Dear friends, already the 11th full-length "Paměť kamenů" by the Czech death metal veterans Tortharry was unleashed two weeks ago, which brings us to the latest installment of our "talks" series, which is all about this album and its authors. Enjoy!

TORTHARRY: Expect no musical experiments from us. We shall always play death metal!

The iconic Czech outfit Tortharry has a new album out. Their first with Czech lyrics. Entitled Paměť kamenů (Memory of Stones), it was released by the Prague-based label MetalGate Records, a longtime home for Tortharry. We talked things with Dan, the band’s guitarist.

The first question is obvious: Were you nervous about how people will react to a Tortharry album sung in Czech?

Yes indeed. In fact, I was nervous already when we started to talk about it. It seemed like an interesting idea though. After all, why not? Why shouldn’t we sing in Czech? We are Czechs, are we not? Is it prohibited? Is it wrong to be proud of your mother tongue? There are actually bands that sing in Czech and are popular abroad. It is not mandatory to sing in English. And when you think about it… the vocals in death metal are oftentimes hard to understand anyway. In any case, yes, we are nervous even now, since this interview is taking place when the album is not yet out. That said, when I read the feedback to the first single, I have to say that most people like it. Of course, there are some who do not, who write that its hillbilly. Hillbilly and death metal? That seems off to me (laughs). Others consider using Czech as backward. But that’s alright, that’s opinion. We knew in advance that we might lose some fans, but perhaps gain other. Either way, there is nothing calculated behind it all.    

In the past, many bands thought that if you sing in Czech, you won’t get anywhere abroad. How do you think it is now?

I don’t think Czech is a no-go abroad. There are even labels that are after just that. For example, a compilation of our early demos was recently released in Japan, and the label there very much enjoys albums in Czech. Plus, consider the popularity of Master’s Hammer or early Root. It is true that we chose English to be more accessible for fans abroad. Today on the other hand, having more experience, I know that Czech is not a problem. It may even be an advantage. If the band is in the right place at that right time, it can break through. We however did not do it for that.

Off the top of your head, can you think of other Czech death metal bands that sing in Czech?

There aren’t many. Maybe the black metal ones, but death? No offense but I cannot think of anyone. It was more common in the past. We too have a demo in Czech called Mezi nebem a peklem (Between Heaven and Hell) and when I listen to it now, it’s not bad. Yes, the lyrics may be silly, but check out the early lyrics of Cannibal Corpse and the sort (laughs).

Can we regard the album as a conceptual one? Why stones?

Certainly. The main idea of the album is: The stones are guardians as well as destroyers, and voiceless witnesses that cannot be silenced. For example, the song Hořké rozloučení (A Bitter Farewell) is about a train station from where the transports to extermination camps were sent on their way; Oheň na svazích (Fire on the Hillsides) is about the Petrovy kameny hill in Jeseníky (a suspected witch sabbath site during the 17th century witch hunts); Pohřeb naděje (Burial of Hope) is about the border walls and wire fences from the times of socialism… The album simply tells of ill deeds and happenings, which stones witnessed.

Music-wise, it is still the same classic old-school death metal. But since you decided on such a radical shift lyrics-wise, were there any experiments on the table as well, when it came to music?

What are people to expect from Tortharry? To change something? To add keyboards? Samples? To go head into uncharted waters? No way. Frankly, we play what we play. One guitar, bass and drums. There is not much room to do something fancy. Besides, we don’t want to write arrangements that we are then unable to play on shows. Our albums are such that they can be played live. Obituary, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, Benediction, Grave and many others still play their own and I myself would be disappointed if they did something else. On the other hand, I don’t want to keep things the same all the time. I do want to move forward when it comes to sound, but to change the overall concept of the band? No. Expect no bold musical experimentation from us. We play what is our own.

These days I keep hearing that the classic death metal is getting old, that fans are diminishing because the younger generations stay out. What is your opinion?

All of us are getting old. You, me, our kids, our parents. That’s just normal. The death metal wave was in the 90s, so it’s obvious that fans and bands alike are not as young as they were then. However, does that mean they should stop listening to death metal just because they got older? To consider it more broadly, today there are many young modern bands that play some sort of metal, but you can feel it doesn’t come from the heart. No humility, no insight. Whoever has a computer at home can now release albums and pretend to be cool. That a drummer can play 230 BPM? Ok, but it’s not just about speed. I like people who worked hard for it, who toured their asses off, who helped build the scene which was a painstaking enterprise. It was not about clicks on the internet, nor about writing to promoters: “We are the ideal choice for your festival!” No way. I don’t respect this. We are getting old, but so are all those modern metals. But age or no age, we are still kicking. Long live death metal!

What are the current ambitions Tortharry?

What ambitions are we supposed to have after eleven albums and thousands of shows? To make a good album. One that we enjoy, the fans enjoy, perhaps even the critics. Afterwards an offer for a short tour. The question is if you achieve something and get something back. Maybe exposure and likes on social networks, which however you need because festivals abroad often consider these numbers more than the actual qualities of bands. 

And if you were offered a more demanding world tour, would you go for it, or is it something you no longer fancy?

Demanding in terms of time or money? I would go for it! You won’t get world fame, but some new fans and some of the exposure I talked about earlier. Yes, to tour with Cannibal Corpse of Suffocation is a dream of mine. But I don’t want to push it no matter the cost. In the past I might had been more open to that, but to emphasize, not financially. Having to pay to play on a B stage of a Czech festival? That’s pathetic! I compose, I work and then I am supposed to pay? Fuck that. It’s tragic. Nothing but greed of the organizers. The scene can proclaim how united we all are, but in the end it’s all about business. I may have shattered someone’s illusions right now, but that’s how it is.

Each year you organize MetalGate Czech Death Fest, which gained almost a cult standing. Do you still have energy to do that?

Today will be installment number 15 (interview happening beforehand, ed.). We had no idea we get this far. Covid, lockdowns… we managed to withstand everything, despite being in red numbers for ten years. We always kept on going, trying it again, doing our best. Just imagine – you work on the festival for ten months, beside that you also have your day job, and finally you pay tens of thousands out of your own pocket to cover the loss. That’s really demotivating. But then you read the feedback from people, see how excited they are, and ultimately you are like: “Let’s keep doing this.” We don’t do the festival for a living, and whatever we earn, we invest back to its improvement. It’s what we do in our pastime, with our hearts and as best as we can. Thanks to all who support us!

Does the festival help with Tortharry’s reputation?

Depends how you look at it. It helps that people know that we are behind it. Some bands from abroad are then even able to help us with contacting festivals we would otherwise have no chance of playing at. On the other hand, we do notice a certain grudge, be it from the festival competition or from people who are involved in music. I have to say that the Břitva Awards are also a satisfaction for us, since our festival has lately been ending third in the relevant category.

In conclusion, the fans will of course be asking if an album with Czech lyrics is an anomaly or your new direction. Your thoughts?

All I can say is, I don’t know. We have not yet played a single show with the new songs, so we have no idea how the fans will react. Ask me again after the summer season (smiles)!