Berneau was pretty impressed by “Fire & Damnation”, the latest album from reunited German thrash metal outfit Exumer. Vocalist Mem von Stein was more than happy to share some insights on the band’s latest album, thrash metal in general and trying new things…
Hello and welcome to this interview on behalf of myself and ThisIsNotAScene. How does it feel to release a new album after so many years of being absent from the metal scene?
It feels really good, it’s always a challenge and people probably think you can’t pull it off. We went into this record having prepared ourselves for the last 4 years, because we got back together in ’08 and we knew we’d be a working band going on tour, doing shows and writing songs. It felt really natural getting back into it.
Has the album recording game changed that much since you recorded “Possessed by fire” and “Rising from the Sea”, in terms of the band dynamic and gelling with the new line up?
Funnily enough, when we recorded “Possessed by fire” it’s the same formula, Ray does a lot of the music, well 99% percent and I do the rest. We went about our business as usual. Our new drummer contributed a lot of ideas; Tony on bass had a few riffs that we used. We all went through the sensitivities of Ray’s writing and I added the vocals and lyrics.
The writing style is very similar to what we did back in the 80’s. It wasn’t that new, as we were all active in different music projects since the band broke up. It was more of a challenge to come up with the right formula in terms of recording to produce the most organic sounding album that would be a worthwhile follow up the first 2. That was the challenge. The technology changed, yeah and the line-up changed, yeah, but the challenge was to write an album that everyone would feel happy about.
A lot of bands would say yeah, were just doing it for us, where we as Exumer do it just for the fans. ‘Cause without any fans, I’m not going to travel around the world just to stand in a rehearsal space. We did because people want to hear it and people ask us to.
In what kind of position do you find yourself in relation to Sodom, Destruction and Kreator in terms of fan base?
That’s funny; I get asked this question every day. I don’t know, when we split up, those bands stuck together and kept on producing albums, some successful and some less successful, some people thought were successful and some less so. They stuck together and are now reaping the rewards. They’ve earned what they have done.
We are in a different position as we now have 3 records, 2 from the 80’s and one that released today in Europe. We’re in a different position and a lot of people have asked me if I think we would have been in the same rank or position as those bands? Those bands did great and worked really hard, we just find ourselves in a different circumstance.
If you look at it from that perspective, none of that matters, is it the big 3 or 4, that is just some made up shit someone came up with. I also get really annoyed when people talk big 4 and they talk about the US thrash bands, especially here in the states. Are kidding me? Where were you in the 1980’s? Just as much as the US bands influenced the European bands, I know for a fact, loads of European thrash bands influenced some US thrash bands. Going back to your original question, it is what it is.
Sodom, Destruction and Kreator are definitely the bands people quote when they talk about German Thrash. I think we earned ourselves a very unique status, which is really cult. To give you an example, we did one one show in the US in a 850 seat club and it was sold out with 1300 people and around 500 people were outside not getting in. Not too many bands can pull that off on a debut tour or one tour, so we are in a different position in terms of that whole trifecta of German Thrash.
In terms of getting back into writing new material were you going to try new elements or stick to the guns with the tried and tested thrash formula?
No not really. The idea was to pick up where we left off. You look at what you recorded way back, and then you look at yourself as a musician, but the approach was that we were going to do a record based on the stuff we wanted to hear, most of which was written and recorded in the 80’s. So we were going to do a record that could have been written in the 80’s but not played like we were 17 years old and the recording won’t be the same.
A lot of technology has changed since we last did a record and it doesn’t sound like it did back then. I know a lot of bands try and emulate it, but not us; we did that in 1986 and ’87. So I understand if a band says “well, we’re going to go strictly analog”, all right, that’s great! It would be foolish for us to do that, just like me trying to look the same I did back then. So the reality is to try and stick to a formula and do what we know best. I think the response has been positive because a lot of people thought we would do something different and we didn’t.
Again, we wrote the type of record we wanted to hear, and our favourite records were written in the 80’s, so it’s not going to sound like something you picked up in ’05.
Were you guys concerned about fan base’s reception of the new album after a lengthy absence?
I am certain that there are always people that will say, “Yeah this is generic” or “Yeah, this is not as good as “Possessed By Fire” or “Rising From The Sea”” I knew that, that however, can not denture a band that wants to be active and write something new because people on message boards are going to write “yeah theses guy sucks”, that is silly.
I am convinced that whatever we do, we do it with passion and honesty and as long as you have those elements in your music then I don’t think it’s a waste of time or anyone’s time that wants to give it a listen.
So, like I said, those people who say it does suck, that is cool, everyone has their opinion, I don’t care. We were convinced when we got together and things started falling into place that we were going to record a good record and be able to market the album and sell it to a label. We paid for the production cause we knew we had good material; we don’t want anyone to tell us what to do with it. So we paid for it first and then we took it to a label. This was done so no one could tell us how it should sound or which direction to go in. It was basically, here is the album, you like it, you take it and that is exactly what happened. You can only have that confidence if you know your shit is up to par, or it isn’t going to fly.
In relation to the new generation of German thrash metal like cruel force and Nocturnal where do you see yourselves In terms of staying up to speed or competing?
We’re not competing, not competing with those bands at all. I know some of them by name, but I would be lying if I said I ever listened to them. Power to them, I don’t ever knock anyone or what they do in music; everyone has a right to do whatever they want in music. Those bands do what they do, but we are not in that kind of vibe. If someone asked me about Destruction, Sodom and Kreator, I can relate, because I know all those guys and we’re friends.
Was it hard getting back into the playing live gigs/ festivals in terms of preparation?
We always do the same thing. We are all geographically apart from each other. Half the band lives in New York and the rest in Germany. Everybody prepares individually and what we do is meet up in Germany. Our Rehearsal space is in Germany. Then we go and practice for a week or 4 days to get a nice organic band vibe. We’ve always had the same approach.
We did the same with the album, except we rehearsed together for 3 weeks and took that vibe and applied it to the studio, that’s the kind of vibe we wanted for the album, very organic and fresh. It worked out really well, we have certain things down and we stick to our guns.
On top of all, none of the bands you know like Slayer etc. stay in the same town and rehearse 3 to 4 times a week. They all get together for a week or so before a project like tours or albums and start rehearsing, we do the same thing.
What is your opinion on the post-thrash revival?
To me it’s like with everything else, it’s like the second wave of black metal or whatever, it comes in cycles. It’s great for, what it did and made thrash stronger in terms of a whole new generation of fans and bands, people who are involved and like the music and do things for the music.
I really like that aspect of it, together with that, a lot of these younger bands really like us. A few of them actually have our logo tattooed on their bodies, it’s kind of strange to see that, strange in a good way.
To me it has nothing but a positive notion to it. I think it will be very popular for a while and then it is going to die down and something else will die down and something else will be very popular and maybe that will die down, it comes in cycles. If you been around long enough you will be very familiar with that whole phenomenon.
What was it like working with Waldemar Sorychta? What did he bring to the table for you guys?
It was cool. Waldemar is a really cool guy and so is his whole team. We went to him and said look we don’t need anything, just make sure you get good performances out of us and you give us a really strong sound. We really liked what he did with the last Sodom album and that was the reason we chose him. He did exactly that, he got the best performance out of us, didn’t mess with the tunes, he gave us a fitting sound. Was really positive to work with someone that respected our wishes. It wasn’t just paying him money to do exactly what we say, we asked him if he can imagine working in that atmosphere with that goal in mind and he said yes.
Is Waldemar an intimidating figure?
HA-HA, no not at all he is a very sweet guy, very amicable. It’s a process and mixing is a process, and people can get frustrated in very production team, but he is a profession and overall it was a very positive experience, we will probably go back to him.
Do you guys have any plans for the summer with all the festivals? Perhaps Germany?
Here is the plan, we’re going to go to Mexico and play one show in Germany and then tour South America. Our actual festival tour will be next summer not this summer. This summer we will do a few other things, try and get the North American Tour going for late summer –fall, go to places we haven’t played. Then return to Europe next year and do all those festivals. Tuska is one I would love to do and Hellfest in France will be a lot of fun.
Thank you very much for the interview and taking time out of your bus schedule and all the best Mem.
You too buddy, take care.