The devil made Dutch musician SL turn his life around—and forge a strangely moving band
Published: August 25, 2010
I first read about the Devil’s Blood in the metal press. About how they were this ferocious quintet from the Netherlands with a wild-haired singer covered in blood. Occult rituals, perhaps satanic, were involved. All of it was true and all of it missed the point.
First off, the Devil’s Blood: not metal. It’s so much more the head spins. Put on paper the band is kind of impossible. And that is the point. Or one of them.
Released in 2008, the Dutch quintet’s first EP, Come, Reap, was a sublime mesh of irreconcilable elements. There’s that blood-covered singer—but she has this shivery alto that’s like a possessed Grace Slick. There’s the haunted guitar psychedelia of 1960s Pretty Things, the compositional flow of “Rhiannon” period Fleetwood Mac, the guitar heroics of Richard Lloyd in his Television glory days, and a general Roky Erickson vibe. That this all blends together with nary a retro moment or source quotation—that’s some serious alchemy.
In May arrived the band’s latest, The Time of No Time Evermore, a more restless thing constantly looking for ways to musically outdo itself. The band’s live three-guitar attack is multi-tracked into harmonized layers of shimmer, grind, and/or trance. “Christ or Cocaine” is triumphant delirium, “Evermore” a radio-friendly, sexed-up fatalism (Blood songs don’t do single emotions). Album closer “The Anti-Kosmik Magick” is both a dizzying 11-minute psychedelic guitar workout and a lyric manifesto. “As my blood starts to mix with the clay,” singer F. the Mouth of Satan sings, “I tear these chains away.”
The man behind the band goes by the name “SL”. And for SL, the band is about chaos. It’s about Satan too, but in a way that helps you better experience and understand SL’s unclassifiable band, it’s about chaos.
I interviewed SL through a series of e-mails and a phone conversation. A native of Eindhoven, Holland, he can be churlish or charming, his language often lovely, even incantational. You quickly learn that there’s no way to speak with him without engaging his spirituality.
The Devil’s Blood was not born of the creative fires of youth. Rather, it came about after SL, now somewhere in his 30s, knocked around Europe trying to earn a living playing punk, black metal, and rock ‘n’ roll “in other people’s shitty bands,” he says.
The good thing was that he became very eclectic musically. The bad thing, he says, “was [that] it was vain and totally unimportant, [with] no urgency.” Like many people adrift, SL became a junkie and an alcoholic.
Conventional wisdom has it that most addicts’ recoveries are inseparable from a spiritual awakening. For SL, specifically raised an atheist, this awakening was a process started in 2004 when he took the first major steps “towards the things that I’d always been attracted to,” he says, “but had never been brave enough to open my eyes to and accept.”
What SL accepted was Satan, god of chaos, which led to the Devil’s Blood–both of which, he says, pulled him “out of the ruins and into glory.” SL’s spiritual Satanism has little to do with the antics of Anton LaVey, the Church of Satan founder whom SL brushes off as “laughable and empty.”
Instead, spiritual Satanism posits two powers at work in the universe. SL writes that there’s one of order, structure, and oppression that the masses have sort of been bilked into believing is good and, ergo, God, but who actually “enslaves the will and undermines individuality.” And there’s another side, which he says “seeks to overthrow balance, to undo order and instigate Chaos.” That would be Satan. As a force of destruction, antagonism, and chaos, SL writes that Satan drives people to deeds of “self exploration and ultimately self realization.”
At the same time, and if I am understanding SL correctly, he believes Satan revolts against the entirety of creation by seeking to return reality to the “nothingness from where it has come.” Whatever your beliefs, the fact that these existentially unforgiving ideas are what gave SL succor in his darkest hours may cause you to admire the strange steel in his spirit, whatever its ultimate path.
Newly focused, SL composed new material, but it came from a feminine viewpoint and he needed a singer to match. He found it in his sister, now known as F. the Mouth of Satan, a mother of one whose only experience had been in dreadful cover bands, which SL angrily compares to “handing a brilliant painter a brush and saying the only thing you’re allowed to paint now is puppy dogs and seals.”
The Devil’s Blood, which congealed into a unit in 2008, changed that. And, really, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect voice for this band—a banshee lead that can go lullaby sweet, a perfect instrument for meticulous overdubbing. For all the talk of chaos, Blood music couldn’t be less so. But to SL this isn’t a contradiction at all.
Instead, he asks you to instead consider inspiration as a chaotic force. “It’s uncontrollable,” he says. “It’s fluid, you can’t feel it . . . but it’s there.” That force is what compels SL to write and produce a song. Then it’s released. Somebody then buys and listens to it. And then, according to SL, something strange happens: “The structure and the order and the mathematics of the music dissolve and create an emotional reaction in the people who listen to it.”
A certain wonder colors his voice when he talks about this process. “And this response is totally unpredictable,” he says. “It could be abject hatred, disgust, loathing, love, happiness, sadness, regret. The entire span of human emotions can come through you in the span of three and a half minutes. And this is why music, to me, is still the highest art form.”
On Sept. 25, the Devil’s Blood plays Calgary, Canada at the Noctis Valkyries Metal Festival. After that, there may be—emphasis on the “may”—Blood performances in select American cities, but SL isn’t sure of that as yet.
Me, I have never seen the Devil’s Blood. What follows is a combination of video viewings and SL’s vivid descriptions. Somehow, they’re enough. Especially the last.
The three guitarists alternately trance out or form a headbanging attack formation. The record’s psychedelic soft rock is played with such ferocity that it effectively morphs into some unclassified metal subgenre, which might in part explain that metal press coverage.
F. the Mouth sings with shamanic intensity, absolutely refusing to acknowledge her audience. Her hair and clothes, like those of all the band members, are filthy with blood, pig’s blood it turns out. The clothes are never cleaned.
The blood is “like a mask,” SL says. “We literally wear death on our faces. If [audiences] just think it looks cool, that’s fine. If they think it’s disgusting, that’s even better.”
The performance clothing is left uncleaned because, SL says, they “become like relics, like something used for prayer.” And for SL, the experience of wearing such overwhelmingly, well, gross garments is part of the process of leaving one’s normal persona behind and becoming a part of the collective called the Devil’s Blood.
SL describes, voice rising with something like glee, a best-case-scenario Blood gig in Leipzig, Germany, at the Hellraiser Club: “One part of the audience was kissing and hugging. Another part was fighting, another was . . . hypnotized. Another . . . . dancing! It was Altamont and Woodstock in one place!
“Those are the moments that you really feel closest to the spiritual connection,” SL says. It’s when people let go “of all inhibitions and this is about as close to Chaos as any individual could come without the use of true magical practice.”
That doesn’t always happen though. Many of the band’s gigs, SL admits, are “simply rock ‘n’ roll.”
I ask SL if he thinks that this time of economic depression, political polarization, and general growth in hate industries represents a good time for the devil. There’s no equivocation: “Absolutely,” he says. “It’s the best time! The only thing that’s missing from your equation is the rise of a large and powerful satanic underground.”
Meanwhile, he’s eagerly waiting for a literal time of no time evermore. “I actually allow myself to hope that I’m part of the last generation,” he says with zeal. “I really would love to see things fall apart even more.”
And yet, and yet: When the conversation retreats from the apocalyptic and SL is asked to imagine a young person, troubled, adrift, and experiencing the Devil’s Blood and being deeply, positively affected, a certain softness of spirit enters his voice. And this does happen. People let him know that “there’s something about the Devil’s Blood that’s actually changed their lives and it made them feel better,” he says. “More powerful.”
As to what feeling “better” might mean here, the Satanist says it’s when the music helps a person, perhaps, to look at things with new eyes, to not accept “some of the lies” told to her, “to realize “her true self more,” and to “maybe accept what she is.”
A pause. “I think it’s something I can be proud of,” he admits. “It’s just not something I dwell on too much.”
End times, empowerment, self realization, and the end of creation. Back and forth. I’m guessing that, if I called SL again, he’d find the glue and claim it’s just chaos, doing what it does. ■