Deep at its heart—in the small medieval town of Ghent, to be precise—Belgium harbours a dark secret. You might not know it, but the unassumingly quaint town is home to one of the loudest, darkest and most progressive rock bands in the world. That’s right, Belgium has a secret sonic weapon of mass destruction, and its name is Raketkanon.
Raketkanon: it means Rocketcannon in Flemish. But Raketkanon don’t sing in Flemish. Raketkanon speak their own language; one of throttled squeals and shouts, meat-grinder waves of rolling riffs, synth-layered soundscapes, dystopic electronica-laced beats, and hypnotic grooves. Raketkanon speak the language of music like you’ve never heard anyone speak it before, and for their latest record, they’ve relearned a whole new dialect.
With their much-lauded Steve-Albini-produced second album, RKTKN#2, the band proved that they were utterly unique in their field. Even the Crown Prince of Chaos himself, Iggy Pop, became a newly-converted cult member as his gravelled tones grunted their praises on the BBC 6music airwaves. Now, in 2019, with new record RKTKN#3 ready to be deployed, the latest phase of Raketkanon’s soon-to-be-launched musical offensive sees them pushing their boundaries further than ever before.
After an extensive period of EU touring following the release of their second record, the band took a small hiatus to work on different projects, with vocalist Pieter-Paul Devos focusing on his other band Kapitan Korsakov. “My mind works best when I can concentrate on a fixed project to get all the way into it, to be in one headspace,” says Devos, but with the KK album release cycle finished, he felt it was time for Raketkanon to move forward. “The new record, and the songs themselves, are way more eclectic,” he explains in a laconic, thoughtful drawl that provides plenty of time for him to formulate his answers. “In a way we had pushed our abilities—and we had learned what we could do musically—to the max; we tried to feel what the limits of that way of working are. We pretty much renewed ourselves.”
Even the most original of creative souls can fall victim to comfortable familiarity, but with the entire band dead-set against repeating themselves, Raketkanon spent a long time exploring their new sound. “We don’t want to be just a metal band, or a hard rock band,” says Devos, “we just want to make music that we think is beautiful and sincere. I think we managed to realise that on this project. There’s nothing more horrific than taking something from the same field of art you operate in, copying it outright, and calling it inspiration. It’s worth more to take a risk, let go of everything you know, and explore. I’m not saying we reinvented the wheel or anything, but from our perspective I think we can say we have grown artistically.”
Raketkanon’s music has always sounded as though it were stretching itself, and them, to breaking point, and RKTKN#3 continues that theme to its logical end—a slow collapse and subsidence. While there are still chaotic bursts of 5/4 noise and crunching rhythmic acrobatics ably held down by drummer Pieter De Wilde’s powerful and precise work behind the kit, Raketkanon now also sink comfortably into straight grooves and drawn out jams, flavoured with the swirling synth soundscapes that have been cranked to the fore of their sound.
“It pretty much happened spontaneously,” explains Devos of the new direction. “Over the years Lode [Vlaeminck, synths] has explored the world of his instrument a lot more. The thing with the synthesizer as an instrument is that it has so many possibilities—if you play it right you can make a lot of amazing and magical things happen sonically. Even though Jef’s [Verbeeck] guitar is also a defining instrument in the band, we don’t want to take for granted that a rock band has to be guitar based all the way through every time. I love his guitar playing, but I love the fact that keyboards have a rightfully prominent place on this record.”
Musically then, the band are becoming more and more like Devos’ emotionally fraught, enigmatic, often animalistic, vocals—open to interpretation. In Raketkanon’s shared language there’s no way for an audience to misunderstand their music, no way to interpret it the wrong way. Creatively, they are constantly looking for the border between understanding and nonsense, as Devos elucidates: “It’s like that feeling when you’re a child and you sing along to a song but don’t understand the lyrics so you make up your own sound. I think it’s beautiful that people often do sing along in that way at concerts. That pleases me, because I think a person’s experience of music should be free.”