Soilwork’s Dirk Verbeuren: Xtremely Tasty
With his rail-thin frame, gaunt features, and shoulder-length hair, Dirk Verbeuren looked like a hungry fan boy roaming the isles of the 2010 Winter NAMM convention. He was there in part to light up the ToonTrack booth with a virtuosic demonstration of the beat library he created for the company’s MetalFoundry software. Watching Verbeuren wailing on that e-kit, you would have sworn he was drawing virtual blood from the machine.
But the NAMM show may as well have been a million years ago for the ridiculously prolific Verbeuren. Catching up with him up by phone a few months later at his home in Cleveland, he’s all about The Panic Broadcast, the eighth release from melodic thrashers Soilwork. “I think it’s the first album that I’m really a hundred percent happy with what I did on drums,” he says with just a hint of a Flemish accent. “When I did [2005’s] Stabbing The Drama, Soilwork was still a new thing for me, so I think I was not taking as many risks as I normally would.” In addition, his grandmother died during recording, which he allows “maybe influenced things a little bit.”
The Panic Broadcast also marks the return of frontman Peter Wichers. While Soilwork is a Swedish band, Wichers, like Verbeuren, also lives in the States. In fact it was near the singer’s home in Ashville, North Carolina, where he located an old church that was ideal for tracking drums. “The very spacious kind of drum sound comes from that natural room reverb,” Verbeuren says. “And I just think it sounds amazing.”
The Panic Broadcast’s drums are probably more varied, dynamic, and nuanced than any thrash album has a right to be. “Let This River Flow,” a heroic multi-passage anthem, must have a half dozen different blast styles. There’s plenty of mid-tempo grooving stuff, too, such as “Epitome” and “The Akuma Afterglow.” On “Night Comes Clean,” a high-bpm crusher, Verbeuren serves up some ghost notes in the second half of the chorus.
With Soilwork, the perfectionist Wichers’ song demos are close to what the actual recording will sound like, so Verbeuren’s wiggle room is limited. Despite the constraints, such as those encountered on “Night Comes Clean,” the parameters actually fire the drummer’s creativity: “I had to find this weird sticking pattern to be able to play what Peter had programmed because it sounded so cool.”
Technical as The Panic Broadcast’s drums can be, the parts are refreshingly free of triggers and sound replacement. “I just really love the sound of acoustic drums,” he adds.
Growing up near Antwerp, Belgium, Verbeuren’s music career began inauspiciously with violin. After the family moved to Paris, he fell in love with Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and other hip-hop acts. “Those bands just have incredible beats,” he says. Still not a drummer at this point, hearing Slayer’s Reign In Blood at age 13 was pivotal. “I was playing wooden rulers on anything I could find. And then after a while my parents were like, ‘Okay, I think we need to get you a drum set.’”
A few years later he commenced drum studies at Music Academy International (MAI), a Musician’s Institute–style school in Nancy, a small town 200 miles east of Paris. After graduation, kicking around with nothing to do, a fellow student recommended he join the faculty. “I was super scared, but I just walked up to the director of the school and was like, ‘I can teach better than this metal teacher you have,’” he laughs. “Because, actually, it was pretty bad.”
After a few years of teaching and more years of gigging all over the continent, Verbeuren’s dream of making a living through music was continually frustrated. “France is not a very rock and roll country,” he explains. “Metal music is not very popular there. There’s a fan base, but it’s not like here where it’s a widely accepted thing.”
But by 2002, when his band Scarve had release their second album, things began to change. He started seeing his name in magazines and he was getting calls to do recording sessions for obscure grindcore bands including but not limited to Sybreed, Lyzanxia, Yyrkoon, and best known of the lot, Belgium’s The Aborted.
Scarve’s 2004 album, Radiant, was released by Listenable Records, the tiny French label that put out Soilwork’s first release. Verbeuren was already a Soilwork fan, but little did he know the Swedes were digging his intensity and flavor, and as it happened, original drummer Henry Ranta had just left the group. That’s when Soilwork came a-knockin’. “It was a totally crazy dream scenario where a great band calls you up,” he remembers.
In-coming drummers are usually quick to forget about a predecessor. Verbeuren honors Ranta’s legacy not to be gracious but because he is a genuine fan of the previous drummer’s style. “He doesn’t necessarily have a busy playing style all the time,” Verbeuren says. “It was very tasteful and groovy. When I had to actually sit down and to learn the albums, I think I learned a lot from his playing.”
Although his third album for Soilwork is the best work of his career, the hunger for drum challenges has only increased. Scarve is still an ongoing concern, and now there’s Anatomy Of I, a Paris-based metal group started by a classmate of his from MAI. Verbeuren recorded the parts at home on his V-Drums, bounced them onto the guitar tracks, and then emailed the sound files back to his friend in France.
As for the Metal Foundry program, Verbeuren is already at work on part two due out early next year. And in case you’re wondering, yes, Verbeuren plays all the beats in real time. “My idea with the library was to give people very easy access to something that’s really hard to program, which blastbeats are, because there are so many beats. And to make it sound natural when you’re programming it is really not that simple.”
Originally just a fun project, the whole programming episode has become a way for Verbeuren to make his mark on drumming in a concrete way. “Two weeks ago I received an email from a guy in Holland who goes, ‘Can I credit you on my album because I used some of your blastbeats?’ And I was like, ‘Okay, cool.’”