phoenix to name a few.

Were you given any advice from other bands before starting out? 

ISANGRIM: Well… no. There is no grand plan and no list of goals we want to achieve. We just do things our way, creating music we love ourselves.

What do you like to do outside of music? Any hobbies?

LYKAIOS: Besides music, which takes most of my “free” time, I run for my physical health and do sports shooting for my mental health (focus, relax, low heart beat). But nothing special to report here.

BELETH: I draw and paint a lot. And collect insects. Yes. Groundbeetles, mostly. And I spend a shitload of time on the writing of a book on the subject of Belgian beetles. Also, I have a huge interest in Star Wars and Masters of the universe.

ISANGRIM: For me it’s reading, one book after another. It can be anything, from historical/scientific stuff and fantasy novels to biographies and gothic/horror stories. I also like a good movie or TV show from time to time. “House Of Cards”, “Ozark”, “Dark” and several Nordic Noir-shows like “Trapped”, “Brot” and “Jordskott” are my most recent discoveries. Relaxing and thrilling at the same time!

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

BELETH: I can’t wait for the band to start rehearsing and hitting the stage again.

Thank you for your time, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers? 

LYKAIOS: Thanks for supporting Rituals.