A Talk With
MARIO PAUWELS (Drums)
Questionnaire by Stefan.
On January 23th., Belgian Heavy Metal legends Ostrogoth have unleashed its new effort “Last Tribe Standing” through Empire Records. Recently we have had to say goodbye to a very appreciated guitarist named Rudy ‘WhiteShark’ Vercruysse, he lost the fight against liver cancer. Rudy became an Ostrogoth member in 1982 and remained loyal to the band until the day he passed away on January, 3rd. 2015. Always being very driven into guitar playing, even though he was already very ill at the end… determined to the core ! On behalf of the whole MTI team, heartfelt condolences to WhiteShark’s closest family and friends !
Ostrogoth brought out three full length efforts, the last one “Feelings Of Fury” dated from 1987, unfortunately they fell of the radar for a long time but due to their everlasting faith in Heavy Metal, they were back with a vengeance. I’d like to ask founder of the band Mario ‘Grizzly’ Pauwels some questions about the past, present and future plans. Read the story of Ostrogoth as follows !
Q: Hello Mario, welcome at Metal To Infinity webzine ! I suppose that you're still in mourning with the loss of your soul brother Rudy Vercruysse, still I want to thank you for the cooperation in this interview. In what way, you always will remember Rudy?
A: As a loyal member of Ostrogoth, positive, realistic, down-to-earth and a very good musician.
Q: Let us go back to the very beginning - how and when was Ostrogoth established?
A: Ostrogoth was founded in 1980 and was a logical continuation of Stonehenge, with members JP, Luc Minne, Bronco and Grizzly. Stonehenge had built up a certain reputation in their local town, but when they decided to change their style into a rougher sphere, they added Luc Minne as a singer. Ostrogoth was born.
Q: Where Ostrogoth stand for actually, any particular reason why you choose a band name like this?
A: When we were looking for another bandname than Stonehenge, this name came up out of 60 proposals. It sounded good, a bit mystical, very original and had already predictable meanings for the future.
Q: Who were the first musicians that came complete the ranks?
A: After JP left the band, Hans “Sphinx” Vandekerckhove joined the band and we took off as a real metal band. Sphinx brought on the most musical ideas. Later on, in 1982, Rudy was asked to complete the band for a twin-guitar oriented sound. A few months later, Luc left the band and we met Red Star who was singing in White Temple, another Flemish rock band. The ideal line-up was born.
Q: By which ambitions the band was formed?
A: To play a lot of concerts, recording albums, see the world, basically all the things musicians dream of hahaha…
Q: Can you tell something about the very first live gig, that must have been during the ‘Gentse Feesten’ in Belgium, right? How have you experienced this performance?
A: it was great, we played on a late afternoon at the “Veerleplein”, amidst Belgian popbands .... In those days (1981) we were considered as a bunch of noisy aliens, but our name was spread around ...
Q: Shortly after, Rudy ‘WhiteShark’ Vercruysse and new singer Marc ‘Red Star’ De” Brauwer’ teamed up with Ostrogoth. Why did you choose to recruit a second axeman and why former frontman Luc Minne called it quits?
A: Luc Minne had other interests and the musical direction we wanted to follow did not correspond his ambition. As for the second axeman... we loved Maiden, Priest, Scorpions, the melodic twin solos. That’s why most of those bands were loved by a lot of people… it was Sphinx who asked for a second axeman, to be able to compose and to play like those bands mentioned above!!!
Q: Along with the new line-up came the legendary “Full Moon’s Eyes” EP, released through Mausoleum Records. This label led by Alfie Falkenbach offered Ostrogoth a deal after you guys were invited on ‘Domino’ radio show. Feel free to tell me more on that Mario.
A: Bronco worked for the BRT at that time. Airplay for a new Rock band was very difficult, even more for a new Belgian HardRock band. Bronco succeeded to introduce us on this show, with the well known result.
Q: “Full Moon’s Eyes” became one the best Belgian Metal releases ever, what about your own feelings on this legendary EP?
A: It is still our biggest achievement; it made us very proud. People from all over the word still listen to the “Full Moon’s Eyes” EP. Our hard work during years, our endurance, it came all to a bigger reality.
Q: I was present at the first edition of the Belgian based Heavy Sound Festival that took place in Bruges (1983). I still remember you guys opened the festival for many other acts like Viva, Killer, Golden Earring, Warning, Anvil, Uriah Heep, Gary Moore and Baron Rojo. It was a day to remember. How did Ostrogoth come up on this bill?
A: We had good relations with fans, organizers,.... Thanks to those good contacts we made acquaintance with a few young man who wanted to install, for the first time ever, a heavy metal festival in Belgium. They wanted us to participate in this awesome project and so it happened ! It was an honor to stand beside and between those great bands...
Q: Do you consider this performance as Ostrogoth’s most famous one?
A: We had a lot of great and important gigs, but you could say that Heavy Sound Festival 1983 was the detonator for a successful Ostrogoth history. We had also smashing gigs with Def Leppard, Loudness and the loudest band in the world Manowar and we opened the first Pukkelpop festival ever in 1985.
Q: Gimme a few names of bands you’ve shared the stage with back in the days.
A: The bands you named on HSF, Raven, Wildfire, Picture, Def Leppard, Loudness, Manowar, Helloïse, Toxik..... and many others, not to mention our fellow Belgian metal bands, such as Killer, Crossfire, Acid, Black Widow, Thunderfire, Lionspride, Purple Haze, Ritual, Bad Lizard, Shellshock...
Q: In 1984, the time was right to record a full album, entitled “Ecstasy And Danger” which sounded in some ways, a little different that “The Full Moon’s Eyes”, in my opinion. Do you agree?
A: I agree, but most of the songs on E&D were already composed way back in 1981 (Sphinx, Bronco, Grizzly) but adapted later with the coming of WhiteShark and Red Star. For ‘Full Moon’s Eyes’ we choose four full worked out songs to respond to our budget.
Q: WhiteShark’s signature track “Ecstasy And Danger” has something to do with the soundtrack of “Brutal Legend”, a PS3. That happened almost three decades after the official recordings of this mighty song, what’s the story behind?
A: First of all, it was the track ‘Queen of Desire’ from the album ‘Ecstasy and Danger’... Mausoleum boss Alfie Falckenbach was asked for a track from his catalogue, and he delivered this one for the soundtrack.
Q: Next album “Too Hot” saw the daylight in 1985, two years later on “Feelings Of Fury” appeared. The line-up changed during this period, why some guys decided to resign and who were the newcomers actually?
A: “Too Hot” was recorded with the same line-up as on FME … after Too Hot our bassplayer Bronco left for personal reasons, Sphinx finished his studies in Eastern Philosophy and was offered a university job in Germany, and singer Red Star disposed because of health reasons…
Newcomers were chosen at auditions (‘Bronco and Sphinx supported us on that matter) and an axeman, Junao Martins from Brasil (who landed out in Brussels) and his friend Pedro Villafranca on bass joined the band and I had a little talk with Peter from Crossfire at Forest National, during a concert. With this line-up we recorded FOF and Sly Cherotti took Pedro’s place for the live gigs.
Q: How do you look back on these two albums?
A: With pride. Too Hot was directed by a well known producer from Germany, Alex Gietz. For the first time somebody told us how our songs could sound more structured and basic. It was a learning period; he spent weeks with us at rehearsals and gigs…. Anyway, he had a huge influence on this album…. FOF showed a completely other, different style, rougher, exploring structures…. Thanks to the input of 4 other members, because we added keys on this record and on stage by the well known Chris Taerwe. Still proud of this record, new horizons…. All those records were created with a joint effort from all members.
Q: Until the Mausoleum Records 20th. Anniversary Reunion, Ostrogoth seemed to have disappeared from the globe. First on, what did the band broke up – secondly, what kept you busy during these years of absence?
A: Almost every member kept on playing music, in different bands, projects and musical achievements. After I had a short but glorious passage in Shellshock with bro for life Dr. Moonshine, Junao and Sly proposed to form an instrumental fusion metal band, Hermetic Brotherhood (cd: Hermetic Brotherhood 1990), with second guitarist Claude Cansse, who later on joined Mystery. Peter started this melodic hardrock band. Our current guitar player Geert Annys played on the first Mystery album. Rudy played in several rock-coverbands, and Bronco continued his professional career and managed the Belgian Judo Federation. Meanwhile our brother and great moderator and inspiration Sphinx died in 1989 due to a heart failure.
Q: Most of the original Ostrogoth guys teamed up for the reunion concert that took place May, 2002, organised by the CEO of Mausoleum Records named Alfie Falkenbach. Has this event yielded something concerning the further existence of the band?
A: At first, we were only to play that one reunion show, but reactions were very positive; even a few true metal heads came over from Athens, Greece and we were asked to fly over there for a show, which we did. It was a huge experience! And we played four gigs in Belgium, with Killer and Native Instinct, who were posted in the Mausoleum stable as well.
Q: Ages Of Metal Festival (Oostrozebeke-Belgium) took place and you guys headlined the bill. Besides veterans WhiteShark, Bronco, Red Star and yourself, Ostrogoth presented its new guitar player Dario Frodo as well. Speaking for myself, this was not such a great performance… agree or disagree?
A: Disagree on one point! The new guitar player at AOM was Guy Vaneeckhoute from Ostend; the performance itself was indeed not so great; expectations were high, but unfortunately we did not succeed to fill in to these expectations. Soon after this gig Guy left the band and left us with a heavy stone on our backs, because we were booked a month later in Athens. I called Dario Frodo and he joined us in Greece, after not even a month of rehearsals.
Q: Some other gig were cancelled because of the fact Rudy has a major accident at work, what happened exactly?
A: Poor WhiteShark was working with a heavy industrial saw, when his boss asked him a question. Rudy was surprised and lost his attention for a second, but with heavy concequences! He almost lost his forearm… We had to cancel all obligations, even the KIT festival in 2011 and we were confronted with a long recovery period. WhiteShark fought back really hard and the best exercises to rebuild this wrecked arm, were indeed the guitar exercises. So instead of at least a long year of rehabilitation, we found Whiteshark again in rehearsal after only 7 months.
Q: Another highlight in the history of Ostrogoth came with the participation at the one and only Keep It True Festival, Germany. Meanwhile, Josey Hindrix became the new frontman… why Red Star left the ranks actually?
A: Red Star used to be one of the best frontmen ever on Belgian metal soil, but he had a lack of interest in hard working, rehearsals, involvement and future perspectives. Therefore our ways separated again, a very sad moment, but we had to move on and in came mister Josey Hindrix, to perform at a big festival as KIT, after only one month of rehearsals.
Q: Please tell me about your performance and other experiences at KIT?
A: KIT was a huge experience for us … People expected us to show up with almost the complete original line-up, but as mentioned above, we had to replace our frontman by Josey. In spite of the hard work we did in one month, we still had to deal with the possible negative reactions of the audience, related to their probably high expectations. This gig was a win or lose situation. We played a very good set and the audience loved it ! Ostrogoth was ready to take his rightful place again… We met a lot of nice people over there, talked with bands, and the audience was crazy and wonderful; this is a truly an amazing festival.
Q: Arising from Ostrogoth’s presence at KIT, you seemed to be very popular again and multiple gigs/festivals were booked. Tell us some more about that.
A: As I said, at KIT there were big expectations towards the band and we succeeded to convince the audience. Pictures and videos from KIT were posted on Facebook and YouTube, and people all over the world could see the positive impressions on KIT. Organizers were again very interested in Ostrogoth.
Q: I saw a picture of Metallica’s James Hetfield wearing a good old Ostrogoth T- Shirt… what’s the story behind?
A: We played a show in the early 80’s with Raven and we already had a lot of tapes to trade, so we gave John Gallagher a tape of ‘Full Moon’s Eyes’. A few weeks later they toured with a young Metallica and they played our tape in the bus. James was overwhelmed and he still knows the words of the song FME by heart. Metallica was at that time really focussed on the NWOBHM, brought by Lars Ulrich to the States. James is still a big fan of the genre nowadays!
Q: In the middle of the uprising success of the band playing loads of gigs, Bronco decided to leave the band. I’d like to know for what reason and a few words about his replacer would be good to know.
A: A simple reason: too much pressure. The combination with his professional activities, his hobbies and the band and his unstable health, made him decide to let the band continue without any restrictions due to his situation. Bronco and I still are doing little projects together. He was replaced by Stripe, who played with Dario in several bands, years ago.
Q: The recordings for the new album “Last Tribe Standing” started but the band was shocked by the tragic news about Rudy Vercruysse, being diagnosed with liver cancer. This must have been terrible news for Rudy in the first place, but also for the band themselves. Do you mind to talk about?
A: It was indeed very sad and troubling news, but with WhiteShark’s help himself, we managed to carry this misfortune courageously and positively.
Q: Even the fact Rudy was diagnosed with a terminal disease, he kept on delivering his awesome skills to the band to complete the new album. He also never stopped giving all he could while performing for a live audience. If there is one man I know living his life so determined for Heavy Metal music, that’s Rudy ‘WhiteShark’ Vercruysse definitely! May I ask for your reaction?
A: Rudy was simply very devoted to music in general and it helped him so much to carry this terrible disease, with a huge help and understanding of his wife and with the support of the people in the two bands he played in.
Q: He even introduced his successor, right? Give us a small briefing history on the new guitarist.
A: Geert Annys is an Ostend based guitar player. Rudy knew him for a long time, because his brother and Geert played in the same metal band. We even shared the stage in 1982. So we’ve known Geert for quite some time.
Geert played on the first Mystery album and after that he worked as a session musician and for a lot of coverbands in the area. Rudy stayed in touch with him and when the diagnosis of cancer was revealed, we already had some training sessions together with Geert, to have him standby if Rudy would fail to make it to the stage.
Luckily that didn’t happen and we could proceed with WhiteShark. When the terrible verdict arrived, we asked him to replace Rudy, after WhiteShark himself had confirmed his last wish, concerning his substitute.
Q: I didn’t know about the fact Rudy was also active in a cover band called Wolfgang, which type of songs outfit played?
A: Wolfgang plays entertaining pop-rocksongs, covers, for a large easy listening audience.
Q: I will remember Rudy forevermore as a natural born musician with the heart on the right place. Always willingly and ready to offer his outstanding skills to the band, no matter the illness he was involved with during the last months of his life. He shines on the new Ostrogoth album “Last Tribe Standing” which is a fantastic album and top candidate for my own Top 20 album list of 2015. Why did you choose to unleash the cut through Empire Records?
A: I remember Tony from Empire Records contacted me about two years ago, to see if we were interested in working with him. At that time we had no plans for recording any new material, but later on that changed when the band decided to write new songs.
Q: The long time collaboration with Mausoleum Records came to an end? Please explain.
A: A lot of misunderstandings led towards a complete chaotic relation with our previous record company. The deal we made with them was very promising , but due to a lack of communication, explicit agreements weren’t followed, misunderstood or spoken out. These matters led to a very unstable relationship, which caused the end of all cooperation.
Q: From where the decision to record four live songs and four studio tracks? Where the live ones were recorded actually?
A: The original idea was to record just 4 or 5 brand new, strong, heavy tracks, basically the same idea as we used to do with “Full Moon’s Eyes” back in 1983. But just a few weeks before we started our recording sessions, we were listening to some live audio recorded on some of our festival shows during the summer of 2014. Our live sound engineer mostly carries some cool equipment with him, so he’s always able to record up to 24 tracks simultaneously. We were really thrilled with the live versions of the entire F.M.E. album, that it would have been a waste not to use them as a cool bonus feature for our fans. Everything you hear there is 100 procent live, no overdubs whatsoever. The minor mistakes were left in the tracks. 100 procent live, raw and dynamic!
Q: Who were the guys in charge for the production, mastering/mixing process?
A: Guitarist Dario Frodo along with studio engineer Pete Mush produced the album. Pete Mush is also our sound engineer during gigs, and he owns a little studio, The Mushroom Studios, where he has produced already a lot of upcoming and promising bands, and his own band Quantum Fantay. The mastering, that was also an idea of Dario. He was able to get the mighty Jacob Hansen (Epica, Pretty Maids, Volbeat, Evergrey,…) to do the mastering of “Last Tribe”.
Q: Well, I’m very excited about the end result and like to ask for your own opinion as well.
A: We are very happy with this new album; it shows a reborn Ostrogoth, with a new dynamic approach, elaborated songs and a powerful setup; the live songs were put on the second part of the cd, as a gift for the old fans and a sample for our new fans, who weren’t able to get their original FME... and of course, to show the current Ostrogoth line-up.
Q: Are you agree with the words I’ve wrote during my review for “Last Tribe Standing”?
A: Definetely! We are very happy so far with the reviews that we’ve read! We truly believe in this album, but are really overwhelmed by the reactions from the fans and the great reviews we are getting. Thanks a lot for that!
Q: To whom you would like to dedicate this album?
A: This album is dedicated especially to JP, first guitar player ever in Ostrogoth (1980–1981, who died in June 2014) and our great tribesman Sphinx, who sadly past away in 1989. Furthermore to all people who always stood up for their beliefs, their music, their heart and spirit ! And in memoriam of WhiteShark of course.
Q: To promote this new effort, I suppose Ostrogoth will be touring across Belgium and far abroad. The CD release show is March 7th 2015 where Up The Belgians! Fest will take place, a strong initiative of Alcatraz Metal festival. What are the expectations?
A: The fans will be having high expectations; we’ve delivered the first new album in 28 years, it’s critically acclaimed by a lot of reviewers, and people will be very curious about the replacement of WhiteShark by Geert Annys. Furthermore it’s a great line-up that day, so yeah… I mean, even for us it’s a real challenge… We are going to give it a 110 percent…
Q: Do you have an address where “Last Tribe Standing” and other merchandising can be ordered?
A: Obviously at the merch booth during our live concerts, but the album can also be ordered directly through the band via http://ostrogoth.bigcartel.com/. If you prefer a digital download you can go to http://deliradio.com/ostrogoth
where you can also listen to four songs before downloading the album.
Q: On May 1st 2015, Ostrogoth will play at the US based Ragnarökkr Festival which is a big and actually well deserved honour. Damn great bands on the bill like some of my all time US Metal faves Attacker, Q5, Salem’s Wych, Liege Lord, Nuclear Assault, Aftermath and many more. How did you guys end up to this mighty feast on Metal?
A: Well, the guy organising is a big Ostrogoth fan and a lot of his friends are also really into the band. So we started talking in March of last year and two months later he decided to do this and bring us over for what will be our first ever oversees concert. We are really looking forward playing this show, because the vibes we are getting from the US fans are amazing. I think you can compare it with the crowd at KIT. Some of the fans over there have been waiting 20 or 30 years to see the band play live. So I think this show will be really special.
Q: Where can we expect Ostrogoth during the upcoming Summer months?
A: With the album just being released we are booking shows at the very moment and as far as Belgium is concerned we will be really playing everywhere this year. We already have a lot of shows booked, not all of them have been announced yet, just check out regularly the tour section of our website http://www.ostrogothofficial.com/tour/ or our official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ostrogothofficial to keep up with the latest updates. As far as other countries is concerned, if you ask us we’ll be there. In the past couple of years we played Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, Greece, Holland... we sure hope to be back there and to add a few new countries to that list.
Q: Being involved with Metal music yourself for decades, will you share some of your best experiences with us?
A: It was a long and exciting adventure so far. I had the chance to hear and see a lot of interesting bands, share a lot of musical experiences, to see my favourite bands through more than four decades, to stay healthy, to been able to chase my childhood’s dream and still be there to live the Ostro revival.
Q: Name me a few Belgian bands you really like at the moment, bands with a so-called potential value.
A: There are some really good bands in the Belgian metal landscape… Our heritage young wolves from Evil Invaders, Spoil Engine, Dyscordia, 23 Acez, RP’s Prime, Warckon, and our long time bro Wizz Wizzard.
Q: A personal one, what keeps you busy besides making music with your band? Any other ambitions to talk about?
A: I want to write a rock opera, I write songs and lyrics with and for a few rock friends and I try to keep in good shape for the upcoming Ostrogoth conquest. Besides my musical ambitions, I try to help people in social need, as a daily job.
Q: We’re reaching the end of this long list of questions, before we break up the connection I’d like to know about Ostrogoth’s future plans. Speak freely.
A: Well, from March 7th on we’ll be on the road promoting our new album, as much as we can. There are already a lot of new ideas for new songs, and some are already completely written, so I presume we’ll start rehearsing those new songs in the fall, while writing new tracks. Exciting times ahead of us, so stay tuned because we’ve still got a lot to go for in the near future!
Q: Keep Up The Good Works Mario, thanks for the collaboration! Any last remarks?
A: Thanks for this long and entertaining interview, Stefan! To our fans: see you on tour and don’t forget to check out our new album: “Last Tribe Standing”.