The sensational Swiss quintet have released two successful albums since 2020 (check out “Dance With The Devil” and “The Witch Of The North”, if you haven’t already) and are swiftly following them up with their fifth strike. The highly anticipated “The Dark Tower” tells the gruesome tale of the Hungarian ‘Blood Countess’ Elizabeth Bathory and her many murders. I have met up with Dutch vocal powerhouse Laura Guldemond for a cosy chat on Zoom about the new material, her all-time musical favourites and the overall importance of staying in shape.
INTERVIEW BY: ISABELL KÖSTER
You have just released “The Dark Tower”. How did you come up with the title?
We were really in the mood for making something darker this time. The Countess Elizabeth Bathory is one of the first recorded serial killers in history, so it’s a cool subject with a lot of crazy stories around it. People during the ages got a lot of inspiration out of it, and it was great to have that as a base for the songs. For the previous album we chose the Witch Of The North as the theme, but this time, we wanted to go more towards horror. And of course, there is a witch in the story, too.
That’s interesting. Who was the witch?
Some people believe that one of her servants and biggest helpers was a witch. The story goes that she would recruit the victims and help with the torturing. It’s grim stuff. One person being crazy is one thing, but the idea that people would help her is bizarre to me. But I guess there are always people who are attracted to violence.
The Countess Bathory is a popular figure in metal. What was your approach here?
We have our own take on her story and look at it from different perspectives on this record. That is also reflected in the rich variety of music that you find on “The Dark Tower”. The track “Heart Of Ice”, for example, allows a glimpse into the world of the Countess at the end of her life, when she has fallen from grace, is locked up in her castle and wasting away slowly. While writing the lyrics, I was trying to understand her motivation and while I’m obviously not supporting serial killers, I was trying to find some sympathy for such a person. I wondered if she was just crazy or if there was more to it and if her horrible actions might have been some sort of misdirected coping mechanism. I mean, she grew up in an era where terrible punishments were common – but of course, that’s no excuse for her behaviour. However, I enjoyed reflecting on this scary historical person. And I love the idea that every artist throughout history has given her story their own little twist. Besides, it’s kind of cool to think of the castle as a haunted place, surrounded by all the lost souls who were killed in it. On the album cover, you see us become part of this restless force of vengeful ghosts.
It has indeed become a bit of a tradition to have all of you Witches featured on the cover artwork. Which artist designed the cover this time?
It was again designed by Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák. We love what he did for previous ones and were very happy that we could recruit him again for this one.
Talking about visuals: please tell me more about the macabre video shoot for “The Dark Tower”. How was the atmosphere on set and where did you film?
We had a lot of fun and were shooting in an old dungeon underneath a museum in Nuremberg/Bavaria. We enjoyed acting a bit for the first time and had invited some fans to join us. All band members, apart from our bassist Jay Grob, took on the roles of servants who were tortured by the Countess. But Jay joined the evil side – a fact that we decided on a whim, as she and our Countess in the video both have red hair.
Back to the music. How would you describe “The Dark Tower” musically, compared to “The Witch Of The North”?
It’s darker and heavier. If you’d put a film genre on it, I’d say it’s a bit more horror and there is a bit more gore in it. It has a higher shock value and that’s what we wanted to go for. We drew inspiration from some of the older songs that we loved and that are a bit darker. So, there should be influences of that in the new material.
Talking about influences: which bands are your all-time favourites?
One of my all-time classics is Judas Priest. I love the album “Painkiller”, because it’s extremely energetic, the songs are crazy good and there are so many cool guitars and impressive vocals. In addition, I love W.A.S.P. and would say that “Dying For The World” is my favourite record, because it’s the first album I listened to. The music is brooding and dark and I just love that vibe. I love Within Temptation’s “Mother Earth”, but I wouldn’t say they have influenced me directly. Regarding this album, it was funny, as I didn’t think of this music for a long time, but I looked at some of the comments on our new videos and someone wrote that my vocals reminded them of Kai Hansen from Helloween. And admittedly, I did listen to that and I liked the albums with Kai Hansen best. So maybe I integrated something of that into the music without realizing it.
How old were you when you got into metal?
When I was about sixteen years old. But I didn’t listen to a lot of metal until bands like Within Temptation got played on the radio here in the Netherlands. Shortly afterwards, I discovered that they still had some metal-related stuff on MTV. During that period, I started to discover things and started getting into metal because I just love guitars. And I love it when the music is melancholic and dark, but also energetic. One of my first music-related memories is loving Alice Cooper’s “Poison”. I was ten years old and just listened to a snippet of the song that was used as a commercial on the radio. I was instantly drawn to this dark and slightly creepy vibe that it’s got. But because I was so young, my parents were trying to protect me from everything that was possibly damaging and always turned the radio off. I didn’t get my penchant for spooky stuff from parents, that’s for sure. My dad loves fantasy, but my mum is a bit more careful and a softie. They support me, of course, and come to our shows, but tend to take it a bit too seriously. They are religious and still preach to me sometimes, but generally have become more chilled out over the years. When I was a teenager, however, we had our difficulties.
Back to the album: was there a song that was particularly difficult for you to sing?
There are always little things that are difficult. For this album I wrote a lot of lyrics, and some of the sentences turned out to be bloody long – in retrospect a little too long. I can sing it, but it’s pretty tricky doing it live. If you think of “The Dark Tower”, I have my melody, but also have to join the choir in the chorus. So it’s not like I have a break. Thus, I have to carefully time when I breathe. And if I don’t go to the gym, I won’t be able to sing it.
How important is it for you as a singer to exercise regularly?
Working out is very important for me. I had a funny experience that makes this clear: last year we went on tour with Destruction and were scheduled to perform at 2,000 metres altitude. Before the gig, the question came up whether we would need extra oxygen on stage because of the altitude. But in the end, I didn’t need it. Randy Black, the drummer of Destruction, and I are probably the people who work out most of the whole group and we thought we felt something at some point, but we were okay. The others were all impacted much more. And I think one reason I felt better was that at that point I worked out a lot and regularly did cardio. Like I told you before, if you don’t work out and you have to put in so much energy, you almost can’t make it to the end of the song. You just need that stamina. So, working out really helps me because I like to give highly energetic shows.
You also always look great and extremely badass on stage. How do you do it, and where do you buy your outfits?
Thanks! Well, sometimes I just buy something off AliExpress and put studs on it. But often I don’t see anything new there, because it’s a bit limited what they offer in terms of fake leather and stuff like that. Because I think heavy metal needs leather. I adore the Judas Priest style, for example. And W.A.S.P. also have a cool look. I really have to say that I love a little bit of craziness when it comes to outfits. That’s why I started buying from cool alternative designers, but it’s just way more expensive. However, there are a few great designers like Toxic Vision, Painkiller Clothing, Kissin Bombs, My Little Halo. But most of the time, all of us Witches just customize our clothing, instead of buying ready- or custom-made pieces.
There is also a change on stage, so to speak. You have a new temporary band member called Courtney Cox. How would you describe her?
Courtney is originally a friend of our band leader, Romana Kalkuhl, a good musician and fun to work with. She is also a proper party animal. I don’t know how she does it, but on tour she gives one hundred percent every night, regardless.
What are Burning Witches’ plans for the rest of 2023?
We are planning more gigs and there are a lot of festival shows coming up. But before that, we are going to play album release concerts in Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium, which will be crazy and fun.