Interview with guitarist Rick Bouwman
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 19, 2021
Martyr is a Dutch heavy metal band formed in 1982 that has achieved quite a lot during a nearly 40-year career. The band has released four studio albums and played with such names as Vicious Rumors, Evergrey, and Lizzy Borden, just to name a few. There was a long break from 1987 to 2004 until a couple of nice invitations to play at the prestigious Keep It True and Headbangers Open Air festivals brought the band back together.
The big news is that there is a new studio album coming in February 2022 and the band have been working hard to get the word out by releasing three singles (with the videos for each) prior to the album's release. Based on the singles, it's safe to say these Dutchmen are still on fire, churning out quality heavy metal with their own uncompromising touch.
We here at the unwavering heavy metal tower of The Metal Crypt reached out to the band's original mastermind and guitarist Rick Bouwman, asking about the new album, the history of the band and many other interesting things. Read on...
Hey there, Rick! How are things in the Netherlands these days? Still struggling with Covid-19 and all the restrictions it has brought?
Rick: Hi Luxi, how are you? Things here in the Netherlands just started to open up more for the music scene. Although some restrictions remain on venues operating at full capacity for example, since September 25th we are able to perform in sort of "normal" circumstances again. It was a difficult time, but it was difficult for everybody. Fortunately, we were able to do some live streams like the famous Dynamo Metalfest 2020 (which we could use for international broadcasts as well) and were able to spend all our time on the new album, which will be out in February 2022. To have so much time available really proved to work for us, allowing us a real detailed look at the songs and recording, which all make this album a KILLER release for next year.
THE HISTORY OF MARTYR
Why we are here is to talk about your band named Martyr, which was formed in 1982 and had a 17-year period of inactivity (1987-2004). What actually killed the band in 1987?
Rick: The main reason for us to leave Martyr behind in '87/'88 was that we sort of lost our initial goal. That was simply to play heavy metal the way we wanted to play it. We started in '82 with a goal to be different than the already established Dutch hard rock bands by playing more metal, riff orientated, speedy songs. In '87, after releasing several quite successful demos and two albums, we were close to signing a large record deal with a big Dutch label. BUT they asked us for singles and music in a more commercial style and young as we were and eager to become more popular, we listened to their advice, but it was not in our hearts. So, lineups changed, and we called it quits. It is something I still regret to this day. I am always telling young bands asking me for advice: Make the music YOU want to make, not with 100%, but 200% intensity.
What were the band's early musical influences and/or inspirations?
Rick: When we started Martyr our main influences were Japanese metal bands like Loudness, Anthem, X-ray, Earthshaker and US bands like early Queensrÿche and Warlord. I started playing guitar when I was about 15, mainly because my brother didn't play the one he owned, so I took it. I bought a small amp and distortion pedal, discovered A, E, and D chords and make my first metal songs, haha!
During the first period of Martyr's existence, you guys recorded two well-respected albums and toured with some internationally known acts. What are your personal highlights from that period that have stuck your mind?
Rick: Yeah, the albums were great and still are. We still receive a lot of attention about For the Universe and Darkness at Time's Edge. They are a big part of our legacy, of course, and have been re-released many times. For the Universe has been re-released a lot and twice in South America this year alone.
Remember when we started Martyr our average age was 16/17 years old and our weekends were spent on the road in places like Belgium, Netherlands, and a bit of Germany at the beginning. We have always been a hardworking band and seen the inside of a lot of clubs and experienced lots of crazy stories during the shows and travels.
The first highlight was the moment I received the first copy of our album For the Universe. I will never forget looking at the artwork on the back and front for hours. That was a proud moment for me.
The second is due to the fact there was no Internet in the early days, and we had to write or using the phone to reach out to bookers, fans and media. If there was a day without that kind of contact, I was completely grumpy, haha! One thing I find very remarkable is that one day I received a fan letter that was addressed only to "Martyr is God, The Netherlands. And it arrived!! Surely the postman knew about us, haha!
When you watch your official video "Darkness at Time's Edge" nowadays, what kind of memories and/or feelings does it raise in your mind? For me, it brought up some weird Stryper associations, perhaps due to how you guys dressed up.
Rick: That's funny, yes. During those days we had a complete lineup and also our props were all red and white, the colors of our hometown Utrecht.
That video was not very professional to be honest and when we went to Sky Channel's "Monsters of Rock (London)" for an interview, they mentioned they wanted to play something else, so we asked for a Stryper video. Back in our hometown we were recognized as the guys from Stryper. :)
In 2005, you got together most of the band's 1982 lineup and performed at the Keep It True and Headbangers Open Air festivals. Were those performances the main catalysts when you realized that perhaps Martyr is worth another try?
Rick: Correct. We had already re-released the two albums in Germany and fans wanted to see us again. At that time mainly we looked at these shows as reunion shows. The continuation of Martyr and real new work came a little bit later.
In December 2008, you supported US shock rockers Lizzy Borden on their European tour. What was that experience like and were you treated equally by the L.B. band and their crew?
Rick: Those were the days! It was AWESOME! It was a two-week tour through Europe and Lizzy Borden and Martyr were a perfect match. We already had new songs that we wrote for the Rusty Cage Records release, Fear the Universe, that also contained another FTU re-release so we could present some new stuff to the fans as well. Lizzy Borden and Martyr had lots of mutual respect, the after parties were also awesome, so awesome that Lizzy's guitar player was not allowed to drink with Martyr anymore, haha! During the tours that we did with many US bands the slogan "Don't Drink with Martyr" became a sort of legendary meme. Most of those band members couldn't handle it the way we did.
At the end of that run, we played our last show in the Netherlands in a packed venue in Hengelo and lots of our friends and families came to welcome us back. When you do tours like this, you learn so much. You get so much tighter and professional, and also get so into the routine of the performance. The fans back home were amazed how the band had matured and we learned so much that we still profit from even now.
After this tour we played more shows with Lizzy Borden and are still in touch with the guys. Great guys, awesome band, great to see Lizzy deliver every night as a fan as well.
In 2009 and 2010, the band kept busy, touring with Vicious Rumors, Flotsam & Jetsam, Evergrey, and Jaguar. Out of all those great gig experiences, were there any particular tours or gigs that strengthened your relationship in the band?
Rick: That's quite a lot of touring you mentioned there. We formed lots of great relations with many of the bands we supported throughout the years, f.ex. Vicious Rumors play on our album Circle of 8. We did more support slots with Vicious Rumors and Flotsam after those tours and still see them every once in a while. Jaguar is a band we played with a lot and they are close friends. I performed with them onstage on multiple occasions as an extra guitar player/special guest on songs "Axe Crazy" and the applicable "The Dutch Connection".
CIRCLE OF 8
Circle of 8 was the name of Martyr's comeback album, your first album in 25 years. It goes without saying many things can change in a quarter of a century. Did you feel any pressure when you entered the studio to record Circle of 8 to live up to your past works and how the fans remembered the band from the days of the For the Universe (1985) and Darkness at Time's Edge (1986)?
Rick: We weren't thinking about that. After we did the double digipak Fear the Universe (containing 5 new songs) in 2009, we were full of creativity and entered the studio again to record Circle of 8 for Rusty Cage. But unfortunately, the label called it a day while we were recording the album. With only three songs done, Metal Blade signed us and that made the circle complete, sort of, as it is a major metal label, and we also released a track ("En Masse") with great success on the Metal Massacre VI series for them in 1985.
There was no pressure because as I already mentioned we wanted to do our own thing, not somebody else's. We learned from the past and first of all, we needed to be 200% satisfied with the result ourselves. After that, if the fans liked it and/loved it that would make us very, very happy, of course.
The album was very good but were there any real challenges to get the songs written and recorded for this album?
Rick: Not really. We recorded this one in Belgium, so that means planning, good preparation and traveling a lot. We had the guys from Vicious Rumors over to record some guitar parts and vocals on one weekend and it all went smoothly. We were able to take our time with this album, which was luxury for us.
The day your third album hit the stores must have felt amazing, finally holding your third album in your hands and thinking it "only" took 25 years to get a new addition to Martyr's recording family. Did you feel relieved, knowing you had put lots of work, along with your heart and soul into the making of the album?
Rick: That's always the case but it was not the first addition to the Martyr's recording family after all those years. We did record five new songs for the 2009 release Fear the Universe. There was supposed to be one extra bonus track for the re-release, but we were in a creative mood and wrote more. We are not quick writers and are not easily satisfied, so there is usually more time between an album and the next release.
How did you ink a deal with Metal Blade Records? Did they approach you?
Rick: Rusty Cage Records, our label at that time, called it quits while we were in the studio. With three songs ready, I approached Metal Blade Records and got an immediate response to the material and the deal was done. They knew Martyr already, of course, and the A&R representative at Metal Blade Europe was a huge Martyr fan. That, of course, may have helped a bit, haha!
ALBUM NO. 4 – YOU ARE NEXT
It took nearly five more years for your follow-up album, which was titled You Are Next. Why did it take five years to get to the point when you were ready to release this record?
Rick: We played a lot and when we play, we write slowly. But we love to play, so it took quite some time to write new songs which we were satisfied with. We also had the luxury of recording over a long period of time again, including mixing and mastering. We had a year and a half of working on the You Are Next album, and that is not counting the songwriting, so yeah that's why it takes a few years.
You Are Next was released on a small Dutch label, Into the LimeLight Records. Why were you dropped from Metal Blade's roster? Weren't they happy with the sales of your previous album, Circle of 8, or was there something else behind the label change?
Rick: No, it is as simple as that. For Metal Blade we were a small band, and they were fair enough to tell us that investments for a new record would just not generate revenue for them. We have respect for that and think it is only fair. So, we found a label close to home with very direct and short lines of contact to work very closely with us on every aspect of the new record You Are Next.
What's your personal driving force as a musician that keeps you going, in both good and bad times?
Rick: Good question. It is just passion; it is the thing that I love to do most and what I need to do. It is not possible for me to sit back and do nothing and wait until things happen. I need to work for it. If I don't write songs, I need to work on promo, PR, etc. I just have to. I want everybody to know about Martyr, whether you like the music or not. That's what I did too during Covid, explore new territories for the band to extend our fan base, mainly to South America this time.
FEBRUARY 2022 MEANS A NEW ALBUM
February 2022 means the release of your fifth studio album, which will obviously have its appropriate record release party and all that jazz. Prior to the album's release, you have released three singles. I've been listening to the songs and reading the comments about how people have reacted to them so far and I can only imagine how excited you are. How was it to work with this new lineup compared to some of your previous recording sessions? Did you feel you were more on the same page as far as your personal chemistries?
Rick: Exactly. This lineup has all the creativity and musicianship needed to write an album like the one that will be out in February 2022. It is heavier, faster but also a lot more diverse. It will be pure METAL - and that is what we wanted for this new album. So far, the response has been awesome to those singles, but I can tell you that they are just the tip of the iceberg of what is coming. Our label and partners who have heard the songs so far have been extremely positive and behind the scenes we are working on a mighty release and a proper distribution to get this one heard everywhere!
On March 12, 2022, you will have the band's 40th anniversary celebration at the club De Helling, Utrecht, in the Netherlands. Can you reveal what that party will be like or do you want to keep it a secret until it all happens on the stage?
Rick: Along with the new album and the anniversary show we will reveal details bit by bit. But I can tell you this already, it will be the party of the year!! Presale tickets were sold out in a week by our fan club. We have fans coming over from multiple countries. Damn it will be a blast. We have lots of work to do rehearsing those new songs and they are a challenge.
Have you made plans for what Martyr will do in 2022?
Rick: Shows and festivals are already booked, but there will be more to come. We were a little laid back with new bookings during Covid. That is because we only want to do normal shows. We are an energetic live band, so we don't want shows with people on seats. And as Covid took such a long time and all was uncertain and shows were postponed and postponed, it became a little messy in our agendas, too. We want to go to Japan again and to new countries as well. Doing bigger shows and festivals are also our goal, as the new album is so damn good. We like to play it everywhere.
And we want to make sure the album can be heard by as many people as possible, probably also with new video clips as well.
Hey, that was all from me this time. Thank you, Rick, so much for your time in getting this done, and in the very same breath, I sincerely want to wish you all the best with the band. May the sweet heavy metal force be with you! Now you are entitled to the final commentary if you have anything in mind...
Rick: Thanks so much for the interview. It is always a pleasure to reach out to old and new fans with everything we do.
A final word from my side. I'd like to thank all the old and new fans for being so loyal to us. 40 years of being Dutch metal legends is unbelievable and we are still growing, and the best is yet to come.
Stay tuned and eternal thanks for the continuous support. Please visit us on our social media channels (https://linktr.ee/MARTYRONLINE) as we always love to be in touch with you.
|Other information about Martyr (Hol) on this site|
|Review: Fear the Universe|
|Review: Planet Metalhead|
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