In late 2007, the metal community mourned the loss of Witold “Vitek” Kiełtyka, the impairment of Adrian “Covan” Kowanek, and the demise of one of the genre’s most venerable bands, Decapitated. While we all sat by and watched as Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka began to put the pieces of his band and life back together, the future of Decapitated remained bleak at best.
Then, in early 2009, to most everyone’s surprise, the band’s remaining member announced a reformation, a new tour, and soon, a new album. After hitting the road in the US, Europe, and Australia for much of 2010, the band returned to the studio early this year to begin recording their fifth album, Carnival is Forever. Released in July through Nuclear Blast, Carnival proved to be well worth the wait. The band’s follow up to Organic Hallucinosis is the best metal release of 2011 (don’t believe me–read this).
Prior to their appearance at The Whiskey in Hollywood, I had the privilege of sitting down with Wacław to discuss the band’s reemergence. In perhaps my lengthiest interview to date, we discussed the creative process behind Carnival, Covan’s harrowing recovery process, and the state of the modern metal scene.
So the new album is incredible. It’s insanely heavy, but has an almost expansive vibe to it. Was that your intention?
I think, yes, indeed. There’s lots of death metal on this album, but lots of other stuff, too. In my opinion, [there are] lots of progressive things going on. We connected the death metal with some other progressive parts, and I think it fits. It’s very cool. I’m very happy about it.
Finally, [for the] first time in my life, I was 100% brave that if I want to play what I like, I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t have to worry what someone will say about it, or if someone will like it or will not like it. But sometimes, it’s cool if somebody is pissed off about this. Some real death metal heads maybe didn’t expect it, but I think it’s a good surprise, for sure. It’s what I feel right now, and it’s what the band is feeling right now. It’s what we want to play.
I remember reading that the drums were recorded live…
Yes, that’s right. [The] kick drums are live kicks. It’s not triggers.
We did lots of crazy stuff in the studio with Daniel Bergstrand, the producer. He’s from Sweden, and he came into the studio in Poland and kept looking for the best sounding kick drums, and drums in general, for a couple of days. He did lots of crazy stuff, like he recorded in the stair area. He used all areas of the studio, every single place, to put microphones. He even put a big piano on the front of the drums, so that’s why he got more sustain for the sound. He did a great job, for sure.
It’s impressive in the sense that most modern metal bands can’t do that. Now everyone does massive guitar overdubs and uses fake drums, does sound replacement…
Yes, definitely. We were looking for the most natural sound because we are very bored and sick with the modern deathcore sounding bands. It’s a little too much of a plastic sound, you know? It’s not real.
We—me, and the guys, and our sound engineer, Malta (Arkadiusz Malczewski)—we like real.
Aside from the obvious lineup change, what was different for you through the writing and recording process this time around?
It was kind of hard, I have to say, especially in the beginning. When I played with Vitek, we are brothers, so it was very natural for us to work together without any words. We didn’t need to speak to understand what was the idea behind the riffs and stuff.
This time, I’m very happy and very proud about having Kerim Lechner as a drummer. In my opinion, he replaced Vitek 100% as a drummer. He’s very fast too, with arrangement and with arranging drums for my riffs. He’s a very smart guy, and he’s always on time. He’s young—he’s younger than me—so he’s got different influences for his drumming. He listens to mostly modern music, modern metal groups, but still we can understand each other even with a little bit of an age barrier.
There is also a language barrier because he comes from Austria, so we have to talk in English together. But step by step, we found a way to make the songs together, and it was a very cool process and very successful, I guess.
Well, I’m not sure if it was as big of a deal to everyone else, but I remember watching those videos of Kerim on YouTube…
Yeah, Kerim, before he joined the band, he was already kind of famous, like a YouTube star. (LAUGHS) He did so many videos on YouTube, and I have to say, I was pretty jealous by how many [views] he got.
Considering everything that the band has gone through, how much pressure did you feel when deciding to reform, as well as going into the writing and recording process?
Oh, I have to remind myself how it was. (LAUGHS)
I felt stressed about how it would be with the new lineup, and it was very hard to be on tour and not see the person I used to be on tour with and that used to be in the band; that was very, very hard. I did kind of struggle inside to understand it, or to be cool about the new situation, because the most important idea to come back was that we wanted to keep Decapitated alive, we wanted to try to play still. It would be not the same anymore, but I want[ed] to try as much as possible to keep it in the same spirit that it was in the past.
I think this album proves that it was a good idea to continue the band. I’m very happy, to be honest, to be on the stage again and to keep it going with this band, and I’m pretty sure that my brother would be happy about that, and Covan as well.
You played with Vader following the accident. How did that compare to being on stage now?
That was easier, to me, because there was no pressure. I was just a session guitar player. That was a very cool time, I have to say. Vader was always one of my favorite bands, and it was a very cool opportunity to play with them.
Something that really stuck out to me about Carnival is that you actually outsourced the lyrics…
Yes, somebody from outside the band. It’s quite weird. (LAUGHS) It happens for a couple of bands I know though, for Behemoth as well…
Yeah, yeah. Nergal. He’s writing some lyrics, but not all. They have one guy from Poland, he makes [the] lyrics for them. And you know, the main reason is that nobody from the band—me or the guys—we cannot write good lyrics. That’s the main reason.
We were dreaming to have the album, to have everything, just perfect—as much good as possible. That’s why we decided to leave the lyrics to the guy that knows how to do them. And this guy, his name is Jarosław Szubrycht. He’s from Poland, and he’s my old friend. I play with this guy in a band called Lux Occulta, a very interesting band. But this guy, he’s a journalist as well. He’s writing books. He has his very own characteristics and original style.
The lyrics are pretty interesting, in my opinion. They’re crazy, a little bit, but this is his style. It’s not usual, it’s not simple, but it’s different. The lyrics are about some things going on in the world and about people, how we don’t want to change and we make the same mistakes. Humanity likes to hide the bad things, like hide behind masks—politicians, religions, whatever.
Did you work with him on the concept?
I just talk[ed] to him in the beginning. I wanted him to write the lyrics, and the lyrics should talk about human nature and about what is going on in the world. It should show how it looks in the real world, like behind the mask. It’s about humanity, about real things.
Do you think you’ll continue working with him on future recordings?
That’s a good question, but I don’t know. I wish! I hope he would be interested. If yes, that will be cool, and maybe for the next album or maybe more. I will be happy, for sure, but we’ll see if he will be interested.
Musically, you’ve always been a very forward-thinking band. How have you been able to consistently evolve while a lot of the metal community has become somewhat predictable?
Or obvious. Like a lot of the music coming out doesn’t really offer anything new…
Oh yes, I know. It’s very hard.
And Carnival is just…within the first ten seconds, I was already blown away.
You think it’s something good?
(LAUGHS) I don’t know. I’m always trying to put as much energy as I’ve got, and that was the concept behind my music and writing these riffs. On this album, as I said in a question before, it’s [got] some kind of progressive, dreamy parts, like you sleep, and you’re dreaming. It’s more chilled out. So maybe the mix between this kind of playing and really fast, death metal riffs together, it makes something interesting. It makes something new for extreme metal music.
For me, this album, the riffs, are still really deep into traditional metal. It’s not really something new or original. It’s hard to say. Would you say it’s fresh or something like that?
Yes, considering how redundant a lot of metal bands have become.
Oh, like you hear another deathcore band and it sounds the same, but we make it something different?
Oh yeah, and of course, about music and about arrangement and also about production.
Yes, exactly. But everything about Carnival is exactly what Decapitated fans want to hear.
Really? That’s so cool!
You have to know that this album should have been released about three years ago, because those songs, the main ideas for those songs, I created with Vitek before [the] accident in 2005 and 2006. So those ideas waited a long time to be released.
So considering your age when the band first formed, it’s obvious that music has always played a large role in your life. Who have been some of your biggest influences, not only as a musician, but as a songwriter as well?
It’s a lot of persons, lots have influenced me through the years. Lots of guitar heroes like Dimebag Darrell. I think Pantera and Dimebag Darrell are some of the biggest music influences for me.
I started to listen to metal when my older cousins showed me metal, and it was like Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer—the music from here, that was the first of what I heard of metal music. Then I changed my point to Florida…
On to death metal?
Yes, death metal! And, I don’t know, together, with some European metal bands like Kreator and Sodom…I mean, I was listening to all metal. I didn’t like too much of doom metal, slow music, though.
Do you now?
Yes, more! (LAUGHS)
I feel like as I get older, doom is becoming more my speed…
Yes, yes, yes! It’s the way, it’s the classic way.
But yes, so there are so many bands I looked up to. I also studied music at music school, at the Academy of Music in Kraków. I studied the accordion. (LAUGHS)
That’s hard to play!
Yes, yes! Very, very hard! It’s not easy, but I graduated, and I am very proud.
What made you go with the accordion?
I started to play accordion when I was six because my parents said, “Play the accordion.” So that’s why, and then it was too late to change, so I thought, why not? It’s cool. But I don’t play too much right now. Mostly guitar. But this instrument, hmm, maybe I should play. I don’t know, maybe it’s too hard now. I’m lazy, and I prefer metal because it’s easier to play. (LAUGHS)
It’s crazy that you’re so accomplished with more than one instrument. It’s like how the Van Halen brothers are actually both amazing at each other’s instruments.
Yeah? I didn’t know that. That is why they are so good!
Exactly. So going back to the original question…
Yeah, you ask me about something, and I don’t give you an answer. (LAUGHS) Songwriting influences. I would say Devin Townsend. He’s a good composer. Jeff Hanneman is a good composer. Dimebag Darrell was a fucking brilliant composer. There are a bunch of great composers from classical music, too, that I really respect. Frédéric Chopin is my favorite composer, for sure, and Claude Debussy.
That’s funny. My standard daytime music is “The Nocturnes, Op. 9,” and once I really wake up, I throw on Pantera.
Yes, yes, me too! I always listen to Chopin, then Pantera, then Morbid Angel. So same music! And oh yeah, I have to say Trey Azagthoth to add to the list from before.
Covan’s birthday was earlier this week. Do you have any update on his condition?
He, all the time, makes progress. But his health state, it’s still not happy, and it’s not good. I mean, it’s still on the same line. He’s safe, he’s not in harm, and he’s ok. He has good doctors, and he’s taken care of by lots of persons everyday, but, you know, he cannot move, and he cannot do anything by himself.
Probably he can understand what’s going on around him, and he understands what people say and when people talk, but he cannot speak. He cannot do anything. He spends his time on the bed or on the chair. His parents are taking care of him, and his friends, and his sister, of course. It’s hard. But sometimes people are getting better after ten or twelve years from his situation, or so I hear about.
His parents are planning to take him to Germany for surgery, to take some…I don’t know how to translate. What is the word for the things we are made up from?
Yes, I think so. For the surgery, they want to take the cells from other parts of the body and put [them] into the brain. I think so, I think it’s something like that. I don’t know medicine. I am not a doctor. But this surgery is still…not experienced?
Yes, yes, experimental. So, it’s not totally legal. You have to sign the papers that if something happens [or goes] wrong, they are not at fault. So I think they should try, because it’s the last, or maybe one of the last chances, to really do something that makes the process of recovery faster. It’s a very difficult situation, especially because it’s very expensive. It takes lots of money.
Does Poland not pay for portions of your health care? I thought I remembered hearing something about that from when Nergal was sick…
Covan has some help from the government, but it’s not as much as he’s needing.
Yeah, we don’t really have that here. Well actually, some people do, but that’s a whole different conversation…
I hear that it’s better to die in the US than to go to the doctor. It’s a whole different world. I hear that the medicine, or when you want to go to the hospital in the US, if you don’t have insurance, it’s very expensive.
Oh, yes. Well, following this US run, what’s in store for the band for the rest of the year?
After this tour? We have two weeks for break, but it’s not really a break because we have two festivals. One is in Belgium, and one is in the UK, in Nottingham. I am very, very happy about these festivals. I cannot wait! We will play with Ulver, the band. You don’t know?
Oh, check them out. It’s cool, it’s very cool! We are also playing with Devin Townsend and Godflesh, so a very cool lineup! After that, we have a European tour with Aborted and Fleshgod Apocalypse and with Cyanide Serenity in Europe.
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