After almost 10 years of existence Germany’s rotten old school Death Metallers DEATHRONATION finally released their debut full length "Hallow The Dead" via Ván Records in late October this year. Even though the band had to go through quite some line-up problems in their early days, and was even put on ice at some point, they still managed to built themselves a quite loyal following in the underground Death Metal scene. Numerous live shows (a.o. with SADISTIC INTENT, VENENUM, CHAPEL OF DISEASE, DEAD CONGREGATION, NECROS CHRISTOS, KAAMOS and PENTACLE), the release of their two demos ("A Soil Forsaken…" and "Exorchrism"), as well as a split EP with OBSCURE INFINITY easily helped them to establish the band as a force to be reckoned with already. And since "Hallow The Dead" easily lived up to those high expectations, DEATHRONATION’s name was just brought back into the spotlight with a lot of praise again. Reasons enough for Stefan to hook up with guitarist / vocalist Stiff Old and bass player S. Muerte for the following, long overdue in-depth interview…
With "Hallow The Dead" you have created a damn strong positive surprise this year underlining the fact that these days the German Death Metal underground is raging like never before. Even bigger mags applauded the album massively, but how satisfied are you personally and how much does it mean to you to be recognized by wellknown mags?
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "Thanx for the compliment! Well, of course it’s nice to get so much positive feedback from friends, fans and magazines. But we don’t overvalue a review just because it’s from a bigger magazine. Of course you reach much more people and that’s a great thing. But for us a compliment from people who believed in DEATHRONATION all the years before means much more. We are very satisfied that we finally released an album which turned out as a strong unit: music, cover, lyrics. It was a big amount of detail work. The result is still far from being perfect, but who needs perfection in music which is based on filth and dirt?"
I still remember stumbling about the first DEATHRONATION demo which was a very raw start yet it took you five years to create the follow-up "Exorchrism”, followed by the split with OBSCURE INFINITY in 2013. Can you briefly go back into the history of DEATHRONATION and explain why it took you so long to finally unleash a full album? Were line-up changes responsible for starting out rather slow?
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "Yes, it were mainly the line-up problems which caused that long delay. Since the beginning we had about five changes at the second guitar and two or three times at the bass, only Stiff Old remained as a constant member on guitar and vocals. After "A Soil Forsaken” we played shows but didn’t progress with the songwriting, due to different visions of the future way of the band. This is also the reason, why the second demo was often advanced but never realised. The problem was solved, when our old drummer left the band. But it caused a break, as the new man on drums, Freeze, was not living in our area at this time. When he returned to Nuremberg in 2011 the band started once again, with Goathammer on guitar and S. Muerte on bass seeing old mates back to the front. This line-up is by far the strongest and we recorded the "Exorchrism" demo, a split EP with OBSCURE INFINITY, a bonustrack for the "Exorchrism” vinyl version and one for the tape version of "Exorchrism” (which isn’t released until now) and of course "Hallow The Dead”. So maybe we are not the fastest, but surly not lazy at all."
Now, with Ván Records handling the release, I think you guys have found the ideal partner to spread the terror of DEATHRONATION around the globe. How did this cooperation come into being and will you continue working with them for the future?
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "Well, we think so too, for us it’s the right choice to be signed to Ván. This because it’s a not too big label but with a good reputation and especially a personal touch. As a band we were in first contact when we traded some "Exorchrism” stuff in the past. Later, when recording "Hallow The Dead” we were thinking which labels we could ask to release that album. We already had some more or less serious offers but not the "real deal” at all. That Ván was our first choice is just based on intention. We didn’t know if they would like "Hallow The Dead” enough to sign the band. Nevertheless, after finishing the recordings we contacted Sven first. He was immediately into it, so we have just sent one promo CD at all. This was of course satisfying for us, as a long-time underground basic work now showed a great result. For the future, nobody knows, but until now we are very satisfied with the cooperation."
Death Metal has experienced almost a rebirth during the last couple of years, getting back into the spotlight of mainstream Metal media, selling well, and especially the more old school-ish material from A as in ASPHYX to V as in VANHELGD is attractive to people out there again. This results also in pushing the more modern, brutal Death style back into the underground. Probably, more folks realize the honesty and pure approach of this style, who knows – do you have an explanation why this genre is so popular again?
S. Muerte: "I used to play in an old school Death Metal band with Stiff many years before DEATHRONATION and at this time, Death Metal was nearly dead beside a couple of maniacs and bands. At this time, most people were into Black Metal, modern bullshit or left the extreme Metal scene. I think one reason is, that there’s a new "possessed” generation, sick and bored of modern Metal stuff. I know maniacs who are many years younger, but listen to stuff from the 70s or 80s I’ve never heard of. So this next generation of bands and Metalheads has discovered the old rotten Death Metal and the old generation woke up, as they realized that there’s a new scene which is worshipping Metal like it was back in the 80s / 90s again. So both generations are united and that’s why so many people are into Death Metal again."
I’ve heard somewhere that most "trends” come back in 20 year cycles, so do you feel there is another Death Metal boom these days? Even CANNIBAL CORPSE charted in Germany, if that isn’t a certain proof… On the release front, we had tons of killer albums just this year, like DEAD CONGREGATION, VALLENFYRE, MORBUS CHRON, MIASMAL, VAMPIRE, DOMAINS, HORRENDOUS, EXECRATION, PHOBOCOSM, TEMPLE OF VOID, DROWNED etc., did you discover particular highlights for you personally anno 2014, how much interest do you have in the recent scene and its output?
S. Muerte: "I’m still possessed and interested in most kinds of extreme Metal, Black-, Thrash- and Death Metal and especially the bands which remind me on the glory days. The last bands I discovered, that I really liked, were MIASMAL, VAMPIRE and NECROWRETCH. The latest DEAD CONGREGATION album is also a killer release and I just saw MORBUS CHRON live for the first time and it was a blast I bought the new album and what can I say, I’m really impressed. So obviously there’s a kind of wave going on. If it will be a real boom I don’t know."
With bands like NECROS CHRISTOS, DROWNED, CHAPEL OF DISEASE, VENENUM, BEYOND etc. also the German scene is highly active and produces some of the best pieces of morbid Metal at the moment, do you feel connected to the German underground, are you in touch with other bands or rather work in a more isolated way? How much interest do you have in what other German bands create? Do you think there’s a certain competition amongst German acts or a feeling of comradeship?
S. Muerte: "Of course we are in contact with some of the bands you named, as we meet a lot of bands and persons at our shows. Sometimes there’s a good personal relation, sometimes the contact is limited to the music and the shared evening on stage. How intense contacts are, always depends on the personalities. Usually we like trading stuff with the bands we play with and have many beers together. So we’re not a band that isolates itself from other bands, on the other side we surely don’t try to be everybodies darling."
Stiff Old: "If there’s a competition I can’t say, but to be honest, sometimes I have that feeling: yes there’s something like this going on. And I think it’s mainly forced not by the bands but by the media and some internet heroes. All the talking about a "new wave”, the "album of the year” and all this shit makes things a bit weird. It seems, that some people have not understood, what should be the main reason to play Death Metal the old school way. Anyway, we don’t feel related to any competition or something, as our music comes from our hearts and we started long time before any Death Metal boom appeared."
Do you also have international contacts which mean a lot to you?
S. Muerte: "Yes, in the past years we played many shows with national and international acts and we’re proud to have connections to bands like SADISTIC INTENT (US), DEGIAL (SWE), OBLITERATION (NOR), PRESUMED DEAD (IT), FUNERAL WHORE (NL), SLAUGHTER MESSIAH (BL), BURIAL INVOCATION (TR) and others."
Stiff Old: "From the personal / fan view, we have to mention Ofumus, a girl from El Salvador / Latin America. She made a lot of promotion work for our band in the central-american countries since we released "A Soil Forsaken” in 2006. She was the first girl being active in the El Salvadorian Metal scene and run a weekly radio show. Later she supported us from Madrid with her "La Hora Del Metal” radioshow. There’s a personal friendship and this kind of contacts are the real deal. Not the people who don’t give a shit about your band as long as you are not "famous” or hyped by the media. Other contacts which are important for me last from my journeys to Lebanon and Syria. Here I should name the NIGHTCHAINS / Lebanon and ABSENTATION / Syria."
How do you look at reunited or re-established bands from the old days of death, ASPHYX are back since some years, MORGOTH have released new material, MASSACRE did a new record, and so on and so forth, do you like what the "old gods” do these days or have you got a rather skeptical perspective on it?
S. Muerte: "I haven ‘t heard the latest album of MASSACRE, but I really like the latest (and of course the old) stuff of ASPHYX. Concerning MORGOTH, when they released the album "Feel Sorry For The Fanatics” this was a fist in the face of all Death Metal fans. Please split up before doing this. I was a big fan back in the 90s, but now I see things skeptical as "Feel Sorry…” was just a too big piece of shit. Actually I’m really not a fan of reunions, but bands like CARCASS and AT THE GATES did a great job."
I really like the notes on each song as they a) explain what it’s about b) show you actually care about what you’re growling at us – historical topics, religious themes, with ‘Age Of Whoros’ a metaphorical look at society, too – how did the lyrics develop and why do you consider them important?
Stiff Old: "Well, if you want to create an album which shall be a compact unit, then you have to take care for all parts of the mosaic which consists of lyrics, music, cover. On the one side, the lyrics have to fit to the music. A simple rule, the right words at the right parts underline the atmosphere and make the music more intense. If the lyrics also have more to offer than just sounding good, things become indeep. Our lyrics are far from being perfect, but there is a story included, which may inspire you to sit down, watch the cover, read the lyrics and start to bring in your own thoughts. When I started listening to Metal I spend hours and hours with studying the covers, lyrics and music. There were better and less good ones, but I surly got many inspiration about topics which I would never have heard about. So my spirit of discovery was woken to find out meanings and backgrounds about different things. This is what I experienced in the past and this is what I want to give now. The lyrics themselves develop sometimes slow as lava, and sometimes they just come to my mind."
To be quite frank, your vocals bear a obvious German accent which made me think of old SODOM and KREATOR as well and added an additional "evil” flavor, also in terms of tempos and riffing, Thrash Metal is quite present in DEATHRONATION – how much inspiration do you take from such classics?
S. Muerte: "For the riffing and drumming, well, it’s obvious, that we like old SLAYER and SODOM a lot. We listen to these bands since our youth and of course we are inspired by their style."
Stiff Old: "For the accent, well, the music has much more charm if you use it as an element of device instead of failing with imitating some native-speaker pronunciation. Angelripper’s "th” is legendary, fortunately it’s not the hardest exercise to imitate this. That it works to get some flesh crawl by using an accent I realized first when I listened to the "Eternal Black” demo from 1994 of Swedish DAMNATION. Listen how Richard Daemon pronounces "My Funeral” and you know what I mean."
The artwork of "Hallow The Dead” is absolutely fantastic, how did you get in touch with Misanthropic Art and how much input did you provide to make the art fit your wishes?
S. Muerte: "Chris is an old friend and did nearly everything since the beginning of DEATHRONATION. Layouts, shirt- and webdesigns etc. Stiff sent him many mails how he / we would like to have the cover, the details and the whole layout. It was a long process and we thank Chris for his patience. Chris is doing layouts for many other well known bands nowadays and it’s good to see, that his business gets more and more attention."
Desiree Pezzetta’s part, who can be heard on ‘Spiritual Belief’, was quite surprising, reminded me a bit of that spoken part of ‘Return To The Eve’, why did you decide to include something like that? Where do you know each other from?
S. Muerte: "Years ago, when I left DEATHRONATION due to personal reasons, I tried something different and played in a female fronted Metal band for a couple of months. It was a nice experience, but not really the music I listened to and not the music I wanted to play. Desiree did the vocals in this band. After some months we both left the band, but stayed in contact. Well, spoken words parts are nothing new, in the 90s you could find this stylistic device here and there and when we fixed that calm part in ‘Spiritual Relief’, one thing came to another."
Can you tell us more about the studio where you’ve recorded and how the recordings shaped up? Do you have a certain song favorite which you consider being your best track or one summarizing best what DEATHRONATION is about?
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "We recorded "Hallow The Dead” in our rehearsal room with the help of Andreas Naucke, an old friend of us. He knows what kind of sound we like and did a great job as sound engineer. He showed also a big bundle of patience. Due to personal circumstances we just had little time and couldn’t record the album within one session. It was recorded on many single days during a long period of time. This was not good at all, as if things take too long, you start to become mad. Well, anyway, next time we know how to do it better! As we succeeded in doing a compact album I think the songs work as a unit. The whole spectrum of DEATHRONATION is mirrored in these tracks, so I wouldn’t take out a single one as representative."
Now, a while after release, how do you look back at the songs on "Hallow The Dead”, are there elements you’d like to change or regret, things you consider worth improving on upcoming releases? How critical are you when composing riffs or rehearsing with your bandmates?
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "As always there are many parts you could do better afterwards. During the recordings we didn’t fix all points where we made mistakes or failed in some way. So the material is still authentic. We have one or two structural parts which we would have liked to do in another way, but all in all that’s no thing. Of course there are many things we have to improve, namely our playing skills. But this is a never ending story. When it comes to the riffing and songwriting, well, that’s sometimes a hard job, as we are very critical with the riffing and the whole atmosphere of a song. It’s not enough to have a good sounding riff. It has to fit to the whole music and atmosphere. This makes things sometimes difficult but ensures that our music will not wimp out."
Is anyone a major driving force in the band or is it generally a team effort?
S. Muerte: "Well, it depends on the point of view. See it in the whole history of the band, then Stiff Old is the only constant member in the band. So obviously for years his vision kept the band alive. But the band itself works best as a team and we are at the nowadays position because everyone has put in his power and energy."
You’re coming from Nuremberg, Bavaria, a city I unfortunately haven’t been able to visit yet – how’s the scene down there, at which bars and venues do you hang out mostly and how much do you care about your local scene?
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "You should really visit Nuremberg, as it’s just worth it. We have a big amount of historical places like the medieval castle, the big underground systems or the Documentation Center. In case of the bars I would recommend the Bela Lugosi or the Tarantula bar just to name some. You should also visit the New Force Metal club in Erlangen, close to Nuremberg. That’s the oldest club for Metal in Franconia! When it will be reopened in 2015, the Kunstverein will be the best address to see many underground bands from all around the world. Besides the Rock / Metal bars we have many restaurants, where you can eat traditional food and drink a lot of different franconian beers. The scene in Nuremberg is alive and of course we are involved for many years. Nuremberg has a long tradition of activities related to Metal. It’s great to see now, that there’s an amount of young Metalheads coming up, playing in bands and being the new generation."
What are your future plans for DEATHRONATION? What live activity can we expect? Do you have already new stuff in the works?
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "We already have some new stuff in the back of our minds, but right now we’re preparing and rehearsing our live-set for the upcoming shows. We already confirmed a couple of gigs for the first quarter of 2015. In end of January there’ll be a mini tour with BURIAL INVOCATION from Turkey, a warm up show for the "Hell Over Hammaburg” festival, a number of single shows and a show at Acherontic Arts festival in May."
Before we reach the end, what are your current favorite albums / demos, any bands you’d like to recommend?
S. Muerte: "My current faves are MORBID ANGEL’s "Covenant" (the concert couple of days ago was excellent) and MIASMAL’s "Cursed Redeemer". Coming back to our local scene, check out: OMEGA SOUL, HELLISH CROSSFIRE, REPENT, VENENUM, DEAD, MECHANIX, IMMURED, TOTAL HATE, VERSUS THE STILLBORN MINDED, OBELYSKH, KINGBEAST & PAXTILENCE. Different styles of Metal / Rock whatever, but all worth to check them out, if you haven’t done yet!"
Alright, that’s it for now, thanks for answering these questions and all the best!
Stiff Old / S. Muerte: "Thanks to you for doing this interview and having the patience to wait for our answers. It’s an honour for us to be featured in Voices From The Darkside. Cheerz!"
Interview: Stefan Franke