By David E. Gehlke
DECAPITATED guitarist Wacław"Vogg"Kiełtyka speaks glowingly of his band's latest studio album, "Cancer Culture". And he should — the album marks a return of the brutality that immediately put the Polish quartet on the map for their 2000 "Winds Of Creation" debut, an LP recorded when they were teens. Aside from Vogg's trademark face-melting riffs and relentless right-arm, "Cancer Culture" includes guest vocals from JINJER's Tatiana Shmayluk and MACHINE HEAD's Robb Flynn, the latter of whom recruited Vogg into his own band three years ago. Not coincidently, Shmayluk and Flynn's appearances provide DECAPITATED with a melodic edge that could broaden their appeal, but make no mistake — "Cancer Culture" is the band's most extreme effort since 2011's "Carnival Is Forever".
For all the talk about Vogg's abilities as a guitarist, DECAPITATED has stared down two career-altering events. In 2007, the band was involved in a bus accident while traveling through Russia. Their bus collided with a truck hauling wood, seriously injuring vocalist Adrian"Covan"Kowanek, who remains paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Vogg's brother, drummer Witold "Vitek" Kiełtyka, succumbed to injuries from the crash a few days later. In 2017, the members of DECAPITATED were arrested and charged with rape and kidnapping in Spokane, Washington. The band was detained in the United States for nearly four months until they were cleared of all charges. To his credit, Vogg managed to keep DECAPITATED going after both events and in speaking with BLABBERMOUTH.NET, it was clear the guitarist had plenty to look forward to.
Blabbermouth: What brought back the brutal, technical riffs?
Vogg: "Well, I think it was time to return with the brutality and aggression. When you listen to the whole album, there's so much diversity, flavors and different songs. It's coming back with aggression, speed, blast beats and double-bass and crazy tempos. It's like the old days when we did 'Nihility' in 2002. It was about time to do this after the last two records, 'Anticult' and 'Blood Mantra'. They focused on crunchy, groovy riffs. They're still death metal and extreme, but it was more of a place for 'easy playing.' Now, we made a little surprise for the fans."
Blabbermouth: Were you looking for a challenge on the guitar again?
Vogg: "Maybe I was challenging myself about playing more technical and putting more melodies — more of everything. The album is full of ideas, full of riffs. I spent so much time with the guitar because of Covid. It gave us more time to practice, to be at home with the instrument and in the studio. I focused on making riffs, making music. It gave me an opportunity to be a better guitar player. [Laughs] It's a silly reason, but maybe the riffs on 'Hello Death' and when Tatiana starts singing, it's insanely fast and technical. It's like a solo riff like I did in the past with 'View From Nihil' or the 'Winds Of Creation' album. I challenged myself more on the compositions and arrangements. I tried to take a step up as a composer and look more on the left side, like my left hand on the neck. As you can probably hear, there's so much melody this time. Since 'Winds Of Creation', we didn't have these melodies. That was more important in challenging myself as a composer. Luckily, during these crazy circumstances, it was really helpful to have this free time without touring and festivals. We took some good things from the experience to make a great album."
Blabbermouth: You already said it, but this is one of the few times when DECAPITATED has entered melodic territory. What was that a result of?
Vogg: "This is completely new for DECAPITATED: Singing vocals from Robb and Tatiana. We've never done this before. Rasta [Rafał Piotrowski] was sometimes singing with his 'dirty' voice — you can hear it on 'Earth Scar', but now we have clean vocals from amazing guests. It was great to have them both and when I created a riff, someone could actually sing over it. This is the first time that I have experienced something like that in my career. The first time I heard it, it was in the summer, really late because the time difference is huge between California [where Shmayluk tracked her vocals] and Poland. I listened to it around eleven or midnight. It was just something that hit me so hard. I had such an amazing experience listening to Tatiana's first demo of 'Hello Death'. It was something completely new and amazing. I'm really proud that it happened and that she agreed to make the cooperation between DECAPITATED and JINJER. It's amazing that it happened."
Blabbermouth: How do you think the 2002 version of yourself would have reacted knowing DECAPITATED was using clean vocals?
Vogg: [Laughs] "Of course, I would be completely against them. No clean singing. Back in the day when we started with 'Winds Of Creation' in 2000, it was an issue to have a SLIPKNOT hoodie in your promotional pictures. So many things have changed since then. The metal community has become relaxed about certain things, which is great. I love this. Right now, seeing BEHEMOTH touring with SLIPKNOT, come on, man, back in the day, they would be called 'posers' or 'not true' or all this shit. These days, it's all possible and exciting to see different bands with different styles in the same tour lineup and poster. It's great that all those things have happened. For example, we toured the U.S. with MESHUGGAH and BARONESS. Each band was from a different planet, but it worked so great together."
Blabbermouth: Is "Locked" the shortest song in DECAPITATED history?
Vogg: "It is. When I was doing the 'Burn My Eyes' tour with MACHINE HEAD, I had this one riff, this crazy, fast opening riff. It's kind of like SLAYER, like double-speed SLAYER. It's a SLAYER riff mixed with PANTERA using the whammy pedal at the same time. It sounds amazing. It's just damn fast with the SLAYER beat with the most extreme riff I could deliver. When you play with MACHINE HEAD, we had so many days off between the shows, so you need to find ways to spend your time. I had so much time, but I didn't want to spend it in the hotel room watching TV. I had my laptop and music card and I took my guitar to the hotel and started creating this song. I feel like this riff would have been an opening riff to a normal song that is three or four minutes. Then I thought, 'This riff, dang, it has everything I need!' Everything I needed was there. I added the second part that was more atmospheric, then ended it with crazy drums from James [Stewart]. I just left it like that.
"Also, I always dreamed of having ten songs on my album. It never happened before; we always had eight or nine songs. Ten songs are something that makes an album epic or legendary. So, I created this song because I wanted to have one extra song so we could get to ten songs and that was it. That's why I did it and I didn't spend more time working on it. It's actually become a pretty cool song."
Blabbermouth: Can you explain the meaning behind "Just A Cigarette"? It's certainly not a title you'd associate with death metal.
Vogg: "It's completely not a death metal title. It's a pop music title. You could have Bruce Springsteen or Britney Spears having this as a title. You could imagine every pop singer having this kind of title or Celine Dion. [Laughs] My friend did the lyrics, Jarek Szubrycht. He did the lyrics on the 'Carnival Is Forever' album. His lyrics are different; very metal. The song is very brutal. Maybe not brutal, but melodic, but it's intense. It has lots of blast beats and death metal elements. People will be surprised to hear the song with this title. People would expect something slower or more atmospheric or a ballad like [METALLICA's] 'Nothing Else Matters'. [Laughs] It will be a cool surprise to see the title and hear the song. I was against the title: 'What? 'Just A Cigarette?' Are you serious? We need to change it. It doesn't fit for death metal. It's not even metal.' But, Jarek said, 'Really? You accepted 'Carnival Is Forever', so this is nothing.' I was like, 'Hmmm…really? 'Carnival Is Forever' sounds more metal than 'Just A Cigarette'. I stuck with the title and said, 'You know, why not? Maybe we shouldn't always use classic death metal titles.' This was so different and the lyrics are not optimistic. It's not about love. There's nothing happy about the song. It's really depressing — it's about how our life is short, how our expectations we have for our short lives about how we want to become a hero or very rich, happy, amazing people that we discover something important for humanity. Sometimes, our expectations are huge, then not all the time [good] things happen. And your life can end unexpectedly."
Blabbermouth: "Organic Hallucinosis" holds a unique spot in DECAPITATED's discography for its brutality and production, then the events that followed with the bus accident. How has that colored the way you view what is arguably your best album?
Vogg: "It's an important album. Every album could be important. The debut was important and it showed everyone who we are and we arrived on the music scene with something fresh and technical, which wasn't happening. Then we had 'Nihility' with 'Spheres Of Madness', but 'Organic' was closing a chapter for the band. I remember after we released the album, we finished our deal with Earache Records. Not long after the album came out, I got a call from Nuclear Blast Records from Jaap [Wagemaker], who was doing A&R. He called me and I was so stressed. I wasn't expecting this to happen because Nuclear Blast was something we could only dream about. We knew that this album opened a completely new beginning. It was a touching moment. I didn't know what to say to Nuclear Blast. I was standing on the edge of something really huge. I knew it because with 'Organic', we were going to go to a completely new level. Then, we had the accident. Vitek passed away and Covan is still in a really bad condition. It was a really terrible thing. You have the best album of your career, sign to Nuclear Blast, then you have the accident and everything was destroyed. It's a part of our lives. Life can be surprising. But, for sure, 'Organic Hallucinosis' was a huge album for us."
Blabbermouth: Will DECAPITATED return to the United States even after what happened five years ago?
Vogg: "I was already in the States with MACHINE HEAD. With DECAPITATED, we will probably be coming back in the first part of 2023. I cannot say who we will be playing with because it's still in the plans, but we're definitely coming back to the U.S. with the new album and songs. This year, it's the 25th anniversary of the band. We just finished a tour in the U.K. playing the old songs, like five from 'Nihility', three from 'Organic'. We've been mixing them in with the newer songs. It was an unbelievable, great response, so we're going to bring this setlist of 16, 17 songs, mixing the new album and the old songs from the first three, four albums, which will still be celebrating our 26th anniversary. [Laughs] It's going to be okay. These kind of celebrations somehow makes shows more unique. It's like a birthday party, basically. It makes everyone happier. It feels like more than a typical show."