MEGADETH's DIRK VERBEUREN Brings Climate Change Fight To Metal Scene With SAVAGE LANDS

May 14, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

Environmental topics in metal are nothing new — ANNIHILATOR has "Stonewall", OBITUARY made a rare topical salvo with "Don't Care" and GOJIRA has been writing about saving the whales and the oceans for years. Penning metal songs about the challenges the earth faces against relentless corporate greed and human apathy is the first step; actually putting it into practice is the second, hence the creation of the non-profit organization SAVAGE LANDS by MEGADETH drummer Dirk Verbeuren and his partner, Sylvain Demercastel.

Launched in 2022 to help finance forest restoration projects and purchase lands in order to preserve natural forests that would otherwise be threatened, SAVAGE LANDS's mission is amplified by a series of singles featuring members of the metal community including OBITUARY's John Tardy, SEPULTURA's Andreas Kisser, members of HEILUNG and Chloe Trujillo, the wife of METALLICA bassist Robert Trujillo. Thus far, their mission and purpose have been mostly well received at a time when conflicting viewpoints over climate change have shown no signs of abetting. Yet Verbeuren and Demercastel appear to be the right team to raise awareness about deforestation and provide ways the metal scene can help. And in speaking with BLABBERMOUTH.NET, the two don't appear to be the slightest bit fazed by climate change misinformation or apathy. Instead, it seems to motivate them even more.

Blabbermouth: You announced SAVAGE LANDS roughly two years ago. What kind of results are you seeing? Are people buying into it?

Sylvain: "It's a short story so far, but we've had some incredible moments. It was the right recipe to call my friend, Dirk and start this with him. The power of the metal scene is huge. We didn't even dream of doing what we'd done in two years. It's about to get bigger in a few months. We had this first land we bought here [in Costa Rica], and we've had good feedback, with people wanting to work with us and artists wanting to support us. It was the right idea at the right moment."

Dirk: "We've achieved way more in two years than we thought we would. As Sylvain said, it's a testament to the people in our culture that they actually can help and are interested in things like this. I think you'd have to have blinders on by now, as the earth needs some help. But some people still have blinders on, maybe willingly. I'm happy to say that in the metal scene, it's not the case. Having been able to protect some land in two years, actual lands that will be under our protection forever and the trees that are not going to be cut down, it's incredible. That was our dream. It took us this short amount of time to get started."

Blabbermouth: As we know, metal is usually about death and destruction, but conservation is not always a very "metal" topic. Are you pleasantly surprised by the people on the scene who supported it?

Dirk: "That's true. I think the tough side is what we express through underground metal is a way for us to cope with our own mortality. Sometimes, it can be through horror movies, or it can be more realistic things or satanic stuff. Whatever people choose or whatever their cup of tea is, at the end of the day, I've always been somebody who cared about our world and planet. It's hard not to. Sure, you can distance yourself from it and say, 'It's not my problem.' What we're showing with SAVAGE LANDS is that things can be done. You can sit by the wayside and not do much other than sign some petitions, or you can make something happen. All credit to Sylvain for that. He's responsible for 99 percent of the heavy lifting and the hard work here. The job he has done has been incredible. I'm hoping we can inspire people to see what they can do where they live. In some cases, it might not be easy. But there's always something that can be done if you really care. For me, it's that dichotomy that is interesting, but caring is not a bad thing. You can be all about darkness, but at some point, there's some stepping into the sun every now and then."

Sylvain: "I think Dirk and I can have some very dark thoughts, but that's what motivates us to do something good. You don't want to be drawn into the darkness. As Dirk said, I think we picked the right battle. Some battles about the environment conflict people and they say, 'I don't like this and don't want to do that.' I've never met people who said, 'I hate the trees. Let's cut them all down.' Maybe it was the right move."

Blabbermouth: From a project management perspective, do you establish incremental goals throughout the year? Or is there a more significant goal you're striving to hit?

Sylvain: "We are drawing lines, like choosing the battle. We choose not to speak about some stuff that we don't know the right answer, like CO2. I'm not a specialist. So, first, we chose to work on things about the forest and ecosystem. It's about just the trees. It's about biodiversity and bringing it back. I don't like to see the environment as a technological issue. Maybe people want to see it this way, 'Let's find the solution for this by using these technologies.' The first thing is the philosophical question: What's the place of man in this biosphere? Where do we fit, and how do we fit? If we start with this, the answer may get easier. I think the forest is a good entrance to thinking differently. If you plant some trees and you come back a year after and you see them grow, it creates an emotional link, or some would even say a 'spiritual' link. I think that's the key for people who are disconnected. It's not that they don't like it. Maybe they do not know anymore, but doing this now makes them feel good. We have this tagline of 'bringing the national park to your backyard.' It's something everyone can do. We want to give a good example that people will get inspired from and tell a good story. People will never remember the numbers. I can tell you we planted this number of trees, but they will remember that Rob Trujillo came here and planted a tree and wants to engage in the 'Army Of The Tree'. I got a message from the singer of MORBID ANGEL. Those are great stories. Of course, you have to get more of the facts about buying the land, but it's more about inspiring people and having something that people can tell their friends: 'Hey, I saw this cool thing with a musician that I like and admire. Look at what he's doing.' Then people will have their own projects and then we can help them. That's the idea."

Dirk: "When Sylvain and I started talking about this, it was not only about achieving things because you only know what you can achieve when you get there. It's been surprising how much we've achieved already, but it's also about inspiring people. I imagine a lot of people read the news about the climate and feel a certain sense of helplessness. You see that a lot. Some therapists deal with climate trauma. Young people are growing up feeling hopeless about the world, like, 'My world is going to shit and there is nothing I can do. All these corporations and governments are making choices about money instead of our survival.' They feel helpless. It's a real thing. Showing people that you can put minds together like Sylvain and I try to do, then bring people on board and achieve actual results that we've shown in a relatively short amount of time. That's always been the inspirational part. It's central to me. Two people cannot save the planet. Ten people cannot save the planet. We all have to try and take part. I know not everyone has the time and is born to be an activist, but I am going to be invested in this. Some things take a certain personality and a certain will to be able to do it. I don't expect every single person to go, 'I'm going to start my own ecological project.' But those who worry about it can look around where they live and maybe start something cool. That's always been important to us."

Sylvain: "As Dirk said, not everyone can have this crazy involvement, but even simple things, like posting a message about us people can do. We need people to help us. Okay, we need money for sure. We need advertisement, but just a little message and someone saying it's cool, it helps. That's how it starts—and listening to our songs. All the royalties go to SAVAGE LANDS. We want to make people feel they are part of a bigger thing and what we are building. That's why we went to the metal community. We could have done the whole world, but we went with people we have emotional and artistic links with."

Blabbermouth: Do you want to go into the selection process for the singles? We can start with John Tardy doing "The Last Howl" single. John is not very outspoken, but going back 30 years ago with "World Demise", he made it clear that he cares about the environment.

Dirk: "John came from the main riff of the song for me. When Sylvain presented the first song idea, that riff made me think of OBITUARY. We talked back and forth about what we were going to do vocally, but I thought, 'I should reach out to John.' Albert [Mudrian] from Decibel magazine connected us. John was immediately onboard. 'World Demise', for me growing up, was an eye-opener. I was like, 'A band can talk about actual issues that are relevant in our lives.' I thought that was really cool. Some people were turned off by it, but I thought it was great that they took a risk and did something different than what they're known for. John was very graceful, helpful and excited about it. We do it by feeling. I feel lucky and privileged that through my job in MEGADETH, I can facilitate some of those connections. That's one of my roles in SAVAGE LANDS, which is to be able to help bring people in that otherwise wouldn't pay attention or be aware or see the value in what we are doing."

Blabbermouth: Is the idea to release a full SAVAGE LANDS album eventually, or will you stick with releasing singles?

Sylvain: "We signed a deal with Season Of Mist. I think it's the first time that they didn't sign a band. They signed a non-profit organization. There's an album coming. It's not really a band, but there are members more present to make it possible. Then, the guests can get complicated because of everyone's schedule. There is definitely an album coming and more surprises to be revealed."

Blabbermouth: Dirk, what can you share without giving too much away?

Dirk: "[Laughs] I think people are going to be amazed at some of the things that are coming up. It's about the enthusiasm for making music and seeing people getting together for a cause. Right now, as a death metal and grindcore fan, we have an amazing scene worldwide. I'm blown away. I'm discovering bands left and right, like 'This is great! This is killer.' There's a lot of that happening. I love every second of it, but I think it's good to bring something else. For those who don't feel that, that's fine. For those who do, we offer some ideas and some fun. Like Sylvain said, it's about fun and the references to OBITUARY. There's going to be more things like that. Stay tuned. [Laughs]"

Blabbermouth: How are young people reacting to this?

Dirk: "Speaking to younger people has been very encouraging. It's a generalized statement, but they seem knowledgeable and I know I wasn't that knowledgeable about these kind of things when I was their age. Access to information likely plays a part. Everything can be accessed at your fingertips. There seems to be interest in things that matter, whether it's mental health, which seems to be spoken about more openly by younger people. Or our planet, the climate and all these different things. There's a lot more drive, interest and concern, unfortunately, with climate trauma. It's encouraging to see. As much as the internet can be a two-sided coin, it can be a good tool. The information, the availability and people being able to find their own thing that they are interested in and pursue it. That's a wonderful thing. I couldn't imagine that at our age. It was tape trading and sending interviews across the planet to fanzines in Malaysia. The information wasn't there. Whatever biased news you got, that's as good as it was."

Blabbermouth: Dirk, Dave [Mustaine] has not been afraid to share his views on things, and when we think of a song like "Countdown To Extinction", the message behind SAVAGE LANDS ties it all together.

Dirk: "We've been playing that song in the past year. It's been back in the set. It's another song that's extremely relevant to the current times. It's something that is still very real and true. It's cool to see that our crowd with MEGADETH spans these generations. People bring their kids and sometimes their grandkids to shows. They're just as star-struck and into the whole vibe as I remember being when I started going to my first shows or when Sylvain had one of our first bands outside SCARVE, which was ARTSONIC. My first experience of touring was with Sylvain. We have a nice musical history together and to see it translating with the current generation is touching and beautiful. What I've found as being a vegan is that just by doing what you do and being who you are, you can inspire people. You don't have to shout it from the rooftops and get into arguments. I don't want to be told what to do as much as anyone else. I would never go up to somebody and say 'You shouldn't be doing this.' That's not going to do any good. Just by being me and showing that I can be this athlete because doing what we do requires some athleticism because you can't play night after night for 90 minutes at this intensity. I can do it by making the lifestyle choices I make. It works perfectly. I feel better than when I was eating meat. People come to shows with questions and they ask me, 'How did you do it? I want to try it.' I say, 'This is amazing,' and then I share some of my ideas."

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