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Not So New Beginnings: A Conversation With Michael Poulsen of Asinhell

The multi-faceted musician expands upon his latest endeavor, one that finds the Volbeat frontman treading back to his death metal origins and the wonder of old school vinyl and tape trading.

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Words by Luis (@HeaviestOfArt):


Asinhell, the new band featuring Volbeat’s Michael Poulsen, Marc Grewe of Insidious Disease and Morgoth fame, and Morten Toft Hansen of Raunchy, has just released their debut album, Impii Hora, via Metal Blade Records and like the Albert Che cover that fronts it, it pays homage to the greatness of the death metal's glory days. With inspirations like Bolt Thrower, Entombed, and Autopsy among others, it's clear that Impii Hora pulls from the source and its ripping compositions do right by the genre's revered history from beginning to end.


There are no forced elements or attempts to sound distinct, rather a successful attempt to deliver death metal of the highest order. Memorable Poulsen riffs and hooks lead the album's hard-hitting instrumentation, bringing the mastermind back to the death metal origins he had when first forming Dominus. Asinhell breathes life into the Danish musician's musical upbringing and stands tall among the genre's offerings this year, which are many.


We welcome Michael Poulsen in conversation to talk through Impii Hora and the state of mind it finds him in decades after leaving behind the death metal arena:

 

Michael, you've achieved great success with Volbeat and are now embarking upon a new chapter with Asinhell, scratching a creative itch you've had in the death metal arena. What did you envision for this new album upon approaching the creative cycle?


Michael: You know what? I don't even recall having any expectations because for us, Asinhell is a project based on the love we have for old school death metal. We know it's a style that belongs to the underground, and we're totally fine by that because that's part of the charm. It's part of why we're we're doing it. It reminds us of how we started as musicians back in the days where there was no internet and where all the connection you had to people was going out, leaving your home, and going to the venues and clubs to hook up with your friends or other people who are into extreme music. Tape trading was a big part of that, as were the many record stores that existed at the time where there were only a few releases every month, which was very exciting. To go into all those stores then take the train home to the countryside while nerding out over the album covers, lyrics, and pictures was amazing.


It's very different these modern days. I think a lot of the soul and spirit is flying out the door, but it's just the way it is, though it somewhat still exists with the amount of vinyl being sold. Releasing an old school death metal record on vinyl, like we're doing with Asinhell, just takes me back to how I started playing music and how I started promoting music. It's a great memory, it's emotional, and it's fun. It's everything that I would put in the category of just being great.


That's great to hear, especially since this is essentially you coming full circle with your trajectory as a musician. Is there a sense of realization that you feel with returning to your roots after having achieved so much and explored a different sonic territory with Volbeat over the years?


There's still a lot of work to do in Volbeat, you know? We will not play live next year. I'm having a throat operation in a few weeks and it of course takes time to heal and train my voice back to shape. I will write a new album all of next year and record the album later during that year, and next year, it will be time for Asinhell to go out and play some live shows.



Everything I do when it comes to music is done with a lot of passion and dedication. It doesn't matter if it's Asinhell or if it's Volbeat or if I'm helping friends out in the studio or whatever. This is just something that I love to do, and now I found the time to pick up the death metal guitar again and open the coffin with all the great riffs that I've been writing for some time, even though the riffs are really, really fresh in my head. I always remember ideas and somehow managed to save them.


For me, it's all about desire and passion, you know? I discovered classic heavy metal when I was 10 and the more extreme side of heavy music when I was 13. I'm 48 today, so that's been a lot of years listening to to extreme music. When I ended my first death metal band, Dominus, it was during a time where I was moving away from home and I started buying into all the old records that my parents had from the 50s. I just got so inspired by that when I started writing new songs and then began the combination of melodic tunes from the 50s with what Volbeat became. It didn't really fit the death metal thing that I was doing at that time, so I just needed to put the death metal thing on hold and go on an adventure where my songwriting was totally different.

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Photograph by Brittany Bowman

Asinhell is like picking up your old bike or something that you have been storing in the garage for so many years. It's been gnawing at you but you're always busy until one day, you finally pick it up again. Like many musicians, I had time during the pandemic to sit down and reflect on everything that I have been doing, what I was about to do, and what I wanted to do. At the same time, we were scaling down the activities with Volbeat from playing 180 shows per year to 150, and then 130, and then 100, and now we're down to like 50 shows per year. Suddenly, there was time and I began reflecting on other stuff that I wanted to do. I also have two small kids and I wanted to spend so much time with them, but when they were in school, I had the time to be in my basement, pick up the guitar, and put on those old school death metal records that inspired Asinhell.


I'm sure it's a very emotional feeling to see this project through, cathartic even with you having the desire to release a project of this. Speaking of the influence and distinct songwriting styles present here, is it freeing at all for you to stray from the musical identity of Volbeat and please your creative ambitions? As we've mentioned, there are zero expectations here.


Absolutely. The thing is that I also do exactly what I want to do in Volbeat where I find myself mixing a lot of different styles. There's a lot of freedom in doing that. With Asinhell, there's a certain love and passion for a certain style, that being 100% old school death metal. I'm definitely looking forward to going out and playing those shows next year. I will have a new role not being the frontman but being the guy on the right side, just bringing it on the guitar. I can't wait, it's gonna be a lot of great fun.


We can't wait to see you on the road! Just hearing you speak about the record and this chapter of your career is evident of the excitement you feel, which I'm sure you share with your bandmates Marc Grewe and Morten Toft Hansen. What role did camaraderie play in the record's creative development?


It definitely means everything. Without the camaraderie, the band wouldn't exist because it's so much about that. It's so much about great memories because we've known each other for so many years. It's about being very nerdy about what you like and what you're listening to. That way, you sound like you want to when it comes to creating a band. Having good friends like Mark and Morten in the band means everything and I think you can hear that on the record. You can hear that we're having fun, you can hear that we are totally behind what we're doing and you can tell that we wear our inspirations on our sleeves. It's very obvious the kind of bands that we were inspired by and it's a great thing to be able to share that passion with friends.


On top of that, you get to release it on a label like Metal Blade that played a crucial role in the genre's development. You're living your younger self's dream!


Absolutely! Back in the day when I had Dominus, there was a lot of tape trading involved to try and get a record deal. The most craziest thing you can imagine in the world was being released on vinyl because it was just surreal to see your record at the record stores. It's something very, very special. It's almost like, "Mom, I made it." When Dominus finally got a record deal, it was at a time where record companies couldn't really sell vinyl anymore because they were getting ready to release CDs. It was great but a bummer at the same time because Dominus were never released on on vinyl as a result. That's something I'm going to change a little bit later on since I own everything in the Dominus catalog. More on that later. For now, Asinhell has a record deal with Metal Blade and the legendary Brian Slagel and 'Impii Hora' will be released on vinyl. I love it. It's a dream come true and I kind of feel like a 16 year old boy again.



Speaking of the vinyl, I think it's a perfect segue into another perfect point that I wanted to touch on, which is the killer cover illustration. What were you envisioning upon approaching the visual element for the debut? Who was responsible for the artwork?


It's a guy called Albert Che and he's done amazing covers for a lot of great bands. We were just going through different artists and when I checked his website and his work, I was just blown away. We basically just sent our lyrics to him and said, "Go figure them out and come up with a cover." That's what he did, and then I just came up with the album title. We gave him a lot of freedom to just dig into the lyrics and he came up with this skeleton cranium with these devil horns. The whole skull is like made out of veins and smoke. I think it looks awesome and I just really liked the idea of just doing a black and white cover because it's very old school, almost kind of punk-like. It looks really great.


I agree, and I'll be looking into his work! Shifting gears a bit, Michael, you've had a lot of experience in songwriting. Putting ideas down on paper and seeing them evolve into music and art isn't always easy, but over the years, do you feel like it has gotten easier? Or is it just as complicated and exciting to struggle as always?


That's a very, very good question, actually. The thing is that I now have a lot of experience since I started writing music as a youngster all the way up to now. I remember starting writing death metal back in the days when we had no idea what structure was. We didn't know how any of this was supposed to be, so discovering things like Chuck Schuldiner's legendary Death was very good for us.


You could definitely hear his progression as a songwriter. If you're listening to what he did in "Scream Bloody Gore", it was great, but there wasn't as much expansive structure to it and and I remember writing death metal where it was always about the riff and then put the growling on top of it. When Chuck started releasing things like "Leprosy" and "Spiritual Healing", you could hear the amazing structure he built. We got a verse, we got a bridge, we got a hook, and it was like, "Wow, all right." It came together beautifully. It totally made sense what the guy was trying to do.


Having the experience I have now as a songwriter, which is something that I used in Asinhell, I like things to have a certain structure in it and that's part of why certain albums also become very recognizable and catchy. People can certainly figure the whole thing out, if you know what I mean. However, I do still like for things to be a little bit messy now now and then, or we can leave everything wide open in certain songs. We like to mix things up.

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Photograph by Brittany Bowman

Definitely, and it speaks to the level of investment you have in your craft instead of delivering the bare bones version of the genre. In closing, in what state of mind does 'Impii Hora' find you in? Albums are a time capsule of where a band, and its members, are at in their life and for you, this is a fresh start - a debut record for a new band after selling countless records with Volbeat.


The best way I can answer that question is by saying I'm very satisfied and happy with where I'm at in my life. I have a great band in Volbeat, I have a great wife, two kids, and now I have Asinhell who's about to release a first album. The rest is out there for us to explore. There's stuff that I haven't tried with Asinhell because it's brand new, and I kind of like that idea, so again, I can't wait to go out and play those shows with this band. It's great to have a lot of experience that I of course didn't have as a youngster, which will make this death metal thing a lot easier down the line compared to when I was first starting off. I'm just at a very good place in my life right now, just enjoying whatever I'm doing.


In short, there's a lot of Asinhell to come. This is only the beginning and there will be more records to come. When it comes to the live shows, I said it before, we will try to break a record and see if we can play more shows than Darkthrone.

 

Impii Hora is available now via Metal Blade Records (Order).

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Cover Artwork by Albert Che

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