The names of those described by highsounding expression "the band ahead of its time" are well known and admired by many, nothing wrong with it. Especially as there are so many other magazines to cover them. And here I’d like to pay some well deserved attention to the band of the other type – let’s call it "the band of its time". I guess it won’t take too much imagination to get into the meaning of such dubious description. Yet in no way I did mean it in any offensive sense. On the contrary, it’s a whole-hearted tribute to the very good band that appeared just in the right time for their kind of music, recorded two quite strong and successful, though definitely not milestone records in the second half of the 80’s and then disappeared without too much fuss. Maybe just a bit more luck was exactly all they needed to get much more recognition, who can say now? Anyway, those two records took their places in the collections and, more importantly, in the hearts of their fans and the story seemed to be over. At least for more than ten years. Then it came like a thunderbolt out of the blue. The news that good old EXUMER, and that’s exactly whom I’ve been talking about, is going to play this August in Wacken made all their old fans reach out for their denim and leather uniform and wait, with their breath bated, for what it was going to be. The regular low-grade joke or anything real? Mem von Stein, one of EXUMER’s forefathers, seemed to be the best choice to talk to about all this, and he definetely equaled our hopes in the end. The one possessed by fire is ready to strike again–don’t you feel the taste of the 80’s in the air?
First of all, I’d like to ask you to clear up the matter that has recently excited all the old fans of EXUMER: how much of EXUMER that’s going to play this August at Wacken Open Air has to do with the original one? What do you think about the whole subject and are you going to take part in it?
"Last year on my summer vacation I was invited by my old friends of Rock Hard magazine to join them for the Wacken festival. I happily accepted the invitation and went, especially because where I live I don’t get to see too many Metal shows. While I was there I was introduced to everyone as the old vocalist of EXUMER. Almost everyone who I was introduced to (Metal Blade Europe, other mags etc.) was extremely surprised to meet me and told that they were all old EXUMER fans. Over the course of three days I was asked many times why we broke up and if we can’t come back together. I thought about it for a while and upon my return to Wiesbaden / Germany (place of vacation) I called Ray and Bernie and we decided to do a one time reunion show at Wacken 2001. We all knew / know that EXUMER is something from our past and that we are proud of our old band but we also know that it can only be a one time shot in order to keep it special and to say thank you to all our old friends and fans."
Were there any other attempts to rise EXUMER back from the ashes during all these years?
"There were no attempts to bring back EXUMER because we were never aware how much people still care for the band and me, Ray and Bernie were involved in other projects, mostly together."
Do you believe that old EXUMER albums might be of much interest to anyone besides those who used to enjoy them back when they were released?
"I don’t know but I think that when bands from the eighties get back together they try to relive a certain spirit / feeling from the old days and that is almost impossible to do. The fans from back then will expect something they are familiar with and the younger crowd is not really used to that sound. It is very difficult to answer this question."
A piece of banality in the question department just can’t be avoided, especially as it’s always quite interesting to learn about the basics, the first steps, the beginning… So, how did the whole EXUMER story actually begin? The usual case: a bunch of friends, all of them being the devoted fans of some musical genre, decide to glorify their beloved music with their own masterpieces and form a band, eh? Or anything more original?
"Well, back in 1985 I was seriously looking to put together a strongly Thrash influenced band and that is when I met Ray at a SLAYER show in the summer of ’85. We were both working as part of the local crew and I saw him messing around with some guitar stacks and so I asked him if he played guitar and he said yes. We talked for a while and then after we told each other which bands we like, we decided to meet the following week for a rehearsal. It was just the two of us in the beginning and then we both brought in the other musicians. ALL FOR THE LOVE OF THRASH METAL!!!"
The question that has never given me a rest: what the hell does the word "exumer" mean? Is it deliberately misspelled "exhumer" (something in the vein of KREATOR) or what?
"Good guess, you are right, my dad gave us the name. We were looking for a band name and one day my father said to us something like: you guys are digging for the thrashiest and heaviest sounds (at the time we were practicing at my dad’s junkyard – so he knew) why don’t you call yourselves: EXHUMER. We thought about it and then decided to go with it and just drop the letter H – to make it our own."
The demo times of EXUMER, what did they store in your memory with?
"We only did one demo: ”A Mortal In Black” and that was a very rushed job. My dad helped us to find this studio in the city where we practiced at and we went in there for a whole night. It was cheaper this way and we banged out three songs (the demo will be on the re-release of "Possessed By Fire" on High Vaultage Records). Those songs were alright at the time but very funny to us now. Nevertheless it put us into the tape circuit of the time."
Who was it singing on that demo? It were not you, right?
"I was singing on the demo, this was mine and Ray’s band from the beginning. The pushing energy for all our projects usually came / comes from my corner. The way I left the band back then was not very nice. We were young and silly and so many people think that since I left the band after the first album that I was not involved from the beginning. I say this assumingly, not really knowing what others know and based on your question. I think it has been a long time since anybody checked for these things and therefore it is very difficult to find accurate answers for some of these questions from past interviews or other sources."
I’m afraid your assumption can’t be more accurate. Browsing through the internet while preparing this interview, I was very amused to learn that you were nothing more than just the temporary member of the band to replace the full time vocalist Paul Akiraki on the first album. Let’s hope this little chat of ours will open some eyes and scour some brains at least… I may be mistaken, but if my memory doesn’t fail me, your "A Mortal In Black" demo was received not that good and the "Possessed By Fire" LP got much better critics while they shared a couple of songs. What do you think caused such a progress in quite a short period of time then?
"The demo was not that great but the reviews were mixed. Some were very positive and others quite ugly. But we progressed very quickly as a band and the two songs that re-appeared on the record were improved and tighten up for the record."
Already on the first LP EXUMER appeared as quite skilled musicians. Any experience in the previous bands or just the natural talents?
"That was something that came to us naturally. We loved certain bands, if we wanted to create a sound that was in the same league or close, we had to play halfway decent. At the time though we thought that we were quite average. Only after the recording process of our first album we felt that we had grown as musicians."
Don’t you have anything interesting to tell your fans about writing, rehearsing, recording, mixing and releasing "Possessed By Fire", maybe some curious but very little known facts connected with that album, anything of that kind?
"The only thing I can think of is the fact that we used to have parties at the rehearsal room where we would invite our friends and try out our new songs. Those parties were drinkfests and my parents would sponsor those occasions with a few cases of beer."
How did you imagine yourselves the future of EXUMER when making the first steps as a band? How far were your plans and dreams spreading?
"We were full of ambition but we also realized that we would not be able to live of the music alone. One thing that was quite devastating, especially for me, because I left school after 10th grade: while all the other members of the band were receiving some kind of formal training (job training), I was just doing music. So it was strange, on one hand we had an album out and people were buying it and on the other we did not make enough money to survive off our music".
How do you feel about the fact that nowadays some mail-order distros sell that album as the ultra rare item for more than $100?
"I feel that rare records are cool but yet they are not. I think that it ought to be like this: people who really love a certain band should always have access to their records. I am very flattered that some one would pay a lot of money for a CD I sung on, but then I feel a little like a thief as well. The record was available for a regular price when it first came out and since the fan who is checking for the item now didn’t buy it back then he / she has to pay a ”penalty” charge. That is crap!!! Limited items are only cool for collecters but if I really love a band I deserve having their music and not for a $100. Therefore check the re-release of "Possessed By Fire" on High Vaultage Records which will have very nice artwork and cool bonus material!!!"
That "Friday, the 13th"-like personage on EXUMER’s album covers which later was duplicated countless times on T-shirts, etc. and literally grew into a kind of symbol of the band – what’s the story of its appearance? Any connection to the lyrics?
"No connection, just something the guy who was hired from our record company came up with. He knew that the record was called "Possessed By Fire" and so he drew the first cover. After that he just stuck with the theme."
There’s an opinion that the whole quintessence of any band is being laid in its very first album, and any records following it are, in a varying degree, just the variations of ideas found on the debut one. Do you think this applies to EXUMER as well?
"Somewhat true but for us it was a little different. I mean that the first record was very in the EXODUS vein because that also suited my vocal style and the 2nd was very much SLAYER. That was something that Paul could pull off."
With all the respect to what you have done, I dare to say that EXUMER had always been the "band of its time", not the one ahead of the latter. Making anything groundbreaking and revolutionary had never been on your agenda, had it?
"I guess so, the only thing I would like to add to that is the fact that we always played the music we loved and this also goes for the 2nd album – it was always a real and true expression of emotion!!!"
How did it happen that you left the band you had been one of the forming members and most important characters of? Taking into consideration the fact that "Possessed By Fire" was quite a successful effort, your decision seems to be even more strange… So what were the reasons, if you don’t mind recalling the things like that?
"I was young, very much into partying, had a huge ego, thought I was in love and it is something that some members of my family have in their dynamics: we create something and then destroy or leave it and move to the next thing. My uncle who is a painter (professional) operated like this for the longest time. Then he changed that pattern and became successful. The same with me, nowadays I follow a thing through to the end and it works. It was a decision that I made out of a motion not really thinking of the consequences and then it was too late to go back. Very silly in retrospect."
Were any songs ready but left unrecorded and unreleased due to your departure from EXUMER?
"I left EXUMER right after we had recorded "Possessed By Fire" and therefore all our material was on the record. We had all the good songs we wrote up to that point on that album and so there wasn’t any other music from that period left unrecorded."
Did you continue watching the progress of EXUMER after leaving the band or your interest to its deeds immediately fell down to zero level?
"I checked out what went on with the band but I also moved to the States for the first time. I lost touch with the band for a while but was reunited (friendship wise) upon my return."
How did you appraise the work of your successor Paul Arakari on the second EXUMER album?
"Paul used to play guitar in our early line-up and was later replaced by Bernie. I think whatever Paul did was beneficial for the band and he is one of the nicest guys I know."
Did the general decline of Thrash (at least as it used to be in the beginning) in the late 80’s have anything to do with EXUMER’s split-up around the same time?
"I don’t know about that but the main thing was the endless cycle of departures. After Paul’s dad was finished with his tour in Europe (his father was in the Air Force), Paul decided to leave with his family back to the U.S. and then EXUMER had one more vocalist but that fell apart as well. With this sort of influx of singers it is kind of difficult to sustain a constant line-up and band dynamics."
Having left EXUMER you formed the band called OF RYTES – was it conceived as a kind of alternative to EXUMER? Anyway, I must confess I’ve never heard the album, so I wonder if it was more or less similar to what you had been doing in EXUMER or anything of absolutely different nature?
"OF RYTES was my 2nd band after EXUMER, the first one was called PHOBIC INSTINCT (Hardcore / Metal, recorded one album that was never released), and the style of music was technical Hardcore stuff like NO MEANS NO."
Have you heard anything about the band called HUMONGOUS FUNGUS which existed some years ago and featured a couple of EXUMER members? Their music wasn’t Thrash though…
"HUMONGOUS FUNGUS was me, Ray and Bernie plus three other guys and the music was Metal with Rap vocals. This was due to my exposure to Hip Hop music in the late 80’s and my love for that art form. It is not so important to me anymore and after my second move to the States I lost my interest in Rap because I believe it lost its edge."
A look of verjuice could appear on the faces of some readers already after the previous answer of yours, but the last one going even further, as if being the invitation for the purists of Metal to hate you for such deviation from what they used to expect of you… Then I suppose you don’t care about such things at all and believe that there should be no limits when it goes to art, even when such traditional genre as Metal is concerned, right?
"I respect fans and I want equal respect from fans. I can totally understand someone disliking anything I put out there but please respect me as an artist and give me freedom to experiment. Only if we try things out and experiment we can create things with meaning and spirit. This also goes for playing old school Thrash Metal!!! In the end only real emotion counts and now I feel very strongly about Thrash Metal, I believe I would not feel the same way about it without having experimented with other styles of music in the past. I came to the conclusion that Thrash is where my heart is at and where I belong but I had to make the journey to find this out."
How did you end up in New York?
"Half of my family is from New York and we have a big house on Long Island where my uncle, great aunt, cousins and my aunt lives. I lived in Queens and currently in the South Bronx. I moved the 2nd time to the New York in order to peruse my academic career and to grow as a person. This growth process took me there. I grew up speaking English, German and Turkish at the same time so I feel very comfortable studying in English."
I was pleasantly surprised not to find any references to your participation in EXUMER on the SUN DESCENDS web-site – such desire to try and get recognition for your new band on its own merits exclusively, especially in this day and age of shameless over-promotion, is highly appreciated. Anyway, here’s your opportunity to introduce old EXUMER fans to your current activities and the new band – please, go ahead…
"Well, we feel that SUN DESCENDS as a band can easily stand on its own. I mean it is kind of cheesy to use me as a vehicle to promote a new band. SUN DESCENDS is my main priority and we will deliver as best as we can the thrashiest stuff for the new millennium. The band is 100% dedicated to true Thrash sound and ethics. We do acknowledge that it is not the 80’s anymore and so we only try to capture the spirit of the music from then. It is a three piece band and consists of me (vox / bass), John Monsees (guit.) and Czar (drums), we do this band out of love – not money!!! There is no money to be made with this sound anyway so we can solely concentrate on the music."
Playing this old school Thrash nowadays, do you want to revive this genre in general or just to keep it alive in your hearts?
Even though the music of SUN DESCENDS appears to be in that old vein, your vocal manners seem to change since EXUMER’s days quite a bit. You don’t want to repeat yourself, do you?
"I always try to progress as an artist and individual and therefore it is imperative for me to push the envelope, myself, as hard as I can to come up with something different or new – not to be repetitive."
Would you agree with the opinion (mine as well, I’m afraid) that Thrash Metal has come to the end of its tether, all the great Thrash albums have already been recorded, nothing new may be created within this genre and all more or less listenable records of today are nothing more than simple rearrangings of the best elements from Thrash classics of 80’s?
"The thing is, every great art form has its peak at some point and then it declines, but what counts is the love. If there are other people out there, and there are, who check for this sound then there will always be some form of this musical expression. Thrash had its day but it does not mean it did not re-invent itself. It always has, but in other formats and shapes. The thing is, every riff one could play had been played, so should we all stop playing music? I guess not and if a band can manage to convey their intent then it has the right to exist. That is only my opinion and maybe I am wrong."
What are your most remarkable recollections connected with EXUMER?
"Being 18 years old and seeing my first album in the window of the local record store and thinking everything is possible as long as you believe in it. Thanx and keep on thrashing!!!"
Interview: Timothy Dovgy
Mem Live-Pics 2001: Ramon Claassen